If you’ve just finished developing, let’s talk about the next step, marketing iOS apps in order to get sales in the App Store.
Following these steps won’t guarantee a blockbuster success, but if you apply them carefully they may save your app from complete obscurity.
1. Have an app worth talking about
This point cannot be stressed enough. If your app doesn’t have a clear use case or doesn’t get people excited about using it you might as well stop here. You’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Sure, some good marketing could get you some sales, but it isn’t worth the effort. Go back and invest a lot of time and energy into creating a great product and then revisit these steps.
2. Learn to communicate the value
Mike Lee talks about the idea of creating the marketing video for your app first, before you even start developing it. The reason he gives is that if you can’t clearly communicate the value of your application in 45 seconds, should you even be making the application?
I ran into this problem with Fluent, a memory system iPhone application I released in October 2011. Fluent manages the entire memorization process for flash cards, showing them to you less frequently as you learn them, and more often if you need more practice with a particular card. Though Fluent is very useful to me (I use it every day), I couldn’t effectively communicate the value to someone else.
Fluent has made me about $60 (it sells for $2) to date on the App Store. Ouch! It has a clean design, doesn’t have bugs (that I know of), and works great for me. I believe the reason it flopped is that I couldn’t effectively communicate the value.
If I had spent the time to plan a video, or more specifically, plan how I would succinctly communicate the value of Fluent, I would have realized the problem before I spent any time coding. Tell your app idea to a handful of people. If they don’t immediately get it in less than a minute then you have work to do. Either refine your pitch until it is quickly understood, or find a different app idea.
3. Design an effective app icon
When marketing an iOS app you have just a few items to grab a potential buyer’s attention: the app name, the price, the app icon, the app ratings, and your company name.
Out of all of these by far the most prominent is the app icon. It is the tiny billboard that will help sell your app. Your first goal with an app icon is to properly represent your app. If there are textures, patterns, and colors that are prominent inside your app, they should also be present in the icon.
Next you want to focus on grabbing attention. I wish I could say that the best-designed icons always sell more apps than poorly designed, brightly colored, attention grabbers. But that’s not necessarily true. I have several friends who experiment heavily with their icon designs and the better designed ones don’t necessarily sell any better. So why should you invest the time and effort into a quality icon design?
An icon is the first introduction your users will have to your app. Right away it will give them an impression of a quality, well designed app. Just like books, apps are judged by their covers, in this case the icon. So design a quality icon that accurately represents the styles used inside your app. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Test how it will look surrounded by competing apps. Does it get lost in the crowd?
- Use a clear icon that follows a metaphor that is easy to understand.
- Your app icon should match the design style of your app.
4. Select relevant keywords
Inside iTunes Connect you are able to write 100 characters of keywords that describe your application. This is used for searches inside the App Store. While keywords are a factor it seems the app name is weighted more heavily in the search results. This is why you see many apps with a name like “BrandName – Additional Keywords.” They are trying to have the best of both worlds by using a brand able name and having important keywords in the name.
Not much is known about the App Store search system besides that small changes can result in a considerable increase in downloads. Below are a few tips.
- There is no need to include your app name as a keyword.
- Separate your keywords with only a comma, not a comma and a space. Writing them like this, “memory,language,card” will help you to make the most of your 100 character limit.
- Use tools like Google Keywords to research keywords.
- You may only change your app name or keywords with the release of a new version. So think through and research your decisions.
- If you don’t think a keyword is performing or being searched often, feel free to replace it with another keyword when you release your next version.
- Do searches inside the App Store to see how your app ranks for important search terms.
5. Understand the importance of a launch
All right, your message is in place, so it’s time to submit your app, right?
Since so much of your app’s success depends on a successful launch you need to plan it thoroughly. First think through any marketing channels you have access to already. This could be personal or company Facebook and Twitter pages, any existing email lists, or friends who would be happy to promote your creation.
Next, start identifying the websites that have an audience who would be interested in your application. Start with review websites (here is a detailed list), then think in more detail about sites specific to your niche. Beyond app review sites, this could be major blogs like Lifehacker and also the personal blogs of individuals who write about related topics.
