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How to maximize 5-star ratings for your app

August 7, 2019
4 min read

My partner and I ran an app studio for several years and during that time we released four apps. Our most successful was HD Widgets. The app ranked as the #1 paid app, had millions of users, and maintained a 4.5+ star rating for years.

We worked hard to maintain a high user rating and learned a lot in the process. Here are my insights on how to achieve and maximize 5-star ratings for your app.

⭐️ A single 5-star feature is better than multiple 4-star features

Don't bite off too much. Focus on one or two features at a time and make sure they work flawlessly. Aim for the simplicity of "it just works".

⭐️ Be sure your messaging matches your product

Don’t talk about what you hope to offer because sometimes you’ll have to pivot and can't deliver. Save the excitement for when it actually happens.

⭐️ Android 1-star reviewers can become 5-star advocates

Did you know Android users can update their reviews? If you politely respond and fix a legitimate 1-star bug report, most likely the user will update the poor review and enthusiastically change it to a 5-star. It's actually common for 1-star users to become 5-star fans.

⭐️ Set aside a sprint (2 weeks) after every major release for support and adjustments

In any major update, there's going to be unforeseen bugs or UX issues. 100,000+ users will quickly uncover corner cases that your small team overlooked.

Make time to work on those issues right away. Don't let them linger. This will demonstrate to your users that you're paying attention and that you care about the product. It will also help convert low-star reviews and reduce the potential for less than 5-stars.

⭐️ Know when to ask for a 5-star rating

Ask once, early on, following a positive experience. Feel free to ask again after a major update, but try not to do it too often.

⭐️ Include an easy bug-reporting mechanism in your app

There should be a button in your app settings that allows users to send a bug report. Keep it simple – you can follow up via email if you need greater detail. Be sure to automatically add device details (model, OS), app details (version, preferences), and their contact email with their submission.

⭐️ Keep an open channel to your users and answer every one of them

Talk directly with your users a much as possible.

Mike and I answered every email ourselves for the first year. We got tons of feedback on bugs, features, and especially localization issues we would have never known about.

I highly recommend setting up a beta user group with hands-on moderation and discussion. It will give you a place to explore and try new features, making mistakes without affecting all users, and get to know some of your power users.

Don't be afraid to use Google Translate. Most of our overseas users could talk to us in English, but when necessary we’d try translation. It didn’t always work, but at a minimum it demonstrated empathy and effort.

⭐️ Set the right tone in the app store

While you can't moderate your app store page, you can moderate how you respond to user comments and ratings. If new visitors find only positive exchanges between you and your users, they're more inclined to consider 5-stars for your app.

⭐️ Try to avoid canned responses

I know it saves time, but do it too much and it'll turn off new users. We’ve all seen companies that provide generic responses to user comments. It’s not a fair exchange. New users want to know you’re going to be responsive and authentic.

At the very least, if you have to use canned responses, try to mix it up enough to seem human.

⭐️ Never argue with user comments

Most user comments are positive, but some can be extremely negative and unfair. You want to fight back, but don't. Potential new users will be reading those comments, including the negative ones. You don't want to set a bad example.

⭐️ How to handle negative comments?

There are three types of negative comments:

  1. Hostage takers - these are users who give you a 1-star rating until you provide them a feature. Best advice: don’t respond. You ignore them, and everyone else will too. If you happen to actually do the feature, go back and tell them. Otherwise, pass.
  2. Confused people - You'll get random reviews talking about stuff that has nothing to do with your app. Ignore them if you can't help.
  3. Legitimate complaints - useful!

Legitimate complaints often won’t be just one user but many users experiencing the same issue. It’s best to agree with these complaints. People love genuine responses. Be candid, open, and thank them:

“Ah nuts, you’re right. We'll get on it. Thanks!”

  • If it’s a bug, tell them you’ll fix it, then fix it, and then tell them you fixed it.
  • If you can’t fix it, let them know. Briefly explain why if you can.

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