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Our Thoughts on the New Google App Ratings Filter

Recently Google quietly released a new feature in the Play Store which was quickly noticed and remarked-upon by many: the ability to sort app search results by rating. The first incarnation of this feature (and one must assume that future updates will allow sorting by specific Star levels) is extremely simple: 2 choices only, “All ratings” and “4+ Stars”. This Android Authority post was one of the first-breaking that we noticed pointing it out, and as they pointed out it is a modest step in the right direction but doesn’t solve for all the challenges, writing, “…this may not catch some new apps with just a handful of reviews, and, second, apps with tons of fake reviews will still go through.” Screenshot 2014-10-20 at 8.40.13 PMIt’s a relevant point that new and low-install apps could be unfairly penalized until they build up a sufficient quantity of ratings, while this BRG article notes that  the feature could also unfairly reward new or low-install apps with a modest number of ratings that happen to skew positive or are being ‘gamed’ by biased ratings (as the stats folks say, until the number of ratings for a given app reaches statistical significance).

These are interesting initial considerations, but for the last couple days we’ve been thinking about the more strategic implications of this move for the Play Store and Android apps overall – now and in the near future. This is Google we’re talking about, after all. 2 years ago (almost to the day), Android Authority ran this post questioning the larger issue at play here: why it was taking so long for Google to apply its deep experience and expertise in information organization, discovery, and qualification to its burgeoning app marketplace. The post not only questioned when Google would start to enable a variety of quality, price, and other app characteristic sorting and filtering, but also wondered when the Play Store content would start to be more prominently featured in organic search results — and how.

We thought we’d take a few moments to comment on this development and build on the rich online conversation that’s been unfolding about the new feature over the past week. Here are a few of our initial considerations as Google starts the process of introducing more flexible options for mobile users to find the right apps in the Play Store for their needs – particularly for app developers, managers, and publishers.

1) Ratings and Reviews Now Matter More Then Ever – Across All Key Platforms

This may seem like an obvious point – but the fact that Google *didn’t* offer this feature until now meant that developers and publishers could effectively hold app user Ratings and Reviews in a lower regard for Android apps than they needed to for iOS apps. As the Google founders themselves showed the world 15 years ago, a search is quite simply the beginning – and therefore the action closest to any person’s process of information discovery – of a decision. Even though the Play Store was gathering and displaying Ratings and Reviews against apps post-search (at least in the Play Store, if not effectively in broader search results), that is not nearly as valuable as enabling this piece of information to qualify the discovery process during the search process. A capability – feature, or logic, or the combination of the two – that an individual user can apply “a priori” in their search experience is a great deal more valuable than a feature that must be applied “ex post”. This is a direct result of the fact that a capability that is applied earlier in any manual discovery process is more valuable than one that is applied later. There are two reasons for this: first, it is more efficient for the individual user; and second, it is more precise as a mechanism for organizing and presenting the inferred results that a given user desires.4173GNCNV3L._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_AA300_

In other words, by elevating the ratings sort capability during the search Google has made it both easier and faster for users to find what they really want. In so doing, Google has basically affirmed for mobile app developers that (a) ratings and reviews really matter – a lot, and, (b) they want to elevate the importance and weight they ascribe to this aspect of any given app on their platform. The implication here is not a small one for mobile app developers and publishers overall – and for Android app managers specifically: app quality, as judged by real app users, is now one of the most important meta-data characteristics of every single app in the Play Store. The downstream implication of this is that every Android app publisher now has an imperative to manage a strategy for ensuring that users consistently (a) see high value in each app they release for Android, and, (b) are encouraged to express their satisfaction with the app value in the form of public ratings and reviews in the Play Store. It’s as if Google has – in one feature-update stroke – said to Android developers and managers, “We now consider high ratings for apps in our marketplace to be a primary user download consideration, and you should too.”

