Marketing on the App Store

Marketing on the App Store is a bit of a black art at present with Apple playing their cards very close to their chest. In this blog post I’m going to share some tips and tricks that have been successful for me when launching and marketing iPhone apps. Please leave a comment if you have other tips you’d like to share which have worked for you in the past.

Build a great app

Before you can start marketing anything you need to build a compelling product. This is no difference on the App Store, in fact with almost 100,000 applications all vying for attention it becomes even more important to think about what differentiates your product and why people should choose yours over your competitors.

Get the message

Simple, compelling messaging is always important but on the App Store it becomes even more so as your app store listing also drives search results. Unfortunately as you’re not dealing with Google PageRank there aren’t any easy to use tools to show you how to improve your App Store SEO, so you’ll have to rely on intuition and a lot of trial and error.

Put yourself in the shoes of your users and think of all the terms they could be searching on to find an app like yours. Also use the standard Google SEO tools to find popular keywords online as these will likely be just as prevalent in the App Store too. Once you have all of these keywords and search terms write your App Store listing to include these terms.

Thankfully you can change your listing regularly, so keep an eye on your search results and your competitors search results for key terms and update your listing text as needed.

Reviews and key press coverage can also be incorporated into your listing to boost your rankings. Some Apps have also taken to including their competitors names in their listing text, for example ‘Similar to’ or ‘Better than’ which may also help to boost rating. Apple have yet to create any guidelines on usage of brand terms so at present only your sense of wrong and right will limit your usage of other’s brands in your listing. It’s unclear if Apple will allow this to continue going forward.

Build the buzz on YouTube

Planning your iPhone app launch with any level of confidence is difficult as you can’t completely control the time or the day your application goes live. The best you can do is have everything ready to go and once you receive an email from Apple stating that your iPhone App will be available for download in the next 24 hours put your marketing and PR efforts live. The best case scenario from submission to launch is a week but I’ve seen lags of over a month so be prepared.

While you’re waiting for your application to launch you can build buzz for your app by creating a demo video showing your iPhone application on YouTube and promoting it as ‘Coming Soon’ on your website. Your video should give people an idea of what your application does, how it works and showcase any fancy features to get Apple fans’ hearts racing. You can use the video to involve key influencers, including bloggers, journalists and app review sites, before the application goes live and help to build a buzz for your app. Let others help to spread the word for you too by making your video available for blogs, review and news sites to embed.

Another idea is to begin collecting email addresses for people who want to know immediately once your iPhone app is available. You’ll then be able to email them when the application is available for download, giving an important boost to your initial download numbers.

Make every download count

When launching your application you’ll be given 50 free download codes to use to promote the application. Use these carefully as they’re very valuable, you need to make each and every one count. Make sure the people you give the codes to will actually use them as this will help to drive your initial download numbers and encourage as many of them as possible to write a review of your application.

Your download numbers in the first few days will influence your position in the top 100 listings for your particular category and the more downloads you can drive the higher you’ll go in the list and the more downloads you’ll get. So make each and every of your fifty count and ask everyone to…

…Write A Review

Once you’ve published your iPhone App to the iTunes App Store one of the most valuable tools you have available to you are the user reviews.

Only people who have purchased your app can write a review. Reviews drive your application’s rating, applications with a better rating have a better search ranking in App Store results. However the number of reviews left in a day also influences the ranking in search results, therefore it’s best to get a big spike of reviews in one 24-hour period rather than a steady stream of reviews in a week.

Once your app is live, encourage all your friends, staff members and friendly press to download the application and write a review in a specific 24-hour period to give yourself an initial boost. Of course you can’t encourage them to write a glowing review, just an honest one, but hopefully they’ll love the app and tell the world about it.

When you do get critical reviews these should be viewed as valuable market research and the feedback provided should be collected and acted upon. Use this information to prioritize your development activities for future updates. When releasing new versions that improve or fix elements that reviewers have complained about, be sure to draw attention to the fix and ask reviewers to try your application again and update their previous review.

Reaching out

A tight community of bloggers, app review sites and news sites now cover iPhone applications. Reviews or articles on these blogs and review site can provide huge amount of attention for your application. Be sure to reach out to the key contacts, introduce yourself and tell them about your application. You should view this as an ongoing relationship and concentrate on developing good relations with these writers. Be sure to read their latest articles before you pick up the phone or pen that email. As with any media it’s key to be relevant to them and not waste their time. If the site only covers iPhone games pitching your business application is unlikely to result in coverage – be targeted and relevant.

Tried & Tested

If you have a web presence for your iPhone application you can also use some of the tried and tested online marketing techniques to boost your iPhone App online:

  • Build a page for your iPhone app and explain why its great.
  • Include a prominent download link for your application from your website. Apple have created an image to be used on your website and you can find the url for your application in iTunes by right clicking on your application and using the ‘Copy URL’ command.
  • If you created a video then let users view this directly from the webpage.
  • Find forums, community sites and blog posts that are relevant to your iPhone application and post to these to increase awareness and help to improve your SEO listing.
  • Include a download link in your email signature and in the signatures you use in forums and while commenting on blogs.
  • Use Facebook, Twitter and other social marketing tools to share your app with your community and encourage them to do the same.
  • Consider where viral hooks could be best used in your app to make sharing a part of the experience.
  • Encourage your friends, family and acquaintances to download your application and help you to spread the word.
  • Build a deeper relationship with your users by collecting their details and communicating with them through email, Twitter, your blog and other channels. Create compelling content such as tips and tricks, additional screenshots and news to communicate with them and drive them back to the application on a regular basis.

Metrics & Tracking

For those of us more accustomed to working in the online world, marketing on the app store can seem like a black hole with no tracking. Although the lack of data can be frustrating all is not lost. Applications like AppViz can help you to get a daily view on your download numbers (and revenues for paid applications) and Pinch Media provide a tracking product which can be integrated into your application to provide more visibility over user activities in the application. In addition you can think about tracking certain ratios manually, for example downloads to rank or releases or reviews. It’s time consuming and manual but it may lead to marketing breakthroughs.

Pricing

Pricing has been written about more than any other aspect of App Store Marketing and a steady downward spiral towards free has taken hold.

Before you decide on pricing for your app you should consider your objectives and also review the competition to get a feel for their price range. If your objective is to acquire users and build a strong userbase then free will be the preferred option, with the ability to monetise this userbase in future through premium features, a paid application or advertising. Consumers are risk averse and even a 99p download can seem expensive. A free or lite version can encourage people to trial your application and you’ll then be able to upgrade people to purchase the full version with in-app banners and upsells to premium functionality.

Few if any app developers have succeeded in building significant revenue streams with a monetization strategy built purely on advertising and other models should be given serious consideration.

Pricing games are the rule of play in the App Store. Having a special sale price for a certain period or making your app free for a limited period can help you to rise up the App Store list into the charts. Placement in the top 100 list will boost your downloads and once there if you reduce your price further you could even reach the top 25 or top 10. Experiment with your price, see what works for your application, but don’t lose sight of your objective and don’t become a victim of the spiral towards zero.

Enjoy the journey

Remember is to create a great user journey for your users. Churn in iPhone apps is notoriously high and to ensure that your users continue to use and enjoy your application you must focus on providing them with the best possible experience. Continuously innovative and improve your application to make it compelling. Use alerts and emails to drive users back into your application and engage them in a deeper relationship.

Finally as with all online marketing channels, experiment, learn and iterate. The App Store is in its infancy and there’s a lot more we can learn about best practise on this new channel. Don’t be afraid to test, learn from your mistakes and improve.

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