How To Discover If Apple Have Blacklisted Your Keywords

Every time Apple approves an app, the first thing you should do is looking for Blacklisted Keywords. Here’s how to find and deal with them.


This article was originally published on the WordData blog.


I have a confession to make. Every time I upload an app for the first time and send it to Apple, I become a nervous wreck. I get a tic whenever I receive an email notification from Apple, expecting the worst news about my app.

I’m pretty sure that every iOS developer can relate with this. We all know how painful it can be waiting for Apple’s approval. It takes time to get their answer and they usually find something to reject your app. Maybe not usually, but it happens often enough that it’s common to feel frustrated during the review process.

Eventually, however, your app gets approved. Champagne bottles are opened, everybody is celebrating; congratulations, you finally made it happen! After a day or two, however, you realize your app hasn’t received many downloads yet. You go check how well (or badly) your app is ranking and nothing makes sense: you search for your app’s keywords and you realize that for some of them, you don’t even appear in the search results! What happened? Is the App Store bugged?

Nope. A simple explanation is that your keywords may have been blacklisted.

“Blacklisted Keywords, you say!?”

My dear app development friend, don’t panic. It is fairly common to have blacklisted keywords when you’re dealing with Keyword Optimization. While Apple doesn’t reject your app for “bad” keywords sometimes, it will remove them or stop your app from showing in the search results for that keyword or for any phrase using it.

Veteran developers are used to it; that’s why they check on their keywords as soon as Apple approves the app. If you don’t, you should. For every keyword you don’t rank, you lose a bunch of downloads, and, of course, revenue.

It’s not complicated to check your keywords, it’s just a little time consuming. I’ll be sharing with you the way I look for blacklisted keywords. If you have an easier way, or if you had found a software that does it for you, that’s fine. The important thing is to identify the blacklisted keywords as soon as possible.

Preparing your App to be Checked

“Hold, hold the phone here. I have to prepare my app to be checked?”

Yes. Actually, you don’t have to, but it is highly recommended for you to do so.

Why? One of the key App Store ranking variables is download velocity, i.e., downloads/time. If you launch the app and keep doing updates, you’ll increase time, since some of the keywords that’ll give you downloads will only work after the update.

You want to keep download velocity as high as possible, trust me. Every keyword should work from day one.

Since you can’t check if you are ranking for a keyword unless you have launched the app already, the catch here is to launch in a non-important market. The US Store keywords will be searchable worldwide, so you can test them through any store, and the download velocity in the world’s #1 market won’t be affected.

What if you want to test the keywords for a specific country, say, France?

Then, you have no option besides launching in France. To keep your app from getting unwanted downloads, launch it as paid (or, if it’s a paid app already, increase the price to something prohibitive). Even if someone buys it, at least it will help you rank more than with a common free download.

Another important thing you have to pay attention to is controlling when the app launches. Don’t leave it to be published as soon as the app gets approved, or in the case of a new app, do choose a very distant release date so you have time to choose which store will get the app for testing.

As soon your app is available on the chosen country, you’re ready to go.

Checking your Keywords

There are two ways you can check for blacklisted keywords.

The smart way to do it is logging in to your iTunes Connect account and checking the Keywords field on the app metadata. Compare with your original set of keywords and look for any missing word.

The catch is that this will only work to find keywords that the reviewer had actually deleted. If the reviewer left the keywords in but blocked you from appearing in the search results on those particular keywords, how would you find out that these had been blacklisted? Using the dumb way, of course!

The dumb way to do it is actually searching your app on the App Store for every word you have on your App Name and Keywords. It’s a guaranteed way to see if you’re ranking for every keyword, and it’s free.

You might wonder why I call this the dumb way; after all, if it’s effective and free, it couldn’t be dumb, right? Well, it’s indeed easy to do but it will take a LOT of time. Really, don’t even try to search your app on keywords like “car,” “list,” or “clock.” By the time you find your app, another 10,000 apps will have been uploaded to the App Store.

The fastest way to do it is to search for keyphrases only. Since the App Store algorithm will make combinations with words from App Name, Keywords field, and Publisher, just choose some keyword from your Publisher name and combine with every keyword you have on the other two fields.

If you have an app called “Amazing Car Race,” for example, with the keywords “red, blue, dirt, asphalt, road,” and with the Publisher name like “Racing Studio,” you could search for: “racing studio amazing,” “racing studio red,” “racing studio asphalt,” and so on.

That way, you filter the search for apps you published only, and unless your app is not ranking for the last keyword, it should appear in the search results.

If the app doesn’t appear, congratulations: you found a blacklisted keyword!

In case you can’t find your app for any of the keywords you used, there are two possible explanations: one, you really suck at choosing keywords and Apple deleted all of them because they are totally unrelated to your app; or two (and most probable), Apple changed its algorithm and you can’t do keyphrases with the Publisher name anymore.

If it happens, change the search queries to “App Name + keyword you want to test,” e.g., “amazing car race asphalt.” It should work just as fine as the Publisher Name.

Changing your Keywords

“Gee, them Apple Reviewers got me blacklisted. It’s too late though, I can’t change the keywords anymore. What should I do? Update?”

Yes. Unfortunately, that’s how it works on the iOS App Store.

Look for other keywords you’ve considered using on your app during the brainstorming and keyword research process. Choose the best alternatives and substitute them with the ones that got blacklisted.

A good tip here is not to push the bad keywords. Keep the most relevant keywords as a priority, or you might get blacklisted again, wasting more time. If you got the keyword “race” blacklisted, for example, do not just change it to “races.”

If you can’t keep any of your keywords from getting blacklisted, or if you really, really want a particular blacklisted keyword for your app, you could contact the App Review team via the Resolution Center and explain your situation. Of course, you need to convince them, and that will only work if your keyword is indeed relevant to your app.

If that doesn’t work, there is a last resort. You can resend your app for approval through iTunes Connect as a new one. The app reviewing system is a human effort, and can sometimes be subjective. When resending as a different app instead of updating, you get to be reviewed by another person. And what one reviewer might see as non-relevant to your app, another one might see as relevant. Presto, you get all of your keywords approved!

Once all of your keywords are in, you can launch your app worldwide, guaranteeing the highest download velocity possible and ranking higher on all available keywords.

Conclusion

It’s not easy to deal with blacklisted keywords. Thanks to all the bureaucracy the App Store has, it’s something that could possibly take weeks. Because of that, if it’s not an important keyword, you should probably leave it as is and launch your app.

Keywords are extremely important in defining your app’s success, though. If the blacklisting deeply affects your chosen keywords, you should try everything to get those keywords back and running again.

After all, it’s better to delay the launch than push ahead and fail.


Learn more about App Store Optimization (ASO) on the WordData blog.

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