2) Android Apps Are No Longer Allowed to be the “Also-Rans” of a Company’s Mobile Strategy

Whether or not they publicly acknowledge it, there has been an undercurrent of bias among corporate marketers and entertainment media publishers that iOS apps are the clear priority and biggest business opportunity… and that an Android app is either a ‘check the box’ gotta-have or a distant 2nd priority to their iPhone and iPad apps. We fully recognize that this is a gross generalization – there are many publishers who have lead the market with Android-first innovation, and many companies who for several years have looked at their mobile OS usage and business-benefit data and allocated development resources with equal (or proportionally-appropriate) priority for both platforms. However, we don’t think we’re being controversial in stating that Android as a app platform has for too long been considered an under-appreciated second child – never able to live up to the higher expectations and preferred first-born status of iOS. [As a father of three, I'm reminded of the Tikki Tikki Tembo story that I've read my daughters on many an evening.]screen-shot-2013-07-16

And for a while, this was probably a defensible point of view. Research consistently showed that iPhone users were early-tech-adopters and indexed higher than other mobile OS platforms for income and digital media content consumption — all statistics that made mobile marketers salivate, and gave easy-to-repeat statistics that allowed them to defend their iOS-first priorities and justify their disproportionate investment of money and effort towards the Sunnyvale giant’s products and platform.

However, the last several years have forced objective mobile business managers to revisit their biases and revise their marketing and development priorities. The run-away growth of Android in recent years which has made it the definitively dominant mobile OS platform globally, according to IDC (linked), Gartner (chart at right), and others. Increased competition in the U.S. market among both wireless carriers and their smartphone hardware partners has made mobile OS platform switching more commonplace. A good deal is a good deal, and Apple and Google now are in the software *and* hardware game – and Google’s willingness to take a break-even or loss-making deal on their hardware and software in favor of winning their way into consumers pockets has harvested a lot of early-iPhone-adopters. [Some killer hardware innovation by Samsung, HTC, and now Google's previous Motorola hardware unit has earned a lot of new and OS-switching U.S. and European customers also.]

Simply put, Android apps are now vitally important for any global media or brand enterprise – now more so than ever, in light of the platform’s pervasiveness. Maintaining a lower-quality, or feature-poor, Android version of an app that is better on the iOS platform can no longer be explained away with glib stats about difference segment profiles with iPhone users or ignored because Apple developer expertise was earlier to market. App marketers and publishers better have financial and usage data to back up their development investment priorities – and it better align proportionally. Google hasn’t elected to belabor this point by using “the stick” – instead, we view this new ratings-sort feature in the Play Store as an important signal that they intend to provide more “carrots” to motivate app managers to focus on what their diverse, increasingly-global mobile customer base really wants and values. In our view, this is one small example of a much larger key strategic shift in Google’s ability to signal how they intend to help – and reward – app publishers who prioritize app quality in their Android-specific app development and innovation efforts.

3) Mobile Customer Needs Come First – Ignore Them At Your Peril

Finally, Google’s ratings-sort feature acknowledges (at long last) that their Play Store app discovery capabilities have under-delivered to their growing customer base for too long – and they intend to change that. Our prediction is that this is just the first step. We will continue to pay attention to the new tools – and improved quality of Play Store + organic search results – that elevating the importance of app customer evaluations motivates them to create. So here’s the final strategic question we’ll leave you with: “If the most efficient company in the history of the world at organizing and presenting useful information to Internet users is signalling that they intend to raise their emphasis on effective discovery of quality applications, what do YOU intend to do to ensure that your Android app(s) perform at their best for customers?”289008691_2d063fdf97

If you are running a business that is dependent upon mobile customer experiences and commerce – and really, who *isn’t* these days – are you paying enough attention to driving app quality on all of the key mobile platforms? Are you using all of the data at your disposal – both public data like app store ratings, reviews, and meta-data, as well as private data like user mobile OS share and ARPU – to ensure your development and marketing efforts are appropriate? Are you letting historical bias (or just your own personal mobile OS platform preferences) guide an under-emphasis on Android app improvement, quality, and customer regard? Most of all, are you listening to – and engaging with – your mobile app customers with equivalent empathy and focus, regardless of which mobile platform app they are using of yours? In our view, these are some of the important strategic questions that this seemingly small Play Store experience improvement provoke.

As always, we welcome your comments and views on the topic. We know where we stand on the matter: every mobile customer is unique, valued, and valuable – and every customer deserves to receive the highest-quality experience that your resources and developers can deliver. But don’t believe us – just look at Google. They just raised the bar on expectations for app quality and customer evaluations of same. Our bet is that they intend to raise it further still as the mobile marketplace continues to grow and mature.

 

 

 

 

App Marketing

App Marketing Conversations: App Ratings & Engagement are Impacting App Store Rankings

App ratings are now even more important to your app’s organic marketing strategy

In this installment of App Marketing Conversations we talked about the news that Apple’s app store is now taking app ratings and engagement into account in a more meaningful way for setting the rankings of apps. We dug into some key questions that marketers are asking us about what this means and how to take advantage of  the changes. A few key questions to be asking about your app’s trajectory:

  • How many of your customers actually love the app?
  • Are your app customers using the app regularly?

