Increase App installs through star ratings

Jan 22

Increase App installs through star ratings

With now over a million active Apps in both the App Store and Google Play, it’s more vital than ever to rank highly on search results. So vital, in fact, there is rising demand for a new field of App Store Optimisation (ASO), the App equivalent of SEO. But just as web search engines are becoming more and more sophisticated, so are the ranking algorithms for Apps which is great news for good quality Apps.

Traditionally, the popularity of an App was simply attributed to downloads, by volume and velocity. Unfortunately, this system was easily manipulated. Anomalies like thousands of downloads without opens could be frequently attributed to bots. Besides buying downloads being terrible for App retention, the App Store added ratings to the list of ranking factors in July 2013 to combat this.

A study by Fiksu shows this adjustment taking place. Notice the significant separation in the rankings of high and low rated apps in the App Store.

The impact of app ratings on search ranking

This actually levels the playing field and creates opportunity for the smaller developer. Just like Google’s Hummingbird and Panda updates to their web search algorithm, this is the beginning of a shift to punishing tricks and technicalities (such as buying downloads or creating spikes through huge publicity campaigns) and focusing on real value for the end user and their experience.

Google Play’s approach to ranking

Google Play has been using rating measures for longer than the App Store. The components that affect App search ratings include:

  • Number and value of ratings
  • Number and growth of downloads
  • Retention factors, including number of uninstalls and average session times
  • Effective use of App description, keywords, screenshots and video demonstration
  • Page rank – the number of links pointing to your App page in the Play store

Maximise your 5 star ratings

Maximise your chance for great ratings

The key to taking advantage of this opportunity is to encourage larger numbers of high star ratings. However, two psychological factors working against this:

  • It is simple to follow an easy path. People are busy. Taking the time to specifically visit the App Store and place a rating is cumbersome. It is much simpler to continue using and enjoying the App without ever thinking about placing a rating for it.
  • People are naturally more vocal about a negative experience than a positive one. You don’t want your reviews to be filled with negative comments.

The answer is to be proactive. Even your happiest customers may need a nudge to let them know you value their comments.

Getting the timing right!

Great ratings are all about getting the timing right. Soon after delighting your customer is the best time to prompt them to rate you. Not only are you much more likely to get a response, it’ll be highly positive.

Here are the steps:

  1. Define the criteria of a delighted user. Some possible segments include:
    • Power users who enjoy your app so much they spend hours in it every week or open it frequently
    • A recently new user who has just completed their 10th purchase
    • Someone you just gave a special offer to because it was their birthday
  2. Send them an in-app or push notification that thanks them for using your App or lets them know you value their feedback
  3. If they agree to rate your App, directs them seemlessly to the ratings page
  4. Thank them for feedback and let them continue their experience

The video shows you how you can use StreetHawk to automate these steps.


Allowing your acquisition costs to work harder

Gathering good ratings sets up the right environment to grow your ongoing attraction of new users. Not only are you more likely to get found by search, but a large number of high quality ratings also:

  • Encourages browsers to download. Most wary app users are reading through comments before they make a download decision.
  • Get featured. Editors picks and featured lists are hand picked, based on popularity and quality. Positive ratings point out the highlights and novel features that encourage your App to be picked.
  • Iterate for better engagement. Users leave valuable information in ratings about what are the key features of the App for them. Understanding the user’s voice allows the App to improve faster over time.

Overall, if set up correctly, the simple act of encouraging ratings among your happy users works creates a system that hard for you to bring in new customers long into the future.

The trend in ranking: Focus on engagement

Using ratings as a component of ranking doesn’t signal the end, but the beginning of a new direction in how Apps rank. As Apps increase in quality and the search algorithm becomes more sophisticated, it is a measure of engagement that will determine future trends.

This can already be seen in Google Play’s retention ranking factors. Apple is also increasingly testing the effect of new user engagement statistics, such as total time spent in App, time between uses and number of sessions over the last 30 days. Instead of just focusing on downloads, the goal should be to make your App habit forming.

It makes sense for Apple and Google. More engaging Apps that users come back to again and again increase the worth of their devices and prompts more sales.

In the future, as it should be, the Apps that people love will be those that are found.

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