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Black Hat ASO

4 min read

                                                 

Apple Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of improving your app’s visibility and conversion rates in the app stores. The ASO is not a simple process, not a one-time job, not a sprint. Think of it as a long run- a marathon. Thus, the results are not obtained overnight, but if you are willing to invest in it you can get very impressive outcomes. This blog will simply introduce the concept of Black Hat ASO. 

This is a real situation that involves a competition, and some people will want to get the price without additional work. And it is the point where people prefer to take the shortest path to success… A temporary success, obviously.

Chinese bot during fulfilling the black tricks.
Fake Reviews by a Chinese “bot”.

Black Hat ASO is a tool/scheme that boosts your app’s visibility and conversion rates in an unethical way: it either neglects the rules or abuses these rules. How and when companies are using this Black Hat ASO tactics to manipulate the search algorithms, and how to cope with them in the smartest way are the main points to discuss…

The companies using Black Hat ASO techniques are most likely the ones that prefer quantity over quality. They are intended to achieve success with a shortcut, but the implementation of this shortcut often ends up with being unethical. But which tactics are seen/considered as unethical?  

Although this blog is on Black Hat ASO if you need more information on ASO we have separate blogs for Apple Store Optimization guide and Google Play Store Optimization guide differently.

There are some specific practices used by black hat programmers as a mixture of knowledge, trial and error, and some App Store rules.

Black Hat ASO is a cruel reality of the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores. The rough classification of common is below:

  • Installs
  • Keywords
  • Ratings & Reviews

  Installs

  1. Installs that are driven by a promotional offer are considered as Incentivized Installs. Users are given a reward in exchange for downloading the app.

    The number of installs inflated in a day, and this is a clear indication of Black Hat ASO
    An example of inflated installs. This company uses black techniques most probably.

  2. Bot Installs: Computer automated accounts-bots can download your app even 2 mln times.
  3. Retained Bot Installs are driven from messages/emails to companies, usually promising a certain number of downloads of your app.
  4. Non-incentivized search installs – The installs after an influencing Youtuber’s speech in his/her channel trying to persuade followers to go and search for “pro makeup” and download “lipshades” app.
  5. Incentivized search installs – The installs are giving a reward: “ Search and install to earn. “
  6. Bot trending Searches – Getting top ranking with trending search results via bot. This way you get more traffic, increase app installs and earnings. Again, this Happens in an exchange for the things that users are interested.
  7. “Top Grossing refund” trick – The simplest explanation of this “original” idea can be drawn from Gabriel Machuret’s article on Black Hat ASO on ASOstack.com. He called it as the manipulation of paid app category. Here is a short excerpt from it that totally clarifies this trick: This was a fascinating experiment that was executed like this: You price your app at a stupidly insane price – let’s say $1000. You get 10 friends to buy the app, and the app goes into Top Grossing apps for the day, right? Once the app is in top position, your friends request a refund, and you, the owner of the $1000 app, drop the price of the app to $0.99 to try to reap the benefits of the organic traffic you’re achieving from being in the top position.”

Keywords

There are unfortunately some apps that benefit from keyword optimization not legally.

App title, App description are the fields that have a direct contribution to the visibility of the app. Some Black Hat programmers tend to put a bunch of optimized irrelevant keywords that are already ranking high in the application’s data and/or description that does not mean anything together. It’s a primitive technique, but it works and has been there since the beginning of black hat.

Note: Don’t forget that Apple App Store and Google Play Store now reject the apps that have stuffed keywords.                                       

Ratings & Reviews

Boosting organic traffic through App Store Optimization results in different analytics of your app in comparison with Black Hat ASO.

You should have in mind that ASO takes time, and if constantly checking the analytics you can find out whether the app is using Black Hat ASO or not. If the there is a gradual, slow increase in the number of organic downloads, then it is ASO. Bear in mind that Black ASO results in a temporary boost.

One of the important points is users’ trust. We all prefer to read the reviews before downloading the app because we think that we can trust the users’ feedback.

Unfortunately, there are some companies that offer fake reviews to inflate your app ranking in App Stores. They create tons of fake bot accounts to leave a positive feedback to boost app’s ranking for a short time.

The number of positive reviews escalated up in an abnormal way just for the short period of time
The number of positive reviews inflated in a day, a clear Black Hat ASO example.

But the good news is that it is possible to find out fake review since it is all man-made machinery results. Take a look at the language of reviews. The reviews are generally short in context and don’t exist for a long time or all they do is just putting a “5-star” rating.

Types of Black Hat ASO

Types of Black Hat ASO, Gray hat or stacked hat ?

The situations where it feels not over the line for now, but might be unethical later are called Gray Hat ASO. In other words, the techniques are somewhat illegal but still, you can commonly find. The situation for incentivizing users for ratings can be considered as an example of Gray Hat technique.

There is a notion of Stacked Hat development of which we are not sure either if it is illegal or not.

Ways to Cope With Black Hat ASO

Stopping black tricks in SEO is a bit easier since it can be done by the very complex algorithms and human intervention.Whilst coping with black tricks in app stores is difficult and unfair. Google Play and Apple App Stores have their guidelines very vague that sometimes it is unclear enough whether the certain rules from guidelines are broken or not.

In a market where some app companies are using these black tricks to boost their app’s ranking, you have to be very careful and fight smartly against them so that no programmer is left unfair. We as Mobile Action do not encourage you to choose the black approach at all, and this blog post is just for informative purposes.

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