The number of third-party SaaS platforms has exploded in recent years, with a huge range of companies allowing users to discover marketplace integrations to build on the platform’s basic functionality. Good app integrations deepen your users’ investment in your platform, distinguishing it from other similar platforms. There isn’t one formula for building a high quality app marketplace. But with all the competition out there, it’s essential to invest in designing the best app discovery experience for your users.
If you rely on your users to find their way to the best solutions, they will probably run out of enthusiasm for the search and leave behind valuable options. Most platforms offer far more options than users can evaluate on their own, which means users aren’t getting the full value of your product. A good SaaS platform guides users towards the apps that will be most useful to them.
We created this guide because there’s very little good guidance out there on how to make the app discovery experience a good one, and where there is good information, it’s not very current nor focused on B2B apps. In this article, we’ve pulled together useful reflections on standard approaches, UX design principles and creative suggestions to help your users discover great integrations on your platform.
Table of Contents
Evaluate Your Current Strategy
We can think about current product discovery strategies in three tiers of sophistication, with more opportunities for users to organically discover new marketplace integrations. More exposure to the options can inspire users to investigate further and discover new possibilities. Not every platform needs to use the most sophisticated model, but if you are currently at the first tier, think about how your users might benefit from a more integrated discovery process.
- Tier One – Apps are accessible, but not easily discoverable within the product.
- Most SaaS platforms are at this stage currently, and it’s likely what comes to mind when you think of an app store or marketplace.
- Users must go to a settings tab, open a marketplace page or similar, in order to search for integrations.
- Discovery has to be proactive – users will only find solutions if they first identify a problem and go looking for an app to solve it.
Pipedrive’s Marketplace is an example of a ‘standard’ discovery experience.
- Tier Two – App discovery is highlighted as part of the main UI.
- Generally a pretty simple step up from Tier One – rather than having users.
- Navigate to a different page to see apps, there is a bit of permanent real estate in the main UI that links to the app marketplace.
- Slack offers a good example – ‘Apps’ and ‘Add Apps’ are both permanent options in the navigation menu on the left, and clicking ‘Add Apps’ opens a marketplace much like Pipedrive’s. Jira has a similar approach.
Slack allows users to quickly navigate between the main UI and app discovery.
- Tier Three – Recommendations happen naturally inside the UI based on current usage.
- The platform ‘recognizes’ user actions and actively promotes SaaS integrations related to their activity.
- Recognizing links from other services is one approach. Again, Slack does this to great effect, providing real-time recommendations to install integrations for Google Drive links, GitHub repositories, Jira boards, and more.
- Including app recommendations within resource search results could provide better solutions for users. A bookkeeper using Xero or Quickbooks might search “import point-of-sale data” and find standard FAQ-type help as well as a link to install the PayPal/Venmo app integration. The relevant app recommendation drives users toward a solution that can make accounting processes more efficient and reliable, which is the real goal of their original search.
Consider where you’re at currently, and where you might aspire to be. Re-thinking your app discovery UI can create more opportunities for users to find what they need organically, and improve their experience of your platform as a cohesive ecosystem. Below, we’ll look at some principles that can help you make the app discovery process better, even without any major platform changes.
Know Your Users
The more information you have about your users, the more you can fine-tune your recommendations and tailor the discovery process to their needs.
Generally speaking, this means starting with an authenticated user and using the demographic information the user has provided during sign-up. Your recommendations can be improved even more by looking at other factors, specific to the use cases for your platform. A few ideas for how additional information could shape recommendations:
- Industry – knowing whether a user works in finance, academia, or high-tech manufacturing could help you recommend apps tailored to the scheduling concerns of these different industries.
- Geography – users in different regions will have different needs. Users in some countries may need integrations that support a distinct alphabet or multiple languages. Urban users will have distinct needs from rural users. For example, public transit apps for city dwellers and fire management apps for those in rural areas with wildfire danger.
- Organization Size – integrations are often scoped based on the size of the customer. A small organization where roles are not highly specialized may need products with quick setup and simple administration, while large enterprise customers may benefit from apps focused on regulatory compliance or enforcing corporate style guides.
Knowing more about your users can also help you make better ‘bundled’ recommendations. Thomson Reuters suggests the “Proven Path” to users based on their chosen implementation, narrowing down the universe of services to just a couple of choices at each decision point.
Approaches like the Proven Path help customers progress faster with their integrations by giving them a clear vision of how different apps can work together to meet their specific needs. Whether or not you opt to make bundled recommendations, more detailed knowledge of your users will help you guide them towards solutions that will be immediately valuable to them.
Build Around Simple and Familiar Principles
If you minimize the time it takes for users to learn to navigate your ecosystem by making it simple and familiar, your users will get more value out of the time they spend on your platform.
Most SaaS platforms use the same basic organization for their app stores, and it makes sense to start with tried and tested principles. Users expect apps to be organized into categories and to see them displayed using tiled thumbnails. They expect to be able to search, filter and see some kind of ratings and recommendations. As you design your own app discovery platform, begin by thinking about those standard expectations. Deviate from the standard with knowledge and care, guiding your users to more advanced patterns naturally. For example, step up from categories to curated collections, then channels driven by personal recommendations.
Emphasize simple design to increase user satisfaction. The app stores of 10 years ago were visually cluttered and chaotic – that’s part of why Google has taken a more controlled approach in recent years. In an age when we are all overwhelmed by input, holding peoples’ attention requires clean, striking visuals, plenty of white space and consistent, purposeful use of icons, badges, etc. Each visual element should serve a clear function in focusing user attention and conveying vital information.
