April 14, 2013

[Ranted Response] AppGratis is NOT a Black Hat Marketing Company

This post is a response to Techy Jeremy’s posts:
AppGratis Is Nothing More Than A Black Hat Marketing Company which recently got some traction on Hacker News.

Firstly Jeremy, Thank you for speaking up and expressing your deep concern that motivated you to write that post. This democratic speak-upness makes our society better and stronger. But I disagree with you.

I will respond to your points and tell you why they are incorrect.

You said: AppGratis is a Black Hat Marketing company
I say: They are the StumbleUpon/Digg of the AppStore 

You gave an example of how value-less link-building spams the Google Algorithm into ranking websites with spammy links higher. The companies that build those spammy links are not providing any value to the consumer, Google or to the entire internet ecosystem. Its a pure business of spam. Only website owners who have ill-intentions will hire those link-building farms.

In case of AppGratis, 12 million consumers are voluntarily downloaded the AppGratis App so they can get the value of app reviews from a source that was not available in the Apple AppStore. You see when people go out and get something and do not get rid of it, that means that they want it. Clearly there is a need for it. Maybe, just maybe AppGratis is not providing quality reviews, that is not for you and I to judge. It’s on the 12 million users to judge. AppGratis is not a dictatorship, its not a monopoly. People can leave them the millisecond they decide. Unfortunately people tend to be incapable of leaving Microsoft, Apple or Google, the millisecond they decide, because they truly have a monopoly in some of the markets.

You said: The existence of AppGratis affects the entire ecosystem of Apple App Store
I say: Yes it does, but in a self correcting way

Lets think of all the websites out there on the internet, and people start bookmarking website on StumbleUpon,, Reddit etc. The website owners who buy ads on any of those sites to promote their website certainly get advantage of higher exposure, and rightfully so. They bought exposure and they are entitled to that. Yes the added exposure will affect the entire website ecosystem. There might be other websites out there which may be better than the advertised websites. But that’s how the world works. A less talented person will get the job if she sends her resume to 100 companies and a more talented person will never get a job if she never posts her resume.

You have to realize that the 12 million users are willingly using AppGratis to find apps, download new apps and write their personal reviews of the apps they like. If the users HATE the promoted app, it will get more bad reviews than good ones. So in a way AppGratis is magnifying and speedifying the purification of the Apple AppStore since more and more people will discover and rate apps in the Apple AppStore faster.

You Said: You pay AppGratis to promote your app.
I say: So what’s wrong with that?

You pay Google to put your add on top of the search results, you pay TVs to put your ads, you pay the lobbyist to convey your points to the Government officials, Red Bull pays you to have your car painted like a Red Bull can.

If AppGratis are writing false reviews and do not have editorial integrity, then I am 100% with you on having such unethical behavior banned.

You said: Your app skyrockets to the top of App Store’s charts. (When AppGratis promotes your app)
I say: That’s Apple’s Algorithm problem not AppGratis problem 

Its like Google banning Twitter or Digg or StumbleUpon for having sponsored tweets/posts because websites mentioned there get too many backlinks and popularity.

I am not a pro at Apple AppStore rankings but I am an SEO pro. I know that the search engines have openly said what are good ranking factors and what are not. Its a very open and mature space at this point. Apple AppStore ranking factors are still a closed door arena. The only factors I know that matter in Apple AppStore search are the search keywords matching with the App name and its description. What makes an app get featured in the Apple AppStore is still a blackbox. If Apple AppStore algorithm is taking into consideration AppGratis reviews, that’s a bad algorithm. (Its like Google taking into account Stumbles heavily in their ranking algorithm)

If AppStore is taking the following factors into consideration, its a good idea

  1. How fast, how many and what quality reviews are apps getting since its launch

Now the only power AppGratis has is to expedite the promotion of an app. The quality of review posted is strictly an opinion of a user, hence AppGratis is just a promoter and not a blackhat one.

You Said: They(AppGratis) promote your app inside their own app.

I say: So what’s bad about it?

Apple recently changed their policy to have no app promote apps inside their app. Apps can only promote their own apps.

I don’t have much to say here, I see Apple’s point here.


I do not user AppGratis, I do not own an iPhone anymore, and I am not against or for the removal of AppGratis from the Apple AppStore. What I am saying is that we need more and more companies that innovate and take the power away from the few and give it to the many. Despite its imperfections, democracy(power to the many, not a few) is the best way to sustain and grow any ecosystem. AppGratis is one of those players who did its role in de-monopolizing the Apple AppStore and I support the rebels who make our ecosystems innovative and progressive.

10 Comments on “[Ranted Response] AppGratis is NOT a Black Hat Marketing Company

Frederic Montague
April 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Ali i have been observing this company for some time, not just as a user but as someone who works in the ad industry. Here is my question to you.

How do you call a company with such practices?

  1. – Build their brand on “paid to free app daily” and every week promotes apps that are totally free. Not a promotion.
  2. – Claim organizing deals that do not exist: ask the develop to artificially raise the price of an app a few days before they got magically promoted to free
  3. – Claim a price reduction on apps that are already Free, when they are already free: like yesterday with the card game
  4. – Hardly disclose advertising to their users (it is so tiny, and so invisible). No normal user can ever know those are ads or paid for promotion
  5. – Prompts a sharing option to every user before they get to download an app
  6. – Forces developers to change the description of their app to promote themself first
  7. – Prohibit developers to work with any other ad network prior to their promotion
  8. – Promote promotions negotiated by others but do not disclose the fact it was organized by others (taking the credit for it) – eg the deals of the app store or other paid to free services

Is that “clean” – white hat marketing?

The comparison with Digg is irrelevant: Digg was non paid, and moderated by a community. Not an ad agency/and an algorithm. The comparison with StumbleUpon is irrelevant: their service is not paid placement and when it is in the flow of recommendations it is clearly disclosed and represents a tiny fraction of the content browsed

Finally you say “12 million users” but a big majority of do not seem to use the service anymore. Or do they? what is the real %? 20% / 30% at best? it means the huge majority of their users has decided to totally abandon them…

Fred Montague
April 14, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Why did you remove my comment? Are you censoring? Or maybe I just have to publish it on my blog?

Aziz Ali
April 15, 2013 at 8:37 am

Hi Fred,

Thanks for the comments. Firstly, I want to re-mention that I do not support or dis-support AppGratis, I have never used them, an I do not know much details. My blog post was strictly a response to the claims posted on Jeremy’s blog.

So to all the bullets you have mentioned

  1. Promotion is not bad(Paid to free, or Free who cares), making false claims is bad
  2. Grey hat to Black hat
  3. That is false claiming if someone does that
  4. Yup, Ads should always be disclosed, that is against the law actually to not disclose that ads are ads
  5. I don’t think there is anything wrong with putting a registration wall, or share to download wall. Its noting unethical. Its not completely cool, but this is not unethical.
  6. Yeah, this sounds a little uncool
  7. There is nothing wrong with claiming exclusivity
  8. Again, lack of disclosure where necessary and false claims are bad

If people are abandoning them, good right. Its a democratic ecosystem. People will love them or hate them as they please. And that’s what I like about democracy 🙂

April 16, 2013 at 6:04 am

Hi Aziz,

Thanks for putting this out there in a very neutral and analytical tone,

I’m always happy to discuss our model but with all the crap and lies that have been put out there in the past days, it simply is refreshing to see that not everybody loses his mind at the very first occasion,

Best of luck in your entrepreneurial ventures – if I can be of any help you let me know,

Take care,


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