Under the Radar

Under the Radar 75: Responding to Reviews


  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar it's never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started so we

  finally have the ability to respond to

  reviews in the App Store yeah waiting

  for this for a while we probably thought

  it would never come it was announced

  what about two months ago or something

  like that now we finally have it the way

  the implement of this system is actually

  pretty good you know it's pretty much

  what you would hope it would be in that

  when you respond to a review Apple

  notifies the user with an email and says

  hey the developer responded with this

  would you know click here if you'd like

  to update your review and the person you

  know so it's actually like it's a it's a

  pretty nice system all the reviews are

  in iTunes Connect you can you can you

  know you can browse all the all the

  regions and everything so I think they

  did a pretty good job with it and now

  it's I think the interesting part to

  discuss today is now that we have this

  system as developers what are the best

  ways we can actually use it you know

  what should we do what shouldn't we do

  what are the risks what's what's worth

  doing and I think there's there's a good

  approximately 30 minute discussion to be

  had there or do you think I think so


  and it's I think I would think I would

  absolutely agree with that I'm very glad

  they've done this and I think the way

  they did it works well that's you know

  it's early days still but it seems like

  it wasn't one of these things where you

  know we finally got what we were asking

  for but they did it in a way that was

  awkward or cumbersome or annoying for

  the most part like the interface and

  iTunes Connect so if you just as a in

  case your you kind of find this and you

  haven't if you go to a particular app

  you go to the activity tab and then you

  go to ratings interviews which is an

  area that has actually always been there

  or spin it for a very long time but now

  suddenly there's a reply button at the

  side of each review as well as a whole

  lot of really good filters that you can

  apply to it so you can see all your

  reviews you can see reviews that you've

  responded to reviews that you haven't

  responded to reviews that were changed

  as a result or after you responded to

  them which is also really helpful thing

  so you can get a sense of if it's

  actually working as well as filtering

  you know by different versions of the

  app or different you know

  how critical they are like if you want

  to see all your one-star reviews your

  five-star reviews it's really good solid

  like it like you would hope interface

  and I mean the only slight Neagle I have

  about it which is only really applies to

  me because I have so many apps is that I

  have to go through each app individually

  to check on the new reviews rather than

  there being a consolidated interface for

  it but that's just because I'm strange

  and have dozens of apps but otherwise

  it's it's a you know overall

  mechanically is really nice and they

  show up pretty well in the in the App

  Store I always kind of wonder how many

  people actually read the reviews in the

  App Store versus just looking at the

  star rating but you know it shows up

  that it truncates the review you

  responded to like it always does at

  about three lines and then below it it

  just says like develop a response and

  you know your response shows up right

  below there and this probably actually

  were a little pro tip that I thought of

  when I started doing my reviews response

  that it makes I think once I thought it

  was like oh of course that's where I

  should start

  because right now you probably have an

  app with you know if your fin app of any

  volume you have you know maybe a

  hundreds of reviews to look at it's like

  which one should I start looking at for

  responses and I'd the first thing I did

  is just opened the App Store go over to

  the reviews tab and see which are the

  first ones to show up in that list

  exactly because that is by far the most

  likely reviews that anyone is ever going

  to read you know it's very unlikely that

  people are going to be paging through

  all the way to the bottom of that list

  like maybe but that remembers especially

  that number one review below your star

  rating make sure that there's a good

  response to that because often that

  Ravech can often also be slightly

  critical because I think the sorting of

  that list is not chronological I think

  it's it's most helpful yeah but it's

  kind of vague like I don't I don't think

  that's purely based on like the number

