Google: Fighting Dark Forces of Blackhat & Weak Links of Discovery – Part 2

Last week, I wrote about how Google is penalizing the apps that crash, or results in over 1{f5ea2038a4b880f335334dfff88b50aec469abded8ad52b137b4eb824479fac2} ANR (App No Response).

After writing the last post, we fixed the patch and saw our numbers picking up. We gained 50{f5ea2038a4b880f335334dfff88b50aec469abded8ad52b137b4eb824479fac2} more downloads.

If you look at the graph from the holder symbol, which was on the 19th, the downloads have steadily picked up.

Fixing Crashes Get Better Ranking

Now, if you see the graph, we had put in two updates, and so far, not all users have upgraded to the new version – so, the old problem is still holding up our recovery.

As I write this, the total current version penetration was around 19{f5ea2038a4b880f335334dfff88b50aec469abded8ad52b137b4eb824479fac2}), but still it helped us get 50{f5ea2038a4b880f335334dfff88b50aec469abded8ad52b137b4eb824479fac2} more downloads.

This proves beyond any doubt how serious Google is about quality. In order to conduct this experiment, we kept every other factor constant so that we could measure the impact of ANR.

Google: Fighting Dark Forces of Blackhat & Weak Links of Discovery

For last one year, Google is taking excessive manipulation across its product line head-on. In the process, it has got considerable success in some platforms, whereas limited success in some others.

In the process, it has got considerable success in some platforms, whereas limited success in some others.

The notable product where Google has really changed the rules of the game is Play Store.

How Google Killed Play Store Ratings

A year ago, it used to be super easy to manipulate rankings and ratings, but a shift to quality driven ranking factors in last few months have made things difficult for app promotion companies.

For instance, about a year ago, crashes and ANRs were not that big of a factor, but they are today. It is impossible to maintain the rankings without fixing your crashes.

Here’s one of a test app that lost 2/3rd of its daily downloads just because it’s ANR affected over 1{f5ea2038a4b880f335334dfff88b50aec469abded8ad52b137b4eb824479fac2} of the users.

App Store Optimization Tips

Uh! that may seem unfair. But, guess what? Google’s mission is to make discovery easy for its users. So, it doesn’t really care how your track record has been if your app has a terrible user experience.

Since Google owns the platform and has the end-to-end data, it has the ability to bend the rules more conveniently here than on platforms like search.

Search Quality: AI would take on Black Hat

Now, another word on discovery. About a few years ago, Google started to liaise with independent agencies to the quality of search results. An AI captures the pattern of every single result that is evaluated by thousands of these “human-evaluators”.

This is one of the biggest AI projects in Search & Discovery industry,  and all this data forms the base for RankBrain.

Weeding out web manipulation would take probably longer than it took Google to fix Play Store Manipulation. One of the reasons is – Google doesn’t control as many elements of websites as it controls the elements of app. But one thing is certain: Google will keep testing all the variables until it annihilates all blackhat practices and my experience with Play Store discovery seems to suggest this.

How Will AI affect discovery? 

More implementation of AI means safer and useful internet and much more power to discovery giants like Google. Every mechanism that works on deep learning gets powerful when it is fed with data. No matter what conventional wisdom suggests, there is compelling evidence that Google will ultimately weed out blackhat practices.

A word on conventional wisdom: Why the Old School Thinking is Destined to Fail

Many Internet Gurus are either oblivious or ignorant of data. It is similar to getting your new car fixed with an old mechanic who may have a lot of expertise, but doesn’t have good tools.

It took Google 5 years to fix the issue of fake ratings. This suggests one thing, it can take Google longer to fix something, but it would eventually fix it.

Buying Android Reviews – Some Interesting Findings

For years, developers have tried to outsmart Google by various means like buying app reviews. Some even resorted to unethical means, but as with any type of course correction, things did change. A lot of people would search for websites where they could buy reviews, and installs. Sure, they had many options but that never used to work.

Grey Hat ASO – Sticking to the Thin Line

I am not talking about Grey Hat methods that one undertakes, say by paying for installs on android, or on iOS; grey hat, if done well, can get better, and faster results; but there is a heavy price to pay, if you were to risk your key apps. Something I never recommend.

A quick search on keywords like “buy android reviews”, “buy ios reviews” will open up a pandora box of numerous such services that are recklessly involved in selling these services, but the bigger question that one should ask is – are these safe? And if yes, what is the price that they pay in face of a penalty?

After working in this industry for a substantial amount of time, I am pretty much convinced that buying reviews simply does not work. Sure, in past you could have got away with a good PR, but not anymore. After repeatedly asking developers to dissociate from buying reviews through notices on Official Android Blog, Google decided to go after this practice by negating the positives that resulted from such incentivized activity.