Many great resources exist to help you quickly offer the common standard. However, providing standard experiences isn’t enough if you want to have the best app discovery on your platform. The status quo, even though it’s familiar, is still frustrating and overwhelming. If you want great app discovery, go beyond the standard offerings.
Rethink Ratings and Recommendations
For something as complex as a SaaS integration, distilling quality down to a single ‘out-of-five’ average inevitably sacrifices nuance.
Going without any ratings, though, would violate familiar principles – users expect some kind of user generated feedback. Doing that in a meaningful way is a challenge, and the right solution should be shaped by your users and their needs. Here are a few ideas for providing more meaningful ratings:
- Expanded Reviews: rather than asking users to give an app a single score reflecting their entire experience, consider providing users the option to rate apps in several dimensions.
- Providing separate ratings for ease-of-use, cost-effectiveness, appearance and other areas, gives users the ability to determine what characteristics are most important to them.
- Expanded reviews request more of the user’s time, and they may not want to fill out lengthier surveys. Carefully consider your most meaningful rating categories, given your platform and users. Test different options to find the right balance.
- Focus On Reviewer Credibility: the credibility of the reviewer is at the core of all ratings and recommendations. Determine what marks of credibility are most relevant for your platform.
- Editorial Recommendations: one way to establish credible reviews is with ‘editorial’ choices from your staff.
- If you are an authority on best practices, you have the power to give your recommendations extra weight. Build your credibility by providing a few “Why we love this” bullet points that reflect your brand and user personas.
- “Featured” Apps: a rotating selection of highlighted apps gives users a sense of your ongoing investment in their experience. The more information you have about your users and their needs, the more tailored these recommendations can be.
- Update your recommendations to reflect trends and seasons, as well as common use cases like scheduling, file sharing, etc.
- Promote integrations that users keep using, not just those with a lot of historical downloads; promote apps that retain users.
- Community Recommendations: highlight reviews from people whom the user is connected to in some way.
- Users who work for the same company might be interested in what integrations different teams are using, and people are much more likely to trust reviews from people in their community and social network, whether that is in-person or virtual.
- Consider inviting industry insiders to create collections, similar to how users can discover Spotify playlists or celebrities’ favorite products in an online store.
- Descriptive Reviews: another option, often easy to implement, is enabling text reviews for users to elaborate upon ratings (5 stars – “This app helps me visualize my data better than any other tool”).
- Editorial Recommendations: one way to establish credible reviews is with ‘editorial’ choices from your staff.
Search and Filter Based On Content and User Needs
Some kind of search functionality is non-negotiable for a SaaS marketplace, regardless of size. For small-scale platforms with at most 20 or 30 apps, simple category filters and name-based search might be enough. Beyond that scope though, filter and search capabilities need to be re-thought.
When you shop for shoes online, you can type in a description into search, but you’ll often get better results by applying filters first – size, occasion, style, price, etc. The same type of multi-factor filters can be used to allow users to find apps that best meet their needs. Cost is an important filter criterion, as is the availability of customer support. Transparency on these factors will help users feel more confident pursuing and adopting integrations.
Often, search functionality returns results based on product names. It would be far more useful to return search results based on content and function. Sometimes, app names can be misleading. More often, users simply don’t know the name of the integration that will actually be the best fit for them. If a user searches for “Quickbooks”, you want to offer them other accounting integrations as options, not other apps with ‘quick’ or ‘book’ in their names. Better search algorithms can lead users to better solutions.
A useful but often-overlooked search criterion is the development team behind app offerings. In many cases, a single developer, whether an individual or a company, will have created multiple integrations for your platform, and these are likely to work well together. Users who like one app are likely to also prefer the UI of other integrations created by the same developer.
Once users have gotten a list of possible integrations to match their search or filter criteria, provide a way to compare them side-by-side. Ideally, users should be able to select two or more apps and see a point-by-point comparison, including pricing, release date, support options, developers, ratings, reviews and features. This may require some editorial work on your part, but the value to your users is worth the effort.
Curate, Curate, Curate!
The most important thing you can do to ensure users have a high-quality experience on your SaaS platform is to only provide the best quality integrations. Even Google, which used to take a hands-off approach to regulating Android apps, has taken a firmer hand in shaping the offerings in the Play Store. In their words,
“Since app quality will help determine how apps are organized…we work hard to provide developers with guidance and tools to help them improve app quality.”
The content you offer should reflect your brand and the purpose of your platform, with a consistent UX. As you curate apps for your platform, consider novelty, design, usefulness, breadth of appeal and if it’s appropriate, trends and seasons.
You’ll find the information you gain during the curation process can also inform editorial recommendations, and be useful in categorizing apps.
Get Creative To Deliver Unique Value
Improving discovery in your marketplace doesn’t necessarily require a total overhaul. Some of the ideas above could be easy upgrades for your platform; others will take more investment. In the meantime, some small tweaks could add a lot of value.
Here are a few more ideas:
- Most marketplaces use a thumbnail or icon to represent each app, then provide a video after users click through. GIFs might be a great way to split the difference – one key feature in a quick animation is much easier for users to digest than a video, but could also provide more information up front than a static icon.
- Rather than showing total downloads and stars, consider other ways to visualize trend and popularity data. Consider showing retention rates, or a line graph of downloads over time.
- Use media queries to return search results with integrations best suited to the devices your users are on.
SaaS app marketplaces are rapidly evolving. It’s worth experimenting with some creative adjustments or consulting with an area expert like OpenChannel to provide your users a more rewarding app discovery experience.