  of like up votes and down votes and like

  the-- was this helpful thing I don't

  think it's only that I think there's

  other factors it's hard to tell but if

  you leave the sorting in iTunes Connect

  at the default that it loads up with

  it's that sorting so and you can always

  you know go on your phone and look at

  the app sort of to just verify that

  that's still the way it's sorted but

  yeah that because like I feel like you

  have to

  decide as you know as a way to spend

  your time and as a way to to take the

  risks which we'll talk about of this

  system you have to decide like are you

  mostly doing it to address that

  particular reviewer and to talk to them

  directly or are you mostly doing it to

  show other people who are reading the

  reviews you know your point of view on

  it or to correct falsehoods or to appear

  to be caring about your customers or

  things like that so if you're mostly

  responding to reviews like to the public

  basically in that in that latter way

  rather than to the individual reviewers

  then it makes sense to really only spend

  your time addressing a few of the top

  ones in each region because again as you

  said like they're they're probably most

  people are not going to be paging

  through you know 200 reviews of an app

  like that's you know if you're lucky

  enough to have that many it it's it's

  gonna be the top handful at most and

  after that it's severely diminishing

  returns so it doesn't make sense to

  spend a ton of time responding to every

  single review from you know the last

  four years or whatever because most

  people are never gonna see that yeah and

  I think - it's my the perspective that I

  take with these things is that these are

  marketing statements first and foremost

  they can be helpful to the person that

  I'm responding to but because this is a

  public facing this is text that is

  public facing that is on least on the

  app store page for my app which is like

  where I put all of my other marketing

  copy like it is important that I that

  these are written in such a way that

  they are you know useful and helpful to

  anybody who's trying to think about if

  they want to download my app and so

  which essentially becomes marketing and

  you can still you know write them to the

  person you just not like this has to be

  some kind of stilted a PR speak type of

  response but it's in the back of your

  mind when you're writing these reviews

  it's you know how would I write this I'm

  less writing this to this one person and

  then I am to the hopefully hundreds or

  thousands of people who might read this

  when they're browsing the city of the


  because the strange thing with reviews

  is they're very like point in time you

  know someone the Kino came you know it's

  a say that you have the classic kind of

  like the one star it's like I hated this

  app it was always useless I deleted it

  right away and they leave that as a

  review well that user is unlikely to

  come back they've deleted the app like

  you're kind of done with them you can

  still usefully write a response to that

  where you might show interest in terms

  of saying I'm so sorry you had a bad

  experience if you have any problem if

  you have specific concerns or complaints

  you know by all means email me here's my

  support address or something like that

  which is a marketing message that I'm

  engaged I'm interested I care about my

  users even if this one person had a bad

  experience which can be useful or

  someone who you know I wish it did X it

  doesn't one star and you can respond to

  the person say hey actually it does or

  that's great that's a great suggestion

  we'll see if we can work that into a

  future update maybe but whatever that is

  you're writing these with the

  expectation of you know someone is

  opening the App Store they're going to

  reviews they're reading these reviews

  especially if they're reading a negative

  review it's having a slight counterpoint

  that's right below it something that

  they can at least see a response to so

  it doesn't just stand there on its own

  as as a negative message in deciding

  which ones to respond to I've seen a lot

  of developers talk about you know on

  Twitter or on different podcasts I've

  seen a lot of people mention like the

  idea of well I don't want to like set

  the wrong expectations of my customers

  or like train people to expect certain

  things will always get responses or

  won't always get responses or whatever

  else or you know one thing you think

  about is like if you respond to every

  review that might create an incentive

  for people to one-star review you to

  just get it get your attention