Incentivize Activity – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

So, now, incentivized activity does more bad than good. What you can instead focus on is user experience. Now, Impression based installs are always fine, but as a rule, you must always avoid incentivized installs. A while ago, there was a trend of buying keyword installs. But honestly, that was akin to a noob building backlinks without any variation in anchors, soon, every developer I knew kept asking us for that (Something that we refused as a matter of principles). This was asking us to get an app delisted – We couldn’t afford to do that.

When You Should Go for ASO agency

Then there was a trend of buying keyword installs. There were a lot of questions asking where one could buy keyword installs, and that is what the great marketers pounced on. Cashing on this stupid thing, they never thought of ever doing on-page optimization, which was so critical. Some, even got their apps delisted. You certainly don’t think that you know about something that Google doesn’t.

Now, many think that it is quite easy to outsmart Manupilate Playstore Rankings by hiring app store optimization companies, but that is not always the case. Unless you have a great product, no marketing is every going to help you. One thing that people and agencies often discount is that in SEO, google may not be your domain or hosting provider, but when it comes to apps, it owns every bit and piece of it.

So, you really don’t stand a chance against Google. Sure,  you can optimize your description, work hard on graphic assets and foray into Grey Hat ASO.  but all of this will hold for nothing unless you build on good product.

Google @ Machine LearningIt Just Gets Better

Now, Google is getting better by leveraging machine learnings, so you may buy installs for an app, or reviews, and have a little positive effect (if you are exceptionally smart), but then it isn’t a long term strategy either. You simply can’t piggy bank on purchasing cheap app installs. (Boy! If you try that, then good luck with your ASO).

There was a brilliant article that talked about why one should not buy iOS reviews. While there are many brilliant sides of it, the biggest flip site is the risk it carries.

Case Study: Web Browser App – How this David Beat Goaliath with ASO Boost, and flipped back

For instance, while working on an app that primarily deal with web browsers, one of my clients decided to add three stratergy, downloads, reviews and high retention users. After a week, things really got well, and he did manage to get into an impressive top 8. (Currently, google lists 8 applications on a single device screen). Up against giants like Firefox, Chrome and UC, this little known app managed to pull off App Store Optimization relatively well.

But, over a period of time, post this boost, their rankings slipped by many ranks – a jolt they never recovered from, even after months as I write this. While I never desist anyone from experimenting to see how you can rank your app better on playstore, or boost app on trending charts of iOS, the challenges that you face are something that you must consider while putting your foot into it.


I do not want to desist anyone from agressive ASO, buying motivated Installs, or even buying 5-star ratings. But my focus is more on demostrating that these concepts are very diluted, and google is exponentially building on its learning to rob you off of any advantage you have.

No, Google isn’t perfect, and thankfully no machine is, but the margin of error for Google is so low that it isn’t worth your time and effort. Instead, you would be better off studying your exist rates, and fixing the crashes, while doing some basic on-page ASO. Any basic tool like HashGrowth, AppAnnie SensorTower can help you get started. The more young the company – the better. (Personally, I am a fan of HashGrowth because of their super speedy support, but any of them will just do fine.)

While there may a lot many loopholes that you may be able to analyze, but unlike SEO, there isn’t a lot of grey areas, and google is slowly coming hard. So if you are someone who is curious to learn some quick hacks on blackhat ASO, then you really have a hard luck. But then with intelligent optimization and slow dripping reviews, you can take advantage of smart app review posting services. But if and ever you chose to do that, you ought to ask as many questions about their paid app reviews, the paid reviewers, and even the country and the devices they use.

Now, if you ever buy Google Play Downloads, or if you purchase iOS downloads, then you ought to be careful if they ask you to integrate SDK, if yes, then never do anything that can implicate you – the developer – into something that can be perceived as shady.

Most of the professional app review providers are quite reassuring, but they really don’t gather bits and pieces, and if you ever decide to buy app reviews, be very certain about one central theme – the consequences. While in most cases, you won’t be banned for a third party paid activity, it can get really frustrating to see your android app reviews getting deleted. There is a reason why the Android app reviews are deleted. Well, Google has this intelligent algorithm that is apt at tracing anything unusal,  so the moment you are on it, it would delete the reviews. Even if you are someone who buys Geo App Installs or Geo App Reviews, google can hit you right on the head.

If you’d like me to consult you on any Android App or an iOS app, then do contact me using my contact us form, or comment, and I would be happy to give you a free in-depth analysis of the app.