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How Do I Fix Bad App Reviews? App Reputation Management 101

Are you here because you’ve been hit with some bad app reviews lately? All apps, even really promising ones, have their detractors. Negative reviews impact your discoverability and overall app store rating more heavily than happy ones, so it’s entirely normal to feel anxious or worried about this. But don’t worry—this situation can be repaired. There’s no magic wand to make bad app store reviews go away completely, but there are concrete steps you can take to solve the problem, minimize the impact of unfavorable reviews, and earn user loyalty.

In this post, let’s look at strategies to control your reviews and reputation, use feedback to address problem areas, and turn dissatisfied users into enthusiastic fans.

We’ll start with an immediate action plan, then look at long-term recovery strategies, and finally outline preventative measures to keep your users happy and your image under control.


Immediate Action Plan

First, let’s look at what you can do right away to get the situation under control. Don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re getting a lot of negative reviews after an update; you’ve got this.


1. Respond publicly to the app store review ASAP

You’ll want to take action fast (within a few minutes, if possible—before the user has uninstalled and moved on). Get your template ready if you have one, or write your response right then, so it’s genuine and specific (but take care! Only write on-the-spot responses if you know you won’t get defensive, argumentative, or otherwise compound the problem). Users are more understanding and forgiving when they see evidence that you’re listening. In addition, you’ll want potential users to see that you’re responsive and care about solving their problems.

Sample template:

“We’re sorry about your experience! Thank you for letting us know. We appreciate your help in improving our app and will take your feedback into consideration during the development process.”

Tips for writing effective app store replies:

  • Use a gentle, polite, and positive tone. Be sincere.
  • Don’t get defensive or snarky (it doesn’t help — even if you’re right)
  • Don’t engage with trolls or get into unnecessary arguments
  • If you can, solve their problem!
  • Give them your contact information so they can solve the problem with you privately.


2. Respond privately to the reviewer

Your developer console will generally give you enough information to get in touch with the person who wrote the review. When possible, approach the user, identify the issue, and resolve it privately (don’t forget step 1 though, even if you do settle the situation over email). Solve their problem before requesting that they update their review. If they feel like you’re just trying to get rid of a bad review, they will feel less that you care about them and more that you care about you. Keep the focus on the user.


3. Release an update that directly addresses your reviewers’ issues

If most complaints are about bugs or crashes (an extremely common source of negative feedback), then posting release notes may prompt disappointed users to come back and give you another try. It'll also give your current users more confidence in your app.


4. Report spam, inappropriate, or fake reviews to Apple or Google

If you know that the person posting has never used your app or services, respond anyway, because others will see it. Mention that you don’t seem to have records of them being a previous customer, leave your contact information, and offer to fix the situation. Contact support if there’s no followup after you report a review.


5. Analyze your customer feedback to identify root causes of user complaints

Get to the heart of the problem so you can directly solve it and avoid it in the future.

Keep in mind:
It can hurt to read unhappy reviews of your app. But remember that negative reviews aren’t there to criticize you. The purpose of negative reviews is to let other users know about issues that might impact their experience. As often as possible, be gracious, open, and willing to learn from their feedback.


Long-Term Recovery Plan

Bad reviews don’t always stay bad reviews forever. Now that you’ve followed the steps for dealing with recent negative feedback, let’s go over strategies that’ll nudge users to update their reviews over time.


1. Release in-app announcements and NPS surveys right after updates

Prompt your users to update to your latest app version and let them know what's new in your latest release. Send them a private message and ask them to update their review, especially if your update has fixed their problems.


2. Set the right expectations

Make sure your creative team is writing accurate material that doesn’t mislead users. Check for areas of potential miscommunication — is there somewhere where users are being disappointed by false expectations or something being unclear? Clarify details, especially regarding special deals and features, so no one is surprised. Make sure your messaging aligns with what your users are getting and be sure to correct any misperceptions.

Items to review:

  • In-app copy
  • App store description
  • In-app popups
  • Announcements
  • FAQ
  • Marketing materials
  • Help center/troubleshooting tips
  • Special circumstances—if there are any external factors that might impact your services (like the possibility of deliverables being late), communicate proactively. Your users are far more likely to be considerate and understanding when you let them know.

Tip: Make sure you’re marketing to the right audience and on the right channels. Avoid trying to please everyone, because then you’ll end up with people who aren’t in your target audience leaving you negative reviews because they wanted a different experience, one that you’re not even trying to provide in the first place.


3. Make your help center easy to find and navigate

Give troubleshooting tips where necessary, so users find it easy to address common issues and don’t feel compelled to leave bad reviews.


4. Update your review responses after releasing updates

Many developers forget to do this, but it’s an important step! If they cared enough to write a review, then they might be invested enough to give you another try after you’ve fixed the issue they complained about. Other users reading your reviews will also see that you pay attention to your users.

Tip: Use a spreadsheet to keep track of reviews that will require responses and keep it handy for quick access after you’ve released an update.


Preventative Measures

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That definitely applies to this situation! You can mitigate the effects of bad reviews, but the best strategy is to avoid getting them in the first place. Sound easier said than done? Don’t worry; you've got this.


1. Check your reviews frequently for recurring issues, like bugs

If you’re using Instabug, you’ll know about these issues as soon as they start, before they start hitting your app store reviews. Not sure you’ll see your reviews fast enough? Set alerts in your developer console, or use third-party tools like AppBot on Slack to make sure you’re on the ball.


2. Incentivize at-risk segments

Do you see certain users giving you behavioral indicators that they’re unhappy with the app, such as closing the app early or abandoning tasks? Incentivize them with some kind of deal or in-app rewards, upgrades, in-app currency, etc., to get them reengaged and excited about your app again.


3. Get more testers and iterate on your release strategy

Get extra eyes and hands on your new features before they go live. Consider staggered releases of new updates and features. If you don’t already, give beta testing a try.

Make it easier for your users to reach you. Do you have an obvious in-app contact button? Fewer people will leave reviews as a way of communicating problems if it’s easy to reach you directly.


4. Get active on social media

Show people you’re involved and responsive. This is good for users who like to do their research. They’ll also have another way to get to know your product and self-qualify before downloading. Plus, they’ll have another outlet for contact before they decide to give you a bad review.


5. Drive 5-star reviews with an in-app feedback tool

Keep track of development issues and adopt a smart feedback strategy—Instabug’s NPS surveys route happy users to the app store and unhappy users to your inbox. You’ll filter out negative feedback and tackle your problem areas head-on through proactive communication.


One Last Note

Negative reviews can be worrying, but don’t forget to read your happy reviews too! You and your team will get a boost from the positivity and support, and you should take some time to feel good about your work. You can also add quotes from great reviews to your app description in the app store—this social proof will encourage more people to try your apps.

Keep your focus on your happiest users. You can’t make everyone like you, but you can at least get more reviews from the ones that do. Maximizing your positive reviews is as important as minimizing the negative ones. By following the tips above, you’ll be sure to win over more fans, including some people who didn’t start out that way.

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