On the Psychology of App Ratings

May 12, 2015

app ratings for YoshirtYour app ratings and reviews are a very important indicator of whether your app is awesome or not to potential customers. Also, app store ranking are influenced by ratings. Even Google shows Google Play ratings in search results. And ratings reflect on the brand of your company. So great ratings are important for the success of your application. In order to get great ratings it is vital that you understand why and how users rate your app. Let’s see what influences their rating.

Motivation drives app ratings

Based on experience with your app, your user will have a specific motivation, a goal in mind that she wants to achieve. For instance, she feels like you as a developer did a great job and wants to reward you for that. Or she wants to tell other people that your app sucks. She wants to blow off steam. She really likes the app but wants to tell you about a certain feature she thinks is missing. She wants to write a smartass review to come across as an expert.

Context has influence

Context is everything around the use of the app and the user that has influence on the way she perceives your app and will rate your app.  Like their emotional state: your user really needed to get home soon, and your taxi app helped out tremendously. Or she had a bad day, is grumpy and impatient and not willing to wait for your long list of messages to download. And ratings are not absolute but relative. For instance, the previous version of your app was really buggy and this new version fixes that. You have a competing app that is just much easier to use. And big expectations set the bar high: apps published by a big company will be rated harsher when quality is mediocre. Paying for your app will result in higher expectations and if not met, result in stronger disappointments. Are there other options for the user to send feedback? In particular if a user wants to send suggestions to improve but cannot find any ways of communicating with the developers, she might get even more frustrated and give a very negative review. Are there competing apps or are you one of a kind? If your app is bad, they might just leave you when there are alternatives and leave no review at all. If you are one of a kind, for instance the only official app to a popular service, switching over will not be possible so users will get frustrated and leave a negative review. Good thing that that negative review will have not much of an effect, as users are basically forced to use your app.

Triggers account for the specific moment

There are many moments your user could rate your app, but only one specific one she will actually go the app store and do the rating. This might be an extremely good or bad experience, like a massive discount on a dress your user always wanted. Or a repeated crash of your food ordering app when she was hungry. Your app might have these Rate My App prompts built in, where after a 3rd launch you decide to prompt the user to rate your app. Or you send them an email or push notification asking them for an app rating.

Social consequences have a secondary effect

A rating, possibly with a written review will have multiple effects. What will the effect be for the developer? What for the user herself? Will the user’s critical review reflect badly on her? Apple’s iTunes Store allows you to pick a username the first time you will post a review, resulting in a lot of usernames that are not directly linked to a real person. The Google Play Store uses Google Plus profiles, that are in general with real full name and picture. So rating an iOS app is more anonymous, which will result in more extreme negative reviews as the consequences for the user are limited. Same thing, if the developer is a big and therefore less personal company this will result in more extreme negative ratings.

Cultural differences will affect the distribution of ratings

In general Americans are more outspoken positive than Europeans, and are brought up with rating systems that are more relative than absolute (top 10 % of a class gets an A, vs. less than 5 mistakes in 50 questions is an A). And without a doubt people in other continents are brought up with different norms.

Concluding, lots of factors influence a rating. In a next article, I will line out how you can leverage this knowledge to get better ratings.

Dirk de Kok