Do app store reviews and ratings really matter?
In addition to influencing search result rankings in app stores, nearly 79% of consumers check an app’s ratings and reviews before downloading it. So, the answer is a big YES. App store reviews matter a lot. The higher an app’s ratings are, higher the chance for driving installs.
Ratings and reviews are one of the best and convincing forms of user-generated content (UGC) for apps to stand out. Reviews are actually a gold mine. Dig them right, and developers can improve the user experience of an app. At the same time, users can determine whether an app is worth their time and money.
Nevertheless, several mysteries surround this gold mine. They primarily revolve around its authenticity. Let’s take a closer look at whether app store reviews are trustworthy or not.
Are App Store Reviews Fake?
Good reviews and ratings are essential to an app, as well as for its developer to stand out. As a result, fake reviews do exist and they are tampering with the fabric of what reviews actually mean – sharing one’s experience of using a product.
Artificially boosting the ratings of apps to stand out is performed with what industry calls “paid app reviews”. You are just a few Google searches away from finding a service provider that does this.
Scammers can also bring any apps to the top of the charts by downloading an app multiple times with the help of bogus user accounts called bots.
Combined with an article spinning software, these scammers can easily replicate and post numerous variations of a single review, and therefore raising the rankings of an app.
If a developer doesn’t want to take the trouble of contacting an agency for paid app store reviews, they can directly buy paid reviews from online marketplaces as well. This will make it even more complicated for any spam detection software to identify the authenticity of the reviews.
To make the paid app store ratings more convincing, not all of the ratings are of five-stars. Instead, they combine four and five-star reviews to settle any suspicions.
Paid app reviews are indeed illegal and violate the Google Play Developer Program Policies and Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines. Such practices can result in app removal. The developer can be banished from the app stores.
Even with all the “unpleasant” consequences associated with paid app store reviews, they still flood every app store in large volumes and are hard to spot. In fact, a majority of these reviews are posted by real users. The only difference is these users have never tried the app.
In app stores, a significant number of reviews are flagged and taken down. But it rarely leads to app takedowns or developer banishments because there is very little proof they are fake.
How to Spot Fake Reviews in App Stores
Google uses a combination of human intelligence and machine learning to identify and remove fake reviews from the Play Store. Although there are several tools, like FakeSpot or ReviewMeta, to identify fake reviews in online stores, there are hardly any for app stores.
Developers can use tools like Appbot to analyse app store reviews or monitor reviews in App Store Connect and report if they find anything suspicious.
There are several indications of a fake review that you can look out for in every app store. Here are some of the traits of a plausible fake review.
1. Identical Reviews
A striking indication of paid reviews is that they might be a copy-paste of the same review from multiple accounts. This is mainly done by individual reviewers who have multiple accounts in the same platform, explicitly used to post reviews.
2. Misspelled and Grammatically Incorrect Reviews
Real reviewers post app store reviews to share their experience of using an app. Paid reviews are posted to boost the ranking or even degrade a competitor’s app. As a result, paid reviewers, in most cases, will spend less time making grammatically correct reviews. Instead, they will focus on including more keywords to skyrocket the rankings.
Another strategy of paid reviewers is repeatedly using exclamation points to grab the attention of potential users to read their reviews.
However, all grammatically incorrect reviews or ones with special characters can’t always be concluded as fake reviews. Maybe it’s from a real user, who doesn’t speak English fluently.
3. Fake Usernames
Just like grammatical errors, user names too can’t always be used to identify fake reviewers. However, chances are high for fake reviewers to use multiple fake names.
As reviews are real accounts of a person using an app, in most cases, a reviewer will have a first and last name. Fake reviewers may stick to names that don’t reveal their identity.
4. Keyword Stuffing
The primary intention of fake reviews is to make or break an app. If it’s to boost the rankings, the reviews will be stuffed with relevant keywords.
