How to get your app noticed – Part II

Part I was all about cross promotion and naturally I caught flak: how dare I write something like that under the title “how to get your app noticed” and not give a detailed step by step, easy to follow tutorial on how to get your first app noticed? Well, let’s do that today!STEP 1: Pay for installs.

STEP 2: There is no step two! It really is that simple! As long as you keep paying, someone will be happy to promote your product and you can stop reading now.

Oh, not satisfied with that strategy, huh? Hoped for something a bit more self sustaining? Here’s the thing: there is no algorithmic, one size fits all, way for making your app popular (without paying money). If there was, everyone would already be following it! If you want to get noticed, you have to understand attention: where to get it and how to guide it. Today’s post will be about building organic traffic and funneling it to your app.

Why is baseline traffic is so important?

Here’s likely what you want to happen when developing an app:

  1. Publish
  2. ???
  3. Profit

With “???” usually involving something that catapults your app into the Top 10 downloads, where it will advertise itself. See? Question already answered. Only problem: everyone wants their app in the Top 10 and you are not likely to make it there without a giant advertising budget at your disposal.

With a modest budget you can easily generate small popularity spikes. All you have to do for this is to pay one of the popular mobile computing websites for doing a review. The effect, however, is like using gasoline as a BBQ charcoal lighter: after a short while you are back to square one. Rinse and repeat. When it comes down to it, you can either build your own attention network or pay to use someone else’s. In the long run, you want independence.

Get a website

And by website, I mean a real one, not the poor excuse for a homepage you get from social networks. Know those “brochure design” layouts, everyone is using lately? The ones that start with a meaningless full page picture and force you to scroll through pages of drivel? Not one of those either! You already got one brochure to promote (your appstore entry), you don’t need a second one. I really don’t know what marketing experts, people listen to, but personally, I don’t print websites in order to view them.

Here’s what having a (real) website does for you:

  1. It’s the place where you keep the FAQ and the documentation (make sure the URLs are linked from within the app where appropriate). This keeps users from abusing the review system as a support forum (potentially giving you a “temporary” 1* rating till their question is answered).
  2. It provides the glue between your different projects, allowing you to crosspromote for free. That’s why social media profiles are bullshit as app homepages: you are not in control of the structure. The social network is and it will use that power to promote itself rather than you.
  3. It hosts your blog. A brochure website doesn’t attract visitors by itself because it is designed to be visually appealing. Search engines don’t care for eye candy. They like links and text! A blog not only allows you to provide both, but also to talk about different topics and by doing so, to reach out to different audiences. Furthermore, it allows you to sneak keywords to search engines (for example, try asking Google about Raccoon. By now, my app ranks higher for that keyword than the animal it is named after).

The important thing to do with your own website is to link, link and link again! Search engines discover the web by following links. They index content by what you put in the anchor tag (make sure there’s no “nofollow” parameter) and by what text they find on the target page. Cheap web hosting costs something around 10€/month for a low level vps server. If you know how to write apps, then setting up a webserver shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Go Open Source

To answer your first three questions:

  1. The only reason you are bothering with appstore visibility to begin with is because your target audience can’t figure out how to sideload. How many of them do you think will suddenly install an SDK and change your app to their liking?
  2. No, there is no real risk of someone forking your code and competing with you. If you already have trouble promoting your app, then a rip off won’t have it easier either (especially not since you already have a headstart). Sure, successful apps get cloned, but that happens regardless of whether the source is available or not and usually the clones just end up making the original more popular.
  3. Giving the source away doesn’t mean loosing control. You still own the name and the artwork which is usually enough to get the hacks booted from the appstores for copyright/trademark infringement.

So, what will opensourcing do for you? First of all, playing with open cards is the easiest way to build trust and to silence critics. Have a Cassandra, publicly questioning the safety of your app? Tell them to audit the source or to shut up (they usually do the later).

The important thing, though, is that you get to publish in more more places (Github, F-Droid, …). The Open Source movement started in the academic world and there, giving credit, is more than just a courtesy. This does not directly help you with your appstore efforts, but it gets you in touch with tech enthusiasts. Some of those will recommend your work in their own social circle, others might even blog about it (free link juice there!)

Give aways

Have you heard the story about the guy who published an app that took him a weekend to code and then got fabulously rich? Yeah, me too, but let’s face it, that’s a one in a million shot. From rags to riches with almost zero effort is a pipe dream, but that doesn’t mean, low effort apps can’t work to your advantage. Add one or two to your portfolio before releasing your “main” app. If you have absolutely no idea what to do, just go with a live wallpaper. People love to customize. Just don’t try to monetize (in particularly not through in app ads!). Once you are ready to publish something worthwhile, update your give aways to drive attention to it.

If your “main” app fails, start treating it as a give away and start working on a new project. Repeat as necessary. Don’t waste time focusing on that one egg that doesn’t seem like it wants to hatch. Just put it into the basket. Eventually you can turn your failures into a part of your success.

Work on your social media profile

You absolutely need an account on the following sites: ….

Yeah, kidding, but you just can’t write this kind of post without mentioning the cancer of the web. Otherwise readers might think you forgot something important.

Social media websites are bullshit. All of them. Their big promise is to bring you fame and glory, if only you put their share buttons everywhere and constantly feed them with new things to talk about. Sure, social networks do create internet stars with millions of followers and millions in their bank accounts,  but the thing to understand here is that those are the lottery winners. Willful idiots that were allowed to become celebrities as a living proof of the promise becoming reality. They are the carrots that lure the masses. The harsh truth is: social networks don’t promote you, you promote them.

Sure, once in a while, you may make it to the frontpage and gleefully watch your webserver collapse under a sudden traffic spike. The thing just is: it doesn’t last. The visitors you get have the attention span of a puppy and are as ad blind as a bat. They come (for one page only), look and leave again in order not to miss the next big thing, the newsfeed will feature in  the next five minutes. Social media (peak) traffic is almost worthless.


Posted in Tips and Tricks