6 tips to market your mobile app
Juice the fruits of your labor by making your app the shiniest pick on the Apple tree
You’ve spent months, maybe years, knee-deep in planning, prototyping and polishing your app and here it is, in all its glory, the app that’s going to change the world. It’s exactly how you envisioned it, if not better. Your closest confidants have nothing but good things to say and you’ve made your first sale from someone that’s not a friend or family member. Kudos. Truly, congratulations. You’ve made it this far and that in itself is quite the feat.
Now all that’s left to do is kick off your shoes, light some candles and pop the cork on that Dom Perignon you’ve been saving since you quit your day job.
Whoa there, Casanova. The battle has been won but the war for App Store attrition has just begun.
Even some of the best creators lay down their weapons at this stage of development and consider their tour of duty complete. Inevitably, their apps live and die in this negative space between development Hell and development Valhalla.
But, your app is genius, right? Transcendent even. People will find it one way or another. Wrong, you fool. AppBrain reports that there were 31,251 new regular (quality) Android apps added to Google Play in April 2019 alone (and 18,655 low-quality apps). There’s simply no way your app, no matter how great, will be found without some quality marketing to help it climb those app store leaderboards.
Getting noticed is hard and marketing your wares can often feel slimy and uncomfortable. But don’t fret, there’s a cache of strategies you can use to help market your app that don’t break the bank or your integrity.
1: Pre-release Hype Factory
Leading up to launch, it’s likely you will be up to your knees in last-minute crunch and swarms of unexpected bugs. Not everyone will be in a position to begin hyping their app before release but there are a few relatively simple ways to begin spreading awareness before publishing on the App Store.
First and foremost, park the most simple domain name you can acquire. If your finance management app is named “MoMonee”, try locking down “momonee.com”.
However, .com domains can be expensive and low in stock. One option growing in popularity is the appropriately named “.app” extension. Google’s .app extension is a top level domain (TLD) with built-in HTTPS encryption, a relatively affordable price tag and high availability. Check if your .app domain available over on Google’s registry.
Once you have purchased your domain, it’s time to get cracking on a landing page for your app. We won’t go into too much detail about creating a website here but there are plenty of website builders like Webflow that offer free pre-made templates for this purpose specifically. At most, you will need a landing page with screenshots and video that demo your app and convey your brand mission, a page on pricing (only if you have multiple pricing options), a contact page and if you can swing some commentary from friends and influencers, a testimonials page.
Front and center on the landing page, you should have a release date and pre-order/download links for the App Store and Google Play.
Not interested in spending the time required to set up a website? There are plenty of developers who will build you a website from the ground up but if you want a fast turnaround, find yourself a freelancer with experience working with Squarespace, Webflow or Wordpress and they’ll help you get something live in a flash.
If you’ve got some free time on your hands, it’s also a good idea to create a trailer for your app to embed on your site and share on social media. When it comes to creating a trailer, we’d recommend hiring a freelance video editor to demo your app but if your budget has run dry, there are web apps like Lumen5 that will allow you to slap together a quick trailer with your own screen capture, recordings and a library of royalty-free stock footage and music.
The iOS App Store and Google Play store both let you publish a product page with a pre-order or “Get Notified” button that will allow people to express interest prior to release. You’d do well to set those up at the same time your landing page goes live so you can link between the two as soon as possible.
2: Good Ol’ Fashioned Networking
Working as an independent developer can feel crushingly lonely at times. When you look back at your development journey, you probably remember the dark days spent alone at your computer bashing your head against the wall, and not all the enriching and insightful conversations had in the comment sections of Stack Overflow, or the lessons learned gleaning advice from indie dev Facebook groups. Or what about the helpful advice and genuine enthusiasm received from dev meetups, awards nights and expos? The road to shipping your app was probably way less isolated than you remember.
So now that you’ve shipped your app, why remove yourself from that massively rewarding community? Return to old threads and update your developer comrades on your progress, thank them for their help. If you have some gems of wisdom to share, consider writing a blog post detailing your successes and failures with special mentions to the people who helped you over some of your biggest development hurdles. Tag them on Twitter, thank them on Facebook, send them a hamper with a variety artisanal cheeses and quince. Never -- never -- skimp on quince.
