Getting your app discovered is the fundamental challenge every app marketer faces. With millions of apps across iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and other platforms, standing out in the boundless sea of available apps is becoming increasingly difficult.
The best app marketers will pursue a comprehensive, well-rounded app marketing strategy that includes pre-launch work and post-launch work. The best strategies will include organic and paid app marketing channels.
Here’s the complete guide to app marketing that every app owner needs to follow.
Contrary to popular belief, your marketing strategy needs to start well before your app goes live in the app store. Like any successful product, understanding who your customers are and where you can find them is one of the most important pieces of the app marketing puzzle. There are a few steps you need to take before you launch your app:
Select important keywords
To successfully market an app, you need to understand the keywords that will matter. The term keyword can mean a lot of things in the app world, but at a general level a keyword should represent a term that a customer will use to recognize what your app does. For instance, the most important keyword for a sudoku game would be “sudoku,” while the most important keyword for a calculator would be “calculator.” These are easy examples, but for some apps the keywords may not be as obvious.
Keyword tools, such as MobileDevHQ’s App Store Optimization tool and competitor AppCod.es make it easy to tell which keywords will be most frequently used between your app and your competitors’ apps. You’ll also learn how often those keywords are searched for within the app stores.
Selecting strong keywords for your app is imperative to the success of the remainder of your app marketing strategies.
Choose a good name
It seems so obvious, but it’s not. The right name can make or break an app. Your app name needs to be unique and memorable, but it should also include the most important keywords that potential users will be searching for. An app name matters a lot in app store search. Before selecting your app’s name, be sure your choice doesn’t infringe on any trademarks – otherwise your app might be rejected from the store altogether.
Find your competitors
After you’ve decided upon your keywords, you can begin to research your competitors. Which apps rank highly in app store search results for your keywords? What are their feature sets? What other keywords do they target?
With the amount of apps in the app stores today, you’ll likely find a variety of competitors whose products are similar to your own. Take note of all your initial competitors without filtering any out. Research this long list of potential competitors and scale it down to the top 4 or 5 heavy contenders based on similarity to your app and the competitor’s success. A 1-star app with only a handful of reviews isn’t likely to be a real contender, but a 5-star app with thousands of reviews is a formidable competitor.
Choose the right category
Surprisingly, managing the category of your app is a whole science in itself. Because so many downloads are driven by the app stores’ Top Charts, it’s important to choose the category that will give your app the best shot of ranking highly in the Top Charts for your category.
The reality is that all categories are not created equally. For instance, the Social category will drive more downloads than the Lifestyle category. However, your app is going to have a harder time ranking highly in the Social category (against the likes of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc.) than in the Lifestyle category (against things like horoscope and drink recipe apps). The former’s brands are massive and will be virtually impossible to beat, but if you’re able to do it you will earn serious amounts of downloads. The latter’s apps are not as entrenched by users and it’s more likely you can rank against them, but you might not earn as many downloads from it.
Do the risk calculation for yourself and your app, understand the pros and cons of each category, and choose the most relevant category for your app to drive its success.
Create an amazing icon
Your app icon matters. First and foremost, your icon conveys your app’s purpose, its style, and is the first interaction your users will have with your app. Make your icon amazing so visitors will be more likely to click on your app after seeing it in search results. Your icon should also stand out in a grid on your user’s device, making them more likely to open and interact with your app on a frequent basis.
Fun fact about icons: Apple won’t even feature an app (an incredible driver of downloads) unless they believe the icon is well-designed and fits in with their overall look and feel. Now that’s an added incentive to work hard on creating an eye-catching icon.
Take great screenshots
You’ll spend a lot of time finding ways to drive visitors to your app’s detail page within the app store, but that’s only half the battle. Once a visitor is at your app’s page, you need to convert that visitor to a real user by convincing them to download your app. Screenshots are an essential tool to help turn visitors into users.
Make sure your screenshots are memorable, informative, and exciting. They need to draw a visitor’s eye to them, explain exactly what your app does, and convey how easy your app is to use.
Draw Something does a great job of showcasing fun screenshots that include overlays describing features of the app as shown by the example above.
Congratulations, you’ve finally launched! While some app creators like to think this is the end of the road, it’s not. In fact, it’s just the beginning. Your next big focus? Marketing your app.
App marketing can be broken down to two categories: paid marketing and organic marketing. Organic marketing refers to any method you can use to earn downloads without paying for each one. Paid marketing is any method you can use to pay for each individual download.
Some of the best ways to get downloads is organically. Spending money to get downloads is great, but the reality is not everyone can do so. So here is how you can get free downloads:
Sign up for an app store analytics application
In order to accurately understand your organic app distribution progress, you need to first sign up for an analytics tool. You’ll want an analytics tool that will track your apps and your competitors through the Top Charts and Search Rankings.
Get featured on app review sites
A high percentage of downloads for new apps occur after those apps have been reviewed by app review sites or other earned media outlets (tech news, mainstream media, niche related press, etc.). It’s important to reach out to these media outlets in order to drive a burst of downloads at your launch time.
