The app review is one of the most important parts of a Shopify app developer’s journey. Recently on the Shopify Devs Twitch Channel we broadcast a live review of two new app submissions with Ivana Mitrovic and Marco Ferraris from the Shopify App Review team to give our developer community a glimpse into this process.
This was an extremely valuable experience for developers looking to understand how apps are evaluated, what is expected from app developers, and how to prepare for this process, so we've decided to share these insights with the wider developer community here.
In this post, we'll dive into the biggest takeaways from the live app review, including:
- How to test your app before submitting it
- How to use authentication to your advantage
- The importance of the app listing page
Being aware of these insights early on in your app development journey will ensure that when you're ready to submit and support your app, you will be set up for success. You can also watch the full replay of the app review ask me anything (AMA) below.
1. The app listing page is your sales pitch
First impressions are crucial, and your app listing page provides an opportunity to showcase your solution when merchants are looking for an app to service their needs. As Mitrovic advises, “The app listing page is technically your only sales pitch to the merchant.”
The app listing page is technically your only sales pitch to the merchant.
With this mind, what should you be looking out for when making this sales pitch? Here are some tips which will help you make a great first impression:
- Ensure your tagline clearly articulates the value your app provides.
- Avoid generic marketing speak in favor of using straight-forward language.
- Submit images that fit together to tell a coherent visual narrative. Browse Burst for some inspiration!
- Make use of optional elements such as the promo video.
When it comes to the main app description, remember most of the description is truncated so the first two sentences are crucial for encouraging merchants to read the full description. In addition to describing the functionality of your app, you can include common use cases that the app solves for, and briefly describe the actions merchants need to take to get up and running.
One approach you could try is to ask merchants to review the descriptions with fresh eyes, as they may identify copy that could be improved, or ask questions that are not addressed on the app listing page. You can use the same user testing approach for your app listing page that you use to find bugs in your app’s UI!
It's also worthwhile to consider how exactly your ideal user will discover your app. For example, larger merchants will often have in-house developers who research which apps would solve specific requirements. If your app is intended for these enterprise-level merchants, you may want to approach writing your copy to appeal to a more technical audience.
A pro tip Ferraris has is to make full use of the elements which are optional on the app store. “We're not going to say you need to fill out your key benefits and include a promotional video. These are optional, but we do encourage you to use them.” Each of the elements on the app listing page is a chance to communicate how your app can help merchants, so don't miss out on those opportunities!
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2. Always test your apps thoroughly
To set yourself up for success on the app store, it's advised that you rigorously test your app to ensure there are no outstanding bugs or issues and that each action and flow works as expected. If you've tested your app correctly before submission and all the requirements are met, the app review team will be able to publish your app immediately.
“I don't want to be the person who is testing your app,” Ferraris explains, “I want to be the person who is reviewing your app against our requirements and saying 'you're good to go', or, 'you need to change this'.”
One of the most common causes for delaying the publishing of an app is when additional rounds of reviews are required due to errors and bug fixes. By finding and resolving those bugs ahead of time, you can bring your app to market quicker, and start onboarding merchants to a robust service.
To help set yourself up for a streamlined submission process, what are some tactics for ensuring your app is feature complete?
- Carry out beta testing with merchants in authentic live environments
- Attempt every action of the app with different browsers, plan types, and store settings
- Check how your app reacts when uninstalled and reinstalled
- Test for accessibility using automated accessibility testing tools
- If your app affects the online store, test it on all free themes
- Use the test charge option to ensure the Billing API is implemented correctly
An element of testing will of course be carried out by the app review team, and if your app connects to other services, then you must include test accounts. For example: if your app requires account access to a third-party service, then you must include credentials for a test account on that service.
By running your own comprehensive testing and quality assurance, you can minimize delays during your app submission process, as well as ensure that merchants don't experience any issues when they install your app. It pays to spend time on testing, as the more robust your app is, the higher your install rate will be.
You might also like: User Testing Your Shopify App: Public App Use Cases You Should Test.
3. Authentication is priceless
During the authentication process, it's possible for your app to capture store data and use this information to populate any required fields, which means less manual setup for merchants.
To authenticate and register an app, app developers must specify which parts of a shop's data the app would like access by making a request to the necessary scopes. When the merchant authorizes the installation, your app can read a range of different properties related to a merchant’s store. The attributes associated with these properties can be captured and used as variables within your app to configure required settings.
If your app requires additional information from a merchant in order to be set up, you can auto-fill these required fields with data you access during authentication. This removes the barriers for merchants and will improve the usability of your app.