The Flaws of Review-Rating System in App Stores
If you are browsing through an app’s reviews to find out whether it is useful or not, you might have a hard time finding reviews that really add value to your decision. This may be because of two reasons – paid app store reviews or biased reviews.
1. Incentivised Ratings
Incentivised ratings refer to the act of enticing a user to provide high ratings in return for a special item, feature or discount in an app. Although a violation of app store policies, incentivised ratings are still practised by many app developers. When such a system exists, users are more likely to make biased reviews or ratings for the incentives offered.
2. Device-Specific Reviews
For smartphones and tablets, there isn’t a separate App Store or Play Store to download apps. Both types of devices use the same platform, and hence a significant flaw arises. If there is any compatibility issue in smaller or larger devices, users will complain about it in the common platform.
Suppose an app was not developed with a mobile-first design approach. The app might be troublesome to use in a smartphone, but straightforward in a tablet. Any negative feedback on the compatibility on a specific device will affect the decisions of all users.
3. Personal Bias
Your expectation from an app might be entirely different from another person. Also, you may not have taken the time to explore the app, and so found it to be crapp.
The reasons for you to post a negative review might seem entirely unreasonable for another person. This can happen for good reviews as well.
4. Competitive Pressure
App store reviews are crucial for apps to stand out in an increasingly competitive field. So, developers might be forced to adopt measures to improve reviews and ratings for the sake of staying ahead of the competition.
Users might have a peer or organisational pressure to post reviews, even if they don’t want to. This defeats the purpose of app store reviews and may mislead users who trust these reviews to install apps.
TikTok Rating Drops
It took less than a week for TikTok’s ratings to drop from 4.5 stars to a fragile 1.6 stars. And the reason behind this – herd mentality. It all started with YouTube removing a video from an Indian YouTuber’s channel named CarryMinati for violating YouTube’s terms of service. The video was intended to be a funny roasting of TikTokers.
As soon as the video was removed, TikTok faced significant backlash from online communities, followed by many uninstalling the app and leaving 1-star ratings and negative app store reviews in app stores. Most of these reviews were intentionally posted – as a protest by some and because of peer pressure by others.
TikTok’s example is a notable example of how reviews can be flawed, even if the app works just fine.
Where Else to Read Reviews
1. Read Trustworthy Third-Party Reviews
There are plenty of blogs that specialise in reviewing and describing their honest opinions about apps. Read these reviews and see whether you find the information you seek. If the article was published recently, you can join the discussion and receive more insights.
Some excellent app review websites to consider:
2. Check Video Demos
If you want to see how an app works, head to YouTube and search for its demo. There will be several videos explaining how the app works, or even the gameplay of game apps.
While app store reviews give just a vague description of what an app is, demo videos can provide precise information about how the app works. Watching in-depth demo videos can be just as good as installing an app and trying it out yourself.
3. Check the Developer’s Other Apps
Both the Apple App Store and Play Store allows you to view other apps by the same developer. Have a glance at what they offer and see whether other apps have positive reviews. You can also visit the developer’s website or social media profile to get a better understanding of their reputation.
If you love using a specific app, stick to its developer and whenever they release new apps, give them a try.
4. Ask a Friend
The best way to know about an app is by asking someone who has used it. This way, you will know exactly what the app offers and even give it a try on your friend’s phone, especially if it’s a premium one. Word of mouth is still the best form of marketing.
Long Story Short
With ever-increasing competition among apps, relying exclusively on app store reviews may not give you sufficient or the right information to make an informed decision. You may need to step out of the app stores and conduct your own research.
Although positive reviews increase rankings, negative ones are more trustworthy as it adds a realistic dimension to an app. It will also help developers identify the app’s pain points and even reveal the extra features an app needs.
If you are a developer, improve the user experience of your app, market it, be open to feedback, and identify and resolve issues highlighted in negative reviews. If you are a customer, try the app for yourself as most apps are freemium nowadays.
Don’t forget to write genuine and useful reviews!