ASO Case Study: The Effect of Ratings on Search Rankings (myVEGAS)

One of the things that I have been getting into a lot lately is App Store Optimization (ASO). The whole world is moving to mobile so it only makes sense that search marketing should follow suit. At the moment, ASO is much like SEO of the 90′s – keyword stuffing and spam are everywhere and they completely work. Today’s case study is an example of this. There are already a billion guides out there to how to do ASO so I don’t have much to add there. What I haven’t seen at all though is any case studies so I thought that would be interesting to do. We have analyzed dozens of apps in the research we do for our ASO clients and have, with a relatively high confidence, been able to understand what effect different factors have on rankings. So, without further ado:

myVEGAS Slots

myVEGAS Slots is a run-of-the-mill slots app. It’s search rankings were not great and over the course of a few days suddenly sky-rocketed. One of our clients has a slots app which we are helping them to optimize and was wondering why they were suddenly being beat by this relative new-comer to the rankings. The below graphs show the app’s rankings for the keywords “Slots Games” and “Poker” and are representative of all of the app’s keyword rankings.

ASO-rankings-myVEGAS

Ranking for the term “Slots Games”

Image-28

Rankings for the keyword “Poker”

So Why the Jump?

Figuring out the cause of the jump in rankings was very easy in this case. One of my favorite tools for ASO is SensorTower. They are particularly good for getting overviews of competitor’s apps. A quick look at their scorecard raised a red flag. myVEGAS had been getting roughly 3-10 positive reviews per day as well as 3-10 negative reviews per day. On February 12th, the app released an update and one day after that, ratings jumped to 400-600 positive ratings per day while still maintaining only 3-10 negative ratings per day. This jump is astronomical and like nothing we have seen before.

ASO-ratings-myVEGAS

Daily positive and negative ratings.

This jump led the app from having a three star rating based on a few hundred reviews to haing over 40,000 reviews and a 4.5 star rating in only seven days. This jump, coupled with the fact that the app didn’t change its title, is undoubtedly the reason for the app’s incredible jump in rankings.

How Much Does This Help?

We don’t have any data for myVEGAS, but we have optimized apps and seen significant ranking changes for a multitude of companies. I can say, without hesitation, that I am sure that this rankings increase has increased downloads of myVEGAS by several hundreds per day AT LEAST. SensorTower currently estimates the app to be worth about $50,000,000 and rising. MobileDevHQ’s popularity rating, based on a multitude of factors, shows the app’s popularity has increased from 6.5/10 to 10/10; few apps reach that score.

myVEGAS-Popularity

MobileDevHQ Popularity Rank

So How Did They Do It?

The app’s meteoric increase in rankings occurred exactly after they updated their app. One of the most telling ways I have found to analyze an app is to look at their negative ratings. Positive ratings are invariably something like “Love this game. So awesome.” Not much to learn there. Negative ratings always need to be taken with a grain of salt, but generally give better insights.

myVEGAS-review1

myVEGAS-review-2

These negative reviews are all after February 12th so, after the latest update. They all talk about the app somehow forcing users to leave positive reviews by gifting chips for positive reviews and taking away chips for not reviewing the app. Importantly to understand, this is impossible. Apple does not return information about ratings that a user has left back to the app. Also, I’m not about to read all of Apple’s terms and conditions, but I’m pretty sure this kind of practice is strictly against policy. It’s straightforward coercion and manipulation of users. A quick look at the app confirms this:

myVEGAS-ratings-pop-up

Conclusions

  1. Ratings have an enormous effect on ASO. myVEGAS jumped from a three star rating to a four and a half star rating. In addition, their number of daily ratings increase over one-hundred and fifty fold. In the absence of other major changes, we can assume that this is what led to a pretty unheard of jump in search rankings.
  2. “Blackhat” or “Greyhat” App Store Optimization is happening, and it works. I think it’s safe to assume that at some point of time Apple will start cracking down on such practices but, given the speed of the evolution of their ranking algorithm, this might take quite a while.