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Getting a bad app review is a definite bummer. When some faceless user trashes your labor of love in the App Store or some other public venue, it can really sting. But if you’re smart about it, you can turn negative reviews into positive opportunities for improving your app and winning committed customers.
Here’s how to spin bad app reviews into developer gold.
App reviews are different
App reviews are not like other product reviews. On e-commerce sites, a review is useful to shoppers as a signal that a product is worth purchasing (or not). But apps are very different from physical products. Since they are typically in continuing development, constructive criticism from users can play an important role in shaping future iterations.
As a developer, you should view your app’s reviews as part of a healthy feedback strategy rather than a system to game in order to get more sales.
That said, having a low average rating will hurt your app. So, monitoring and responding to bad reviews is an essential part of developing a successful app.
It’s not always easy. The developer-reviewer relationship isn’t always a pleasant one. Users have been ripped off by scammy developers — and developers have been burned by reviews like these:
It’s a sad fact that If you publish anything on the internet, you’re going to see the worst sides of some people. Just keep in mind that the truly nasty app reviews come from a tiny, vocal minority. The vast majority of users are thoughtful and appreciative.
With that in mind, here are some techniques to improve your product, your customer satisfaction, and, by extension, your App Store rating and business.
How to boost your App Store rating
How to spot bad app reviews
The first thing you’ll need to do is know when a bad review comes in. If your app is available in multiple stores, you’ll want to aggregate all your reviews in one place. Tools like AppFigures send alerts and reports on exactly how users are responding to your app. Slack integrations are a great way to alert your entire team.
It’s difficult to juggle responding to reviews when you’re tending to all the other tasks required to make your app work, but a speedy response can really win over users for the long term.
We’ve all downloaded apps that feel abandoned, and we tend to abandon them ourselves. The more users feel there is someone on the other side, the more likely they are to stick with the app in the face of bugs or a subpar experience. Why? Because they know improvements are on the horizon.
Identify the person who wrote the bad app review
When a bad review comes in, the first thing to do is treat it like a support ticket, not an attack. This is someone who cared enough to buy or use your app and did not have a pleasant experience. Chances are that others had the same experience but did not say anything, so this is a valuable smoke signal for a possible issue that needs to be addressed.
Unlike a support ticket, though, reviews can be anonymous. Figuring out who this person is can take some research. Did they use their full name? Or a user name that’s in your database? Maybe they signed up with their email and you can reach out to them. Or perhaps they used their Twitter handle.
Once you know who they are, you may find you have a crash report or other data that indicates what went wrong for them. If not, contacting them directly will help you gather more info. Who knows, you may have found a new beta tester.
If you’re able to address their concerns quickly (and with humility, patience and care), they’ll likely change their negative review and say how great the developer is at responding to his or her users.
Diagnose what went wrong
Logging the right data from your app is an art. If done well, it should be possible to zero in on what went wrong for a particular user. Crash reports are obvious, but most crash-reporting software allows you to choose other information to log from your app as well.
Being smart about your app’s potential pitfalls, and logging enough information to alert you when problems arise (and find them later), is a huge time-saving skill. Did you resolve a memory-management problem in testing that you should keep an eye on? Are users actually tapping on your hamburger menu to find your app’s additional features?
Having the right data on hand lessens the burden you put on users to send you screenshots and detailed information about their individual setups.
Use constructive criticism to enhance your app’s feature roadmap
Sometimes negative reviews come from users who expect a feature your app doesn’t have. This can be valuable intel about how your app was viewed by users before downloading versus how it pays off once it’s being used. Consider adding features that better align your app with user expectations. These types of reviews can also prove helpful in market analysis and identify your key competitors.
Reviews might also lead to whole new app ideas. Volodymyr Radchenko at MacPaw told me the company’s app Gemini, the duplicate file finder, came about from feedback received on CleanMyMac.
Report spam app reviews
The above techniques apply only for valid criticism of your app. Trolls gonna troll. Reporting nonsense or spam reviews (via the “Report a Concern” button in the App Store, or through the “Report Spam” button in Google Play) is a necessary chore to keep your average rating fresh and clean.
Apple and Google are generally good about removing these types of reviews, so report them as soon as you see them. Just make sure it’s obviously spam and not just a disgruntled user you disagree with or who you think is making baseless claims.
The Play Store will let you respond directly to reviews so others can see your explanation, but people tend to be a bit more defensive when called out in public, so try to resolve the issue in private if you can. Both stores also have the Helpful/Not Helpful votes you can use to make your own opinions count.
Solicit positive app reviews
Removing or changing negative reviews is one of two ways to improve your rating. The other is increasing the number of positive reviews. Prompting satisfied users within the app to leave a review is an excellent way to do this, and many big software companies do this.
If you want to tip the scales in your favor, you could use your analytics software to determine the profile of a satisfied customer. Track down users who wrote 4- or 5-star reviews and see what their usage pattern is. Once you’ve defined the profile, add a review prompt when new users cross that threshold.
It’s also important to solicit non-review feedback. If there are multiple, easy ways to contact you through the app, users experiencing problems are less likely to take to the reviews to let you know what happened.
So offer users a way to send in feedback through the app, and perhaps attach useful logging information for technical issues. Offering multiple options is even better: email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. If you use a development platform like DevMate for macOS apps, a built-in feedback manager can integrate with any support software you have.
Who do you handle bad app reviews?
If you’re a good developer, you’re used to seeing opportunities where others see problems. Turning bad app reviews into opportunities to make your product better is a shining example of that. Do you have your own techniques for handling negative feedback? Let us know in the comments!