Define the blogs – and the authors themselves – who are writing about your direct competitors and other apps within your realm. Reach out to those authors and pitch them your app. Pitching journalists is a complex art, but there’s really only one rule of thumb to follow: put yourself in their shoes, understand their incentives (do they write popular articles, break news, etc), and offer them something you would want if you were them.
Increase social sharing of content within your app as well as your app itself
Word of mouth (viral!) is another of the most important ways new users can find your app. You have to do everything in your power to make it easy for your current users to share your app as well as content within your app.
Path does an amazing job of this. While Path is a “private social network” that is mobile only, users still have the ability to share pictures publicly. The picture will be publicized on Path’s web site at path.com and can be shared via Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare, for anyone to view. Viewers who are not users can then see the value in Path and install the app quickly.
It’s also important to make sharing the app itself dead simple: have a way to share via SMS, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. The simpler you make sharing the app, the more users will engage in the process of sharing.
Encourage users to rate and review your app
Where an app ranks in search results (and, to a certain extent, Top Charts) relies on how many ratings it has and how high those ratings are. It’s critical for your app’s success to receive as many 5 star ratings as possible.
There are plenty of clever ways to encourage your users to rate your app. The most obvious is to simply ask for ratings from within the app as users are engaging with it. You can implement this request after they’ve used the app a few times, after they’ve spent a set amount of time using the app, etc. How to encourage users to rank your app is a personal preference, and think outside the box for interesting, and potentially more effective, ways to get your users to rate your app. For example, the app Move the Box tied virtual currency to rating their app: if a user runs out of tokens, they can rate the app to earn more.
Build a great web landing page
Mobile is great. Apps are amazing. But the truth is the web still matters. Whenever somebody writes an article about your app, they’re likely to link to two places: your homepage on the web, and your app’s detail page in the app stores. Whenever a potential user searches Google for your app, they’ll find both your app’s detail page and your homepage. This makes building a great web landing page a great tool to convert web visitors into users.
Keep in mind that your app’s detail page in the app store is a very limited, non-rich, non-customized experience. Your web page should be the opposite: rich, enjoyable, and engaging. In certain instances you can even embed a web version of your app, mimicking exactly what a user will experience in the app. For instance, look at Wolf Toss: their entire game is available on iOS and Android, but it’s also available via Chrome. This gives users the ability to play the game in its entirety before even downloading it to their device.
Now that you know everything about getting organic downloads, you need to also consider paid promotion if you want your app to hit the top of the charts. Here is how you can leverage money to get more downloads:
Install Mobile App Tracking
Mobile App Tracking is a great tool to help app marketers understand exactly how many downloads come from each paid ad source. With the recent deprecation of iOS’s UDIDs, Mobile App Tracking is the most accurate way to ensure your spending money in the right place.
For example, Mobile App Tracking gives you the ability to track that the $1,000 spent on Jumptap that gave you 100 installs, while the $1,000 spent on Tapjoy gave you 150 installs. You can use this information to tailor your ad spend to the best performing networks.
Calculate the number of downloads you’ll need to get into the Top Charts
Every category requires a different number of downloads to move into the Top Charts for that category. Do your homework and find out just how many downloads per day you’ll need to get into the Top Charts. Finding the exact number can be challenging, but you’ll be able to approximate that amount of downloads your app needs to move its way up the Top Charts rankings.
To estimate your targeted download number, keep an eye on how many downloads/ratings/reviews the apps in your category’s Top Charts have and how they change on a daily basis. If the app store doesn’t offer a way to follow number of downloads, do your best to approximate. Use your app as a guide for what percentage of users also rate and review it, and approximate the other apps using this same percentage. As an example, if your app has 100 downloads and 5 ratings (5%) while your competitor has 10 ratings, you can assume that your competitor has around 200 downloads. You should be able to triangulate on a reasonable estimate for the number of downloads per day needed to rise in the Top Charts.
Run burst campaigns to rise in the Top Charts, then lower your spend and stay ranked organically
One of the best ways to rise quickly in the Top Charts is to run a burst paid ad campaign to drive rapid downloads. Once your ad campaign begins, you’ll see an increase in the number of downloads and users of your app. If your app is valuable, you’ll get great ratings and reviews, and the app will be shared by users with their friends. Due to the increase in downloads, you will now begin to rank higher in the app stores’ Top Charts.
Once you’re ranking highly in the Top Charts, you’ll be able to decrease your ad spend while your app continues to rank highly on its own. This creates a virtuous cycle of organic app growth: your app ranks highly in the Top Charts, which drives downloads and ratings, which causes your app to continue to rank highly in the Top Charts.
Building an app is hard, and marketing an app is even harder. It requires a multi-faceted approach that is coordinated and coherent. Each of the steps above will contribute to a successfully marketed app, but none of them are silver bullets.
You have to create a great app and consistently promote it through as many channels as possible for a shot at success in the app store ecosystem. With a lot of work, and a little luck, you can build a massively successful mobile app that will drive your business forward.
Have you marketed a mobile app yet? Did you learn any tricks to share with the world?