App Rating Requests And Optimizing For Success

There’s been a storm brewing the past week in developer circles about the “Rate This App” dialogs appearing in apps. These have been around since the dawn of the App Store so I don’t know how this got started now.

I could care less about this discussion. The reality is that, in the app stores, only a couple of things matter: name, icon, screenshots, ratings, and sales. That’s it. Ratings and sales are intertwined. More of one means higher rankings (both in category and search), which means more people find and buy your app, which means higher rankings. Personally, I am not surprised to see these dialogs appear nor do I hold it against the companies who ask.

While some of these dialogs are worse than others, it is insane to expect people to skip optimizing around one of the few things they can control when it comes to app store sales. Reviews matter. Even worse, current app release reviews matter most. Every bug fix means the review count returns to 0, which means it is in developer’s best interest to ask you over and over again for a review.

Don’t like it? Delete the app. It will stop asking.

Developers complaining about the practice: why does no one point the finger at Apple? We optimize around what brings us success. [1] If Apple deemphasizes ratings and reviews than these boxes will disappear.

David Smith wrote a long post called Degradation and Aspiration. In it he wrote:

I want to believe that the App Store is a special place. I want for it to be the singularly best venue for customers to come and find innovative, well designed, quality software. Software that pushes the boundaries of what is possible and continually amazes and delights its customers. I want for there to be an aspirational pull upwards on my own development. I want to feel like I need to work extra hard to make sure my apps meet the high standards my customers have been trained to expect.

Oh, how I wish I felt this about the App Store, David! I long ago lost this feeling, if I ever even had it. There is just too much crap mixed in with too much great software, and too many instances of that crap rising up the sales charts while great stuff languishes in obscurity.

In the long run, and as I’ve discussed here before, I think the app stores are forcing fundamental changes in the nature of the software business, one that those talking about this issue of app ratings won’t like either. More apps with advertising, more apps free with in app purchases, more apps that use psychology to get you to pay, more apps that use tricks and slight of hand to make money.

I love David’s sentiment. I wish it were so. But I’m afraid we’ve long past that point. The App Store is just one giant Walmart, but without the greeters.

[1] I never employed one of these dialogs in powerOne — considered it but couldn’t find the right time to ask — but when we would ask for reviews in the in app blog we would see a huge upswing in reviews and a huge upswing in sales, often 30-40% improvement.

3 thoughts on “App Rating Requests And Optimizing For Success

  1. It might be dated, but this blog post was pretty helpful to me: http://www.smallte.ch/blog-read_en_24001.html

    I implemented some of the concepts in that post and it worked as described. The negative reviews went down and the positive reviews went up. I also have had a ‘appirater’ style dialog in my apps for a while. I use this judiciously and users have a chance to only see the option once. I have never received a single complaint about it.

    The other thing that I do is that I offer ‘Support’ buttons in various places in my app. When a user taps that button, I show an alert that informs him that we answer EVERY support email and that if they do not hear from us within a couple of days to give us a call. This addressed the issue where users have an iCloud account that they never check as their default mail account.

    I know most folks won’t agree with this, but ‘Rate-on-delete’ was the closest Apple’s come to getting the ratings right. The interface was quick, easy, and pain-free. I wish they would have just tweaked the ‘on-delete’ part (and changed it to ‘on-20th-open’ or something) instead of ditching the system entirely.

    • That looks like a solid approach. Given that, I wish app ratings and rankings would just go away period. I have a hard time imagining that Apple couldn’t come up with a much better way to rank apps based on usage information.

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