  and because they know you're listening I

  think this these are all wonderful

  concepts but I think in reality this is

  out of our control because the reality

  is whatever standards that people will

  expect whatever whether people will will

  expect reviews or will expect responses

  to their reviews or not whether they

  will you know think that that reviewing

  your app or especially one star on your

  app will get your attention

  that will be decided globally like among

  the entire app store and just the people

  using it like their thoughts and you

  know the kind of norms and culture that

  comes around that whatever you do with

  your individual app is not going to

  affect that at all like it like whatever

  people will come to expect with whether

  they get responses or not and whether

  it's worth one starring and yelling at

  people or not that that's out of our

  hands that's being decided it's already

  been decided like it's that that battle

  is over people already we're using

  reviews you know angry one-star reviews

  to try to get our attention they already

  do the thing right they hold the star

  hostage and can leave it if you're lucky

  if they only hold one star hostage like

  you know that's that's out of our hands

  and so whether whether or not you

  respond to your reviews or how many of

  your reviews you respond to has nothing

  to do with what your customers expect

  from you and you are not setting their

  expectations or setting their incentives

  the entire app store is so you you

  should probably just go along with what

  people will expect to happen regardless

  of what that is yeah and I think too

  it's also important to keep in mind how

  small a proportion of your user base you

  were talking about here yeah like it is

  easy I think we can this is a part of

  why when I say like I think this is

  first and foremost a marketing thing and

  why I was really hopeful that one day we

  would be able to respond to reviews is a

  very small percentage of your users can

  have a disproportionate impact on your

  appearance in the app store you know in

  terms of I I have actually looked at

  what the numbers are but I imagine it's

  you know at least hundreds if not

  thousands to one for people who actually

  leave a review in the App Store and

  amongst those the vast majority leave

  just star ratings rather than words

  so you're ending up with you know a

  fraction of a percentage probably of

  your users that are leaving these

  leaving these written reviews that get

  responses and you know the vast majority

  of my support like my actual customer

  support is going to come through the

  support links and things within the apps


  they're not going to be coming through

  the app store and it's like my goal is

  in a weird way with the fees it's like

  they're it's like it's it's damage

  control in some ways because if someone

  writes a glowing review five stars this

  is awesome like there's nothing really

  for me to do and like at throwing in it

  like thinks that's awesome like that

  feels a little weird and like empty if

  there's a five-star review that has a

  question in it answering the question

  maybe make sense you know but mostly

  what this is it's a tool for me to clear

  up misunderstandings or clear up issues

  where you know somebody is just saying

  something that's untrue or you know like

  they're missing the point or they didn't

  find the feature like it's a way for me

  to communicate not to that person I mean

  I want to tell that person but like

  that's one person out of you know out of

  thousands that I can hopefully help

  which is you know nice but it's not

  nearly as impactful as the you know

  hopefully hundreds or thousands of

  people who will come to your app store

  page and you can communicate to them

  whatever that message is and so don't

  get too stuck either on like the you

  know it's like training this individual

  person like it's such a small proportion

  of your actual users that it probably

  matters less there you know and if

  anything it's like if you want to train

  your users to get in contact with you

  and they have problems or wherever that

  is it's like be responsive to your email

  I suppose like and make that a place

  that people can feel like they can vent

  their you know their unease or problems

  they have in the app but like yeah don't

  wouldn't get too wrapped around the axle

  about like oh it's like it's you know

  trying to be clever about this it's like

  no just look at your reviews and see

  which ones you can add value to in

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  this show and everything i host on the

