Editor’s note: Jonathan Saragossi is the founder of IM Creator, a free website builder, and AppSite, an editor and website collection for promoting mobile applications. Jonathan is also a UX and marketing consultant for major startups including Any.Do and Playscape. You can contact him by email or on Twitter.
So you’ve developed your dream app and uploaded it to the market, eagerly waiting for a flood of downloads to propel your product to stardom. But despite announcing it on your Facebook page and getting some positive reviews, you can’t seem to get past 50 downloads a day.
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The fact is that the vast majority of apps get stuck in this same stage. The collective app world resembles that of Hollywood – a few successful stars have created huge hopes for the star-struck masses, but the real power lies in the hands of a few casting directors (or in this case, app market content editors).
It’s a harsh reality, but the most effective way to generate massive downloads is to be featured, and that means having your app selected out of the hundreds of thousands of other apps already out there (not to mention the nearly 2,000 new apps being released each day). The chances are slim but can equal 50,000-100,000 downloads a day for an entire week of being featured.
As a mobile app consultant, I’ve seen many incredibly talented developers expect their work to be discovered by virtue of the app’s quality and ingenuity alone – but that is almost never the case.
How to promote an app
So how can you beat the odds? The days after launch can be harsh and unrewarding, but smart developers employ a host of ‘old school’ web promotion techniques to create a flow of downloads. Here are some of my top tips:
1. Be extraordinary, unique, noteworthy
This might seem obvious, but it’s dangerously easy for development teams to fall into ‘group think’ and create something that already exists or is only slightly better than current alternatives in the market. Those are not the apps that get featured.
A distinctive app is more memorable and will leave a stronger impression, leading to more articles and links, and ultimately more downloads. Try what I call the “the viral reality check” or “bar test”: show your bar buddies your new app. Do they want to have it right away? Do they spend more than 30 seconds playing around with it on their phones? An app with a unique design or feature has a significantly better chance of making it. Identify your app’s distinctive quality and make it part of the core experience.
2. Tell a story
People love a good story behind a product, and apps are no exception. It makes it easier for them to get lost in the world of your app, and even develop an emotional attachment. Developed a game? What’s the background story behind it? It should be entertaining and out of the ordinary (like an epic war between birds and pigs…).
Even with non-gaming apps, you need a story – the reason for its creation and the inspiration that made you go for it. Share this story everywhere including your website, in the app’s description page, and as part of your PR efforts.
3. Timing and momentum
The launch of an app is an event designed to get maximum exposure and start momentum. There is a critical mass of exposure you need to reach, so it’s better to synchronize everything together: PR, banners, and blog posts should all appear at once.
Simultaneous exposure in various outlets has amplifying effects. The first time you see an article about the app, it’s nice. The second time is meaningful. The third time can make it a hit. If you make it into major outlets, your chances of getting the attention of app market content developers will greatly improve.
Again, another major element that I’ve seen many developers overlook. Build a home for your app, a place where you can freely describe why it’s so great without the limitations of the app market description page.
A website will also allow you to use old-school marketing techniques of site promotion like banners, SEO and link exchanges. From my experience, these are the most effective channels for creating a steady download stream. The site should be simple and effective and act as a well designed, unique landing page. A one-page site with a large download button is enough.
Find blogs and niche websites where your potential audience is likely to be. Try to buy banners through ad networks or directly from blog owners. I recommend checking buysellads.com first and looking for relevant banners.
If the prices are too high, try to buy banners directly from the site owners. Send them a screenshot of their site with the banner you want to place in it. Try adding a banner in a new location they haven’t been using, making it look like an integral part of the site itself that is likely to bring more traffic.
Use a professional or do it yourself. Draft a press release with screenshots, your special story, your website’s URL and a link to download the app. Send personalized emails to blog owners and offer exclusive stories to your larger press targets.
7. Personal connections
Like anything in life, it’s always good to know the decision makers, in this case, app store editors. This tip is mostly relevant for developers after they’ve already made it into a featured list. You’ve made an extremely valuable contact so don’t let it go to waste. In order to be featured again, share the app’s process with the content editors and give them advance notification of any new versions you’re releasing. Be open to their opinions and thoughts.
8. Stumbleupon paid discovery (one of my personal trade secrets)
A great source for traffic that does not get the recognition and appreciation it deserves is Stumbleupon’s paid discovery. With paid discovery, you pay for actual viewing of your landing page (that’s why it’s important to have a website) at prices starting at $0.05 USD per visitor, which is about 10% of the cost of most AdWords and Facebook Ads.
This is a method that will enable you to get hundreds of visitors per day on a small budget. If your site is great and the app is outstanding, this source should be sufficient for a basic download rate of around 100 downloads a day.
9. Make your app free at launch
When launching your app, offer it for free. There is no point in creating another barrier to download. Price your app but present the free download as a launch promotion. The app promotion is news by itself, and there are blogs that cover app promotions where the news can be shared.