Why buying ratings & downloads is dumb?

Oct 28

Why buying ratings & downloads is dumb?

Some readers may think my last post was a little too simplistic, well, this post is a little more edgy. To be clear: “buying ratings” is a growth-hack method I don’t recommend.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the internet security sector and so sometimes I can just “smell a rat”. You see an app with large ratings (and/or downloads on the Play Store, and/or likes on Facebook) and something about it does not smell right – I’ve looked at the App and played with it, shown it to others and it just doesn’t have the utility to warrant ratings or an avalanche of downloads. In other words…”I just don’t get it!”

There is a good chance that someone involved with that App has decided to buy some popularity.

Try this now: Go to Google and Search: buy appstore ratings. The links show that it is possible to get ratings of your app. Of course you can also buy app installs – thats not always shonky and their are ad networks that provide that value, so I’m not dissing that – that is just an alternative “discovery” channel for app owners.

While its pretty common to ask your friends and family to rate your app but this article reports that its pretty clear that if Apple figure out you are doing it, then you will be punished (removed from App store). From my security/botnet/clickfarm tracking days (as the founder of ThreatMetrix) I can tell you that it is possible to track this stuff and no matter how funny Stephen Colbert’s vote rigging was, you don’t want to play chicken with Apple. You see, Apple don’t need to figure this stuff out in real-time they could remove your App anytime – even after you think you’ve found a winning acquisition solution – not a great business model if your App vaporises.

Anyway, aside from this moral chest-thumping, I wanted to make the point that even if this approach worked and you never got caught, you are just killing your retention metrics.

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Consider this chart. Its graphs 2 hypothetical app owners and their active user base:

  • The blue curve represents a white-hat App owner/marketer. They know that getting¬†QUALITY¬†users is one key to retention.
  • The reg curve is our black-hat badass App owner who wants to pump their way to success by purchasing downloads or ratings.


If Mr BlackHat had spent his money on iterating marketing methods that acquired interested users then he would have much better retention. Think about it – you always get what you incentivise, so the clickfarms will happily perform the work whilst they are getting paid, but do they have any real interest in your app?

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Buying Users kills Retention Statistics

Buying Users kills Retention Statistics





So the App is now not opened and is deleted and never used again. Your retention crashes badly.

But…the astute will argue I’m missing the point. I hear you say “Its not about the downloads, its all about getting featured in the AppStore or Top of the Ratings stack”. Absolutely, you are correct that the exercise is to “prime-the-pump” – then adoring genuine fans will flock to your App and be loyal customers.


You’ve lied to your customers and if you spent that money on:

  1. understanding what features of your app that have the most utility for your users
  2. understanding what acquisition channels work best at acquiring QUALITY users (as I said above)

Then you’ve built a better platform for capturing and retaining users. If you go Black Hat, then you’ve learned nothing other than if you “put the coin in the slot” you will get a short term blip.

You have limited time and resources, I’ve seen a few startups burnout from “spending like a drunken sailor” without focussing on the principles of giving the customer value and utility. I’m not a huge Net Promoter fan but you will never get any viral fanout (“word-of-mouth” recommendations in the old lingo) if you focus is not about getting better and smarter.


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