  internet so I think it probably makes

  sense now to dive into just a little bit

  of the kind of what are the good 1 good

  reviews to respond to and we sure you

  know ones that we should just let be and

  like the first ones that come to mind on

  the let it go side of things is being

  very careful to get sucked into like I

  don't know like snarkiness or people who

  are just like there's sometimes you just

  people just like writing reviews that

  are mean or angry or aren't really on

  topic and in general it's like as with

  most things on the internet like arguing

  with people on the internet is never

  really a good idea and so whenever I see

  these kind of

  it's probably best to be like you know

  there's not much that I could gain from

  diving into this like maybe if it was

  the number one like if it showed up at

  the test the top review in the App Store

  it might be something that would be

  worthwhile trying to kind of you know at

  least show an engagement there but you

  know trying to go back and forth with

  somebody who clearly is just kind of mad

  and was using this review as a way to

  vent that is unlikely to be productive

  whereas probably good reviews to talk

  about are ones where there's a clear

  misunderstanding your question and like

  as I've been kind of browsing a little

  bit in these these are the areas that I

  think are the best opportunities for us

  that you know it's it when you look at a

  review and someone is saying you know

  it's like I mean in some ways it's like

  the old hostage star situation where

  someone's like oh man so forced our app

  it'd be five-star if it did X and if it

  actually does do X like if it's just

  like oh sorry that was so sorry the UI

  mid you know didn't help you find the

  feature if you go to the third tab or

  you go into settings you can in turn

  that on that's a great example of a

  place that you can you know as from a

  marketing perspective that's useful

  because if someone was gonna say oh I

  was I like this app but according to

  this review it doesn't actually you know

  do this kind of feature and at O the

  developer says it does great like that's

  or even probably more over it would be

  you know because these do I think

  they're written reviews stick around

  beyond multiple versions I think I don't

  know it's and that could obviously

  change over time but right now I'm

  pretty sure I think they don't actually

  unless they're edited maybe but I'm not

  positive on that yeah but it's also

  worth clearing up to if you if someone

  had a problem that was then fixed in a

  subsequent release in general just

  saying that is probably a helpful thing

  yeah because you know in it is a funny

  thing because you you just want to find

  these places where you can have these

  positive engagements I don't think I

  mean I don't know what you think about

  this but like there's a lot of you know

  I remember people were asking initially

  or talking about it of should we respond

  to every review you know should each

  review have a response below it any geez

  that's a simple answer no

  that's really a lot of times those

  responses are just end up being like

  thank you or good point like that kind

  of response I don't think is actually

  productive that I think it just kind of

  it's distracting probably I mean maybe

  I'm wrong maybe people love you know

  we'd love to see all these little like

  you know someone says something nice

  about you and you say thank you

  like I guess that's polite that's the

  polite thing to do is to say thank you

  and someone says something nice about

  you but it seems counterproductive in a

  lot of ways I mean the main benefit in a

  weird way like and this is just the way

  my mind works I suppose is by doing that

  you aren't increasing the amount of

  space on the screen that the positive

  review took up so it emphasizes it

  slightly like if someone has a five-star

  review that's but like I just I one of

  the one of the issues is that you that

  we have here is that again what I said

  earlier like whatever most apps do or

  the most popular apps do is gonna be

  what people assume and expect I think

  one of the big problems is that most

  apps that most people actually use are

  made by big companies and the big

  companies are either going to not

  respond or they're gonna they're gonna

  have somebody whose job it is to

  basically be a can respond similar to

  like if you if you add mention on

  Twitter like some big brand like Comcast

  or whatever then they're gonna have some

  intern whose job it is to try to placate

  you with a canned response and we're

  gonna have that on the App Store reviews

  too and so if people get used to that

  anything you say in it just in like a

  general response to a positive one

  they're going to assume is not genuine

  they're going to assume that this is

  just like a form letter that you say to

  everybody which it actually might be and

  I don't think that looks good to people

  you know people see right through that

  and and again they're going to be coming

  to your app with the assumption that

  this is a can response like one of the

  one of the reviews that I gave I was

  trying to placate somebody who once

  starred me and that review showed up

  pretty high and they were complaining

  about you know just some of the some of

  the design changes I did in 3.0 and I it

  took me a while I I wrote this response