Paid marketing is hit and miss (more on that below) but gratitude always goes the distance. Help people realise how integral they were to your success and they will sing your praises and spread the word of your magnificent app.
Revisit conferences, expos and award nights as the new you, Published App Developer. Consider the advice you receive and impart your own wisdom. Feel free to demo your app events but don’t be pushy about it (people will ask to be shown if they are interested). As for awards nights, investigate nominations; it could be your app winning an award next year.
3: The social side of social networking
This is a no-brainer but announce that your bloody app is live on every social media platform with a direct link to download or purchase. Both on your personal account and a new brand account that links to your store page in the bio. This might seem bleedingly obvious but I’ve witnessed first-hand developers who are either a) too self-conscious to announce the release of their app or b) feel that spruiking their achievement to followers feels cheap or arrogant. Bugger that noise. You’ve dedicated months or years, taken a big financial risk and poured your very heart into an app you truly believe in, get out there and celebrate it. Let’s face it, its best to seek feedback and advice on your V1 app from your tighter network of peers than 100,000 angry app store customers (and potential reviewers) once your app takes off. Boom, you’ve spread the word about your app and likely received some helpful quality assurance in the process. Two birds, one tweet.
If your app is a solution to an especially prescient problem, or it just so happens to launch in proximity to a relevant event, ride those hashtags and search for conversations happening that relate in some way to your app. Answer questions, engage in conversations and seek feedback.
As terrifying as it sounds, tweeting directly at -- ugh -- influencers that frequent your app’s topic area could be a serious shortcut to success. If your app is helping young adults manage their finances, engage with prominent fintech personalities. Remember, this kind of cold outreach can all be done from your brand’s social account. Then your face isn’t forever plastered in someone’s timeline if the operation goes south.
4: Giveaway as fast as you can
Whether you’re shovelling coal on the pre-release hype train or you’ve disembarked into the app store wilds, it’s never a bad time for a giveaway. That could mean incentivizing beta testing with an extended free trial at launch, say three-months free access to early subscribers once the final version is live, or a thematically fitting prize, like movie tickets or a Spotify gift card if your app is seated in the entertainment category.
We’re beginning to slowly wade into the paid side of marketing. But sometimes, all it takes is a few iTunes or Google Play gift cards. For a hundred smackeroos, you can purchase five $20 gift cards and run a simple “first come, first served” giveaway. Easier still, you can generate 100 giveaway codes in iTunes Connect at launch (and an extra 100 for every update), and 500 in the Google Play Developer Console every quarter.
The easiest path to spreading awareness for your app is with a retweet or sharing campaign on Twitter or Facebook. The first 500 retweets score a code to download your app for free (or earn in-app purchase credit). Simple.
If you can spare the cash, why not opt for both? A three-tiered competition with one major prize, 2 to 5 runner-up prizes (e.g. gift cards) and 100 download codes. People are more inclined to participate in a giveaway with a big aspirational prize and hundreds of smaller prizes; even if they don’t score the big win, at least they’ll likely get something, right?
You can track all this in a spreadsheet but there are services and apps out there like Rafflecopter that will track retweets and shares for you, with extra features like multi-entries for shares across multiple social networks or email sign-ups.
If your giveaway has some serious appeal, it could end up on a user-aggregated giveaway and competition site.
A quick note: Don't try this sort of incentivizing with reviews. As we explain in our guide, that'll land you in some serious trouble.
5: The spendy-side of social media
So we’ve explored how you can make the most of social media without spending a cent and how it be leveraged with a low-budget giveaway but let’s venture a little further into the dark woods of paid social media marketing.
At a glance, paid amplification on Facebook and Twitter can appear like a relatively low-cost investment. Twitter only charges you for amplification when a user engages with the post with a favourite, retweet, click or reply. On average, a Promoted Tweet will cost you around US$1.35 per engagement. That’s a humble starting point but it can become a little pricey the more engagements your tweet receives. Twitter offers a number of different campaigns with different success metrics and costs; engagements, video views, clicks, conversions and app installs are just a few you can choose from.
Thankfully, you can set a daily and total budget and the start and end date for your campaign so there’s no chance you’ll wake up with 10,000 retweets and a hefty bill.