For example, if your app is managing inventory, the access scopes will allow you to capture data related to product and location settings that a merchant has configured in the Shopify admin. You can save a merchant time and effort by syncing this existing data with your app so that the merchant doesn't need to do this manually.
Use authentication to your advantage and streamline the app set up process by ensuring that the least amount of manual actions are needed by default.
4. Review your images on the app listing page
Revisiting the app listing page, it pays to be aware of the image and design requirements. Seeing how an app appears on the Shopify App Store is a key factor when merchants are deciding if an app will solve their pain point, and screenshots of the app in action can play a big role in this.
When it comes to screenshots, Ferraris describes what's needed. “We require that you have three screenshots, and if your app affects the storefront, we need to see an example of what it does to a storefront. We also need to see a screenshot of the app user interface itself. The third screenshot, that's up to you.”
We require that you have three screenshots, and if your app affects the storefront, we need to see an example of what it does to a storefront. We also need to see a screenshot of the app user interface itself. The third screenshot, that's up to you.
When you're looking to improve the merchant experience of your listing page with screenshots, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Use mobile screenshots to show how your app reacts to smaller screen sizes
- Provide alt text for all images for accessibility and to improve SEO
- Ensure the relevant parts of the UI are highlighted and visible
- Avoid overcrowding your screenshots with descriptive text
Images are also used in a number of different areas on the app listing page, including the app icon and the key benefits sections. Here are some additional tips to help with the general design of your images:
- Avoid rounding the corners of your app icon, as Shopify will do that automatically.
- Don't use text in your key benefit images.
- Avoid using a white background for your app icon.
- Be consistent. The icon and key benefits images for your app should look like they belong to the same brand and product.
5. Accessibility is important
As well as ensuring that your app's UI is fully accessible to merchants that use assistive technology, it's crucial that your supporting resources and documentation are accessible too. This is especially true for videos that demonstrate to merchants how to use, or set up your app.
As Mitrovic points out, “I think it's fantastic to have a bunch of videos, but if you have voice-over videos, make sure you also have a transcript along with them to make them accessible for everybody.”
Other benefits to including a transcript on your instructional videos include making it easier for non-native English speakers to understand your content. With new global markets opening up for merchants, it pays to be mindful of where merchants might be using your app.
Ferraris agrees with the benefits to your audience when you double up on content: “Have the video, have the text, it makes a ton of sense!”
You might also like: How to Make Your Embedded Apps Load Quickly and Reliably.
6. GDPR webhooks are essential
One question which comes up frequently with Shopify app developers is how to ensure your app is GDPR compliant. Each app developer is responsible for making sure that the apps they build for the Shopify platform are GDPR compliant and to support this, Shopify has created specific endpoints to help you maintain good data practices as an app developer.
Adding the GDPR webhooks are not only required for approval on the Shopify App Store, but are required for submission. That means that being mindful of this requirement early on will ensure that when it comes time to submit your app, you won't need to add this in the final stages of your app build.
7. Be aware of upgrading and downgrading billing plans
When building your app, ensure that merchants can move to different pricing plans within the app UI. “If you do have multiple pricing plans, merchants must be able to upgrade and downgrade their plans,” Ferraris explains. “The merchant needs to be able to switch plans whenever they want. They should never need to contact you to ask to upgrade or downgrade.'”
There are exceptions to this: enterprise plans and plans based on usage. For all other cases, the ability to select a new plan should be possible inside your app. Implementing this seamless experience will also contribute to your app retention rates, and improve overall merchant satisfaction.
You can work with the Billing API to implement your different pricing plans. Remember to test a combination of upgrading and downgrading to check that your app is responding as expected. This includes cancelling the billing completely to check that billing is stopped.
Other tips for enabling your merchants to navigate billing for your app include the following:
- Ensure your app pricing is consistent with how it's displayed on the app listing page
- Be clear about what features will be removed if a merchant downgrades to a lower tier plan
- Use modals in your UI to highlight critical information when a merchant is upgrading plans
- Avoid displaying too many links or docs directly within billing experiences
- Provide clear paths for important billing actions within your app
You might also like: How to Choose the Right Pricing Model for Your App.
Build stronger apps with these insights
By implementing these tips, not only can you prepare a strong submission, but you can put yourself in the best possible position when your app is ready to go live on the Shopify App Store.
From the moment a merchant sees your app listing page, to when they navigate your UI and upgrade to a higher plan, there are countless touchpoints where you need to be aware of how the merchant experiences your app. Hopefully with the help of these insights, you'll be able to improve these experiences and grow your client base on the Shopify App Store.
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