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Bug or ban? What happened to Artisto app or how to hack the App Store search via Search Ads

Last week Artisto, the app for processing videos and photos through neural networks to generate visual effects, disappeared from the App Store. The story could not get any attention, however the developer of this app is not a random startup but the well-established My.com. Thus, this situation raises a lot of questions for us — app developers.

How can one app stay available in the store via direct link but not be shown in the search results or tops, even after update?

Timeline of Artisto updates

On October 19 Artisto introduced a new version — 1.11. The app was back to top-10 on iPad right after release.

App positions on iPad in U. S. App Store

On October 24 the app disappeared from the search results when searching for “artisto” (U. S. App Store on iPhone). At the same time app position slightly increased for other keywords, e.g “video editor”. Perhaps, users couldn’t find the app by main search inquiry and started using other relevant keywords.

Artisto positions in search results in U. S. App Store

New app version 1.12 took place on October 26. Since then Artisto was completely gone from search tops of all countries and App Store search results.

Suggested search results for “artisto” in U. S. App Store

On October 30 there was one more version released — 1.13. However, the app was still out of reach in both regular search results and category tops where it was previously present.

Positions of Artisto in U. S. App Store are not displayed since Oct. 26, 2016
Search results for request “artisto” in U. S. App Store on iPhone

To sum up, it is not possible to find an app neither by typing the name in search bar, nor by checking categories’ tops. The only way is using a direct link or going to developer’s page:

Artisto is available in the App Store via direct link

It means current and new users couldn’t find the app and leave a review. Nonetheless, Artisto was still getting new votes and comments in the App Store.

Reviews about Artisto app

How it can be so?

  1. Users received push-notifications with a request to leave a review (if notifications were allowed on smartphone),
  2. After a certain step users saw a trigger message asking to rank an app,
  3. Artisto and the direct link could be found in Google search,
  4. It could be incentivized reviews via direct link,
  5. App could be found on developer’s list.

#2 and #3 seem to be most possible but it’s just an assumption.

Judging by reviews from October users love Artisto — the app has a high ranking, positive comments and very little critics.

Artisto reviews with keyword “love”

There are some questions however, how all these users found the app and why their comments look alike.

Besides, critical reviews disappeared starting from October 20. The users who weren’t satisfied with the app couldn’t find it and, consequently, write about any bad experience.

Critical reviews of Artisto

Looking at the reviews history it’s easy to notice the difference between September and October. The amount of reviews dramatically increased in the middle of October.

Amount of reviews in September and October

Speaking of popular requests in U. S. App Store, the request “artisto” got in the Trending Search 5 times in the beginning of October: on 1, 3, 6, 7 and 8.

Trending Search for request “artisto” in U. S. App Store

Check the statistics for relevant requests to compare:

  • “photo editor”: 3 Oct, 10 Oct, 17 Oct и 31 Oct
  • “video editor”: 28 Oct
Analysis of the data from Trending Search for “photo editor” in U. S. App Store

Data from the Trending Search shows that request “artisto” is browsed most often in the App Store. It could be done by regular users who heard about the app, for example, from TV Show or podcast. Another alternative is incentivised requests (bots, incent traffic, etc.). Maybe Artisto team was running a PR campaign to promote the app in the App Store. Company’s public sources don’t mention anything like that.

Last thing to highlight, Search Ads data says Artisto can be easily found by name:

Apps search in Search Ads

More over, Artisto-related requests are considered to be popular in terms of scoring (on a scale 5–100):

Search popularity in Search Ads

It’s early to say that Artisto is banned, nevertheless the facts are that the app is out of search results and tops but still staying possible to reach by direct link. Considering that the app was recently updated, the App Store indexation bug is unlikely to happen.

It is either very serious bag in the App Store, or example of banning policy for dramatic increase of app reviews. The store could recognize it as an artificial way of driving numbers up, however, maybe it’s just an organic growth…

What’s next?

On October 31 we found out that Artisto started using Search Ads. Indeed, if the app cannot reach desirable results in organic search results, why not to bring it there by using new Apple’s product? To start the app launched test campaigns with total cost of $40. As a result, within one hour Artisto jumped to the top as an advertised app for relevant keyphrased and brand keywords. Excellent hack! :)

Artisto campaign in Search Ads
Search Ads in action!

All this is great but why app disappeared from organic search? Developers raised this issue to App Store, the bug seems to be brand new even for Apple team. While they are trying to fix the problem, Artisto got featured in Chinese App Store in Photo&Video category. More and more confusion…

Artisto got featured in the App Store (China)

On November 2 Artisto got back to the App Store! The app is shown on the 3d place for search term “artisto”.

Check positions in U. S. App Store via Telegram bot

On November 7 th app got back #1 by “artisto” search terms in U. S. App Store. The end.


All meta-data on Artisto’s app in the article was pulled from AppFollow.io and Search Ads.

Thanks to Jana Starostovich and Evgeny Kruglov for help with translating this post, original post in Russian is here.