Prompting for App Reviews

Dan Counsell on March 4, 2014

Prompting customers to "Rate this app!" has become common practice, and unfortunately because it's so common, it's hard to go a few days without being pestered to leave a review. I don't think customers would mind being asked to leave a review for an app they love and use daily if they were asked at the right time, but unfortunately that's usually not the case.

Most apps ask at the wrong time, they’ll prompt users after x number of launches. For example, today I opened Mailbox to check my mail, and boom up pops a “rate this app” dialog. Honestly, I just wanted to check my mail, and had I been a different type of user, I may have said sure I’ll rate your app… headed to the app store and left a scathing 1 star review.

Asking at launch is hands down one of the worst possible times to ask. Mailbox is certainly not alone in doing this, most other apps do exactly the same thing.

With this as the default behaviour for most apps, it’s really no wonder users and critics have condemned the use of “rate app” dialogs. It doesn’t have to be like this though, if you’re smart you can find a moment in your app (or outside of it) that’s the least intrusive.

If the Mailbox team were set on showing a prompt, I’d have suggested they prompt when the user reaches inbox zero. Surely there is no better time in an email client than this moment. If I hit inbox zero I feel all powerful and on a productivity high, I’d be more inclined to leave a positive review at this point in time, rather than at launch.

Encouraging users to rate your app is simply good business sense. Potential customers are more likely to download an app that’s averaging 4 stars or above. With this in mind, lets take a look at some of the better ways we can ask customers for reviews, but first lets start by looking at how not to do it.

Ask at launch (or rather don’t)

As I mentioned before, prompting at launch is the worst possible time to ask for a review. If you’re doing it like this in your app, you should switch to a different method as soon as possible.

To find examples of this behaviour, I literally went through my phone and launched a few apps, and sure enough I got a couple of “Rate me” dialogs straight away. All of these apps could have picked a better moment to ask, for example Rdio could easily have prompted me after I started playing one of my favourite albums.

Choose your moment carefully

If you prompt the customer at some point while the app is running you’re always going to disrupt their workflow to some degree. You can alleviate this by trying to pick a moment that’s the least disruptive. If possible choose a moment when something positive or rewarding has just happened. Clear is a good example of this in action.

Clear for iOS shows the “Rate app” dialog after a few conditions have been met, firstly the user must have been using the app for a few weeks, secondly Clear will only ask after the user has cleared the remaining tasks from a list. This is a great moment in the app; users are feeling good for having just cleared their todo list and in most cases are just about to exit the app.

Bake it into the UI

While this method is not as effective as prompting, it does negate the need to ever pester the user, so from that perspective it’s a great option. One of the downsides to going this route is you’ll get more customers hitting the “Review App” button to report a bug or request a feature.

At Realmac we went this route with Ember, but we built in a slight twist. We try and guide the customer so they can get help or make a feature request rather than leaving a review on the App Store that we can’t respond to. If they are unhappy or confused we want to know about it and help them, if they are happy they can let us know and perhaps more importantly leave a review.

Ask outside the app

Seems like there is a growing trend of asking for reviews in the update notes, and guess what? It seems to be working. Both Castro and the game Threes! have had success with it. I’m trying this out now in a few of our apps at Realmac, but I don’t yet have enough data to verify if it’s actually as good as it sounds.

I’ve also found asking on Twitter, in blog posts or at the end of an email support thread with a customer is extremely effective.

Reviews can make or break your app

In an ideal world developers wouldn’t need to ask for reviews. Unfortunately, if your app has too few reviews you’ll struggle to be found in search and even when you do show up, users may simple skip your app because it doesn’t have enough 5 star reviews.

There’s nothing wrong in asking for a review, but remember you want to give your users a great experience. You should focus on making your app delightful, not annoying. Pick your moment carefully and you’ll find users are more than happy to leave you a great review.

I’ve put together a basic set of rules I think anyone involved with making apps should follow. It’s nothing fancy, and by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good start:

  1. Don’t ask at launch. Seriously, never do this.
  2. Choose the perfect moment, after a positive interaction is best.
  3. Try not to interrupt the users workflow, don’t be annoying.
  4. Only ask once. If they’ve said no, never ask again.
  5. Ask passively if possible, place it in the app settings or updates notes.

I know having to ask for ratings is far from ideal, but until Apple changes or improves the way app discovery and search work in the App Store, we’re all stuck with it. Spend time thinking about how best to ask your customers for reviews. If you stay honest and respect your users, you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

Further Reading

There’s been no shortage of articles and blog posts debating the merits and tactics of asking users for ratings. These are the ones worth reading:

If you’re into podcasts you should definitely listen to Episode #42 of Release Notes, @DazeEnd and @jcieplinski talk extensively about what’s ethically correct (or not) when asking for App Store ratings.

If you have any questions or feedback on this article please get in touch.

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