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What is the Black Hat ASO?

The term Black Hat ASO refers to a set of App Store Optimization measures that violate the terms and conditions of Apple or Google. The goal of these measures is to improve an app’s visibility and conversion rates. But instead of following best practices in keyword research and metadata optimization, black hat tactics aim to create unfair advantages and quick results by exploiting the app stores’ algorithms and deceiving potential users.

Measures that target Search Results

There are many different forms of Black Hat ASO, and shady app owners constantly develop new measures. Each measure targets one conversion opportunity. As search results are easier to take over than the top charts, they attract many fraudsters. Here are some Black Hat actions that target SERPs:

Keyword Stuffing / Keyword Spamming

On Google Play, the long description is indexed and should contain relevant keywords to increase the app’s visibility in search results. The best practice for this purpose is to write an engaging, grammatically correct text that includes these keywords.

But some marketers create extensive lists of keywords instead of implementing them into a proper text. That is called keyword stuffing, and it violates Google’s guidelines.

Keyword stuffing might also target other indexed metadata elements on both iOS and Android. But as the long description offers the most space for keywords, it usually is the main target.

Targeting Competitors’ Brand Keywords

Another way of misusing keywords is to target brand names of popular competitors. Black Hat marketers try to steal organic search traffic by using these brand keywords in their metadata. Placements for this purpose are the iOS keyword field or the long description on Google Play.

According to both Google’s and Apple’s guidelines, this approach is strictly forbidden.

Black Hat ASO that impacts Top Charts

The highest ranks in the stores’ top charts are very valuable placements because they create high visibility. Thus, many fraudsters try to cheat their way into them. Here are some Black Hat measures that target the charts.

Buying Bot Traffic

Download volumes are an essential factor for Top Chart rankings. Thus, some Black Hat tactics aim to increase download numbers by buying bot traffic.

Buying Search Traffic

A similar measure in Black Hat ASO has the purpose of manipulating search results. By paying users for searching for a specific keyword and download an app afterward, black hat marketers try to improve the app’s ranking for this term.

Actions that aim at Conversion Rates

Conversion Rate Optimization is important to transform visibility in SERPs or top charts into downloads. As social proof is crucial in the decision-making process of potential users, fraudsters try to fake it.

Copying Popular Brands

Metadata elements like the app title and the app icon show up in all conversion opportunities. Marketers who use Black Hat ASO try to leverage this fact by creating app icons that look similar to the icons of popular apps or brands. The goal of this tactic is to lure users who know the popular brand into downloading the copycat.

See a collection of copycats that imitate the Flash Player logo below.

Many apps using this tactic are not only copycats but also malware that steal users’ data.

Faking Social Proof

As user ratings and reviews are an essential factor for conversion rates optimization, some black hat marketers pretend to have popular and high-quality apps. Some buy fake reviews; others use misleading publisher names that suggest that the app has millions of users.

The screenshot below shows apps with misleading publisher names that try to fake social proof.

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