Growth October 25, 2020

😒 My Play Store Rating dropped from 4,5 to 4,0 stars - How to handle irrational app reviews?

Oliver Schmidt @OPunktSchmidt

October was a pretty bad month for me. Within only 4 weeks my app rating changed from 4,5 stars to 4 stars. I am very demotivated because it has a big impact on the success of my app.

But it is not the 1 star ratings per se that concern me but the additional amount of 1 star ratings and the 2 or 3 star ratings.

A few examples:

This month the number of 1 - star ratings increased by 300%. But there is actually no reason for this. There was no big app update. I've read that competitors often use this method and rate other apps badly. Since my app is in the top 10 and a growing competitor for the established apps, I could imagine this by now. It is especially noticeable that the previous 1-star ratings always came with a short text and the user wrote what he finds bad. But in the last 4 weeks there were always bad reviews without text. So something is fishy here...

But one thing bothers me even more...

I get a lot of 2 or 3 star ratings and users then write something like "I love this app" or "It helps me a lot with my diet" in the text. I just do not understand it. If you like an app and you write it that way, why do you only give 2 or 3 stars? Are they perhaps bots?

I reply to every review and offer to send me an email so I can learn more about it and make the app better. But almost nobody does that.

Have you ever experienced something similar? How can I perhaps better deal with these (unjustified) negative reviews and improve my overall rating again?

  1. 5

    So launch strategy take here.

    I’ve worked on projects that go into various app stores. We never launch on all localities. In fact, we specifically stay away from certain localities because we know there’s a high degree of people there who do this, or a lot of fake reviews come from those areas.

    Instead, in those projects, we launch in our own country, get a bunch of feedback and (hopefully) positive reviews, and then expand strategically into adjacent friendly geographic regions. By the time it reaches localities that tend to spam the reviews, they’re drowned out.

    1. 2

      Yes i can confirm this. I get zero 1 star reviews from countries like Germany, France, USA. All 1 Star reviews are from east europe, Brazil or Russia. Unfortunately these countries together make up 50% of my downloads, so it's hard for me to withdraw from these countries. But I will think about it. Thanks.

      1. 4

        To expand on this further, we also noticed that our 98% of our revenue came from 6-7 countries. And these countries practically never get poor reviews either.

        So effectively, we gave up 2% of revenue, improve our rating, and deal with less headaches.

        I'd take a look at your bottom line over the download #s. Unless your app is a social app, the number of net downloads may not be worth the head (heart) ache.

        PS - totally relate with the loss of motivation part.

        1. 1

          Thanks, i will have a look into my data what i can do about this.

      2. 2

        Please know you’re not alone in getting demotivated by these stupid trolls!

        This country of origin seems like the thread to pull on. Do those countries represent 50% of revenue, or just 50% of downloads. It’s possible that most of that traffic is actually spam traffic and you’re getting doubly hit with bad reviews and a high rate of uninstalls. @geetfun is totally right. You should consider suspending those countries, at least till the numbers go back up. In my experience the spam comes out as a big batch, so one question is whether you’re over this wave already and just need to build back up.

        One other idea is that you can release a new version and request a restart on the ratings. Also, a new version gets weighted higher even if you don’t reset the rating.

        This totally sucks and it’s frustrating that Google, who’s supposed to be the world leader in AI, won’t implement a simple spam filter for us.

  2. 5

    Ask the users that complete a happy path to rate your app. Should balance things out.

    1. 2

      I already do this. I ask the user one time after the app is 3 days installed. But maybe I just need to optimize the current process and ask the user for a rating more often or differently.

      1. 1

        Do you have stats on how this is performing? E.g. clicks on that prompt.

        Another option is to ask your email list to go rate your app. Explain how important the rating is to your success (don't need to mention the negatives). Target users with best open rates, but you could ask the whole list too. Even 10 could help you out here. This generally could be part of your onboarding flow as well if it fits with your product and wouldn't feel annoying.

