Spend a few minutes browsing through the Apple app store and it’s easy to see the fierce competition for user attention. The number of apps has grown to more than 1 million, each vying for downloads and market share.
The app development world is still very top-heavy, with a very small percentage of developers controlling the majority of downloads and revenue. But that in no way means that a newcomer can’t build a successful app that captures the hearts and minds of consumers, and becomes the next big thing.
Since the app stores themselves control which apps are elevated and highlighted, how can you ensure your app gets time in the spotlight and the attention it deserves? Here are six tips drawn from experience.
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1. Focus on Product
The best way to get your app noticed is to build a unique and engaging product. Although that’s an article all on its own, let’s sum it up in a few key points.
Know your exact market and who you’re competing against. This will help you understand your target user — what he expects and likes and who else is offering apps to him.
Great apps are also usually the first in their category, or apps that completely reinvent existing categories. A big sign that you have a great app is when you start seeing copycat apps. Embrace them and use them as motivation to continue.
Another element that great apps have in common is fun. You want to make your app something that users will come back to again and again, rather than a one-time, disposable thrill. Whether that means creating lovable characters or tapping into the human desire to compete, remember to deliver fun the first time and every time after.
Also, great apps are simple. No user guides should be necessary to participate, and there should be nothing to “figure out” from a user standpoint. They are intuitive and immediately easy to grasp.
Finally, the last big hallmark of a phenomenal app product is the ability for users to make the app personal through customization features. Today’s app audience is constantly wondering what’s in it for them. Allow them to make it theirs and they’ll more likely become instantly enamored.
2. Allow Users to Engage Others with Your App
These days, more developers are using social media as part of the app as a major key to its success. Your customers’ word-of-mouth multiplies your network a hundred times over without costing you a dime, so be sure to put mechanisms in place that allow users to talk about the app and share experiences with friends.
For example, if your app enables users to create fun videos, make sure they can share those videos with others. This type of direct experience sharing will go a long way in spreading the word about your app.
Caveat: Don’t “over-viralize” your app with too many social features that don’t make sense.
3. Get Media and Blogger Attention: Make It Simple
Media attention and especially reviews of your app can really help to spread recognition. To get that kind of attention, though, you have to have a solid app to begin with, a great story around your app, and it absolutely must be easy to talk about.
The tendency is to come up with the most ingenious, compelling app, filled with loads of features but none that really stand out. This is called “feature creep” and usually spells disaster. Remember, the launch is just the beginning. Successful apps are always adding new content months after launch. If reporters and bloggers (and users for that matter) have a hard time explaining what your app is, what it does or why they like it, they’re less likely to talk about your app. Keep version one simple.
To make your app easier for media to cover, provide materials like press kits, beta codes (if necessary) and reviewer guides. It also helps to identify technology and pop culture trend stories that your app can fit into.
4. Continue Your Marketing Efforts
When your app launches, you’ll definitely want to have a marketing strategy in place to seize your launch window of opportunity, but it’s also important to continue marketing long after launch.
Many developers find pre-launch strategies helpful for grabbing attention. This includes creating a “coming soon” page that teases your app a bit, collecting emails for those interested in the first look, and even extending first invites to target publication audiences.
Make sure you exhaust every “co-marketing” opportunity out there with other app developers. Some major publishers will trade their app installs for your app installs. Everybody is in the same boat, in the same huge ocean of apps. You might be surprised to find that other developers are more than happy to participate in reciprocal marketing.
The important thing to remember is that app marketing windows are perpetual, meaning you should establish marketing vehicles that you can trigger at your discretion over long periods of time. That means plan, plan, plan.
5. Use Analytics
When developing apps, you have all kinds of data at your fingertips to evaluate how your app is being received. Use analytics to monitor your ranking and as a marketing tool.
Become a student of the Android and iOS category rankings (e.g., entertainment vs. games). Each category has its own nuances for determining “top” rankings, so be sure to evaluate each one. Understand why the app moved up in the rankings in order to iterate and improve your own ranking over time. Additionally, if you have a good sense of what is moving the bar for your app, you can also learn from what the top developers are doing.
More importantly, in my opinion, is that you leverage the wealth of analytics available from your app to make your app better over time. Not only will the data help you iterate and improve your app from a technical standpoint, but it will also allow you to create the right content to which users connect. Once the app is live, analyze the data to update your release schedule and product roadmap.
You can also learn when your customers are willing to “rate your app” or be pitched another app in your portfolio. Analytics can shed light on how frequently you should attempt to cross-sale or suggest another item for purchase.
6. Prepare for Success
This tip may seem a little strange at first — who wouldn’t be thinking about success? But in reality, many apps start strong then fade and fizzle. Preparing for success is as much about your product as it is about the team behind it.
It’s crucial to structure your team in a way that supports hyper growth. It’s good to rely on a more fluid and dynamic network of expertise and project teams than a rigid structure.
Think of your app as a brand that will enable you to leverage brand extension opportunities. Build your apps to welcome future cross-promotion opportunities, rather than intrusions on the user experience.
The best way to prepare for app success is to constantly focus on keeping your users engaged. Give them more than just product updates once they’ve downloaded and become fans of your app. Give them instant fun, addictive experiences that they will want to share with friends.
Whatever your secret sauce is or has been, be sure to nurture it to keep your users wanting more — and deliver your app in a way that surpasses user expectations.
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