  it took probably 15 minutes to write

  even though it's like - it's like two


  that's because you know the famous thing

  like I forget my letter for being so

  long I would have written a shorter one

  but at that time like I started writing

  a whole bunch of different ways to

  address this and it took me a good 15

  minutes to come up with like the two

  sentences that I actually thought I

  should say here and it was very much it

  was like kind of a general statement of

  like you know I'm sorry this design

  isn't working for you I try to please

  many people as I can but you know

  sometimes that's not possible something

  like that and the guy edited his review

  and clearly thought that was a canned

  form response even though I had never

  written it to anybody else before it

  took me 15 minutes to compose those two

  sentences he just assumed because it

  kind of sounded like he can't response

  like I'm you know I'm sorry you know I

  couldn't couldn't help you here whatever

  else and he probably assumes that any

  response that is kind of like that on an

  after review is just a canned response

  and there's no thought behind it even

  though in this case there was tons of

  thought behind it and so you always you

  have to take that risk to like again

  like what what are people going to

  expect from the entire app store as a

  whole is going to impact the the

  assumptions they go into when they when

  they see your response and I don't think

  a a cyclic hey thanks for reviewing us

  like I don't think that is productive I

  don't think people want that and I think

  if you did that people would not receive

  it as well as you might think it might

  it might seem like overly eager or

  creepy or just kind of desperate and I I

  don't think that's a good look

  yeah and I think that's probably in

  general like I think this is an area

  where probably less is more right yeah

  it's it's it's it's one of these things

  that I think we could easily get carried

  away with using and it's like it's time

  spent that it's it's I think it's a it's

  a wonderful tool for us and there are

  areas like especially for those like the

  top those top reviews having good goodra

  answers for those like it makes a lot of

  sense but I think this very easily could

  become this rabbit hole of if trying to

  squeeze too much out of this feature is

  almost certainly going to become a

  counterproductive it's going to be

  something that is taking time away from

  the actual thing that will make your app

  a five-star app which is making your app


  you know the switching you know

  convincing one person to give you one

  more star is nice but you know making

  your app better with a new version that

  is going to address the problems that

  people are having like that's a much

  more robust and sustainable solution

  rather than getting into lots of little

  hitches with this and I mean especially

  it's one of these things that some

  people like people are writing reviews

  for very different reasons right like it

  is something that we don't control and

  especially because it's not this venue

  where it's you know this nice threaded

  conversation like you can say something

  and then they can say something and they

  know they're doing it by like updating

  their review and so you can get these

  very disjoint kind of situations if you

  go too far down that road so in general

  less is more probably and I think the

  question of how far back to go like I

  heard was on core intuition because

  Dana's gelcoat was saying that he was

  responding to reviews from like years

  ago that just kind of blows my mind it's

  like I think in general keeping this

  fairly current is something that makes

  sense that you know responding to

  reviews as they come in makes some some

  amount of sense and in this initial


  you know maybe responding or at least

  rereading in deciding if you want to

  respond to all the reviews for the

  current version seems about reasonable

  but beyond that I probably wouldn't go

  too much farther back yeah and kind of

  expanding a little bit on the on the

  less is more angle again you know keep

  in mind as you mentioned that that you

  know you're posting this response but

  then the the user who wrote the review

  is prompted and will likely edit the

  review and so you have to make sure that

  if somebody you know assuming that

  you're not going to be keeping on top of

  every single response you write to see

  if the person edited it and then see if

  you need to edit your response and

  everything like that's that's not

  productive so keep in mind though that

  your your response might not make as

  much sense if the users review is

  heavily edited after you gave the

  response and so write the responses with

  that in mind so for instance one of the

  responses I wrote and I haven't actually

  done that many of them honestly but one

  of the responses I wrote

  was one of the top reviews was asking

  about battery life saying the new

  version seemed to use more battery life

  and so in my response I didn't really

  specifically call out like you know

  anything in particular about about the

  question that was asked it was I gave a

  more kind of general response about

  battery usage in the app and I said

  basically like you know here's the kinds

  of things that make any podcast app use

  more battery power and you know and you

