The Extent to Which Bad Reviews Hurt Mobile Apps

Alex Genadinik
by Alex Genadinik 30 Jul, 2013


If you have a mobile app, as part of your marketing plan, you must maintain a great app store listing. And, since your app reviews are a very large part of your app store listing, it is absolutely imperative that your reviews are as great as possible. No app can maintain a perfect 5-star rating, but just how much does each lost tenth of a point hurt your app? In this article I will go over the effect of bad reviews, and case studies of decreased download numbers after losing tenths of points from your app store review.


What is the highest possible rating?

A 5-star rating is obviously not attainable. Even if everyone loves your app, some people will leave a review saying "This is the most amazing app I have ever seen" and give it 4 stars out of 5. If you have an app, I know has happened to you before. It is an unexplainable phenomenon in the app review world, so just leave this phenomenon alone.


Since 4-star reviews bring down the ratings of top apps quite a bit, as your app gets hundreds of reviews, the best realistic average rating you can expect is 4.7 or if the app is truly amazing, a 4.8 rating.


Does a .1 difference in a rating make a difference?

Yes it does. Once upon a time this business plan app of mine was rated 4.8/5.0 stars. After I began experimenting with various ways to monetize it, the app received a few 1-star ratings from people who didn't like that I was trying to make money, and the app average was taken down to 4.7. After the drop to 4.7/5.0 rating, the app saw a drop in about 5 percent of traffic on average.


Are all .1 rating changes the same?

Sometimes a change of .1 for a ranking alters the little 5-star icon next to your app. If you have an app that is 4.8/5.0, all 5 stars appear filled in, and all users see that. If your rating is 4.7 then the fifth star is only half-filled and that is a visual cue that isn't as impressive as having all stars filled in. However, if your app is rated 4.5 or 4.6 the 5-star icon still looks the same with the last star half-filled in. Believe it or not, these differences will cause about a 5 percent change in your download numbers.


What about drastic changes?

There was one instance where I made a gross business error in terms of strategy. This error severely worsened the usability. Before that error, another one of my business plan apps had a 4.6 star rating. And as you can see from the chart below, after a number of 1-star reviews brought the app rating down to 4.3, the drop in downloads was quite severe. The drop caused a 60 percent reduction in downloads. Here is the chart for that app:



This app was rated 4.3/5.0 at its lowest point and 4.6/5.0 at its highest point. I have never had an app rated lower than 4.3 out of 5, so I cannot imagine how few reviews those apps must get.


Potential downloaders see the most recent reviews first

Since the most recent review is often the one that potential downloaders see first, the most recent review has a large impact on your downloads. So if you get a 1-star review, don't let it be the last review you have. Quickly, try to get better reviews.You must counter the bad reviews with good reviews. The good reviews don't have to be new. If you can reach out to some of your users who gave you 5 stars in the past, just ask them to update their review. Once they update their review, their review will appear as the latest. That way you push down the bad review. The further you push down the bad review, the sooner your app will recover. Just make sure your app doesn't get bad reviews often.


In a future article, I will give actionable tips for how to actually get more good reviews. One hint for what is to come is: Know your target users as deeply as possible. If you do, you will be able to know what exactly they need, and just how to present it to them. And, if you can delight your users, you will be able to get positive reviews which will be the pillars for the growth of your app.




Alex Genadinik is a mobile developer and the founder of Problemio which is the company behind some of the most helpful mobile apps for planning and starting a business. Alex is also a mobile and marketing adviser to startups like g33ktalk (pronounced GeekTalk). Alex holds a B.S in Computer Science from San Jose State University. Please say hello to Alex on Twitter @genadinik.