Over the short history of app stores, there has been a big shift in the perception of high-quality reviews and ratings for your app. Back in the early days, having a 5-star app was a badge of honor, but not much more. As competition has increased, those little stars next to your app have taken on an entirely new meaning.

The Obvious Reason

Other than looking AWESOME, having a clean 5-star review gives you the opportunity to impress every new friend you meet (or at least we developers like to think so).

In reality, it gives your app a competitive edge to users who are browsing for their perfect app. Consider the following graphic:

Fig 1.1

There are 369 results for this search term. That’s a ton of competition, so every advantage your app has can make all the difference when capturing the attention of a potential new user. As a user yourself, if you’re presented with this set of apps, which are you most likely to choose?

Having zero or just a few reviews doesn’t exactly instill confidence. Has nobody tried it yet? Is there only one rating because the developer’s mom said something nice?

Even worse, having a less-than-stellar star rating raises lots of questions about the app’s ability to deliver on expectations. The following xkcd comic sums this up nicely:

The Not-So Obvious Reason

Looking good is one thing, being able to catch someone’s eye is another. Can ratings actually improve your rank and visibility in the app stores? Some research from the mobile marketing team at Fiksu indicates that ratings are now factored into the actual discoverability algorithms. Note the chart below:

You can pinpoint the exact day the algorithm changed (in this case, in the iTunes App Store). Lowly-rated apps actually lost rank, while their highly-rated counterparts surged. This indicates a couple of things. First, that highly-rated apps are more likely to have higher priority in search results. This affects rank simply because more users are able to find the app, therefore more users will download. Most importantly, however, is that your app’s rank isn’t only affected by download numbers but a number of different factors, including rating.

This is actually great for developers and users alike. It’s now much harder to buy downloads in bursts to game the app store (although this is certainly still done), so it helps to level the playing field for great devs with small budgets. Furthermore, the best apps are truly bubbling to the top – making it much less frustrating for users looking for quality apps.

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Ratings are important! Seriously! Building an app is hard enough, but don’t just throw the app into the store and call it a day. You need to work hard to get those ratings, and maintain them effectively.