With nearly 500,000 apps available in the iTunes App Store, it is becoming increasingly difficult for developers to get their work noticed. The Android Marketplace is also growing at a similar rate and who knows what will become of the Windows Phone Marketplace.
I recently spoke at the iOSDEVUK conference in Aberystwyth about this very problem. While at the conference it occurred to me that developers can be a very shy when it comes to marketing and promoting their hard work – designers on the other hand don't seem to possess this trait.
When consulting with a client (or an external developer), I always recommend a 10 step approach to marketing apps:
1. App icon design
Icons should be iconic. Try to avoid greens and blues as most of the standard Apple icons are either green or blue. Similarly, a lot of the popular social media apps use green and blue icons. Always pre-render your icons to avoid the cheesy shine and bevel. ALWAYS make icon sets, covering standard sizes, retina display sizes and iPad versions.
A well designed app icon can be your greatest salesperson, gaining the attention of potential users. Beautiful designs sell.
After all of the hard work of creating your app, you want it available to the largest market available. Apps can be made available worldwide so it makes sense to communicate correctly to the user, whether they are in Aberystwyth or Zambia.
Companies like Applingua can help with translation and file conversions.
Promoting your new app via a dedicated website can bring huge benefits. While the iTunes description can be extremely limited and restrictive, you can really go to town on your own website.
If using your own website for promotion, you obviously have the option to use Google Adwords to gain extra web traffic. www.thecocktailapp.com is a perfect example of an app website, beautiful and informative.
4. Shout loudly and get your users to shout louder
Harness the power of social media by targeting relevant groups and blogs. If your app relies on user contribution and content sharing, let your users share content via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and so on.
Create Facebook groups, YouTube screencasts, and Twitter accounts for apps if they have a social element, these can also be great for user feedback and to generate a database of users. Websites such as MailChimp have free facilities for up to 2,000 subscribers, allowing you to push feedback and advertise other services/apps to your customer base.
5. Lite and paid versions
Currently, out of the 500,000 apps available, 39% are free apps but it's thought that these free apps represent 82% of all physical downloads. Therefore, if your app lends itself to a free Lite version, this can generate a large user base who may be willing to then upgrade to a fully featured paid version of the app.
Users may be happy to spend $500 on a shiny device, but a $1.99 app can often be a questionable purchase.
Apple are now preferring developers to offer this upgrade via an in-app purchase, but the principle is simple: A free version puts your app in front of users that otherwise wouldn't even consider using the app. You then have the chance to lure them into a paid version with a richer feature set.
6. Good meta data
Descriptions and keywords in iTunes Connect are becoming more and more important, especially now that iTunes preview pages are being indexed by Google. Bing and so on. As with websites, this data needs to be relevant and should avoid general words such as game, free, apple etc.
Correct categorisation of your app is also important. Good chart positions drive further sales. Therefore, you probably wouldn’t gain a top 10 chart position in the ‘Entertainment’ category with just a few hundred downloads a day – this is probably achievable in the ‘Photography’ or ‘Lifestyle’ chart. A top 10 app is the holy grail and you will see sales shoot through the roof as a result of being displayed on the iTunes front page.
Make the most of the convenient over the air facility and strive to make your .app bundles under the 20mb threshold. Due to the throw away nature of apps, the over the air opportunity to purchase shouldn’t be overlooked – very few users will remember to search for your app and download at a later date when they have access to iTunes on a Mac/PC.
8. Speak to the press
As with good social media campaigns, all promotion should be targeted to relevant audiences. ‘Apps’ are very much a buzz word in the press at the moment so if you have an app that is innovative or targeted to a specific market, it is worth contacting the newsdesk of all relevant publications.
9. You don’t buy your wife an ugly dress do you?
The app store relies on good presentation of your app. If you are a developer working on an app which you are passionate about, doesn’t it make sense to have your ideas and hard work presented in the best way possible? Design agencies are now accustomed to designing for iPhone/iPad screens. Those who underestimate the value of design in apps can be disappointed in the sales figures of the apps which they have worked so hard to get completed.
App design doesn’t cost the earth – thankfully as not many of us have the budget of the likes of the Facebook app or Color (Color … remember that?).
Tweetbot is a perfect example of good presentation driving sales. At £1.99 the app offers very little over the FREE official Twitter app, but because Tapbots have a reputation for developing beautiful looking apps, it sold incredibly well after the first few weeks of release.
The point is, the design of your app can make or break your app. Dress it up nicely and, in most cases, you will be rewarded.
10. Use an expert
Most ‘pixel wranglers’ would class themselves as either a developer or a designer. Very few people are gifted enough to be great at both disciplines. If you feel that you are one or the other, employ the services of the other. There are plenty of nice looking apps which have very few features, and conversely there are plenty of fantastic apps that are letdown by looking shabby. Have a fantastic feature with great design and you are on to a winner.