How to use app store user reviews for better UX, branding, and marketing

October 06, 2020

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This guest-post is courtesy of our partners at Slide UX.

When product and App Store Optimization teams think about app ratings and reviews, they’re often thinking of how better reviews–and more reviews–can ultimately drive downloads. 

And that’s true. But smart brands also leverage app store ratings and reviews to improve user experience, brand, and marketing, as well.

Driving downloads

Good reviews help your app stand out.

No one wants to waste time downloading and setting up a profile for an app that doesn’t do what it claims, or to spend their hard-earned money on a download that won’t pan out.

As one of the few parts of an app’s profile that aren’t written by the developer, an app’s ratings and reviews carry a lot of credibility. 

By design, ratings are easy to filter and scan in the app store, meaning users can quickly see how your app measures up against competition or eliminate your app from their consideration set if ratings aren’t high enough.

On Android's Google Play store, it's easy to filter or scan app ratings to eliminate poorly-rated apps from your consideration set.

The app’s average rating, its number of reviews, and the specific review write-ups help prospective downloaders quickly surmise whether they should tap “Get the App”.

All things equal, users are far more likely to download an app with a high average rating than an app with a lower one. And they’re even more likely to do that if the app has a large number of reviews.

Top apps appear in prominent promotional spots like the Apple App Store's "Today" page.

Good reviews lead to prominent positioning.

Apple and Google want users on their platforms to have great experiences, so their algorithms factor user reviews and star ratings into how your app is ranked. 

Good reviews help drive downloads, and the number of recent downloads factors into app store ranking - a self-perpetuating cycle.

The most highly-ranked apps are often promoted in featured areas, causing surges of downloads as browsers encounter the apps in top spots.

Reviews can drive UX, brand, and marketing, too

While reviews are important for driving downloads, that’s not all they can do. A savvy brand will also leverage app store feedback to improve user experience, brand, and marketing.

Use reviews to improve your user experience.

In this June 2019 review, a user of the Asana App on IOS details the three things the app could do to learn a higher rating.

At Slide UX, we’re focused on helping our clients create great user experiences, and we can use reviews to help us do this in multiple ways:

  • The first one is the most obvious: What are users complaining about? If users consistently report that they wanted to give you a 5, but they hold back because of one particular thing, that’s a trend you want to be aware of.
  • Additionally, look for themes in what users are delighted by. Sometimes a feature that was quick and easy is met with wild praise from users. Sometimes, your team might be lukewarm on a design choice, but feedback reveals that users are thrilled by it. These insights can make future choices easier.
  • What do reviews reveal about the triggers for usage? What scenarios do users describe? Reviews can not only reveal user needs, but they can also reveal changes in those needs over time, helping you evolve your product “organically” through user feedback.
  • Another opportunity: Take time to read and analyze reviews of competitive apps. Often, reviewers will include references to similar, competing apps in their reviews. What competitors are they mentioning in your reviews? On what competitors’ reviews do they mention you? Insights about where competitors fall short can reveal opportunities.

Use reviews to shape your brand.

Great branding is true and relevant. It’s the voice of your customer, not an aspiration or a claim you make about yourself.

That’s why reviews can provide such fabulous insight for branding.

In your best reviews, users will describe exactly why they are enthusiastic supporters of your product. These words tell you both about your app and what it’s doing right, but also, about them - what they value in your space. These words should carry substantial weight, especially if themes recur.

When you take insights from what users consistently say, and convert them into a brand brief that drives the way you present yourself, your branding will be relevant and credible to your target audience because it will ring true.

Use reviews to bolster your marketing.

We’ve already talked about how your app’s ratings can drive downloads in the app store. But you don’t have to stop there.

If your ratings and reviews are something to brag about, you should leverage that in your promotions. Apple allows use of your app’s ratings in marketing materials, as long as they accurately reflect your app’s current rating. You can even reach out to individual customers for permission to use their verbatim comments.

As with your branding, there’s no need to tell it in your own words if you have the chance to portray it through your customer’s words. 

Reviews alone aren’t enough user research

Studying users and how they interact with your app is highly enlightening.

While Reviews are invaluable for driving downloads, prioritizing your roadmap, and supercharging your branding and marketing - they do have their limitations. 

  • Reviews are written post-launch. This constructive feedback can inform your next release, but it’s proactive to gain these insights before you spend the time and money to launch.
  • Around 90% of users in communities are “lurkers,” and may not feel comfortable posting reviews. In effect you’re only hearing from a select portion of your total user base.
  • Among those that do review, users can only type (and remember!) so much. They may surface major pain points, but not minor ones. 
  • Sometimes users can be influenced by how their review might be interpreted–both by how it reflects on them as people, and by how it might make others feel. This means what you find in a review is self-edited and might be missing key insights.

In fact, if you’re really acing the reviews game, you might be encouraging only the most satisfied users to write a review, leaving your profile with a falsely positive bias that looks good but can’t be taken as complete.

Don’t assume that being familiar with your app’s user reviews alone means your user research is done. Augment your understanding of the user with a clear line of sight to support inquiries. Using app analytics, usability sessions, and generative user interviews to be sure you have a full understanding of the demographic you’re designing for, and what they need. Learn more about user research.

In conclusion

Your app’s reviews are invaluable and hard-earned reflection of your effort. They factor into your app store ranking and your download count. With the strategies covered in this article, you can leverage reviews to better inform your user experience, fine-tune your brand, and polish your marketing. 

About the Author

Erin Young, Founder & Principal UX Consultant at Slide UX

Slide UX is the practical, collaborative partner for great user experiences. Rated in the Top 5 UX firms, globally since 2016, Slide UX helps product and marketing teams outshine expectations (and competition) with intuitive, appealing products, sites, and apps that perform.

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