At last, after seemingly endless brainstorming, wireframing, coding, testing, bug-fixing, re-testing, submission to Apple, approval, and dealing with the awfulness that is iTunes Connect, it’s time to make your app available for sale. You’ve already prepared PR materials and targeted your audience, and now it’s time to embark on the final, most exciting phase of building an app: the launch.
Don’t kid yourself by thinking that once your app is available in the App Store you’ll be able to go on vacation and occasionally check your download figures and chart ranks while sipping a piña colada. Your work is far from done. Actually – and you had better sit down for this – it will never be done, for as long as the app is available for sale. That is, if you actually intend to make money from publishing apps.
Cheer up, though – one of the great things about the App Store ecosystem is that if you cover your bases by developing a useful, well-designed product that’s reasonably priced and gets at least a modicum of public attention, in most cases you’ll very quickly get a sense of whether your app is a success or not. You’ll know this through download numbers, App Store ranks and reviews, the amount of press it generates, website hits, and direct user feedback. Failing is never fun, but failing fast enables you to immediately move on to your next project without losing too much time or money. But no need to dwell on that option for now. Think positive!
You have your work cut out for you, so roll up your sleeves and prepare yourself for the effort, anxiety, and thrill that come with launching your app.
Deploy your PR and marketing plan
Get press coverageOnce your app is live, submit an email with your press kit to websites like Appshopper and 148apps, tech blogs like TechCrunch and Gizmodo, and mainstream sites such as The Huffington Post and Yahoo. Also submit links and blog posts about your app to social bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of websites to which you can submit your app. Don’t limit yourself to just local ones – go global! And most importantly, don’t forget to submit your app to sites related to your niche and target audience. For example, if you’ve published a fitness app, you should develop a presence on relevant fitness websites and forums.
Don’t be surprised when most websites ignore your submissions. That’s normal. Some websites only look for exclusive stories, some won’t ever notice your email among the hundreds per day they receive, and some might just genuinely not be interested. Remember: they don’t owe you anything. Be gracious about it.
Provide exclusivityBefore launching, if you think a tech reporter would consider it a privilege (i.e. a scoop) to break the news of your product before anyone else, then contact them, and only them. If they decline or don’t reply, move on to your 2nd choice, and so on. This strategy usually works only when dealing with apps that bring something truly original to the tech news cycle. The latest and greatest fart app just won’t cut it, so to speak.
Keep in mind that you’d be limiting potential exposure by working with just one media outlet, so once the selected journalist writes about your app you should approach the competing publications, too.
Get reviewedWord of mouth is quite powerful in this industry, and if you can get an influential thought leader to support your product, it will most probably boost your download numbers.
Robert Scoble is one such thought leader. When he says “check out this app”, his followers flock to its download page, myself included. Why? In short, because Scoble knows his stuff. The trust his followers have in him makes him very powerful, and getting someone like Scoble interested in your app early on can pay off big time.
Scoble predicted that Highlight would be the hottest app at SXSW, and he was right. With his reach and influence, it may have just been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, there are other tech evangelists who could help you as well.
When Apple approves your app, you’ll receive 50 promo codes via iTunes Connect (this applies to each new version you release). A promo code allows its holder to redeem a particular app free of charge. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they run out, so use them wisely!
Send the codes to prominent app reviewers, bloggers, and niche websites, and politely ask them to take the time to download and review your app. Many sites already have standard submission pages for review requests, such as 148apps, Macworld, and AppSafari. These sites are great, because they’re actively inviting tips about interesting apps. Some reviewers are happy to offer a video review in return for a promo code, so that’s pretty good value for money, even for just a handful of views. Promo codes can also be useful for mainstream media outlets, so keep some handy for them, too.
Erica Sadun, a writer at TUAW and independent developer, recently gave an interview in which she explained how to stand out when approaching reviewers. Be sure to read that for some helpful tips. The post even includes a link to a sample template that you can use for crafting the perfect pitch.
How to talk to bloggersIf you’re new to interacting with professional bloggers and reviewers, you should spend some time familiarizing yourself with their world. These are people who generally have a deep understanding in their field of expertise and have strong opinions about it. They often interact with thousands of individuals online each month. These factors make it hard for you to stand out.
