App Store Review Prompts

It looks like iOS App Store review prompts (i.e. the popups that say something to the effect of, "Like our app? Go rate it five stars!") are back in the public eye. Several people have been debating the pros and cons of this approach to garner reviews, and I'd like to give my two cents.

The whole discussion kicked off when Gruber linked to a moderately amusing Tumblr called Eff Your Review, which features screenshots of iOS apps badgering users to leave (ostensibly positive) app reviews. He added:

I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these “Please rate this app” prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — but to rate the app with just one star and to leave a review along the lines of, “One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app.”

Cabel Sasser thought this tactic might be a bit too far:

That said, ‘give apps that do this 1 star’ suggestion bummed me out — stoops to the level of ’1 star until you add X feature!’

And last night, Daniel Jalkut weighed in on the matter:

It’s smart to take it as given that something should be done to encourage users to leave positive ratings and reviews. That’s good business sense. But also take it as given that the farther you tread in the direction of badgering and disrespecting users, the more you chip away at the meaningful non-monetary benefits listed above.

Daniel is absolutely right. Developers have every incentive for using these prompts, and little immediate reason not to, unless swaths of users take Gruber's advice and leave one-star reviews about it.

Like any nuanced discussion, there is no single answer to the problem. Neither side – developer or customer – is necessarily in the right or wrong here. However, I think it could be helpful to lay down some guidelines for the people on either side of the equation. I can't speak for everyone, but I think the following principles would be a good starting point.

Rules for App Developers

  • Let us opt out. If you simply must have an App Store review prompt in your app, be sure to give users the chance to say "no thanks". Don't pull the kind of bullshit where the only options are "yes" and "remind me later". That's scummy and you know it.

  • Respect the users' wishes. If a customer chooses to opt out of leaving a review, your app had better not continue prompting them about it afterward. I can live with a one-time popup, but there are some apps that ignore opt-out requests and that is definitely not okay with me. It might even be a good idea to respect opt-outs across app updates, if possible. If I didn't want to review your app two updates ago, I'm no more likely to do so today.

  • Remember that your app isn't the only one prompting for reviews. Users have to deal with this prompt in a wide variety of apps all the time, even multiple times a day depending on which apps they're using and which ones have updated recently. What you might see as a minor hiccup in the user's workflow is something they may see as a constant annoyance from all the apps they've bought.

Rules for Users

  • Try to be a little more understanding. At the end of the day, most developers are simply trying to make a living from their work. In all likelihood, all but a few of them would rather leave you alone to enjoy their app, but let's face it: App Store ratings can make or break entire businesses. It's hard to blame them for encouraging people to help out a little.

  • Go ahead and leave a review, even without being prompted. If a higher percentage of users would leave reviews of their own volition, developers wouldn't feel the need to badger them about it. If you have an app that you love and use all the time, do them a favor and give them a little boost on the App Store so they can continue providing you an awesome experience.

  • Don't hand out 1-star reviews lightly. This is where I disagree with Gruber's suggestion. As annoying as these popups might be, I don't think it's fair to give an otherwise great app the lowest possible rating. For example, I absolutely love Day One but even it uses the review prompt. I wouldn't dream of giving it a one-star rating just for that, it's too cruel.

    I think people are often far too quick to hand out awful ratings just because of a single "missing" feature or other small annoyance. The one exception I would make in this case would be for apps that ignore opt-outs, or fail to provide them altogether.

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While there is room for improvement on both sides of the aisle, my main wish is for each side to be courteous to the other. I don't think that's too much to ask for.

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