Is It Ethical For Companies To Influence Plugin Ratings and Reviews?

Plugin RatingsA week ago, I was contacted by a WordPress user who asked an interesting question, Is it ethical for a company to use its own staff to bump plugin ratings on

At first, I didn’t give much thought to the question until I investigated the links they provided me. I researched the plugins they linked to and reviewed the user profile history of accounts leaving those reviews and I have mixed feelings on what I discovered:

  • At least two of the user accounts I researched had a forum title that made them officially attached to the company they represented.
  • All of their plugin reviews I saw were 5 star rated, short reviews for the plugins their company developed or sold through their site. The plugins in question could certainly be that awesome and those reviews are actual representations of their experience but putting 2 and 2 together, it doesn’t seem that way on paper.
  • I also discovered an account that provided the same short, 5 star rated reviews for plugins maintained by the same company but without the official forum title. Their reviews for all of the company’s plugins occurred on the same day.

I reached out to the company in question, but received a hostile response via email that was not suitable for print.

On the one hand, company employees would know their own plugins best and would be able to give great reviews. At the same time, why would any plugin author or company need to do that? In order to not contaminate the data, wouldn’t it be best to view legitimate ratings and reviews from users that are unsolicited? What is there to be gained? The plugins page does have a Highest Rated plugin section as well as Most Popular, two lists that if a high-ranking could be acquired, would generate more downloads. If the company business model is to offer a pro version of those plugins and each free plugin in the WordPress plugin repository is used as an advertisement to push users to go that direction, then things start to make a little more sense when it comes to financial gain.

I don’t know if the company in question or any others with plugins in the repository are paying for 5 star ratings, reviews, telling their employees to give good reviews with 5 star ratings, or trying to do their best to game the systems in place but if you piece together the evidence, it would be easy to build a case that represents that perspective. Not all of the plugin ratings/reviews that I read were suspect. With established plugins, it would take quite a few employees or unique paid reviews to swing the data in a positive direction which has me wondering if it would be worth it?

While I’ve focused on 5 star ratings with positive reviews consider that just as easily, 1 star ratings with poor reviews can be dished out by a competitor. Another interesting point to consider is that all of the reviews and ratings are attached to user accounts and thus, everything is publicly viewable. It’s just a matter of piecing together reviews with accounts, and potential companies those people are working for. However, it’s dangerous to just assume that someone’s reviews or ratings are based on an agenda and not their personal experience.

When participating in this discussion, I ask that you please refrain from throwing names, companies, and others under the bus if you suspect they are participating in this behavior. Keep the discussion focused on the behavior and not the individuals or companies doing it.

There are 47 comments

Comments are closed.