Why Your Software Team Shouldn’t Aim for a Five-Star App Rating
I hope your app doesn’t have five stars.
I’m not being rude. It’s just that when your app has five stars, there is nowhere to go but down. Star ratings are important, but many teams are so focused on that metric that it is killing their apps and hurting their business. Having a five-star rating stops innovation, puts teams under pressure, and can even get you fired.
It is an open secret that the best apps from the best companies don’t have five stars. Facebook is doing just fine these days, spending millions of dollars each year on testing, and their app hovers around four stars on the Google Play Store. Google Search, Google Maps, and Snapchat also have four stars.
There are lots of apps with 4.5+ stars out there—but you probably aren’t using them much. The Opera browser app has 4.5 stars in the iTunes Store, but chances are you use Chrome, which is just under four. The most loved, most used, and most monetized apps don’t have five stars, so why is your app team chasing that?
I’ve met with several app teams that have attained this enviable star rating. Are they happy? Are they largely successful? Nope. Many are falling behind because they live in fear of losing that five-star rating. Pushing a new version of their app means the risk of getting a new, lower rating—and that’s a risk most of them won’t take.
Imagine an app team practicing agile and continuous engineering that used to update its app with new features and bug fixes every two weeks. But since getting that sought-after five-star rating, the team hasn’t pushed a new build for a year. The app looks out of date, and users are getting bored and not returning. Teams like this are frustrated because every new feature or bug fix it wants to push never stands up to the risk of losing that fifth star.
Five stars also isn’t great for job security. I know an app team that shipped a radical new user interface. Their rating plummeted from five stars to three as users adjusted to the redesign. What happened to all those previously confident five-star developers and testers? Many were let go. Before the new crew could “fix” the app, the star ratings crept back up to four as users settled in, and, more importantly, more money started flowing through the redesigned app. Four stars ended up being better than five, but the new team is taking the credit.
It is counterintuitive, but that fifth star can be the kiss of death. Build a four-star app and be content with that rating. You’re more likely to have a great company, a great career, and a happy app team.