App store optimisation is the first thing any app developer will need to understand if they’re ever to see their app perform well in the app stores.
There are dozens of methods available to pull out better app store results, but as the competition has become fiercer, many app developers and app marketers have found that black hat methods exist that can be used and go under the radar.
These black hat app store optimisation techniques are unfair, they’re costing legitimate companies money and hard working developers that stick to the guidelines are often finding themselves losing out in app store rankings to those that aren’t afraid to dabble in less approved methods.
A Quick Intro on The State of App Store Optimisation (ASO)
Unlike with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), where complex algorithms and human intervention are constantly being used to stop black hat techniques from working, the app store is currently a playing field for the unscrupulous and unfair. Both the Google Play and Apple App Store have very obscure guidelines, that in places are unclear enough to make it up to Google and Apple’s discretion whether rules are being broken or not.
If Apple and Google pooled more resources into stopping black hat app store optimisation techniques then this may not be so much of an issue, but as it currently stands, very little effort is going into stopping illegitimate ASO tactics and many black hat app marketers are slipping in through the cracks and reaping in the rewards.
The Ugly Types of Black Hat ASO Techniques Slipping Through the Cracks
Right now, there are many app marketing groups that are actively using black hat app store optimisation to boost ratings and selling their services to app developers that may or may not know why these techniques are unfair.
We’ve listed some examples of what black hat techniques are often being used to boost apps to the top of the app stores.
We’d never recommend using these methods, but it’s important to understand what is out there so that you know what competition you’re up against.
If you own an app on the app stores, chances are you’ve been contacted via email by ‘ASO experts’ that offer a variety of services. One of their services includes batches of reviews from their review farms. Oftentimes black hat technique users can purchase batches of 5 star reviews, installs and even retention strategies to boost an app store ranking.
As an example, an app developer can spend $500 and receive 1,000 high quality five star reviews, 1,000 or more downloads, and have all of those download sources open the app 1 or more days after the initial install date to increase retention stats. It doesn’t matter whether these review farms are initiated by humans or bots because Apple and Google are very slow to take up on these tactics.
Fiverr Gigs and Buying Downloads
Fiverr has become a powerful marketplace for users to purchase black hat ASO and SEO packages. App owners can now spend $5 and get a package of legitimate downloads, high ratings or searches for their app in the app store. There are so many different packages available on Fiverr that it’s completely possible for app owners to build a successful black hat ASO campaign directly on the website and nowhere else.
Once again, buying strategies from Fiverr is nothing more than straight app store manipulation and is making it far harder for legitimate companies to rank high.
Even professional app marketing companies are offering some black hat techniques. A quick Google search for ‘Search Spike’ shows that plenty of companies are offering such services. The surprising part is that this tactic is being described as a completely legitimate method of ASO.
These app marketing agencies can send thousands of searches for a specific keyword in the app store and direct those searches to your app. Doing so will directly increase the ranking for that keyword because the app store algorithm is tricked into thinking thousands of real mobile users are searching for a certain feature and are choosing the marketed app over other options.
In-House Manipulation of Rankings
Most black hat techniques are outsourced to other companies, but any in-house method that’s used to directly influence an app store ranking whilst going against the app store guidelines is considered black hat.
There are a surprising number of techniques that are being used and app developers are getting away with it.
Using Good Black Hat (gray hat)Techniques To Fight the Competition
It’s becoming very difficult to fight black hat app store optimisation users whilst staying on good terms with the app store. To stand a chance at fighting the competition, app marketers will need to use a combination of white hat techniques and techniques that could be considered black hat, but could still be considered fair under Apple or Google’s discretion (i.e. grey hat), within the current app ecosystem.
We’ve listed a number of techniques that can be used without the fear of going over the line with certain guidelines.
- Encouraging users to leave a rating at key points (during a fun moment, or interesting app feature)
- Naturally dropping keywords into the app description
- Editing app descriptions to add trending keywords
- Improve localized versions of your apps
Avoiding ASO Bad Black Hat Techniques
Some techniques may seem ‘safe,’ but in actuality there have been instances where developers have been penalised for using them, such as getting banned from the app stores. The black hat techniques listed below should be avoided at all costs or risk Apple and Google taking action against you.
- Keyword stuffing
- Offering incentives for 5 star reviews
- Encouraging users to rate your app positively in any way
- Reviewing your own apps
- Paying for social engagements/likes/retweets, etc.
Why Stick to the Rules?
Whilst the app stores may be chaotic in their current state, there’s hope that Apple and Google will crack down on unscrupulous activity and ranking manipulation. In this case it’s important to stick to the guidelines as much as possible so you get to keep those organic users generated from the huge visibility in the app store search results. You can read more about the benefits of appropriate app store optimisation here.