Making money on mobile can be a tricky thing. Having ads on your app is an option, but few companies have truly cracked the perfect mobile advertising strategy, so adding ads to your app will likely be an annoying, disruptive experience to the user.

Still, this doesn’t mean having ads on your app won’t make you money; it means you better have an amazing and addictive app. Why? Because it takes a lot of effort for your user to download and start using an app, but very little effort to delete. If your app doesn’t show enough value quickly – you will lose people and they will not come back.

The Israel Mobile Monetization Summit took place a few weeks ago and I went in with the intent of learning all I could about business models on mobile. With the third world skipping the laptop experience due to the prohibitive cost and jumping straight to 3G phones, mobile is becoming a world equalizer – and making money there is the latest challenge.

How do you know when you’re designing a mobile app that’s going to make money? You don’t. You can hope it, you can plan on it, you might even have the world’s best business model surrounding it – but wouldn’t it be better if there were aspects you could look at and judge systematically to see whether the likelihood is better than simply, “Yes, if we have good timing”?

Eric Reiss (not to be confused with Eric Ries of Lean Startup fame) has done just that. Reiss is the CEO and Content Strategist at The FatDUX Group and his focus is on UX. At the core of it, your app has to have true value.

Here are Reiss’ eighteen elements in mobile apps that are signals that an app will do well.

Foundation

Concept

  • Affordable – Is your app free? That’s pretty affordable. If it’s not free – is it value for money?
  • Useful – Think Evernote, or an app that turns a picture into a Fax. I don’t use it often, but I need to have it. Games don’t fit here. Unless it’s Lumosity.
  • Easy to adopt – Is your app easy and effortless to understand and use? As easy as Instagram?

Conditions

  • Business critical (you need to have for work) – Accounting software would be appropriate here. Games would not.
  • Addictive – Games aren’t business critical, but they are addictive. Facebook is also addictive, as is my favorite addiction, Pinterest.
  • Intrinsic value – Is it something that makes you want to master it? Email is a good example here – think Inbox Zero. The ultimate of all goals. (And one I still haven’t reached)

Communication

Platform

  • Showcase – Blogging, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Dribbble – anything that allows you to show off your work/taste/etc.
  • Conduit – Enabling something else to happen – Buffer places your posts on various social platforms at the optimal time for your audience. It’s a conduit. Not a final place.
  • Social system – Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat… a place to be social. To connect with others.

Environment

  • Well-defined market – Fairly self explanatory, but games for kids is a great example of this
  • Multi-channel capability – Evernote is probably the best example if this, as they seem to be everywhere online and off
  • Cross-channel conversion (think games here) – Disney does this well. In Where’s My Water there are other characters and other versions you can buy, as well as levels you can unlock.

Monetization

Quick wins

  • Incentives – Dropbox is a great example. Getting your friends to join means you AND they get extra free space.
  • Rewards – Take these actions and get rewarded with points, coupons, virtual goods.
  • Cross-sales – Again, games do this well. Buy virtual goods or other premium games from inside the app.

Recurring revenue

  • Subscriptions – Media publications, like the NYTimes, have a subscription model now.
  • Upgrades – Premium service for Dropbox (example). Freemium model would be an upgrade for recurring revenue.
  • Scalability – Example, Esty and other marketplaces that charge a small amount per transaction but make their money from scale.

At the end of the day, as far as Reiss’s concerned, “If you’re not solving a problem then you’re creating one.”

Candy Crush Saga, a game I absolutely refuse to even try, has 13 of the 18 characteristics listed. The game’s developer King nailed the addictiveness of this game – and I didn’t even need to check the numbers to know that. I get invited daily by friends on Facebook to play it (I’ve turned off those notifications, mind you, but I still see it on the side.)

Take another example: Toshi, some little-known-in-the-West Japanese game has only six of the elements and Angry Birds has only seven. What Angry Birds did have, that Toshi didn’t, was insanely good timing.

According to Reiss, Rovio came out with a game that used mobile properly before anyone else did and became the darling of Apple. That might also explain why Rovio has only one massive hit. Of course, it really only needs that one massive hit to franchise under.

How does your app compare? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images