Black Hat ASO: Everything You Need to Know

With more than 2 million iOS apps on the App Store and more than 3.1 million Android apps on the Google Play Store, it gets harder and harder to acquire new users quickly by doing App Store Optimization. Therefore, some app developers or marketers turn towards black hat ASO.

The purpose of this article is to purely inform our readers about the current situation of black hat App Store Optimization. We help you to recognize how, when and where app companies are using Black Hat ASO tactics to manipulate algorithms, and how you can fight these tricky attacks appropriately and smartly.

I do not recommend making use of black hat ASO techniques in any case!!! However, you can have your opinion.

What is Black Hat ASO

Keyword stuffing, deceptive reviews, buying installs… Black Hat ASO is a collective term for a set of unethical practices to improve an app’s visibility to get organic downloads in a short period of time by manipulating app stores’ algorithms.

“Normal” App Store Optimization (also called “White Hat ASO”) has two goals – increasing app visibility in search results and top charts to get more downloads, and optimizing the conversion rate of users who visit the app’s product page. All white hat ASO tasks are performed in compliance with the guidelines of App Store and Google Play. In contracts, app owners who use Black Hat ASO techniques violate these guidelines and create unfair advantages for themselves to achieve these two goals.

In the following paragraph, I will list the most used Black Hat ASO techniques and I hope all of us can fight for these shady techniques.

Most Used Black Hat ASO (App Store Optimization) Techniques

1.      Buying Installs and Bot Installs

This is a black hat ASO technique to increase the install volume with incentivized, bot, or non-incentivized search installs to reach top charts.

Both the App Store and the Google Play Store rank apps in top charts. Both stores create separate charts for each app category, but also overall charts across all categories. All of them are very valuable for app owners because they create enormous visibility and attract many new users.

The number of downloads overall and in the recent past is one factor that both Apple and Google consider when creating their top charts. So apps that manage to generate high volumes of new downloads within a short period of time will push their apps up the charts.

For that reason, Black Hat ASO marketers buy fake installs.

Buy Fake Installs
EPS 10 and JPEG

2.      Manipulating Top Grossing Charts

In addition to the top charts, Apple and Google create “Top Grossing” charts for the apps that make the most revenue across on App Store or Google Play.

This tactic highlighted by Gabriel Machuret includes increasing the price of an app to astronomic heights and then asking friends to buy it.

This is a fascinating experiment that was executed like this: You price your app at a stupidly insane price – let’s say $999. You get 50 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 $999 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.

3.      Buying Fake/Incent Keyword Installs

The way to manipulate search is to buy search traffic. If many users search for a specific keyword and then download a specific app from the search results, the algorithm will consider this app extraordinarily relevant to the keyword. As a result, this app will climb up the SERP.

Also, when 20,000 people search for your game’s keywords, it pushes your game up the trending charts. And when those 20K searches end with a download, your game gets bumped up the ranks. It’s just that someone paid for those 20,000 searches.

4.      Buying Fake Reviews and Ratings

Ratings and reviews are important in improving app rankings and conversion rate. Many users won’t download apps which ratings is lower than 4.0.

In order to manipulate this algorithm, Black Hat ASO practitioners prefer using platforms selling fake reviews and ratings. Black hat ASO techniques in reviews and ratings include:

  • Fake reviews – created by bot accounts. These fake but positive reviews are used to quickly improve the app’s ratings.
  • Buying reviews – providing something to users in exchange for their feedback on an app.
  • Encouraging the use of keywords in reviews – through incentive means.
  • Reviews written by the app’s own publishers.

Many publishers can’t get even 20 reviews from real users, but it’s easy to buy them – so why not buy a thousand, or two thousand, or three thousand.

Pro Tips: How to Spot Fake Reviews in App Store and Google Play

  • Look for reviews with repetitive phrases like “great/amazing/wonderful app”. Fake reviews usually are less than 5 words and too general like “Nice app!”
  • We can consider a review fake when it has too much keywords. This is very easy to detect because you will find that the sentence structure of the review is messed up with keyword spamming.
  • Some fake reviews just absolutely make no sense because they’re copied and pasted blindly.
  • Check the timing and the number of reviews. It can be a red flag if there are multiple accolades for an app or game – especially a new one – in a brief span of time

5.      Rating Competitors’ Apps Negatively

There are many cases were the black hat ASO participator chose the unfair route to attack their competition. Rating the competition negatively is one of them.

6.      Imitating Popular Apps

Using competitors’ assets like app icon and app name is very popular among Black Hat ASO practitioners. By creating icons that look similar to the icons of popular apps, they try to benefit from their popularity.

Imitate TikTok

Why You Do & Don’t Use Black Hat ASO

Although I don’t favor to use black hat ASO tactics, it exists in the real word. And now even some of the top publishers are getting in on the act, harnessing black hat tactics to manipulate algorithms to push their apps up the charts or searches. Even these top publishers are indulging in review buying, App installs, bot installs and more.

Actually, these are the trending activities which many ASO do. These are unethical but anyhow these activities became part of work and they do not consider it unethical.

Why they do black hat ASO? It is apparently that these black hat ASO tactics can cause a sudden spike in KPIs.

However, there are also many reasons for why you should not use black hat ASO tactics. Specifically, Black hat SEO may result in the following negative consequences:

  • The removal of your app.
  • Quick results without long-term success and growth.
  • Low-quality users who will probably end up deleting the app after installing it.
  • Having to continually throw money into these methods in order to maintain their success.

Final Words and Highlights

App Store Optimization is very important in any App Marketing strategy nowadays. However, it is very challenging too. Your boss or clients may often ask that “how quickly you can rank in app store”. They want good conversion, they want rank and they want downloads. Some of ASOers use black hat ASO tactics to response.

However, I hope you can educate yourself. Know where you actually stand in the app store, and be able to identify and report fraudulent activity.

Hopefully, Apple and Google can change their app store algorithm frequently and counterfeit these activities. Then, all developers can compete in a fair market.

What’s your opinion about black hat ASO? Not all ASO marketers fight against it and some of your may accept and use it. Just say what you think and know in the comments below.

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