White Hat vs Black Hat ASO: The Do's & Don'ts

December 16th, 2017

White Hat vs Black Hat ASO: The Do's & Don'ts
David Bell

by David Bell

CEO at Gummicube, Inc.

The mobile industry is booming. Everyone has a smartphone and they’re all searching for apps that fit their needs. App Developers and companies try to meet this ever-growing demand by producing millions of apps, flooding both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. With millions of apps to compete with, how can any one company, developer or game try and rank higher than everyone else to get the downloads they want? App Store Optimization is always there to lend a hand in helping apps rank for relevant keywords and within the charts. But how does a developer exactly go about ASO? There are two main tactics to consider: White Hat versus Black Hat ASO.

What is White Hat ASO?

White Hat ASO is the Gummicube-recommended approach to marketing your app. If you want the highest quality users to convert over time, it’s best to understand the basics.

Understand Your Audience

Who is your app for? What is your target demographic looking for or looking to do? Understand your immediate market’s wants and needs to help position your app’s messaging in the title, subtitle, description and creative.

Get the Right Data

Still using keyword tools based off of Google’s Keyword Planner? You could be missing out on thousands of users. Using real mobile data helps you understand user search behavior on mobile devices, helping to give you the right information for structuring your metadata. Use the keywords and insight you glean from real mobile data and your audience. Adjust metadata accordingly, reassess and iterate often with the most current data.

Be Patient

Success seldom happens overnight. Let your metadata index in the App Stores for at least two weeks. Measure against your own KPIs to see what’s working and what isn’t. Getting a lot of impressions but no conversions? Consider revisiting the customer-facing parts of the listing and revise for conversion. Not getting any downloads whatsoever? Pair ASO with another marketing strategy like Influencer Marketing Campaigns, Search Ads or Facebook Ads to get extra exposure from a highly relevant audience.

What is Black Hat ASO?

Black Hat ASO follows similar goals to ASO in that it helps you gain more exposure. However, Black Hat ASO isn’t necessarily the safest way to help your app get the users you want. Following some of these tactics could result in rejection, or even getting your app removed entirely. Some Black Hat tactics include: Chart Boosting Chart boosting is artificially inflating your app’s install rate to climb the top charts, whether it’s for a category or the “top apps” overall. These chart rankings are usually dictated by the velocity and volume of your installs. With this strategy, installs are usually “bought”, whether it’s a group of users downloading the app or any of the bot-farms that exist within the industry.

Keyword Boosting

Keyword boosting is similar in theory to Chart Boosting, only keyword boosting relies on a group of users searching and downloading an app for a specific keyword. Take for example, ranking #1 for “casino”. The top ranked apps have been in the app store long enough, using typical white hat tactics to maintain their rankings in the app stores. Any developer who wants to rank #1 for that keyword can begin to artificially direct users to download their app for a certain keyword, artificially increasing CTR and ranking. The downside? This is typically very expensive and hard to maintain.

Buying Reviews

Another black hat tactic is incentivizing users to download an app and leave artificial feedback, inflating the app’s average ranking and positive reviews. These reviews, by and large, typically flag to Apple that suspicious activity is happening, forcing an investigation and possibly an app removal.


If you get away with black-hat marketing, you can see some gains. If your app is truly relevant, you could possibly maintain your new ranking. Usually, Black Hat tactics only work as long as you continue to fuel them with money. Real organic growth and retention is difficult to achieve when your installs come from users who only want in-game currency for another app, immediately uninstalling your app once they’ve completed their black-hat objective; you’ll likely drop right back down to where you were before you started. One thing many developers fail to realize is how dire the consequences are for black-hat marketing. If Apple and Google Play starts to see suspicious behavior, they will issue warnings and app rejections for the next update. Alternatively, either app store can just remove your app indefinitely. Developers can appeal this decision but any other indications of black-hat marketing will lead to the app staying removed.


If you’re looking for long-lasting marketing that will help you gain high quality users and maintain your rankings in the app stores, steer clear of black hat marketing tactics. ASO and other clean methods and channels will help sustain your app and help your app thrive in the competitive app store environment in the long term.

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