Four ways we’re improving Marketplace

Today I’ll outline the latest steps we’re taking in our ongoing effort to keep the quality bar high in our rapidly growing Marketplace. I know most of you share our goal of a great shopping experience and already go out of your way to follow our policies and guidance. For others, I hope this insight into a few near-term changes we’re putting in place helps save you time and reduces your risk of having apps pulled from the Marketplace.

Avoiding trademark trouble

When a trademark or copyright owner contacts us about a suspected violation, we investigate and pull apps when the complaint is valid. Lately we’ve been doing more of this, especially for trademark misuse. Sometimes the requests come from the owners of big, well-known brands. Other times they come from new brands. Either way, we often find trademark violations are unintentional: some developers just aren’t clear on what constitutes a violation. But these investigations—and the time and money they can cost—can be avoided by doing a little homework before submitting or updating your app.

If you’re developing an app, please consult our content policy covering trademarks and this related Q&A. (The U.S. Trademark and Patent Office also has helpful background and a trademark search tool.) Our rules boil down to this: Your registered publisher name and everything about your app—name, logo, description, screenshots—must be unique and free of trademarked content unless (1) you own the trademark, (2) you’ve secured permission from the owner to use it, or (3) you’re using a trademarked name (not a logo) to describe your app’s features or functionality without suggesting that the app is actually published by the trademark owner.

For example, using “Microsoft App Co.” as your publisher name would cause problems because “Microsoft” is a trademarked term. By the same logic, you couldn’t call your app “MSN” or “YouTube”. However, you may be able to make an app called “Reader for MSN,” as long as you don’t use the MSN logo or otherwise suggest that the app is published by Microsoft.

Keeping the quality bar high

I’ve posted before about our efforts to help ensure that apps in Marketplace offer clear value. One of those efforts concerns bulk publishing—developers who send us hundreds of similar apps simultaneously. Today I want to mention two related issues on our radar that could affect developers working on app genres that lend themselves to bulk publishing.

First, we’re seeing developers submit the same app to multiple Marketplace categories, a violation of our policies. Instead, you should pick a single category that best reflects the content and function of your app. This not only helps customers find your app but gives all developers an equal opportunity to have their app discovered where people expect. Developers who submit the same app across multiple categories will have it removed from the catalog.

Second, when you create multiple closely-related apps—say, a series of quote apps that vary by theme—the Marketplace tile images must reflect the unique features of each individual app. They cannot be duplicates or near duplicates of each other. Your branding also shouldn’t dominate the tile. Here are a few examples of dos and don’ts:

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Creating unique, easily distinguishable app tiles helps customers see at a glance what’s different about the apps you’re publishing, improving the shopping experience and potential for downloads.

Cleaning up keywords

Some developers have been violating Marketplace policy by entering more than the five allowed keywords for an app. A keyword is a word or short phrase that describes your app. Entered during the App Hub submission process, these words or phrases are always separated by commas.

Starting this week, we’re going to start enforcing the five keyword rule for all current and future Marketplace apps. Any app that exceeds this number will have all its keywords deleted. Affected developers will be notified and can then enter five new keywords in App Hub. We’re taking this action to help ensure that customers are able to find the most relevant set of apps for their search—including yours.

We’re also starting to examine app keywords for relevancy. We’ve noticed some developers have been entering keywords that are popular search terms—“Justin Bieber,” “YouTube”—but are totally unrelated to their app and what it does. If we find a keyword that’s not relevant to your app’s function or content, we’ll delete that keyword. Additionally, if you suspect that other developers are using high-impact keywords unrelated to their app— “Skype” for a tic-tac-toe game, for example—email reportapp@microsoft.com with the details and we’ll investigate.

Refining our approach to content policy enforcement

The final issue I want to discuss is one that affects all major app stores today: the treatment of apps that are “racy” or sexual in nature. We’re committed to offering a diverse selection of safe and quality apps that appeal to a wide range of customer interests. Items that some customers view as entertainment, others may consider inappropriate. This is a challenge for any big retailer, whether they operate online or down the street.

We think the right solution is (a) to be transparent about what’s acceptable and (b) to show the right merchandise to the right customer in the right place. Our content policies are clearly spelled out: we don’t allow apps containing “sexually suggestive or provocative” images or content. What we do permit is the kind of content you occasionally see on prime-time TV or the pages of a magazine’s swimsuit issue.

Admittedly, it’s tricky catering to such a wide range of people and markets. But we take this responsibility seriously and evaluate and discuss questionable cases. Recently we decided that we could improve the shopping experience for all our customers by a more stringent interpretation and enforcement of our existing content policy.

Specifically, we will be paying more attention to the icons, titles, and content of these apps and expect them to be more subtle and modest in the imagery and terms used. Apps that don’t fit our standard will need to be updated to remain in the store. This is about presenting the right content to the right customer and ensuring that apps meet our standards. We will also monitor customer reaction to apps and reserve the right to remove ones that our customers find offensive

While this change might require a little extra work on the part of a small number of developers, there are plenty of creative and appropriate ways to comply: showing male or female models in silhouette, for example, is one possible alternative. Here are a few other examples of app tiles that pass muster:

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If you’re one of the handful of impacted developers, we will be reaching out to you within the next few days with more specific guidance on changes you need to make. If you don’t hear from us, there is no immediate action you need to take.

I hope this post has provided some useful tips and helpful insight into our policies, and how they’re evolving to reflect both customer and developer feedback and the growing size and reach of the Windows Phone Marketplace. We’re committed to our developer community and appreciate your feedback on how we can make Marketplace better for you and your customers. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.