marketing an appTip #1: Get users before the app is released.

As of July 2015, the Apple App Store offered approximately 1.5 million apps for download, while the Google Play Store offered Android users 1.6 million apps. It’s safe to say a good handful of these never get downloaded more than a few times, though reports differ on exactly how many apps suffer that fate.

Plenty of barely-downloaded apps are worthless, but there are a lot of gems that go undiscovered because they weren’t marketed to stand out from their hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of competitors.

Fortunately, a little effort can make a difference. We’re going to assume you’re doing the obvious stuff for marketing an app, like interacting with your target audience on social media, creating a microsite for the app and acquiring email addresses so you can send progress reports and launch news to prospective users.

Get Users Before the Release

If you wait until launch time to start pursuing users, you’re behind the curve.

One of the best examples we’ve seen of user onboarding before release was done by Thread. Thread is a mobile dating app exclusively for intra-campus college students. They let students sign up for the app and create user profiles, even though the app wasn’t actually available yet. Then on the night of release, Thread hosted a launch party at the University of Texas, and students who wanted to attend had to use the app as their ticket into the party. Those two moves ensured Thread had a healthy user base on Day 1.

The Society of Wine Educators similarly held off on releasing their wine quiz app until just before their biggest conference of the year. They invited Jackrabbit Mobile to the conference to present the application to hundreds of SWE members, complete with an in-person tutorial and a Q&A. Not only did they start off with a good user base, their users were highly relevant – ensuring ongoing engagement with the app (there were over 200,000 quizzes attempted within the first six months!).

App Store Optimization

With most apps, the majority of users just come from browsing in the app store, so optimizing your app for the App or Play store is a sink-or-swim initiative.

Surprisingly, the general app description isn’t a big driver for in-store search rankings. Here are the things that DO matter:

  • Reviews: Apps with positive user reviews get priority in the stores. With each version of your app, the reviews start over from scratch, so it’s important to mobilize a small group of people to review every new release.
  • App Title: The keywords here have more weight in rankings than keywords in the keywords section!
  • App Store Keywords: As mentioned, keywords are just somewhat important. Put your four most important keywords first.
  • App Screenshots: Screenshots are for showing off the app’s features; description text is for selling the app’s benefits. Use compelling, high-quality screenshots with color and feeling to keep prospective users interested.

You don’t have a lot of control over reviews, but one of the best ways to make sure you nail the other three areas is just to browse the app stores on a regular basis and take notes on what the highest-rankers do and don’t do. Run searches to discover apps similar to yours or apps that target your same audience, and look for patterns in the top-listed titles, keywords and screenshots.  

If you want to put a little more time into it, our project manager Grayson Smith put together a whole course about app store optimization! You can check it out at Udemy.

Promoting Your App with Paid Ads

Online Ads

Good old fashioned digital ads can add a few percentage points to your download stats for about $100, give or take. Just make sure the ads are meaningful, to-the-point and only show up on the type of websites that your target audience frequents.

But, before you starting pumping in ad money, make sure you have a clear path to measuring return on your investment. If you’re making money through in-app purchases, that means you know what percentage of downloads convert into paying users, and from there can calculate the value of each download.

Social Media Targeted Ads

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and other social media platforms all let you promote posts or run advertisements to a highly specific audience. In most cases, you can limit who sees your app ad or sponsored post based on things like age, gender, personal interests and job title. Cost varies depending on which platforms you choose and how long you run your ads, but just $100 is often enough to get results.

A good place to start here is Facebook. Use the targeting features as much as possible to cater to a specific audience you think will be receptive to the problem your app is solving.

App Directory Listings

They’re not exactly ads, but there are different types of app directories that qualify and categorize apps for users who are searching for a specific type of app. The cost varies per site, and many of them charge based on the number of downloads your listing generates.

AppBrain organizes, reviews and ranks apps. Zapier helps users find new work-automation apps and connect complementary apps together. Even the Lifehacker website has an app directory that details the best apps for everything from finding a restaurant to managing a budget.

Submission to these directories doesn’t guarantee a good review or even a listing, but it’s always worth a shot.

Ask the Pros

We excel at what we do, which is design and build great apps. We’re no marketing agency, BUT we have worked with a lot of great brands and know how to market an app to get excited audiences and rave reviews. We’ve pretty much seen it all, and are happy to work with our clients in making sure their apps meet success. Got a question? Ask us.