        For the long term...don't sweat it. If you've got a good product and build steady momentum, the positives will outweigh true trolls. Hope it stops soon though, that sounds sucky : (

    2. 2

      Yup, this is a great idea. We have a pop-up at Day 3 that asks a user if they love our game. If yes, we then prompt them to rate our game with the store link. Definitely saw an uptick in 5 star reviews during beta, though of course a game is very different.

  3. 4

    The drop from 4.5 to 4.0 is really a bit too much. Of course, it depends on how much reviews do you have.

    What I learned from tens of thousands of reviews:

    1. I think that some people don't understand the stars concept and they give you 1* even if they love the app. It may be actually a cultural problem. -- Politely ask them if there is something missing and whether they would give you 5* instead.

    2. Some people are irrational. They use the app for a long time but one missing feature and they give you 1* or 2*. -- Politely ask them to change the rating to 4* which is more fair. And of course, I also inform them that the feature is on the list.

    3. Some reviews are simply translated incorrectly. You read love, but they actually mean something different. This happens when the review is in a different language, typically some exotic one. -- Politely ask them if there is something missing.

    4. Some people just don’t like ads. -- Politely inform them that ads are here to support the development and that they can buy the full version.

    5. Some people give you 1* if your app is not in their language. This seems to be a big problem for some cultures. -- That’s the reason why I created Localazy for app localization. I usually ask those to help me and I try to translate my apps to more languages. It also brings more users from countries like Japan, etc.

    6. Some people have slow devices or some crappy ones and blame your app. -- Not much you can do about it. I politely ask them to contact me via email, and try to find out more information.

    7. Some people are trolls. -- I politely ask them if there is something I can do for them, and that I don’t think the rating is fair. It’s also worth trying to ask Google to remove the review.

    8. Of course, there can be the competition. Nothing you can do about it. Google’s failure :(.

    What is important:

    1. Always be 100% polite and very nice. It’s not only important what users write; It’s extremely important how you react.

    2. There may be bugs that you don’t even know about. I see my apps running on about 11.000 different devices and some are completely unpredictable. Never blame your user.

    3. Answer all comments. Good and bad. It’s important.

    4. Don’t get demotivated easily. It’s normal. It’s not fair and the rating is not stable. It’s ever changing.

    1. 1

      Wow thanks for this detailed answer! I will have a look if i can take some of your points to improve my app. I have only 420 ratings, so every bad review has a big impact on the average score.

      I answer to every review and always be polite :)

      1. 1

        If you decide to localize your app, try localazy.com and ping me for some goodies :-). We have to help each other ;-).

  4. 3

    One of my last reviews gave 2 stars and said;
    Nice app, but it's not free.

    Imagine saying to your mechanic, thanks for fixing my car, but here's 2 stars because it wasn't free.

    I get a few bizarre unfair low reviews, but now I'm just used to it. It's just how the internet marketplace is. All we can do is just keep doing our best.

    I feel your pain and perhaps your competitors are making it worse for you.

    1. 1

      Oh yeah i can feel your pain too. Two examples happend to me...

      • I got a bad review where one user claimed the app was not translated into Spanish. But it is. It was simply away a malicious insinuation.

      • One user rated the app with 1 star because there is a premium version with additional features. I also talked to the user and he said as long as I don't earn my living with it I shouldn't charge any money. WTF? Yes, it's just a side business but it's still a lot of work and why shouldn't I charge money for my product?