However, if you follow bloggers online for a while before approaching them, you can optimize your pitch according to what interests them most. This isn’t foolproof, but it’s vastly more effective than approaching someone without any preparation at all.
You should also read this article on how to approach bloggers. It’s a great starting point full of valuable tips.
Personalize your messagesNobody gets excited about mass emails anymore, especially not sought-after bloggers and journalists. Address them using their name (first name is usually fine), and spell it right! This is a huge pet peeve of many people.
App store reviewsMy feelings on App Store reviews are mixed. On one hand, having an overwhelming amount of negative reviews doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is bad, and it no longer deters me from downloading an app. The Twitter iPhone app’s 2.5-star rating is one example of an underrated app, in my personal opinion. On the other hand, having an overwhelming amount of positive reviews generally doesn’t happen for products that are less than spectacular, and having a 4- or 5-star average can do wonders for your app’s download numbers.
“The app is almost perfect, but due to the lack of a small feature I’m giving it a one-star rating” -about 25% of all App Store reviews
— Dori Dayan (@doridayan) March 9, 2012
Leverage positive reviewsIf you get positive reviews on your app, you should definitely use them as part of your marketing arsenal. Do this in the form of testimonials on your website and App Store description. It’s very important to accurately quote and credit the source – don’t paraphrase, and link back to the source if possible.
Engage with usersBe part of the discussions that take place in the various comments sections of websites that mention your app. Monitor user feedback and make quick fixes for major issues when possible, but don’t waste time trying to make everybody happy – that will never happen. Aim for about 95%.
Accept legitimate criticism gracefully (and be sure to address it in the next product development cycle), answer any questions, correct any misconceptions, and be honest and open.
Get your app on the charts
Every app developer dreams of seeing their own product among the top-selling apps in iTunes. It seems as though apps that rank high in iTunes stay there for a long time, virtually guaranteeing their developers continuous revenue or an ever-growing user base. While this isn’t always the case, being among the higher ranked apps certainly could help your download numbers. So how do you get your foot in the door?
Hold sales promotionsPutting your app on sale is a great way to attract attention, especially since the advent of websites that notify visitors about on-sale apps, such as Appshopper, Appminer, etc. Timing is important, so follow your download numbers closely. If you start seeing a substantial dip in sales or if your numbers are consistently low, it might be time for a price reduction. Even consider making your app free for a limited time, if you’re looking to create a larger user base and/or additional word-of-mouth buzz.
Be sure to communicate the time limit on your price reductions so your users won’t miss the sale, and also to give them a sense of urgency to download your app.
Get some free advertisingDo cross-app advertising with another developer or between your own different apps. You should only do this if both apps are relevant to the same audience (for example, you probably wouldn’t want to advertise an app aimed at business professionals inside a children’s game).
Explore alternativesThere are other more clever ways to get ahead in the App Store, such as integrating inbound marketing or pay-per-install services. I’m not a fan of the latter since it gives an unfair advantage to developers who have more money to spend (and not necessarily high-quality apps), and also because PPI violates Apple’s terms.
Another option is to partner with a third-party company. I’ll dedicate a separate post soon to share our experience with promoting Last Night Never Happened this way.
Be everywhereUbiquity is a great way to increase your app’s exposure. If you are marketing an app for a certain niche, write blog posts, Facebook posts, forum discussions, or tweets about that niche and include a link to the app’s website.
Include download links to your app all over your website, social media accounts and posts, blog, paid ads, and any other platform in which you have a voice that’s heard by your target audience.
There you have it. In this 3-part post, we’ve reviewed all of the basics of marketing and promoting your app. Each of the issues covered can be expanded upon greatly, and there are many other useful resources for marketing advice. But if you want to keep things simple, go through each of the items in my 3 posts on Marketing & PR for App Developers and use them as a checklist to ensure you’ve covered your bases. Be creative, and don’t be afraid to experiment. There is no magic recipe for success – trial and error is part of the process. Good luck!
I would love to read any comments you have, and I invite you to share your own tips and experience with the rest of us.