When and how to ask customers to review your app

This is a topic that was done and over with multiple times in the past, but it still creeps back up. The basic rules here are:

  1. never, ever interupt the user workflow in any way to ask them to do something for you
  2. but make sure you still ask

Break rule 1 and you are almost certain to get low ratings even from people that actually like your app otherwise. As it was said before – you, the developer, is the party that needs the reviews. Your customers don’t need them and the reviews do (almost) nothing for them. Thus if you interupt people while they are using your app, you are making it worse and diminishing all the hard work you put into it.

However, it’s in human nature that we are very vocal and ready to be heard when we feel slighted and rather slow when we need to praise. Hence the rule 2.

The trick is to identify when and where to nudge people to leave the review. Almost all apps have a good place to do it, you just need to be mindful, imagine yourself being the customer and – hope for the best.

Note that I did not mention rule 0: make a very good app, that people want to tell others about. If you don’t, nothing will help you. With articles like this one I always assume this, but it’s worth reiterating.

Two ways to ask in just about any app

Place a call to action in places that no customer will ever complain about:

(1) App Store’s description and what’s new

It’s an old saying that no one reads the descriptions on the App Store. Well, while that’s true for probably 98% of customers, the small minority that still does is probably the most likely to actually write the review at some point.

These are people that took their time to more deeply investigate the apps they want to buy. Due to that and the fact they chose your app, they are most likely to review it later thus it doesn’t hurt to ask them nicely to do it. I add this at the end of description for all my apps:

• NOTE • if you like X, make sure you review it here 
on the App Store - it helps others find the app and 
it gives me incentive to develop it further. 
Thank you for your time.

I add the same and/or similar note to the what’s new field, each time I update my apps.

Credit for this idea goes to the developers of popular podcast app Castro, who wrote about it several months back. As is usually the case, they are probably not the first to do this, but it’s the first blog post I encountered about it.

(2) Place a permanent call for review, in an aside view

This is something I do from my very first app, 5 or so years ago. In all my apps I have About / Help / Support modal view. Among various helpful links and support resources, I always include the call to customers to write the review. Most recently, I started using the pattern like this one, from Banca:

The options are sorted in the order of importance for the customer. The most likely reason for them to see this screen is they are looking for help. Then, if that’s not the case, ask the customer to leave the review of the app and possibly even spend more money. Lastly, if nothing else, (s)he can follow you on Twitter or subscribe to your newsletter, if you have one. Below all of this, I asynchronously load a list of all my other apps on the App Store, which open in modal dialog using StoreKit API. This makes them just few taps away from being purchased.

Apart from the first section, everyting else is there to benefits you, the developer. This entire view is an aside, shown only at the specific action by the customer and all the options are passive calls for action.

Unintrusive and informative.

Effectiveness level: very low

Marco Arment wrote a blog post few days ago where he touts exactly this strategy and he prefaced it with this:

Like most assumptions about what app developers “need” to do, I couldn’t wait to challenge that with Overcast, and I think the results are now worth sharing.

His results are that almost 100 people left a review in the span of 3 days after new release and that he has about 3.5k reviews in total. But that’s certainly not normal, not by a long shot.

This strategy works if – and only if – you already have a large pre-existing potential customer base. Marco has a large following on Twitter and a lot of respect earned among other devs and among purveyours of nice apps. Overcast is a great app (I use it daily) so he more than fulfills rule 0 and does nicely with rules 1 and 2.

This status is earned over a long time, during which you need to be continually successful. It’s something to aim for and strive to and I’m doing this partly by writing this blog post, holding talks at local conferences and dev meetups. Marco earned his status through many things - succesful apps, openly discussing his app development approach and his blog and podcasts. I have learned so much about this business from the starting few dozens of Build & Analyze episodes, enough to view Marco with high regard for the foreseeable time.

And even with all that, he still has 3,500 reviews over several months out of 100,000 active monthly users. That’ few percents at best, but still good enough to look good on the App Store. His biggest review asset is that core group of friends/followers that refreshes his/hers review after each update.

Hence for someone like Marco – this strategy may be all that’s needed. For the rest of us, we need more.

Timely nudges

Keep in mind rule 1 – never interupt them while they are doing something. The rate-my-app dialogs that I still see occasionally flagrantly break this rule. This rule alone is enough to discard most places and moments you may ask.

So, when and how else you may ask your customers to review your app?

In Marco’s Overcast app, one good place I see is the playlist screen. I have a playlist called Unplayed – the name speaks for itself. So, when the playlist is empty, I am faced with a blank screen. That moment is good for two things:

But – and this is crucial – you don’t want to do the second thing unconditionally. Say I create the playlist and by accident it’s empty, at the very start. Customer did not yet have the chance to do anything useful with the app. You need to track when he has some number of podcasts added and listened through the playlist and only then display a nudge to write a review.

And – this is also very crucial – do this nudge only once. If the customer has tapped on the link, save that as flag in NSUserDefaults and consult it everytime. Never display the review nudge more than once, as it can backfire. The sad thing is that you don’t know did he actually write a review, after tapping - he’s off to the App Store app and there’s no callback. Trust your customers to be nice and good. Even if you can somehow check and realize the review was not written, don’t nudge again. That’s also borderline annoying.

You still have your backup, always-present link for review in the About/Support screen. Think well of your customers.

In my running app, I display this nudge during the week 3, on the runner profile page (the main app page). By this point, customer has already gone through 6 runs and the chance is good (s)he’s happy with the app. Here’s how it’s displayed in the app:

At the very bottom, slightly dimmed, does not interfere with anything. Once you tap on it, it opens the App Store app. Once you tap on it, it’s never displayed again.

I could also display it on the running session details screen. But that’s a bad place to nudge; first it’s a very information dense screen and adding this would just be visual noise. When runner is looking at this screen, he is interested in his achievements, which may be good but might also not be. It’s also mostly looked at just after the run. A beginner runner is likely exhausted at that moment and certainly not in any mood to write reviews. He just wants water and to catch some breath. :)

This profile page is always the same structure, same sort of info. It’s the best moment.

Effectiveness level: good

This is gut feeling driven mostly, but I believe this approach will get you more good reviews than anything else. Catch the customer at the perceived moment of happiness and you don’t even need to do the two-step dance like Circa developers do - just straight link to review page on the App Store. My most popular apps are two apps that are either free now or were free for the considerable time span. Both have at least 4/5 rating, which is excellent for free apps.

Don’t push your luck

Some apps simply do not have a suitable moment, at all. Good example are pure utility apps like my currency and unit converters. There is no place in the usual workflows where you can insert any of the mentioned nuggets. Both apps are very content-dense, no empty room to insert your blurb. Workflows are also finite - you go in, make a conversion, pick up the result and go out, back to what you were doing.

Imagine me poping up a short dialog after say 10th conversion in an app, in a moment when customer is maybe writing a blog post and he needed to convert mph to km/h. So instead of going back to his writing tool, he has to deal with my dialog. No matter how nicely you ask, you are immediately faced with negative starting point and you can’t recover from that. At best customer will dismiss the dialog, at worst you will get 1-star for being annoying.

Be smart and don’t push it. But nudge, wherever you can and only once.

Lastly, eat your own food – write reviews yourself and mention that on Twitter. Many are doing it under the hashtag #ratefriday and you should join this crowd of good people.