Be sure to check out the Gamehouse segment of App Marketing Conversations which talks about what we can learn from the data indicating that the majority of app development is happening internationally now and from MobileDevHQ’s segment on the changes to the App Store Search Ranking methodology.

The Transcript:

Robi: Good morning. Welcome to another App Marketing Conversations. I’m here, as always, with Ian Sefferman, of MobileDevHQ, and Ryan
Morrel, of Gamehouse. I’m Robi Ganguly, from Apptentive. I want to take a few minutes this week to talk about an interesting conference that happened here in Seattle last week; it was called MoDev Tablet, put on by MoDev. This was their first real conference on the west coast, and it was very tablet-focused on a lot of really interesting content, in particular 3 different organizations were talking about they’re engaging with consumers, particularly around tablets. Nordstrom was there, Major League Soccer was there, USA Today was there. All of them had different takes, but they were all really seeing a lot of interesting use cases. I wanted to talk about that a bit and what it means for marketers.

I’ll start with I think a lot of people were surprised at first when I said that they were there, but then they got it. The MLS,
Major League Soccer, has in the past couple years, really built out a digital presence to engage with fans who are, as content
consumers go, rabid. In a previous segment, we were talking about fantasy football. Sports fans consume everything about
their sport, and Major League Soccer has really capitalized on this by creating lots of digital content, lots of technology to
watch stuff. What they were talking about being able to do on the tablet was really let the consumption of the sport happen;
you can see lots of different clips from different angles, but have the ability to go deeper, more personal. You, if you’re a
stats geek, can use their tablet experience, and some of this is web-based and some of this is app-based, in order to go deeper
on stats. An example of that is you can see the different shots on goal that a player makes, and then their percentage of
success with those different shots on goals. As a stats geek you can get into it.

I want to push this out to you. Have you seen yourself as sports fans, a change in the way you consume sports with mobile
devices, with tablets?

Ian: I am not a big MLS fan. There’s no team in Detroit, so why would I be? I’m a huge college sports fan. ESPN3, or whatever they call it, Watch ESPN now, and March Madness, completely changed my life. Being able to see multiple games at once, being able to
see all of the stats online; all of that stuff has totally been a massive shift. It’s been a time shifter; I can watch the games
whenever I want, especially on ESPN3. I can play Shift; I can watch it while I’m at the office, I can watch it at home, I can
watch it on the bus, whatever, and it’s allowed me to go deeper. As a sports fan, tablets are an incredibly useful venue for
consuming the information.

The other interesting thing is, I saw this yesterday, that ESPN is now in talks with some of the IBTV folks, the InternetTV
folks, to get all of their content directly onto that stuff.

Robi: Interesting.

Ian: Which will, I’m sure, send shivers down many cable network CEOs.

Robi: Just all across the country, they just went . . .

Ian: Exactly.

Ryan: As you were saying this, all I was thinking was, ‘The content wants to be free. Let it go.’ When you think back maybe 7 years ago, and you go home and go watch March Madness, it’s like, “Let’s go to the bar down the street for March Madness.” Then it was like,
“CBS has this thing; you can watch 1 or 2 games online, but it’s still video over the web and it’s crappy sometimes.” Now it’s,
“We can go watch these 3 or 4 games all at once on different screens. That’s fantastic,” Then you run into some content
distribution ownership rights and all this crap, and you’re like, “What is going on here?”

Ultimately, I think it just gets better from here. Now there’s opportunities, especially with sports and things that people are
really passionate about; you can almost consider them niches, to create really deep, engaging experiences. I think that’s just
going to grow as . . . these people that own these content distribution rights are going to have to start letting them go.
Comcast, we all know their big fear is being a dumb pipe, and that’s why they bought NBC. They’re still going to be a dumb
pipe.

Ian: They’re going to be dumb pipe with NBC.

Ryan: Yeah, exactly.

Robi: I think this is interesting as we talk about everything, one of the things that came up over and over again at this tablet
conference was the way in which you could go much deeper to engage customers and engage your fans. The way that MLS was
thinking about it was very forward thinking, like ‘We’re building this league. We’re building this brand presence, and
this allows us to get those fans even deeper.’ There’s this constant overwhelming theme of ‘mobile helps you get deeper into
a customer’s life’. You can’t necessarily do that for everybody, but if you have 20 million loyal fans, you can let those people
just do everything they want to do with your content. Freeing it actually helps you get that relationship much more cinched.

