The dos and don'ts of boosting user app reviews

Reviews are a huge factor not only in helping a user make their decision to download your app, but the visibility of your app in the stores

The dos and don'ts of boosting user app reviews
iOS 10.3

 Whether we admit it or not, many of our buying decisions are influenced by reviews. And this includes mobile apps. A 2016 survey by Apptentive found that 75% of people identified mobile ratings as a key driver for downloading an app. But getting users to rate and review your app is no easy task, with the same Apptentive survey finding that only 36% of respondents had left a review in the past 12-months. And most respondents were only motivated to leave a review in response to a negative app experience.

So, you may ask, why bother encouraging users to leave a review then?

Remember the first statistic listed, the one about 75% of users seeing ratings as a key driver for downloading an app? That's one reason.

Another is that ratings and reviews (especially a large number of 4-5 star ratings) may influence your visibility in the app store. Ratings and reviews can also have a significant impact on reputation, with users being 8x more likely to download a highly rated app of an unknown brand than a poorly rated app of a known brand. Finally, it is also an opportunity for you to get feedback from users, and to get them to update their rating after you have responded to their feedback. And any positive change in your app’s rating results in a positive change in the number of downloads.


Source: Apptentive

There are a few ways to prompt users to leave a review, but as many developers have discovered, the key is for these to not be annoying. With that in mind, let's take a look at how you can encourage users to review your app in ways that won't irritate them.

Target your most engaged users

The biggest annoyance of rating prompts is that they often pop up at the most inopportune times. You're either being asked to rate the app just after installing and launching it or, in the middle of performing a time-sensitive task, a rating prompt interrupts you. The app stores allow you to create conditional rules which help avoid this, but third-party services such as Apptentive allow you to take it a step further.


Instead of targeting all users, you can rather target your most engaged users. The users who are most likely to rate and review an app are those who either love it, or hate it. And by targeting users who most likely love your app (those who use it most frequently), you are also more likely to get a positive response.

Get the timing right

Timing, as highlighted in the previous point, is very important. Getting it wrong is just begging for negative reviews. Assuming the user doesn't just delete your app. The best time, naturally, is a few weeks after installation and regular use. But more importantly, try to time your rating prompt for when the user is probably feeling quite good about the app.


For Clear this was only after a user had cleared all the remaining tasks from a list. If your app is a game, you might want to time it for after a user has successfully completed a tough level.

Use a different approach

The original Circa app impressed some with it's simple use of an integrated rating request. Instead of using the standard pop up prompt, Circa's request appeared between a list of news stories.


It was unobtrusive, and required no interaction to clear it - you simply scrolled past it if you weren't interested.


This approach doesn't work for all apps, so Slack and Buffer have baked their rating request into the Settings menu. It is a risky approach, but one worth considering if you're unsure about getting the timing of a pop-up request right.



Support this approach by adding a simple request for a review in the update notes for your app, much like Uber does.


The Castro Podcast app has been doing this for some time, and have found that it significantly boosts the number of reviews they get within three days of each update.

Respond to users

Up until the release of iOS 10.3 it was difficult for developers to respond to user ratings and reviews. While it has been possible for Android developers to respond to reviews in ways that were visible to anyone, iOS developers could not. And while services such as that offered by Apptentive make it possible for users to submit feedback directly to developers, responding to reviews publicly can encourage other users to leave their own reviews.


And the chances of users changing a negative review and rating are higher if your response is positive, and they feel that their concern has been dealt with. Never push customers to change their rating, but a polite request won't do any harm.

What to avoid

While there are many ways to encourage user reviews, there are also a few things you should avoid when trying to attract reviews. These include:

  • Asking for a 5-star rating. It is one thing to ask users to leave a review if they like your app, but quite another thing to blatantly ask for a top rating.

  • Buying reviews. This is just setting yourself up for long-term pains from a short-term gain. Glowing (fake) reviews might boost your app's visibility initially, but it won't take real users long to figure out if your app isn't quite as good as suggested. Not forgetting that fake reviews are strictly forbidden by both Apple and Google. And as the developer of Dash discovered, there is little recourse offered when you are caught, even if you claim not to have been involved in the practice of buying reviews.

  • Incentivizing users for reviews. Both Apple and Google do not allow developers to offer users incentives for rating or reviewing their app. You may still see articles that recommend this approach, but unless you want to risk having your app banned and your developer account closed, you should avoid this completely.

Finally, both Apple and Google have published guidelines on how to respond to reviews. Familiarise yourself with these, and always keep your responses polite and civil. This can be tough, especially when you are faced with a barrage of negative reviews. If the reviews are appropriate and relevant to the app, respond to them professionally -- don't ignore them. If they do not relate directly to the app, much like Uber and Snapchat recently faced, use the appropriate channels to report them instead.

Ratings and reviews can boost your app's performance and visibility, but it is up to you to properly manage them, and to ask for them in ways that encourage users to respond.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.