Mashable Update Graphic

Best Practices for Updating Your App on the App Store

Knowing when to update your app is a bit of a balancing act. On the one hand, users don’t want a push notification or an update notification on their phone every single day. On the other hand, updates are a good way to let everyone know your app is still being looked after, as well as just being a necessary part of development.

So what do you do? This post is all about when you should update your app, and what a great update description looks like. Strap in. It’s gonna get real.

Tightrope walker

Image via Flickr

Some numbers

First let’s get some benchmarks going. How often do top apps get updated now? Well, a quick prowl on the internet led me to this graph:

version update frequency chart

Image via SensorTower

As you can see, the number of days vary wildly between every three days on average to eBay updating every 45 days on average.

That’s a big range.

But that’s only how often developers are updating their apps, not how often those updates are being installed by users. The now-defunct Bump CEO David Lieb answered a Quora question about this, stating that

“after ~3 weeks, less than 10% of active users are on an old version of the app.”

So from this, we can infer that for them at least, when they push out an update, then it’s adopted pretty much wholesale by their users. Here’s a graph visually demonstrating the same thing.

Bump updates

Image via Quora

Granted these numbers are a little dated, and maybe we can assume the allure of app updates has faded in the intervening half decade, but we can also probably assume that user acceptance is still pretty high in 2015.

BusinessInsider wrote a report that researched the link between app updates and success. You can read the whole report, but the important bit is that

they found apps that were updated more often had better ratings.

And 213 days ago Talking New Media ran an article about how often to update your app and cited Twitter and Facebook as standout, professional examples of great app companies for updating their apps every two and four weeks, respectively. They argue that it’s better to update frequently because it “reinforces the notion that apps are as essential to a media brand as the web or print.”

So what can we take away from these numbers?

  • There’s no magic number of updates that will guarantee you success
  • There’s huge disparity between app update schedules…
  • … but generally, if you update more you’ll get better ratings

Updating best practices

So unfortunately, there’s not really a clear ‘this is how often to update’ best practice. Bummer. But what developers can do is whenever they choose to update their apps, do a really good job. What does this look like?

  • Update your screenshots
  • Update your metadata
  • Write compelling update text

Let’s look at those each in a little more detail.

1. Updating screenshots

I lied a little. Update your screenshots if you have something new to show. A new feature, definitely. A change to the UX? absolutely. A new hot pink colour scheme? No doubt. Don’t update your screenshots if you’ve fixed a really annoying bug but there’s nothing to show for it (even if you’re really proud).

2. Update your metadata

This is recommended by Apple, but it’s not required. Personally, I think it’s a good way to work in some sneaky ASO while you’re doing other stuff anyways, and you have more options to change things when you’re releasing an update than you do when you’re not. If it’s a major update, then you might want to think about changing your app icon. That said, your icon is likely the most recognized piece of branding your app has, so tread carefully here.

3. Write compelling update text

farmville iphone app update
Image via REALITYPOD

This is the big one. Whether it’s a huge juggernaut of an update or just a tiny little bug tweak, you’re going to need to write some update text. And this is more important than you think!

First, it lets your users know what’s going on. And this is a great thing to do. People like to be involved and in the know what what’s happening around them. So if you’re their favourite app, they want to know that you’ve fixed that one really annoying bug. Your users are pretty discerning when it comes to your product, so don’t mollycoddle them –get specific.

Second, your update is a really great opportunity to show that you’re responsive to their needs. If you’ve had lots of requests for a particular feature, and this is the update that added it, then broadcast that! Call the update the ‘feature X update’ or something equally obvious. It’ll show people that you’re an active developer who listens and responds. Both of these are good.

Third, it’s an awesome opportunity for you to market yourself. Kevin Oke at Adrian Crook & Associates went further, saying that update text is a great way to prep your users for further updates, do some light cross-promotion, or mention when they can expect the next update.

Image via Adrian Crook & Associates

Finally, write your app update in a relaxed, casual way. Write it from the user’s perspective, putting what effects them front and centre. You can presume that most of your users don’t care that your update included totally rewriting hundreds of lines of code and 15 rounds of QA. They do care that they can now use your app when they’re offline. So focus on that.

Wrap up

Updates are a part of app dev life. It’s not that glamorous, but how you update your app, and how you pitch your update in your update description, can have a huge effect on your success or failure. A good rule of thumb is that you want your updates to solve problems that exist as they happen, and tell people what problem you’re solving. If you can do that, then your updates are going to go down a treat.

Bonus tip!

If your update doesn’t cover something, or you’re planning on adding a feature, tell your users that! A blog post, social media, and the update description are all good places. A full on review of where you are with your update (project step-by-step style) or just a quick line like ‘XX feature is on its way!’  will keep users happy and satisfied that you’ve got ‘em covered. Happy app-ing!