Ian: I think on top of that is mobile allows you to give, and especially tablets; you have a massively-connected social experience in the tablet, as well. One of the things, I think March Madness did this, CBS did this, was integration with Twitter for people
talking about a specific game. When I first saw it, I was like, “This is stupid. This is just a gimmick.” By the end of March
Madness, especially because Michigan went to the finals, by the end of March Madness, I was so in on that. I was like, “Look at
all these people. Look at these idiots from Louisville.” I was so in on it. It was, first of all, I had this personal
connection with the tablet, because for whatever reason, I feel more personally connected when I’m using a tablet. I don’t know
if that’s just because I’m literally holding it in my hand, and then it has the direct integration with social. All of a sudden
I’m like, “I should participate in this,” and I’m going way deeper than I would have ever gone if I was just laying on my
coach clicking buttons.

Robi: Wow. That’s pretty awesome, if I think about. What’s an experience where you went overboard?

Ryan: I don’t know that . . . unfortunately, I used to be extremely over- the-top sports fan. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve gotten a little bit older; I’m just not so much anymore. It was also just like this guy, “Look at all these Louisville.” All right, man,
whatever. I think ultimately this is . . . we’ve talked about this funnel over and over again, and how you can use apps to get
into this lower section of your really good consumers. Those are the people you want to inundate with content and options to
engage with you, because the more you let them choose the path they’re on, the more they’re going to do so, and the more likely
they’re going to be to come back. Apps are a . . . it’s a choice. They made, they declared their intent to engage with
you.

Robi: At first, I think I was a little bit ambitious in wanting to talk
about these 3 different companies. I think that I’m going to
have to break this up. We’re going to have to come back to some
of those [inaudible: 07:54] from USA Today and Nordstrom, but
just the MLS experience for marketers, I think the real lesson
is when you have fans, doing everything you can to go deeper and
deeper and draw them in, especially on this device that makes
you feel more personally engaged, is a huge opportunity. Think
about how you can do that.

Ian: One amazing customer is better than 100 customers who don’t care.

Robi: Exactly. That’s absolutely right. With that, I’m going to wrap this
up and say please share this, Like it on YouTube, and then check
out the other segments this week where Ian and Ryan drop some
knowledge. Thanks.

Ian: Thanks.

Ryan: Thank you.

Ratings

Better ratings for your applications

Better Ratings

Begging for ratings is lame

It’s a commonly held belief that more good ratings and reviews will lead to more success for your app.  As a result, we see a lot of developers experimenting with ways to get ratings.

Ratings solicitation tactics
If you’ve ever engaged in one of the following, you know what we’re talking about:

  • Asked all of your friends to download and rate your app
  • Used your Twitter account to remind every follower that they should check out your app and rate it
  • Told every friend you have on Facebook to download your app and like the Facebook fan page you’ve made
  • Installed code in your app that prompts a user to rate based upon how many days the app has been installed

If you’ve been doing this, it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, you’re trying to grow your business. We understand why you’re doing it and we think you’re ahead of many developers who aren’t even thinking about how to help themselves out.

There is, however, a better way. Asking for ratings needs to be about YOUR APP CUSTOMER.

Stop yourself and think about the rating process in this way:

How can you make your customers’ lives better by asking them to rate you?

This is a challenging question for some developers. Fortunately, we’re learning about this every day with our customers and we’ve discovered a few principles you might find helpful in thinking about ratings, reviews and the overall customer experience:

Ask a simple question: how many people love my app?

Remember: the surest way to better ratings is to have a better app FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS. It’s that simple.

Apple share of PC market trend chart - Apple's 11%

“Only” 1 in 10 PC buyers is getting an Apple device. Seemed to work out fine for them

Your app doesn’t have to make the entire world like it. It just has to have a rabid and loyal fan base.

Like Apple.

Got it?

Start with that goal in mind and work backwards from it.

You have limited time. Learn FAST.

A lot of our customers have fewer than 10 people working on an app.  Not a lot of resources. Which features do you prioritize? Which bugs are the most important?

One of the reasons we’re big believers in the Lean Startup movement is that it’s designed for organizations with resource constraints. A major benefit of the approach is to reduce waste by reducing the number of useless features you build as you discover your market’s needs. The more your product benefits from what you learn on a daily basis, the more likely you are to be efficient in its creation.

