With over 500,000 apps in the App Store, the one question in every app developers mind is “how do I get my app noticed?”
While there are more than fifty things that an app developer can and must do in terms of app marketing, in this article I shall focus on those that in my opinion are the basic 5:
1. Quality is King – Create a high-quality engaging app
The most common response to this statement is “Duh! Of course!” Though this is the most obvious necessity for any app, were you to browse through even a small set of those 500,000+ apps you will be surprised at how few apps meet this most basic of basic needs. While we may employ the best artists, most skilled programmers and best-of-the-best game-play strategists to come up what we, as a developer, think is a cool, engaging app, what we often times forget or do in a cursory manner is real “audience testing.” Put your app in the hands of your target user to see if they find it as engaging and interesting as you do.
Audience testing is quite simple. Pick 20 to 30 individuals who represent your core users and let them try your app at both the Alpha and Beta stages. Do this in batches of 5, with a dedicated observer for each user. Each observer should take detailed notes of what they notice. At the end of each session, the observers get together to share notes and decide on the game plan for round-2 of observations. Repeat this process for the entire batch and at the end consolidate the learnings to make a list of i) greats, ii) uglys and iii) can-be-better features. Retain the greats, change the uglys and figure out what needs be done to change the can-be-betters to greats.
Ideally audience-testing should not be a one-time exercise. For consistent results the exercise should be performed periodically, especially with every major feature update. For best results couple this manual exercise with automated analytics built in to the app and evaluate learnings on a weekly (or daily) basis depending on app type and usage.
Now that we have a killer app, what next?
That leads us to step 2.
2. Rank high in the App Store – Know what it takes to get up there
Until recently it was largely assumed that download numbers determined an app’s place in the App Store’s rankings. Earlier this year reports surfaced that Apple has changed its ranking algorithms that determine App Store rankings. Flurry, a third-party analytics provider, picked up the change that was reported on the blog Inside Mobile Apps. Apple however was tight lipped about the same. Flurry reported sudden shifts in the rankings of the Top Free apps on the App Store around mid April, with apps like Facebook, Netflix and Pandora — that presumably see heavy daily use — rising dramatically in their rankings. This led to a hypothesis among industry experts that the new algorithm, in addition to new installations per day, also factors in “active usage” – number of daily active users and ratio of daily to monthly active users (aka sticky factor) – to determine rankings.
Until Apple issues an official statement on this subject we have little proof whether these observed shifts would indeed lead to an overwhelming shift in what it takes for an app to get in to the App Store’s top charts. That said, however, these changes do seem to indicate that Apple is moving in the direction of factoring in utility and on-going relevance of apps, in addition to a weighted average of daily app downloads/sales, while determining the rankings.
What does this mean to a developer? It means that getting users to click on that Install button alone will not suffice. For sustained success, quality and relevance of app become more relevant for an app to rise and retain rankings in the App Store. This, in our opinion, is good news for bootstrapping, talented app developers as it levels the playing field to some extent with deep pocketed rivals who can spend lavish marketing dollars to gain App Store visibility.
Bootstrapping developers can now focus their attention on creating a quality app that keeps their audience coming back for more, build in hooks for repeat engagement (timed re-engagement), encourage audience to submit reviews (& feedback) about their app experience and focus marketing efforts on driving organic growth through community building, word-of-mouth recommendations & fan-base expansions. Because in the long run, good apps with loyal users will benefit and bad or average apps, no matter what promotional tricks they use to rack up downloads, will struggle.
3. Get Noticed – Convert eyeballs to downloads:
A simple poll Brandissimo conducted amongst the target audience for our Luna Kettlebottom & the Magic Cauldron Society app told us that most of our prospective customers’ download decisions were made while browsing through the top kids apps listed in the app store.
A catchy name, popping icon and relevant description thus go a long way in ensuring that those scouring eyeballs convert to clicks on the Install button.
Do your homework, see what your competition is doing, and come up with a unique name and icon. An informative description that highlights the benefits of your app, and not just the salient features, is also critical.
