How to get your app noticed

Got a developer account on Google Play? I do. And since Google mandates a public (support) email address, I get spammed daily by sleezeballs trying to sell me their “app promotion services” (aka clickfarms). Yeah, sure, I prefer free organic traffic over paid bots every day, thank you.

Speaking of which, how do you actually get your apps noticed in the quagmire, Google calls an appstore? Time for a case study, using my repository of open source apps (I never spent a dime on marketing any on those). In order of publication:

  1. Sensor Readout
  2. List My Apps
  3. Remote Keyboard
  4. Textfiction
Sensor Readout
was the first app I ever wrote for Android (just to learn the ropes) and obviously it classifies as a “toy”. An app you install to see what your phone can do, but certainly not a daily driver. It doesn’t get used often once installed, but since it is only 400kb in size, it rarely gets uninstalled.
List My Apps
is belongs in the productivity category.¬† Like Sensor Readout, it doesn’t get much screentime as it only does one job (and does it well), but you usually only need it once every odd week or so. However, it is also small in size and de-installation means loosing all customizations.
Remote Keyboard
has the largest installbase of all my free apps because it taps into a highly popular niche: customization. Unfortunately, it is an app that fills a very special need, requires some technical understanding (which most smartphone users lack) and is not particularly visible.
is a game, plain and simple. It lacks eye candy and takes a bit of time to learn the ropes. This makes it difficult to acquire new users for it (only 15% of the users who visit the store entry will install it, Sensor Readout and List My Apps get around 35%). The thing that sets Textfiction apart from the others is the screentime it gets. One story alone can keep a player engaged for hours and there are hundreds of stories available. This and the ease of use (compared to similar apps) makes Textfiction users loyal and results in the highest review to installation ratio.

Toy (Sensor Readout), one job (List my apps) and customization (Remote Keyboard) Apps are nice to have in the sense that it takes you relatively little effort to develop them. However, low effort apps are a dime a dozen in any appstore, so users not only have choice, but also realize that they are of little value. Trying to monetize them is rather futile. Almost no one pays for apps that have “free” alternatives and running ads won’t work either: assuming a click rate of 2% with a 0.10$ payout (talking Google AdSense here) and being able to show about one banner per installation, means you have to acquire around 500 new installs per day in order to make a single dollar. Naturally, going with ads will hurt your organic traffic. People just hate them.

However, just because you cannot monetize toys doesn’t mean, they are without value. In fact, they can be quite valuable for boosting your main app (which would be TextFiction¬† here). Apps like Textfiction are the kind of apps where you actually want your users to be: returning often and engaged for hours. This is where monetization works and when you happen to have a collection of apps at your disposal, cross promotion becomes cheap. The trick here is to tap into different traffic sources, then (slowly) guide your users up the food chain.

Google actually helps (a bit) with cross promotion

The more apps you own, the better. Play offers the user to find all apps by a developer. I, for example, keep a all my open source apps in a single account. This has the disadvantage of creating a lot of variety (no common theme), but on the other hand, touches a lot of different niches.

Don’t push it in the user’s face!

Most people like to explore, but few like being pushed. A very blunt way to cross promote would be to pop up a “also try our other apps” dialog every time your app starts and that’s actually also a very good way to get your app uninstalled. Think of synergies between your apps. For example: Remote keyboard could be used as an input method for Textfiction. It’s actually an idiotic use case (if you wanted to play interactive fiction with a keyboard, you’d do it on your PC), but it makes enough sense to suggest the installation of TextFiction as a test application during the setup of Remote Keyboard (check it out!). Another example would be List My Apps. It allows users to define custom templates. The predefined ones are convenient for posting to all the popular webforums and contain a backlink to the app by default (meaning, the app promotes itself), but there’s also a template that allows you to import your list of apps into Raccoon (my APK downloader).

The app doing the cross promotion needs some love itself!

The rating/review system on Play is shit. But you need ratings nevertheless, if only because humans follow their herd instincts and are more likely to install what others have already tested. However, humans are also lazy and will usually¬† only go through the trouble of rating things they feel strongly about. With toy applications that is a problem. User’s won’t feel strong about utilities, they only use once in a while, unless you annoy them (e.g. by getting pushy/creative with ads or crashing often). In this case, however, you earn yourself a negative review. A nice reminder after a couple uses, can work wonders, though. Here’s the code for the dialog, I use in all my apps for that purpose. Remember: don’t push it in the user’s face and make sure the text is phrased in a way so the user understands that rating will be beneficial to him/her as well.

Don’t stop at your apps boundaries!

Your website can be a valuable asset as well if you can manage to put a function there that your app needs once in a while. Take Textfiction for example. It is perfectly self contained for most of the time, but occasionally the user will want to download a new game. The convenient way for doing this is to visit the game catalog. See how that works?


Posted in Tips and Tricks