  know here's like playing fast using the

  screen brightness and the speaker and

  everything else and I like you know I've

  tested overcast III test overcast

  against other podcast apps and I try to

  make sure it's always comparable or

  better but if you've if you figure out

  anything else please let me know and I'm

  always trying to find out you know any

  areas I might have missed something like

  that right and so and so I gave an

  answer that no matter what the review is

  edited to that will still basically make

  sense as a standalone written piece

  there and I think it's important to do

  that because again like whatever you

  respond to the the user who wrote the

  review can then edit the review to say

  anything so if you just say like I agree

  the person can respond to the reviews

  saying this app sucks and they're the

  first review saying this app sucks and

  then your responses they're saying I

  agree like so you have to always make

  sure that you are accounting for the

  fact that the thing you're responding to

  can change at any time to say anything

  and make sure the e review still makes

  sense in that context yeah it's just

  yeah so I mean you the nice thing is an

  iTunes Connect you can sign up to get

  notifications when users change reviews

  that you responded to so at least you

  can track that down a little bit and

  there's also there's a filter in iTunes

  Connect but still like it's definitely

  good advice to keep that in mind that

  you don't control the other end of this

  and this is all in the public you know

  it's all public facing not just like on

  a public website even it's like right on

  your App Store page the last thing that

  I wanted to sort of touch on briefly I

  think is the mental health aspect of

  responding to reviews oh boy

  because and this is so it's probably

  worth saying that I'd went through and

  did a little bit of responding to

  reviews but after that initial wave of

  just like making sure I understand what

  how this process works and what it looks

  like I've you know just like I do for my

  customer support I've you know outsource

  the actual day-to-day operation of

  responding to reviews to someone else

  you know I have someone else who

  responds to my first level customer

  support and now I have someone who is

  you know a very part-time basis but is

  taking you know is responding to the

  reviews in the App Store and the main

  reason why I do that I mean it's nice

  from a you know it's from a time

  perspective it frees me up a little bit

  and so on but the main reason why I do

  that is because I find reading reviews

  of my own products can be very

  detrimental from a like motivation from

  a happiness self-worth like all kinds of

  very significant things can happen yes

  and this is one of these things what's

  so reading one really mean like pointed

  review about yourself you know Kumasi as

  always is the thing that sticks with you

  it's not the thing that you know if

  someone writes this glowing five star

  review about how much they love the app

  like that's nice and it I mean I wish it

  stuck with me more but it's almost

  always as these you know these mean

  intentionally vindictive kind of reviews

  that people will write and so that's why

  you know for me I decided you know I'm

  just in the same way that I haven't

  really been reading my App Store reviews

  very much over the last few years it's

  like I this is not a reason for me to

  get back into that game that I remember

  what that did you know cognitively to me

  and so it's like you know what I will

  just pay a little bit of money to have

  someone else to do that because for them

  it's not personal you know for them it's

  not that same thing when they're you

  know if someone's attacking the product

  that I made when it feels like they're

  attacking me whereas you know if someone

  else is it precisely more you know

  separated from that product you know

  it's it's more just a job it's a thing

  and like it's a it's a Thomas has a more

  of a comedy to it perhaps so it's you

  know it softens the blow and so just

  something to keep in mind that while

  this is a useful tool while this is

  something that I'm glad we have you know

  be careful and I really speak cognizant

  of the impact that it is having on you

  and be careful about then how you do

  that and when you went in the day you do

  that or like how you're feeling

  emotionally like this is if the

  something that you're doing and you're

  feeling really sad or down that day

  maybe don't go read your app store

  reviews like that's unlikely to make you

  feel better yeah I would say that's good

  advice in general like in general you

  don't need to read reps or reviews very

  often or very closely I think it's

  important to you know do what we said

  earlier like you know view them in the

  same way that the public views them so

  look at your store page occasionally and

  see which ones are on top and see what

  your average is and I don't think you

  need to go much further than that in

  both reading them or responding to them

  I have found the same thing that reading

  my after reviews is almost never a good

  thing for my motivation or my mental

  state and so I mostly just don't do it

  and I'm very happy not doing it and that

  will probably continue so anyway thanks

  very much for listening and we'll talk

  to you next week bye