Update (3/12/15): The direct link to the review page no longer works – you have to take customers to the App Page and you need to make sure your messaging is clear. Tell them to review your app – go as far as showing them how that process works with a gif, video, or image set.
It's 5pm you've just received the email from Apple that your app is going live on the App Store and you're ecstatic! You're confident it was the best thing you could have completed in the past six weeks. Now you're curious to see the reviews and feedback.
One month goes by and you've received four written reviews and a handful of star ratings. Your written review average is 3.5 stars, but average the average rating is just squeaking by 3 stars. There are some people that understand and like the app, but most people don't understand it. Your instinct is to beg every friend to review your app to "downvote" the negative feedback. You might even consider paying for reviews, an action that will get you banned from Apple's App Store.
- What went wrong?
- Why are there so few reviews?
Should I Ask for Reviews?
I only want reviews from my dedicated users that regularly use the app.
Maybe you've been reading about experiences from other indie developers on how they've built all these components (AppiRater) to get reviews. Getting reviewed is a problem with apps, but I think it's worse when you follow bad advice.
Originally I had the mentality that I didn't want to "ruin the experience" by asking for reviews. I added AppiRater with the default settings so that it would only ask my most loyal app users. The going mentality is among developers is to not be annoying, and that's where the problem starts. (Read Noel's post on App Reviews)
Using these settings above with AppiRater and your app won't ask for a review the first day, second day, or probably ever. It'll prompt after 10 sessions! Lets look at how often users return to your app.
I use Flurry Analytics to get data on my app usage. Looking back I can see what went wrong. I had 283 downloads in January 2011, but only 25 customers (3 users were test users, i.e. me) used the app more than 10 sessions in a month. That means at most 7% (22/283) of my customers would have seen my AppiRater message.
How many people who say YES, review an app?
I'll grab some data from an experiment in Photo Table to answer this next question. My data shows 2.65% (190 ratings / 7,162 button taps) of users who tapped "Rate It" in Photo Table actually left a review/rating. So lets use that number and see how many reviews we could expect. 22 * 0.0265 = 0.583 customers. If we want to get more reviews, we'll have to ask users more frequently and get their attention.
If there's one thing that I wish I had done differently it would have been to experiment with the App Store. I would have devoted more time to developing tools that allow me to test new ideas faster instead of features. I recommend reading about this type of experimentation in The Lean Startup and The Startup Manual.
After reading these books I decided that I need to test more things in my app Photo Table. It had been generating $400-$600/month which was good (basically kept me alive). In December I did a paid to free price drop ($9.99) and I've kept it free since then as a test-bed for new ideas.
To leverage the price drop I built a cloud-based messaging system on Amazon S3. It's similar to push notifications. Urban Airship now offers 1M messages for free, which is a good way to start testing some of your ideas.
My messaging system is not a true push notification because it won't automatically trigger if the app isn't used. It is a low cost solution that doesn't lock me to a service provider and allows me to engage with my users in unique ways. I designed the system to support the following:
- Alert with message and URL link
- Image message with URL link
- Facebook post
- Twitter post
These last two social posts are something that I haven't seen in other apps via push notifications. I think it's critical to leverage users who love your app.
Ask for Reviews
Developers who want to succeed need to ask for reviews. Either ask on 2nd startup or provide easy to find links to reshare the experience and app. As a developer you must make it as easy as spreading butter. Take the customer to the exact App Store Review page for your app.
Here's the link format, replace the random number, 455322208, with your application ID from iTunesConnect or your App Store URL.
As an experiment, I posted a message asking for app ratings over a one month period. Photo Table version 1.2 went from none to 190 reviews. When I compared it to the previous versions that didn't ask for ratings I found 108 reviews over a one year timeframe. By asking I received more reviews than I had received in an entire year of not asking!
- Simplicity is king. (Don't build a complex system like AppiRater, too many of those options can lead to no reviews and that defeats the purpose)
- Don't give users a permanent way out of reviewing. (Less buttons is better)
- Only add complex features when you need to. (My messages repeat every day or only once, I didn't build an option to opt out or repeat X times)
Bad Review Myth
Developers are afraid of negative reviews, but they're a myth if you're constantly iterating and fixing things. Negative feedback is motivation to fix something (Read the post on Critical Feedback). Prove your customers wrong!
My app only received two 2-star reviews and had an average rating of 4.5 stars. Based on what I've seen, this debunks what a lot of other developers say (who are afraid of users leaving bad feedback).
Any feedback is better than no feedback.
If someone's not complaining about how terrible your app is, or how unstable it is – something is wrong. That means no one is using your app.
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Email me at PaulSolt@ArtworkEvolution.com