Do you think the major app publishers are abiding by all the rules dictated by the App Stores?

Want to know a few dirty little secrets that a lot of developers are using to game their keyword rankings?

Today, we give you a glimpse into the world of black hat ASO and its most frequently used tactics.

1. Fake (or Incentivized) App Store Reviews

If you’ve been keen in the ASO industry you’ve probably noticed how some apps garner a lot of reviews and top  keyword searches just merely days after its launch. You guessed it, this is where fake or incentivized reviews play a role in helping these apps amass so many reviews in such a short period of time. A few years ago, Apple ran a campaign against developers who ran incentivized app installs and reviews by offering virtual currency in-app in exchange for downloads and reviews for their apps.

Apple, in their guidelines, states:

“Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program.”

Although a very common Black Hat tactic, this method not only affects user experience, but also developer innovation as it impacts the quality of the user base and consequently hurts the app’s engagement metrics.

2. Inaccurate Data

A slew of ASO tools have emerged asserting the accuracy of their data, but the biggest question is: just how accurate are they? One of the ASO strategies that we’ve used to get over this hump is using two different tools to compare and contrast the data. As taxing as that may sound, you really need to be careful when using only one ASO tool with nothing to measure the accuracy of the data to. With the help Apple Search Ads, however, it’s making it easier to verify the information.

An example of tools that give inaccurate data is SensorTower. We’ve been running tests to compare the tool with others and what we’ve found while analyzing its data with MobileAction and AppTweak and then verifying it with Apple Search Ads is that SensorTower consistently gives the least accurate results. In contrast, MobileAction has the most accurate data so far in terms of search volume and competition search for a particular keyword.

3. Downloads with Keyword Search

This is another form of incentivization where in users download an app through a specific search query rather than downloading it straight from the App Store page. This results to higher click-through-rates and it also affects keyword traffic if done in multitudes. We offer this service among many others at Appmasters.co, but it’s important to be aware that some companies charge a large sum for the same service. And by large sum we mean up to the tune of at least $10,000 for mixed results.

4. Too Many Experts

There’s been numerous players in the market that claim to be the sharpest tool in the ASO shed. We have experts saying ASO works and experts saying ASO doesn’t work. Now we don’t know about these “experts”, but we base our strategies on the experience we’ve gotten through the years and that’s being able to consistently increase downloads from 100% up to 500% for our clients. If you’re looking to work with an expert in the industry ask them about advanced ASO strategies and assess their knowledge based on a blog post we’ve written here.

It’s crucial for people to understand that these methods may help gain significant traffic to their apps at the beginning of a campaign, but they do not have lasting effects. Based on our experience, a successful campaign with long lasting effects is one that uses multiple ASO methods. We’ve helped one of our clients, get from #108 to #1 by combining free-to-play campaigns, search boosts and reviews all together.

For you guys who are trying to do everything by the book, take note that all these Black Hat tactics are being widely used these days. However, that doesn’t mean that ASO is dead, it still is a viable channel and is considered one of the most sustainable ways to boost app visibility and we can definitely back that up with the results with gotten for our clients. You just have to be aware to be able to counter these Black Hat methods and know where to personally draw the line.

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Steve Young

Founder at AppMasters
I started building apps in 2011 and my first app hit #8 under educational games. I started making a few hundred dollars a month, but had no idea what I was doing. Then in 2013 I decided to start a podcast so I could pick the brains of app creators that I admired including the co-founder of Shazam, Tapbots, Crossy Road, etc and that changed everything.

Now I run an app marketing agency where we’ve helped 8 clients get featured by Apple, 5X downloads with ASO, and get coverage on Techcrunch, Mashable, Venture Beat and other major publications. I also write about apps on The Next Web, Entrepreneur.com, and on my blog AppMasters.co.