Acquisition & Engagement

Beginner’s Guide to an App Update [Part 1]: 5 Magic Strategies to Implement

Becky Doles

Updating your app isn’t always the most exciting thing in the world, and it’s definitely not as exhilarating as releasing your app for the first time. As the months go by, each update seems to get more and more tedious. To me, it’s similar to moving into a new apartment. The first week or two, everything is new and exciting and I make sure that all the dishes are done and the whole place is tidy. But as the weeks go by, cleaning starts to get a little more tedious. I get lazy and start leaving plates in the sink, I don’t vacuum as much, and the dust starts to collect on the top of my TV. Finally it gets to the point where I have to dedicate entire days to just cleaning the apartment, and it turns into a dreaded chore.

Once the novelty of releasing a new app goes away, the update starts to evolve into a necessary evil similar to that of cleaning the apartment (for me anyway).

But it shouldn’t be! You should be looking forward to every update you make, even if it’s just a little one. Just because your next one might not be a complete UI overhaul doesn’t mean you can’t reap some benefits.

The following post will be a two part series. Part one will cover all the good things that can come from an update and convince you why even a little one can be exciting, and part two will cover best practices for updates to help guide you through the process.

App Update Benefits: The Exterminator and a Clean Sheet

Fixing Bugs
Bugs can be the demise of any great app. Just a tiny little mistake in your code causing the slightest feature in your app to not function correctly can set off an avalanche of negative effects. App users are neither patient nor forgiving, and the smallest hiccup can lead them to uninstall your app and write scathing reviews, both of which directly impact your app’s ranking in search and the Top Charts.

But if you find the bugs quick enough and fix them with an update, you can mitigate the damage. If you look at most app update notes, the majority of updates consist of at least one or two bug fixes. Often times fixing the bug isn’t the hard part. It’s identifying which ones are impacting users the most and should therefore be prioritized that’s tough.

There are a few ways you can expedite this process. First, you obviously need to test your app thoroughly before launching. Here’s a nice guide on good ways to do that. However, once you’ve launched, the quickest way to find new bugs is to simply scan your reviews. There’s no better stress test than actual user interaction. They’ll make sure to poke around, intentionally or unintentionally, and find all the bugs your app has. Looking through the reviews can highlight some of the bigger ones you need to focus on. Apple’s acquisition of TestFlight will also be extremely helpful. IOS8 will allow you to beta test your app before releases and with updates which will provide a good feedback loop.

Here you can see that this app with a camera component has had some problems with crashing, not switching between front and rear cameras, and the flash. There are more than 100 similar reviews for many of these, indicating this should be a priority for them to fix.

Don’t let bugs be the end of your app. Find them, fix them, and release an update.

Wiping the Slate
Updating your app also provides an opportunity for you to wipe the slate clean – to a point. Let’s say you release a new version with some awesome new features. Unfortunately, these turn out not to be so awesome because they’re littered with bugs. Users get really mad, and you suddenly have a spike in one star reviews.

Ruh roh. This will not only hurt your search and Top Charts rankings, but it will also hurt your conversion because the app store shows the rating of your most recent version and potential users will see how poorly your app is rated.

Fortunately, when you update your app, the current rating starts over. Like we mentioned above, you’ll want to fix these bugs ASAP. That way, when you release a better version, not only will your current bad rating go away, but you’ll most likely also have a good rating because now your awesome new feature is working flawlessly.

However, it’s important to note that those those bad ratings won’t disappear for good – they’ll remain in your all versions rating. But they’ll no longer be up front and center in your current version rating.

A/B Testing for Your App

Title and Keyword Testing
Updates are also a great way for you to test out your title and keywords to see which ones you can rank for and which ones drive the most downloads. As you probably know, if you’ve ever read this blog before, search is the largest channel for app discovery. And although there are many factors that go into app store optimization, two of the most important ones right now are your keywords and title.

You want to make sure that you are targeting the right keywords for your app. Although this might seem intuitive at first, it’s not always as black and white as you might think. The best way to test this is to do some keyword research, identify 6-10 keywords you think will be best for your app based on search volume, relevance, and difficulty, and then pick 3-5 of those to target at a time. The most useful way to target a few special keywords is to use them in your title. Putting them there versus your keyword field (iOS) or description (Android) will help you rank higher for them.

You can use updates to essentially A/B test your title. It’s not a perfect system because you can’t run the tests simultaneously, but you can see generally how your ranking changes as you target different keywords and also get an idea for how that correlates with downloads.

If you are using an update to try different titles it’s important that you make sure to try and keep your outside marketing activities similar over the two testing periods. That means if you run a paid campaign during one testing period, try to run a similar one for the other as well. At the very least, you should record all marketing endeavors so if you see a spike or drop, you can know whether to attribute that to your new title or something else.

Screenshots are one of the first things people see when searching in the app store. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the things app marketers and developers seem to not put much time or effort into.

Screenshots are hugely important. They take up a lot of real-estate in the search results, they give the user a sense of what it’s like to use your app, and they are one of the key drivers that peak interest into further exploration of your app. We conducted a study a few months back and found that 93% of the 514 people surveyed said they look at and consider screenshots when searching for apps in the app store.

You should be optimizing these. Again, updates provide a great way to A/B test your screenshots. Like the title, it won’t be perfect, but currently it’s the one of the best options you have. Try adding or removing things like explainer text or highlight different features of your app. Every app will want to try different strategies, but here’s a post that brings some quantitative tips to a very qualitative space.

Tip: With the addition of video previews in iOS 8, you might want to test how your app performs with or without a video. Also, the new iTunes Connect analytics which will be released later in the year will help show conversion data. This will help you test your screenshots and see how much they are impacting conversion.

The description is usually the last string that either pushes users to download your app, or makes you lose them forever. Although not everyone will bother reading the description, the ones who do show that they are putting time and thought into the decision. This is a good thing. It means they care, and also signifies that if they do decide to download your app, they really want it and are more likely to be an engaged user.

Make sure you take advantage of this, and again, test it. In both Android and iOS, only part of the description is shown. Try testing what you make visible without further expansion. Maybe it’s an award you just won, social proof, or an awesome feature. Either way, those are three pieces of content you will want to include in your description. Try testing the order and actual copy you include here to see if any iteration leads to more downloads and conversion.

Hopefully next time you update your app you will have more things to test out and try so it’s not a complete drag. Check out part two of this series to get some tips and best practices for updating your app!

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

Leave a Reply