Ratings and reviews are prime opportunities for you to learn. Here are ways in which you can utilize ratings/reviews and customer feedback as learning tools:

  • The comments from ratings and reviews can inform your view of what users care about
  • The velocity of your ratings, that is, the number of ratings you get per day or per week can inform you about changes in customer perception. Are you suddenly seeing a lot more ratings and reviews? Did you make a change to your app that creates a reason for people to be more active in giving feedback?
  • The score – the actual values that people are giving you. This is an obvious one isn’t it? Most people just focus on the overall rating, however, instead of analyzing how it changes over time and monitoring significant shifts in the trends.
  • What is it that makes people unhappy when using your app? What can you learn from the critiques and complaints you receive? Are there customers who just don’t make sense for you?
  • What is it that people LOVE about your app? This is the most important thing you can learn from your ratings – what is it that delights people and what kind of people are delighted by your app?

When you look at ratings and reviews, think about what they’re truly about: giving customers a voice. Your goal should be to build upon that, giving them a voice so that you can learn from their feedback and make your app better.

So, how do you do that?

Ask simply…

App Ratings Done Right: Asking Your Users' Opinions

Who loves you? Find out how you’re REALLY doing.

People often overlook the importance of asking nicely. Pay attention to when and how you ask for information. Pay attention to what you’re really asking for as well. What are you trying to discern from your app customers?

We think it’s fundamentally about love. If you can earn a customer’s love, you’re on to something. You’re probably on their home screen, they use you daily, and they actively recommend you to their friends (usually by demoing your app in-person).

It turns out that asking a simple question gets honest feedback, constructive criticism and yes, more customers who truly love you. (We’re happy to share our app ratings component with all of you for free, by the way)

When you ask this simple question you inform your customers that you care about their feelings and needs, while respecting their time. By giving your customers permission to answer no, you communicate that the question is really about THEM, not about you. This is a huge departure from the traditional tactics we’ve highlighted above, which are really not about your customer’s needs. Consumers are smart and they can tell when they’re being asked to do something just for you.

When you’re asking customers to share their opinion, you’re also setting the expectation that you’ll be listening. That’s a huge gap in the current behaviors we see by developers who are asking for ratings. In today’s incredibly connected environment, customers expect to be heard and responded to. So, give yourself that capability (or use us to be able to respond to consumers quickly and directly).

…and respond nicely!

Responding to consumers who are expressing frustration is often all that’s required to soothe the frustration. Instead of being incapable of following up with the person having the problem, you can actually get in touch with them and possibly debug your code together.

While many developers think that people just want to vent and complain, we find that most people appreciate the knowledge that something is actually being done about their problem. Negative ratings and reviews are not about publicly badmouthing an app so much as achieving consumer catharsis. By establishing a direct line of communication with your app customers and reducing the friction required to speak up,  the person with a problem is far more likely to talk WITH YOU.

While being willing to listen is great, true consumer happiness comes when you respond. Just the act of responding nicely provides catharsis to your customers, delighting them at a time when most consumers are left alone.

You don’t have to tell customers that you’ll solve their problems (sometimes you just can’t) but by being honest, polite and apologetic you’ll ensure that they realize you are a real person who actually cares about the time they’ve invested in your product. That is not an impression most of those consumers will ever forget.

Plan for the long-term & respect your customers

Ultimately, we’re here to help you build a business that lasts. We understand that many of you feel similarly to Arash Payan, who created Appirater due to his frustrations around the behavior exhibited by consumers in the existing ratings and review model. As he wrote on his blog:

“In comparison to the unhappy user, the satisfied user rarely takes the time to review your app. Which leaves you with crummy reviews from uninformed users hurting sales of your app.

If Apple would allow developers to respond to reviews, or more easily challenge the validity of a review, this would be no big deal. But I don’t have any hopes of Apple wising up and fixing anything, so I’m left trying to get more positive reviews of my apps to drown out the negatives ones.”

Those frustrations are very real, but it doesn’t mean that you should settle for solutions that don’t get to the heart of your customers’ needs.

The app world is more competitive every day and the only way to consistently win is to have a core base of users who absolutely love you. Those folks will keep you on their home screen, applaud your updates and eagerly give you feedback, if you make it easy. They will tell their friends about you, they will pay attention when you release new apps and some of them will help you build the best apps you can possibly make. So, aim for winning more of those customers and keep their needs in mind.

Remember: if you’re trying to get ratings just to get more ratings, you’re doing it wrong.