  5. 2

    Looks like your'e paying price for being too popular (in the EE markets). I read the thread below and few things I'd add:
    Depending on your usage of the app (analytics, analytics, analytics!):

    • 3 days may be too late. You may be losing on the rate of receiving rating from early users. I use a weighing system where different actions have weight and when overall score reaches the threshold - I ask for review. Time is not relevant because I may have user who comes does lot of use of the app and then leaves for a week. Or for ever. If he completed what they wanted - I want credit for it :) not wait 3 days
    • I track also 3 variables: asked for review, replied positive and replied negative. I also track if user left review in the store or not or if they just don't want to. Only then I time to ask for review with further conditions - if they gave review = do not ask. If they gave negative = do not ask until update. If they dismissed = ask again in a week. Does it work? I think so. From the stats I can see that most people rate it positive. I can also investigate if someone rated experience negative what happened in that session. Once I found out that there was 1 in 500 chance of app crashing and I would not have known without analytics and crash logs that this user used some special file format that the app could not handle and he was unable to complete what he wanted.
    • Grey hat and black hat also - I'm not going to elaborate or advocate
    • I'm not sure about Google but you can up vote and down vote reviews in AppStore
    • It was mentioned partly, but every review is your marketing opportunity, negative or positive - Always be closing! :) (I did not read the review so I cannot tell what job you're doing on it)

    Keep up the fight!

    1. 1

      Thanks. Added much more tracking and analytics in todays app update. So in a few days i know more :) The app already contained a lot of tracking but there were still some gaps. Now I monitor almost every click.

  6. 2

    Hello Oliver,

    Why don't you try to gather qualitative insights about your users interactions on the app? Session replays and heatmaps would be a good way to know what your users actually experience inside the app and will also help you uncover issues.

    You can take a look at UserExperior (I work here) which provides session replays and heatmap analysis of your mobile app users. It also has a free trial which will enable you to check your user sessions.

    1. 2

      UserExperior is very powerful and helpful, I've used it.

    2. 1

      Thanks, i will take a look.

      The app already contained a lot of tracking but there were still some gaps. I closed this gaps today and now i track every click and interaction. Will review the data in a few days.

  7. 2

    Just a reminder that, if you get any reviews that are against the Google Play Comment Posting Policies, you can report such inappropriate reviews.

    1. 1

      Thanks. I have already done this. Unfortunately, Google only deletes reviews in extremely rare cases and probably only checks for swear words or similar. Once I got a bad review where someone claimed the app was not translated into Spanish. This was simply a false claim and was not true. I reported it to Google but Google does not check the ratings for correctness and therefore did not delete the rating.

      1. 1

        Agreed, I’ve never gotten Google to take down any obviously spam reviews, but it’s still worth flagging in case the algorithm eventually catches up.

  8. 1

    A few things to note.

    1. Googles new algorithm heavily favors recent ratings. Find a way to get a fresh wave of good ratings, and within a month or so you'll get bumped up.
    2. A google support rep confirmed to me that deleted reviews are still counted. Never ask anyone to delete a review, only update it. This seems ridiculous, I couldn't believe it, but that's what they said.
    3. Google Play is full of fake reviews. You can find apps that dominate by using fake review services. I've seen those apps eventually get punished, but it takes forever. They need to improve this but have failed to do so. This is my opinion based off my observation, but I see similar products in the same space with drastically different download to review ratios, from people who's names and review text all seems eerily similar.
    1. 1

      Thanks for this informations :)

  9. 1

    It sounds like you're doing everything right, this is unfortunately something that comes with the territory. All you can really do is respond to the lower reviews in the hopes that they give you something to work with or as others have said, focus on trying to get feedback from other users that is more positive.

    Do you have error tracking or some sort of monitoring? The only other case I've seen in the past is sometimes a bunch of errors are popping up without you knowing and users leave bad reviews out of frustration. Not saying this is the case here, but it may be something to check on if you're unsure.

  10. 1

    This happened to me all the time with my product.

    For these kind of review, I suggest you to respond nicely, asking questions how you could help them more, and why their rating and review are contradicting. That way, people going through the review will be able to see how you cared and tried to reach out.

    To improve, yes, asking the users to rate when they're done doing something.

    1. 1

      Thanks. Yes, I think it is probably the best thing to do. Even if the actual reviewer does not respond to questions new users can see that I take every review seriously when they read the reviews in the Play Store.

  11. 1

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