18 Tips for Creating Winning App Updates

App_Update_Release_Notes_BlogSo, your app isn’t the new kid on the block anymore. You’ve conducted a launch campaign, increased downloads, and optimized ad spend. Now, you’re coming up on another hurdle: handling your first round of updates, or even moving on to V2.

But there’s no need to panic; updating your app is considered a good thing, even when it’s because of nasty bugs. The App Store looks for you to regularly release new app changes to keep things current, and users know that updates are meant to make their experience better. All in all, it’s a positive.

So, pulling it together should be a positive for you. To help app owners, marketers and developers create a better system for launching winning app updates, we’ve pulled together 18 tips in three steps you can start using today.


Step 1: How to garner user feedback

User feedback is hugely valuable to the product process - unfortunately it is also often misplaced. Use these tips to better gather and track your user feedback, and integrate it into your product roadmap.


#1. Use an NPS survey in-app to keep feedback out of the App Store and in your hands

One critical tool in your arsenal is the NPS survey - a survey you can customize and run using an in-app messaging campaign, targeted to all or certain users and aimed at gathering their feedback on the app experience. One advantage to running this campaign is that all feedback is gathered privately, and is not visible to or shared with your other app users.


#2. Give customers other ways to engage with your brand outside of the App Store

Simple, but effective: take your feedback cross-channel by emailing users and asking them for ideas on how your app could be better. Email gives them the chance to respond in longer form than an in-app campaign, and because you’re not structuring the questions, you could get unexpected feedback. Sure, your response rate might be low, but it only takes one or two dedicated users to inspire the best ideas.


#3. Keep track of feedback as it comes in

Organization is the name of the game. When you have a product roadmap to consider, try creating a structured backlog for tracking user feedback. This way, you never overlook a request or miss out on a feature idea. You can then keep a running tally of what users are asking for most, and identify the most problematic bugs. This also means that when it comes time to launch a new update, you’ve got data (or, at least an organized and comprehensive list) to back up what you chose to roll out.


#4. Adjust near-term work around known app issues

Back to the app roadmap: you’ve put a lot of work into it. It’s based on real needs and big desires. But it can’t be all feature-based bells and whistles - most times, you’re going to have to prioritize around the issues that have surfaced, and restructure your current work to allot time to address these issues.


Step 2: How to write your release notes


#5. Always respond to user feedback

You’ve spent the time to track, fix and build around user feedback, so in your release notes, be clear that you have heard customers and responded to their needs. Mainly because it’s a straightforward (and unmistakable) way to identify big fixes and major wants. But also because it helps improve trust between your app users and your brand. Your users want to know that their input helps to drive your app forward, and addressing this at the onset is critical to keeping users on your side. Consider Yelp, which addressed a feature users loved about their last release, and announced they've added it to the iPad:

Yelp_App_Store_Example


#6. Be clear about (but don’t dwell on) bug fixes

If users are turning away from your app because of new bugs, you’ve got to squash the issue, and quickly. More importantly: you need to be upfront about bug fixes in your release notes and address that it was an actual problem you were aware of. That being said, don’t dwell on the negative. A quick one line for each fix is enough to convey the change without putting it too much in the spotlight. 

Hint: While RetailMeNot typically has a strong brand voice, they missed out on an opportunity to actually tell the user what they fixed:

RetailMeNot_-_release_notes_example


Manual, a custom exposure camera app, however, did it right with their January release. They addressed bug issues first and foremost, but then made it interesting:

Manual_-_release_note_example


#7. Stay on top of what differentiates your app

Release notes aren’t just about addressing bugs (where’s the fun in that?). If your recent release includes cool new features that sets your app apart from your competitors, or includes an update to a current feature that has always been a key differentiator, highlight that in your notes. Keeping this at the forefront of your updates will maintain your competitive edge and stand out to new users as a “must-have”.


#8. Put the most important information first

Easy to do, but also easy to overlook: be sure to put the most important information about your release at the top of your notes. What about this release do you want users to know right away? Prioritize based on that question, and make sure you don’t bury the lede. What you think is the most interesting update (or the one you worked the hardest on) might not be the one that matters most to your users.


