Apple’s Documentation reveals that iOS 10.3 will include a new API to help mobile teams and developers better manage their app ratings and reviews. Specifically, the update enables developers to ask users to leave a rating and review without leaving the app. Apple has also announced that developers will be able to respond to reviews in the App Store starting with iOS 10.3. These are significant updates. So here, I express a few thoughts on store ratings and observations on the new functionality.

Where App Ratings and Reviews Primarily Matter

Your app’s rating really only matters in one context: new user acquisition. This is very important for most apps, but a strong overall app rating alone is not a panacea.

In fact, frequent or indiscriminate “rate my app requests” might put your other mobile KPIs at risk. Consider the variety of experiences your users have had with your app. When you request an app rating from all of your users at once, you will ultimately end up making an untimely request of a segment of users experiencing usability or performance issues. For these users, the practice is not just annoying, it comes across as insensitive and could actually hurt your ratings.

Your app’s rating is one of many end-results that your efforts on mobile will yield. The best mobile teams we talk to understand this and manage their mobile efforts accordingly.

Real 4.5+ Star Apps Take Hard Work

We’ve heard from our customers that it takes much more work to gain a star back than to lose one. If you have a reasonably rated app, losing a star is typically the result of (1) the loss — or mere perception of loss — in functionality and/or (2) the introduction of issues with the user experience in your app — issues that result in failure, frustration, or annoyance.

You aren’t likely to earn a star back overnight. Before trying to re-mediate your App Store rating by simply asking for more ratings, make sure you’ve established a sustainable foundation for positive reviews:

  • Make sure that your user experience metrics are measured from the user’s perspective (like these).
  • Employ repeatable best practices (like these) to deliver consecutive releases with marked improvements to user experience.

Finally, make sure your team understands the app’s most important users. In some cases, your most important users may be the same users leaving the ratings and reviews your boss is looking at. Think this through in the context of your app, though. More often than not, your most important users are not those leaving reviews.

Whose Reviews Will Benefit Your App?

Although iOS 10.3 will allow you to respond to user reviews, replies won’t be effective unless they are backed up with action. Be wary of overusing this functionality by making public promises, or offering apologies without action. If you start using this functionality, remember that you are committing to using it reliably on a move-forward basis to communicate with both the app’s promoters and detractors.

Deployed intelligently, SKStoreReviewController could reap real benefits for your App Store rating, but it won’t be through a spray and pray approach. Here are just two suggestions.

1) Identify existing users whose reviews might compel prospective users to download your app

These existing users likely:

  • are benefitting from a seamless user experience in your app — no failures, little signs of frustration and annoyance
  • are actively using the app — and, ideally, who are using screens and flows in your app that differentiate you from your competitors

Create a segment of these users and deploy SKStoreReviewController to periodically ask for a review. Be transparent about how frequently they will be asked, give them the option to opt out, and respect their response to opt out. Monitor the results and adjust your segmentation where necessary.

2) Identify users who would likely leave negative ratings and take action to adjust their opinion

These users are those who:

  • are experiencing issues in your app
  • have had difficulty using the most important flows in your app

Segment these users, create test cases based on the actual flows they took in your app, then fix the issues and test the app. Release the app and verify these issues have been fixed in production. Only then should you use SKStoreReviewController to reach out to this segment, notify them that the issue is fixed, and respectfully ask that they review your app.

Even the best apps will occasionally have issues, but the most successful apps prioritize fixing issues quickly and communicate with their users. If used effectively, these new features can be a powerful tool in creating great user experiences and increasing engagement.

In sum:

  • Store ratings and reviews are one of many end-results; don’t put your other KPIs at risk with pleas to rate your app
  • It is difficult to regain lost stars; focus on fundamentals and deliver compelling functionality and performant apps
  • Take a nuanced and data-driven approach to implementing the capabilities introduced in iOS 10.3 by driving reviews from users who are benefitting from features that differentiate you from your competitors