All well and good but what exactly should you promote? Our advice? Go for the trifecta. Promote your giveaway with shortened download links (or a single link to your landing page) with an embedded trailer that tells your audience what your app is all about.
In comparison to Facebook, Twitter’s paid promotions are straightforward and to the point. Almost as soon as you begin constructing your add, you’re given a price for your campaign. Paid marketing on Facebook is a little more complex but it also allows you to target demographics you might not reach on Twitter.
Twitter has a more proactive community where connections tend to be built on professional networks and shared interests, rather than 300 people you don’t remember from high school, like Facebook. Twitter gets a lot of flack for the sheer amount of anonymous accounts that exist to troll people and spread toxic hate campaigns, and rightfully so, but it’s also a space where creatives and professionals give each other a leg up. For our money, it’s the best platform to spend your money on when it comes to paid social media marketing.
Unless you’re in the business of self-help, #growthhacking or crypto, in which case, LinkedIn might be your best bet.
6: SEO-OHHH BABY
Everything we’ve discussed so far will get you in front of an audience of like-minded individuals but what about the faction of users who don’t quite know they have a problem you’re solving. This camp of users isn’t hanging around on Facebook or Twitter waiting for a solution, they’re actively seeking the help you provide on Google.
So you have a user in need and a solution in your hands, how do you connect the two?
Technical SEO is it’s own field of expertise. You’re not in the business of creating the Wikipedia of Personal Finance, you’re (most likely) providing a single solution to a niche issue so the battle for search visibility is going to be long, arduous and, potentially, a lost cause.
There are plenty of freelancers with enough SEO expertise who will help you optimise your landing page for the search terms you are trying to capture but the industry is brimming with snake oil merchants; people who will sell you more than you need and much that you don’t. If you do opt for a freelance SEO consultant, be sure to peruse their previous successes and customer reviews before signing up. It also pays to be clear and upfront about your budget and expectations.
SEO considerations are another kettle of fish and you’ve got a goddamn app to launch. With that said, there are a few simple ways you begin to build backlinks and get websites and people navigating the rocky personal finance terrain to arrive safely at their destination (your product page).
Reddit threads with particularly niche interests are a good place to start but it’s not the kind of plug you want to force. Your relationship with Reddit should be like any other successful romance; tender and reciprocal. Don’t go posting on /r/personalfinance if you haven’t laid the groundwork first and certainly don’t roll into town if you’ve never even posted on Reddit before. Redditors can smell a startup douchebag from a mile away and with no history with the community and a recently released app, you’re scent is practically visible.
Spend some time with the dwellers of Reddit. Provider solutions to people’s problems, ask for help with your own struggles. Be yourself. If you see Reddit as a tool for your own nefarious purposes and not what it is, you’ll be cast out without hesitation.
If your app is impressive enough to make it to the hallowed front page of Reddit, it’s likely you will have publications in your area writing about and linking to your product in no time.
Forum posting, done right, is a fairly organic way to get people writing about your app. However, a more proactive way to get your app listed is with some good ol’ fashioned reach out.
Go ahead and Google all the keywords and queries you want to rank for. What you will likely see is page after page of websites that rank the apps and services that you're competing with.
“Best Personal Finance Apps”, “Best Finance Management Apps, “Best Apps for Adulting”.
We could make a 1,000-page listicle that lists, in no particular order, every website that ranks apps. Browse the pages that are ranking and ask yourself, “Does my app do a better job than the apps ranking?” If the answer is yes, then reach out to the webmaster or connect with them over Twitter or LinkedIn. If they deem your app worthy, it’s likely they’ll bump off an older, inferior app in favour of yours. After all, it’s in their interest to keep their list relevant, up to date and trustworthy.
Lastly, get yourself on an app aggregator like Product Hunt. Product Hunt, in particular, has a fervent userbase that’s more interested in great ideas than topic areas. If your app is as unique as you think it is, Product Hunt users will sing its praises from the rooftops with little to no effort on your end.
More links means more domain authority. More links from trusted sources in your field means even more. Keep your app in the news cycle and you will slowly see your product climb the 9 circles of Google.