#9. Summarize previously releases

Kick off your notes by highlighting that the release includes all of the awesome things introduced in the last update, with new and improved elements. This is a great way to keep past efforts top-of-mind and showcase the ways your app is moving forward to improve and expand.


#10. Bite the bullet with bullet points

Scannability is a huge factor when it comes to optimizing your App Store listing. Long blocks of texts describing your app isn’t going to connect with someone looking to download quickly. Similarly, your current users just want to know the main points of your update - they don’t need additional marketing information around your app (they’re already using it!). Always structure your release notes with bullet points or hyphens to increase readability and clarity. Bullet points will also force you to be clearer and more succinct with your updates. If you’re using hyphens, stay away from formatting using them with no space before the start of the copy - this is a sure-fire way to decrease scannability and look sloppy. Social platform Tumblr keeps their release notes copy clean:

Screen_Shot_2015-02-20_at_3.35.28_PM


#11. Use a full line around each bullet

Also important for readability? Using full lines between each bullet point, so that your updates don’t start to blend together because of a lack of whitespace. You might be asking “Does this really matter?”. But think of it this way: the average user attention span is shrinking, and you don’t want to add any roadblocks to them learning about your app updates, quickly.


#12. Use humor; if it’s part of your brand’s voice

If your brand voice relies on humor, bring that to the forefront in your release notes. Portraying your human side (as opposed to your corporate side) will go a long way with creating long-lasting relationships with users. Communication channel Slack, for example, keeps things straightforward and funny:

As a service that alerts you to fun activities in your area, Yplan’s brand definitely relies on humor to move it forward.

YPlan_-_release_notes_example

Of course, there is an expection to every rule. Sometimes, even brands not well-known for their humor can integrate it well into their app updates. Take Reuters TV for example: they used the recent string of snowstorms in the Northeast as an opportunity to write a truly inspired release "story". 

RuetersTV_update-1

Another tip: be careful not to overdo it with bug-killing metaphors. A few well-placed and witty ones can be fun, but too many and you risk looking outdated and unaware.


#13. Re-think emojis

Emojis aren’t right for everyone, but can be used strategically - just like humor - if they fit with your brand’s positioning. These little visuals also help to break up text, and draw the eye to certain copy. This is where it’s necessary to know your audience, and use emojis to supplement a brand voice you know they enjoy.


#14. Add a support contact

This relates back to collecting user feedback from outside of the App Store. Give users a better way to contact you with additional questions and concerns, or with bug notifications and feature requests, by incorporating your support contact information into your release notes. Being upfront with easy ways for users to contact you negates frustration and allows you to be more transparent about gathering important information.

Panera_App_Store_Example

Step 3: Releasing your app


#15. Release to the same language markets, only smaller

If you’re considering a test-run, try releasing to your current language markets, but within a smaller audience. For example, if your app is in with a US base, you could promote to New Zealand and Australia, and see how the updates go over in those locations before releasing it to your broader market. You can do this within the Apple App Store by choosing which countries your app is available in


#16. Consider updating your app icon for big releases

Is the next version of your app a game-changer? If you want to make a big splash and seriously attract attention, considering changing your app icon alongside big releases, and adding visual elements that support the “big” idea behind the release.

When food delivery service Eat24 was acquired by Yelp, they announced it in a new release that included an updated logo and app icon:

Eat24_release_note_example 


#16. Use phased release to test for new version bugs

Phased rollouts or beta testing help protect you from releasing a buggy update to your entire user base. You can choose instead to release to a smaller group of users as a back-up form of beta testing before launching to everyone. Using this, you can measure the impact of your release, plus track feature performance, with less attention. Both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store offer beta releases. 

#17. Use analytics data and App Store referrer data to understand how people are finding your app 

Gather analytics from your ad acquisition campaigns, referral links and other data to track downloads and know where your users are coming from. This will help you further optimize your release notes in the future - once you know what content and initiatives are driving people to your listing, you'll better understand how to tailor your copy to speak to them. 

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