Once you catch your customer’s eye, the next question in their mind is “what is in it for me?” Remember, people buy benefits, not features. Ensure that your description answers this question, rather than just listing what in your opinion are the rock-star features of your app (don’t rely on your audience making the translation from features to benefits).
Include your brand name where relevant. This is especially important if you are planning a series of apps and would like to build a brand around the same. Once again, choose wisely, and feel free to experiment – learn – modify.
4. Feature in Searches – Increase visibility
App Category – Carefully choose the primary and secondary categories for your app when you submit it to Apple. You can change these anytime through the SDK developers interface that Apple provides to registered developers. Feel free to tweak them and observe improvement (changes) if any to your App Store visibility.
Keywords – The most relevant keywords are the ones in the title, because if there is a match, the app will be shown in the quick-results list (the list that appears as you type your search phrase, and before you hit the search button). Secondary keywords come from the app description. Here too, trial and testing can be used to change the name and description to find optimal search rankings within the App Store.
App Name & Bundle Display Name – These are the two types of app names, and here is how you can use them to your advantage. The longer App Name will show up in the app store (the App Name can be set through the iTunes Connect account). This should be long and keyword rich as discussed earlier.
The shorter Bundle Display Name will show up on the user’s device home screen (the Bundle Display Name can be set through the info.plist file in Xcode). This should be short, crisp and catchy (as to-the-point as possible).
5. Buzz & Launch – Plan your launch marketing smartly
The good news, especially if you are a talented hardworking bootstrapped developer, is that the success of your marketing plan is not correlated to the number of marketing dollars in your pocket. Instead, it depends directly on the meticulous thought, effort and follow-through you put in to promoting your app organically.
Do your homework – create a plan – implement – observe – learn – modify – implement – observe – learn – modify – implement – observe -….. you get the point.
Here are 5 things you can start with:
- Draw-up your Target Audience Profile. Ask yourself questions such as who are my core customers? Where do they gather? What do they read, listen and watch? Who and what are their influencers? How do they consume media? Conduct a user survey if need be. Based on the answers you find, chart out your target consumer profile. Based on this information you can identify the specifics of your marketing plan.
For example, which social media tools are most relevant to your target audience – Facebook or Twitter or Hi5 or a combination? Do blogs influence their purchase decisions?
- App Review Sites. Research app review sites relevant to your target audience and app category. Reach out to the reviewers early on. Engage them with the build-up towards launch by sending periodic (& meaningful) updates. Ask them to pre-test your app and offer advice, request introductions to their friends in the reviewer-community who might also be interested – get them emotionally invested. Submit your app for review once it is ready.
- Social Media. Now that you have determined which social media platforms your audience frequents, you can start creating your brand on those platforms. Choose the Facebook fan page, Twitter account and/or Blog names carefully. Start early and engage your audience gradually and consistently (4 to 6 weeks leading up to product launch would be ideal in most cases). Build conversations, incentivize word-of-mouth, encourage engagement and show them that their opinion matters – once again, get them emotionally invested. Contests, opinion polls and offering useful nuggets of information (even that relate to competition) help.
- Press. Establishing yourself as a subject matter expert is the best way to start your PR effort. That’s where your company’s blog becomes important. Next, focus on developing symbiotic relationships with the media. Research the web, talk to industry experts and identify media folks who could serve as champions for your cause – editors, journalists, news directors and influential bloggers. Read, follow and respond to their articles or daily feeds. Build a rapport with them. Monitor all media mentions and traffic sources. Bunch up publicity before you go live to maximize chances of top app rankings.
- Symbiotic Cross Promotion. Instead of iAds and generic in-app advertising, which not only cost precious $$ but have yet to prove their effectiveness in generating worthwhile ROI, see if you can build relationships with willing partners to cross promote your app. Do not hesitate to reach out and ask. You will be surprised at how many would be amenable to such an idea, especially if you have a good quality app and are willing to cross promote their apps as well.
Making an app is only half the battle. Standing out in the marketplace is the other half. Taking the time and effort to diligently understand your customer and your competition, and then designing your product and marketing to take advantage of each, will go a long way towards your success. Good luck!