So you’ve had this great idea, you’ve had an app put together… And you’re still not a millionaire?
Given the hype, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re all alone. The term ‘gold rush’ has probably been applied more often to the app market than it has to actually prospecting for gold.
But your great idea isn’t enough by itself. There’s a sad reality in the app market: some really great apps just fail. And it’s often because no-one even knows they exist.
The number 1 rule: your app isn’t going to sell itself.
So here’s some tips to getting it over the starting line.
1 Prepare for Launch
It’s so easy to dismiss an app. You find it after a minute of searching, you download it in 30 seconds, you pay little to nothing for it. Users still are ready to leave a poor rating and complain about design, usability or bugs they found in your app, making it very hard for you to get up in the rankings and keep a decent average rating.
This is why it’s key to test your app thoroughly – and not just for bugs. Get some people to mess around with it for a while. When you’ve spent enough time working on something, it’s harder identify bits that could be improved.
Interface features that might make sense to you could be less intuitive to others. Don’t leave this until after launch.
2 Choose the right name
Genre matters: what kind of app are you building? If it’s a utility app you’re going to want something functional and descriptive. For a game or social app you might tend towards something memorable and quirky.
Why? Well, a utility app sells on the basis of what it does to make the user’s life easier in some way. When you create a game, the originality of the concept is much of what you’re selling.
There are a few possible exceptions. Say you’re building a Tower Defence game… Given that it’s an established genre, you may want to attract attention just by including the description in the name. Even then, though, weigh up the (dis-)advantages of looking like ‘Yet Another x‘.
Case in point? Plants vrs. Zombies. It doesn’t tell you it’s a tower defence style game, but throws a quirky concept at you. Evaluate whether your aim is to sell based on the execution of an established idea or a unique approach and creativity.
Looking again at utility apps, the simply named stock Android Flashlight and FM Radio apps are excellent examples. There’s no point trying to rebrand a flashlight or FM radio. They’re simple, functional utilities with clear, intuitive names. People will automatically go to them when they know that they want a flashlight or FM radio.
A final note: make sure the name doesn’t get truncated! If it’s too long, shorten it. What can you lose whilst still pushing your message? Unfortunately there isn’t a character limit because the font used isn’t fixed width, so prepare for some trial and error.
3 Create a stunning app icon
Your icon will promote your app in some of the most important marketing spaces available to you: the app store and the home screen.
Far more apps are downloaded directly from Apple’s App Store and Google Play than through any number of other avenues, such as app websites, reviews, PPC ad campaigns, Facebook, etc.
This makes ensuring that your app stands out and represents your brand effectively on the App Store grid and Google Play libraries really important to guaranteeing your app is as successful as it can be.
Your icon has added value in that – if done well – it promotes repeated use of our app. This is particularly true of apps that don’t have obvious utility, such as games and content providers. A great icon can draw the attention necessary to make sure you’re on your user’s mind when they’re looking for a distraction.
Overly complex icons lose definition and become unnoticeable on the app store grid. Some key tips can help you keep from saturating your icon with unnecessary details that can make it look messy or non-descript.
Make your design bold. Focus on a basic concept and try to ensure it really jumps out at you. Take the Angry Birds icon as inspiration: it’s original, stands out even at small sizes and really grabs your attention. Like in any branding exercise, choose a colour palette in advance and work out how to use them in a complimentary layout before worrying about the details.
Text can really detract from icons, breaking up striking shapes with unncesssary details that often dilute the overall impact. Some sites advise against use of text entirely; I wouldn’t go that far, it can sometimes work, but bear in mind that if you do use it, it has to be large and a part of the design – not simply pasted over it. A couple of icons that do text well are the BBC News app (which is solely made up of text and a classic BBC red background) and the ESPN app (where the highly recognisable brand name is bold, clear and central to the design).
These great uses of text are to be considered the exception rather than the rule, however. Instead, try to visually represent the concept or functionality of your app. Think of it as an illustrative slogan: it should demonstrate functionality, content or concept at the most basic possible level.
When you shrink an icon using tools like Photoshop’s transform, you’re going to lose a lot of definition unless you resize each element individually. Ensure that you (or your graphics designer) takes the time to properly resize each element to maintain definition and contrast between elements. A blurry, non-descript icon will rarely attract much attention.
More advice on how to design a great app icon that makes your app stand out.
4 Use press releases
Writing a press release has two main purposes: it takes some of the work out of reporting on the release of your app (which news sites will love, because it makes their lives easier) and allows you to control the initial perception of your app. The aim here is to create awareness amongst your target audience and gain some interest on blogs/news sites.
If you get blogs and news sites talking about your app, you’ll naturally increase awareness with your target audience – but you also want to make sure that it’s the right kind of awareness. Bloggers usually share the interests of their readers, but they may be more technically interested or have greater expertise than their audience. News sites are typically less of a problem, since they are less about personal opinion and more about audience-focused reporting.
So, as well as intriguing bloggers, a good press release will steer them towards helping to sell your app to the intended audience rather than a select few hardcore enthusiasts.
