As you may know, the main app stores are overcrowded – there are millions of apps out there and this number is still growing day by day. Everyone is trying to get in the mobile business and, of course, everyone wants to be successful, get a lot of downloads and become a recognized app/game. In order to do so, app marketers and developers should plan and carry out an optimal App Marketing strategy (ASO included), but unfortunately, not everyone deals with it in the same way and some app developers/marketers do Black Hat ASO… Which might be something dangerous.
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What is Black Hat ASO? 7 Tactics that work but you should avoid…
Black Hat ASO is the set of forbidden techniques that allow apps and games to quickly improve visibility in the app stores in order to get more organic downloads. It’s important to remark that both App Store & Google Play are against this kind of action.
As the competitiveness level is increasing more and more every day, new solutions are coming out, and not all of them are safe and ethical. Black Hat ASO tactics pursue the same goal as App Store Optimization (exposure, traffic, and downloads) – however, the process is not the same because “the dark side of App Store SEO” bypasses the rules and the stores end up penalizing and removing the app/game that decides to use these tactics.
We have collected the most common 7 tactics and put them on this list for you:
1. Keyword stuffing
Keyword stuffing was born with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and was later also applied to ASO. This tactic consists of overloading the app store listing with keywords in a shady way with the intention of (unfairly) ranking for this set of app keywords.
Every app marketer/developer wants to generate the maximum volume of installs and to maintain their app on the Top Charts for as long as they can. As the competitiveness level is very high (there are over 8 million of apps in the stores), there are people that opt for:
- Buying fake installs: this can be done by paying people to download their app/game or by using bots with the aim of climbing up in the Top Charts.
- Buying fake keyword installs: you can improve Click-through- rate (CTR) and keywords rankings by asking users to download your app from a specific search – typing a particular keyword.
- Buying incent keyword installs: the same as above, but made by real people that get rewarded for doing it. There are companies offering this service, for example this one.
Although these Black Hat ASO tactics or actions can help your app get more visibility, buying fake installs will lead to low user engagement. These type of users will probably enter in your app once or twice and end up deleting it. Also, do not forget that this technique is FORBIDDEN by the app stores.
3. Ratings & Reviews
User feedback is one of the most powerful factors in Search Rankings (visibility) and Conversion Rate to download. Users check the Average Rating and the Reviews before they decide if an app is worth downloading or not. However, it’s really difficult to get users to give you feedback – especially if your feedback system is not well designed and you ask for Ratings & Reviews at the wrong time:
Black Hat ASO practitioners would reward users (money, prizes) in exchange of (positive) feedback. Also, there are services (you can Google this) that directly sell user ratings and reviews. In addition, keywords in Reviews in Google Play and App Store are also taken into account in the algorithms, so another Black Hat App Store Optimization tactic would be to ask users to write reviews using certain keywords.
4. Playing with the developer’s name (Google Play only)
The developer’s name is an on-metadata factor that plays an important role in Google’s algorithm in terms of visibility (Search) and conversion. For this reason, some developers that want to go a little bit naughty decide to and make their app look outstanding for visitors with Black Hat App Store Optimization:
- Including stars emojis in the developer name with the purpose of making their app look like a 5-star app and making it appealing to users:
- Including volume of downloads in the developer name so the app/game looks popular for the people that visit the app listing – check this example:
5. Manipulating trending search (Apple App Store only)
To appear in trending searches you need to be very popular or to have lots of people looking for (and installing) your app – it’s cool to ask your friends to download your app but do not abuse of this.
If you’ve read one of our articles or guides in our blog, you would probably remember that we recommend changing or adapting your app/game to the season or to special occasions (for example Christmas). Despite the benefits you can obtain by doing so, make sure the changes or adaptations are relevant to your app – a Black Hat ASO tactic would be introducing the keyword “Christmas” in your listing even when your app has nothing to do with Christmas.
Also, there are some “providers” that sell Trending Search slot… Don’t do this!
6. Top Grossing “hack”
We all know that appearing in Top Charts can lead to a high amount of downloads. There are many users eager to download new and cool apps that they see while browsing the app stores. A common Black Hat technique would be inflating the price of a paid app, asking people to download the app and then refunding them. This will make your app climb up in the Top Grossing charts and gain visibility. Once the app/game is there, developers and marketers change the price to the normal one and benefit from visibility.
7. Imitating popular apps
When app developers design and launch an app, they want to see immediate results and become popular as fast as they can, and this leads them to take wrong decisions. One of these decisions is using popular brand names and logos to tease users to download their app instead of the original one:
This is not Black Hat ASO per se, it can be considered a “Grey Hat” or “Black Hat SEO” for web marketing, as Google (and other search engines) punish those websites trying to manipulate rankings with backlinks. So, if you build backlinks, do it the right way.
Try to build some backlinks in a natural way pointing to your Google Play app or game, use some keywords as anchor text for those backlinks and… ASO will improve 😉 as you can see in this experiment we run some months ago. (To view more aso guides: How to Measure ASO Success in 2021)
ASO – do it the right way!
It is key in the app marketing business and there are lots of different things you can do to carry out your strategy in the right way. Have a look at out App Store Optimization Guide.
In this article, we want to focus on incipient yet (and unfortunately) common practices among app marketers and developers: Black Hat ASO. We want to highlight the fact that doing it is not recommendable AT ALL, but as there are some companies and app developers manipulating the search algorithms from the app stores, we decided that it’d be useful to point out the main techniques, in order to easily detect and try to fight them.
Final Opinion and highlights
App Store Optimization is very important in any App Marketing strategy nowadays – and, it’s something all app developers and marketers should have in mind. There are many things we can do to optimize the main factors and get downloads in the right and fairway.