Release Notes

When you take an app from development to the app store, the point is to sell it, or get people to use it, right? (Don’t get me started about all the android test apps that people publish just to see if they can do it) That’s where marketing and advertising come in to play. Great technology is not a great product if nobody knows about it, or nobody uses it.

The transition from development to marketing happens with the release notes, that paragraph that goes along with new releases, in the “what’s new in this version” section. Think about that. Who usually writes these notes? Quite often, it’s a developer, because they are the ones that make the build and go through the app store publishing process. Who reads these notes? Customers. Not the VP of Development or your engineering manager. So why are most release notes totally worthless and unappealing to the customers???

When I work on a new release, I make a detailed change log with every bug fix or new feature. Maybe I updated a third party library, or used a new version of Xcode, that’s in there. This change log is meant for developers to read, not customers. Most of the stuff in there is unintelligible or irrelevant to the users of the app.

When a build is ready for public release, I take that change log and send it to the marketing department (in a small company like mine, that’s still me, but I change hats : ). Most of the details get filtered out, and the technical jargon gets translated in to what the end users will understand and care about. This is what becomes the “what’s new” release notes.

Companies are wasting a golden marketing opportunity when the release notes suck. As apps get updated, many customers will look at those release notes, even if “automatic updates” is enabled. Some customers will actually decide whether to update or not based on the release notes. You should capitalize on every opportunity you have to send a message to your customers.  This is when you can increase customer satisfaction, which leads to more word of mouth sales.

Here are some examples of release notes that suck:

Bug fixes” – What are they??? You are telling the customer nothing. Be descriptive, and put a positive spin on it. How about: “fixed a problem that some customers were having with search, and now it works much faster”.

We update our app regularly” – Oh how special. That’s like saying “this is the text that you are reading right now”. If you are too lazy to put a few meaningful sentences in there, then that implies you don’t care much about your customers, or you are doing secret stealth updates with features that customers don’t care about. And by the way, there are some companies that update their apps every 1-2 weeks. That is way, way too often. That shows a lack of planning and customers don’t like all that change.

See http://www.mydomain.com/release-notes.html” – This smacks of laziness. The app publisher is actually telling the customer to go visit a web page to save the app publisher the trouble of copying it here. And if you say, well, that web page is very long and contains too much text, then it is meant for a developer to read, and a shorter marketing version needs to be created for the “what’s new” section.

Optimization and UI enhancements” – So close to a good marketing message, yet so far. Be positive and encourage users to open your app to see the new features. How about “the leaderboard screen now shows your friends’ scores at the top”, “new snazzy visual effects when you reach a new level”, “you can change sound effects with just one tap”, or “app loads twice as fast now”.

Release notes are a marketing message, not an engineering message. This is your chance to remind users of features they may have forgotten about, or never used: “Enable lightning notifications from the main screen now”. You can talk about how great you’re company is: “We have been listening to you, and this version has the most requested new feature”. You can be funny (but don’t ramble on too much), and maybe someone will mention this to another potential customer.

One other thing… Be careful not to give the impression that your app is too buggy. For example, “Fixed a bug that would wipe out all user data” is pretty scary. If this is version 6.1 and someone reads that, you might be thinking gosh, how long was that bug in there and can I trust this app with my data? A more toned down version would be “Fixed a data loss issue that affected some customers with older devices”.

Remember, the last “what’s new” notes are also readily seen by customers who haven’t purchased your product yet. They appear on the same product page that the product description and system requirements appear. If you have one of those out-of-date or inaccurate reviews like “This is crap, doesn’t work on iPhone X” and your “what’s new” section says “Optimized to work great on iPhone X”, that’s a way better message than “bug fixes”. You are talking not only to existing customers, but potential new customers, too.

Release notes matter. Don’t be lazy. Make it a marketing message.

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