Some other points to consider:
- Timing: when you decide to put out your press release is important. There will be optimum times of the week in terms of blog readership levels. Find out what they are and really push to get your app talked about on those days.
- SEO: just as you want to ensure your website hits the right keywords, make sure your press release shows up prominently in search results. Publishers will love this because it will drive traffic to their sites (making them more likely to publish it) and it will increase the likelihood that your audience will actually find it if they don’t subscribe to the blog it’s posted on.
- Avoid feature lists: the purpose of a press release is to generate some excitement or enthusiasm around your app. Don’t list every feature, focus on what makes your app distinctive when compared with your competitors: what’s unique about what you offer and why should your target audience be excited about that? If it’s something every app does, you can probably skip mentioning it.
- Link to the App Store: don’t just link to your website. Make sure you also provide direct links to the App Store or Google Play. If a press release has been really successful your target audience may just want to go try it out. Don’t force them to jump through the unnecessary hoop of visiting your website first.
I’d also recommend wikiHow’s (more general) article on writing press releases. It doesn’t deal with app-specific stuff, but you’ll get a good idea of how to structure a release, how long it should be, what you should focus on, etc.
5 Prepare a concise and punchy app description
Don’t leave your app description to the last minute. It’s going to be an important marketing document, so make sure you get the copy right.
You’re going to be sending it to potential reviewers, using it on the App Store, in press releases… It needs to really sell your app.
Start your description with something that really grabs attention. Go take a look at the App Store and have a look at how much of the description is shown by default (before you click ‘More’).
Not much, is it? That’s how long you have to convince a user that your app might be worth their attention.
Unless that first sentence makes you want to read more or take a look at the screenshots, you’re going to be losing potential customers at the first hurdle. Be concise and make it interesting.
You should be clear about the category of app that you’re selling: if it’s a game, don’t leave them guessing. Tell them.
Explain exactly what makes your app unique – why should people choose you over the competition?
Make sure it isn’t just a long list of features. Remember, this is a marketing document not a tech spec. That’s especially important if you’re using bullet points.
Again, don’t leave this to the last minute. Take your time and get it right.
6 Leverage Social Media, but make it real
There’s two reasons to create a good social buzz around your app: it’s cheap, effective advertising and it’s great for SEO.
It’s sometimes hard to trust the authority of someone you don’t know. The oft-cited anonymity of the internet can make comments posted about an app hard to trust… After all, it could be the developer themself posting.
With social media, when your friend likes a restaurant or a movie, you can be pretty sure it’s actually them who’s doing it.
A like, tweet or +1 is just as valuable as a review or ad, especially if your app has a social component.
Try to engage in conversations with your potential customers, don’t just spam links on Twitter or Facebook. Visibility is great, but getting people interested at the same time is key.
Find the places where people are asking for what you’re offering and share it with them. Try not to let this come across as a marketing spiel – it will turn people off immediately in the world of social media.
The best thing about having these real conversations is that you’re providing content for socially-tested search terms. As Google continues to refine its algorithms, this is going to be just as important as effective content marketing for SEO.
7 Get reviews for your app
The great thing about review sites is that you feel like you’re getting an honest opinion rather than an advertising spiel.
Check out some of the following review sites and get some opinion floating around your app:
- AppVee – high quality video reviews of a fairly massive number of apps
- FreshApps – kind of like Reddit/Digg/etc., users can post and upvote apps
- Daily App Show – good (text) reviews as well as video showcases and a ‘featured’ section
- iusethis – reviews, comments and a feature to share how many people on the site use your app
Some things to remember:
- Make sure you include all the information the reviewer might need.
- Include the app name, description, a list of features, your company’s name, contact information and a link to the app store page.
- Keep the reviewer positive about the experience of reviewing your app by making their job easy. Make it too difficult and they may not bother with it at all.
8 Use landing pages
This is a simple one. Be focused about getting people to find your app easily. Don’t make them search your website for a product page… Send them straight to what they’re looking for.
Create a landing page to drive traffic to from Facebook, Twitter and as a default destination when users want to share your app with their friends using social media or email, from inside your app and the web.
Theme Forest have a really nice selection of landing pages available. Here are some tailored especially for apps. You might want to check out this guide to effective landing pages over at the Visual Website Optimizer blog.
9 Don’t Do Everything with Text – use video/audio and other formats
People are pretty lazy.
If they don’t identify a benefit from taking the time to read something, most people probably won’t.
Why? Because you’re making them work for something they don’t know they want.
The easy solution? Take the work out of it. Video is a great way to tell people about your products without making them read a wall of text. It could be as simple as a narrated showcase of your product.
Flipboard’s ad is a higher-budget equivalent of the simple video showcases used by many apps. This one doesn’t even need a voiceover, though many will.
10 Use screenshots to sell your app
We’ve already looked at your app’s description, which will be your big pitch for the app store.
The other thing you’re going to want to think about is the screenshots you use. And here’s the thing: they don’t have to just be screenshots.
Jeybee wrote this great article on integrating description and copy into your screenshots.
Remember how little of your description gets shown by default on the App Store?
People are less likely to click on that ‘More’ button than they are to take a look at your screenshots, so use them to describe (and sell) your product as well as show it off.