Do you have a recipe app? There are zillions of bloggers whose audience would find your app relevant. Travel related? Same thing. This also gives you access to smaller blogs with a dedicated audience. Not only will they respond well to your product, but getting access to the site will be easier.
6. Pitch blogs for reviews and promotions
I like to write a couple of different pitches for my apps. First, I use a more generic (but still interesting), “Please review this app.” This is what I send to all the smaller iPhone review sites. They aren’t as inundated with requests for reviews and also don’t have the traffic to justify writing a personal email to each one. Write it well and make it feel personal, but it doesn’t have to be specific to their site. Most of the time you will just be copying and pasting this into contact forms.
Next, you can write personal variations of this for each of the sites you’d like to be featured on. Take the time to craft it for their audience.
Finally, you need to approach your top pick of sites. For these you need an entirely different method. Think about it in terms of how you can be of help to this blogger, not, “How can I phrase this email so that a blogger will write about my app?” Really try to think of what you could do to make their life easier.
Relevant guest posts are a great option. Not a guest post advertising your app, but something useful in a related area that could have a link to the app along with your author information at the end. Whatever topic you decide on should be unique to that site.
Write out a summary of your guest post or a description of your offer. (Don’t try to buy a review.) A short email introducing your suggestion with more detailed content below is a great option. Then they can quickly read and reply to your email, but you’ve also given them the option to read a summary of your post if they have time or the desire.
Remember: you are trying to make their life easier. If you really think about your approach from that perspective I am sure you can craft something that will make them want to link to your application.
If at all possible get these reviews to come out on the same day (or close to each other). Then your app will make a bigger splash and more review sites will be inclined to write reviews as well.
7. Quickly get positive reviews on the App Store
Not only do you need your friends to buy it, you need them to review it on the App Store. When an app is first launched it takes time to build up some solid reviews. If you can get friends and family to write your first 5-10 reviews, that can give you a good head start.
You can also write a feature directly into your application that asks users to write a review. Typically you would want to do this after a certain number of launches so that you can have a good idea that users actually like your application. Annoy them too soon and the reviews will be negative. Only asking the faithful users is a way to weed out possible bad reviews before they are written.
This library is quite good, and used by many apps, to request reviews.
8. Report abusive or false reviews
If you get reviews that are abusive or blatantly false you can report them to Apple. I’ve used this when a review makes a false statement (feature x doesn’t exist). Both times I have done this Apple has removed the review without any further follow-up.
9. Use giveaways to increase engagement
Once your application is live on the store you can give away copies with promo codes. Apple allows you to generate up to 50 promo codes per version of your application. You can then give away these single-use codes to be redeemed in iTunes just like a gift card for a free download of your app.
Any time a site is about to post a review of your app you can offer to include some promo codes as a giveaway to their readers. With the launch of Commit, App Advice gave away a single promo code along with their review. They chose a comment at random and emailed that user a code. The post received 96 comments from readers trying to win a $0.99 app! The engagement on the post increased substantially.
It wasn’t so much about saving $1. That doesn’t really matter. But everyone likes winning a contest especially one that is so easy to enter.
10. Use affiliate links for conversion tracking and extra revenue
Whenever you link to the App Store from your website or within your app you can use an affiliate link. Apple has an affiliate program that will pay 5% of all purchases from that user until your code is replaced by someone else’s code. You can learn more about it on the Apple website, (http://www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates).
This really only adds value in a couple of cases.
First, if you have a highly priced application like I do, the 5% can add up. My application, OneVoice, costs $199. So the affiliate fee for that referral is an extra $10. So you can be sure that whenever I link to OneVoice in the App Store I make it an affiliate link.
Second, if you have a large volume of users the residual sales from purchasing other apps can amount to a decent chunk of money, though so many apps and websites now use affiliate codes that yours will quickly be replaced by another person’s.
Finally, the affiliate account can help you with additional tracking. It is a way to know how many people who clicked a certain link (tracked by Google Analytics) actually followed through with a purchase. It helps to give a tiny bit of insight into the black box of App Store analytics.