In part 4 of our masterclass series, our world-leading ASO authority breaks down exactly what some publishers are trying to pull off with black-hat ASO — and how to knock those fraudulent apps out out of the spot that rightfully belongs to you.

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“Once you discover what works in the app store and how the app store behaves, you can manipulate it,” says Gabriel Machuret, long-time ASO authority. “Every search system in the world can be manipulated. Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google — even elections in the U.S.”

Machuret, who’s devoted his career to testing, pushing, and breaking algorithms in the Google Play and Apple app stores, is referring to the growing black-hat ASO trend that started with the explosion of Shuabang companies across China selling app store rankings to the highest bidders. “Chinese publishers are literally knocking down some of the top publishers in the world for their keywords,” Machuret says.

And now 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 — particularly when it comes to incentivizing downloads from search terms. 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.

“There are big companies, respected companies, promoting these services. And it’s so expensive that only the big guys are doing it,” say Machuret. “The problem is this that it is completely manipulating the app store.”

But Machuret isn’t surprised it’s become such a prevalent tactic. “App companies are the laziest marketing companies in the world,” he says. “An app company does no social media. Zero content marketing. They only think of the app store traffic. So for them to be in top position is the end goal. For them it’s easier to pay money initially and see what happens versus trying to do it organically.”

He estimates that at least 15 percent of publishers are using similar tactics, and that up to 30 percent of publishers are buying reviews, which Machuret says are one of the most important pieces of the app store algorithm, and consequently, one of the most difficult pieces to fake, because they need to come from real, registered users.

“Many publishers can’t get even 20 reviews, not just because no one wants to post a review,” he explains. He refers back to the problem of publishers not engaging in social media and leveraging their audience in this organic way.

“But It’s easy to buy them — so why not buy a thousand, or two thousand, or three thousand. Anything can be purchased,” he says.

And, he adds, when you have the cash to spend up front, breaking the rules pays off, because the ROI is worth the risk for some companies,even if they face stiff fines. That’s why black hat exists.

How do you fight back? Educate yourself, Machuret says. Know where you actually stand in the app store, and be able to identify and report fraudulent activity.

But even more important is harnessing real marketing tactics — send out press releases. Approach media outlets like VentureBeat and other essential outlets. Have a voice in the industry. And harness the power of your app’s community in social.

“Developers that have a real audience have a bulletproof vest against black hats,” Machuret says. “The problem is that app companies only talk one way. If you can develop a loyal audience and actually communicate with them, and ask people to help you out, support the app and leave reviews, people will.”

Want to know more about black hat tactics — and how to fight back? Join our half-hour masterclass!

Don’t miss out!

Register here for free.

In this half hour masterclass, you’ll:

  • Learn the “hard truth” about app store search and discovery mechanisms that are working against your app
  • Learn how to bulletproof your app against attacks with proven strategies and tactics
  • Discover how to ignite your app appeal with proven, legit tactics that undermine black hat maneuvers


  • Gabriel Machuret, world-leading ASO author and authority
  • Peggy Anne Salz, VentureBeat analyst


  • Rachael Brownell, VentureBeat