Thousands of apps are submitted to the app stores every day. For each that is featured by Apple or Google, there are hundreds that fall through the cracks. In just a few years the mobile landscape has become incredibly competitive, and to the victor go features from Apple and a relatively permanent spot on the Top 100 charts.
But what is the difference between an app that launches in the Top 10, and an app that launches into obscurity? According to Fueled, “launching an app doesn’t start with submitting applications, it doesn’t start with the marketing blitz the day before release - it starts with that first brainstorm, and continues well past week one in the market.” In other words, in order to remain competitive, you need to think about your app’s launch well before release day.
Below are five strategies that you can implement immediately which will help you prepare for a successful launch.
You wouldn’t go camping without checking the forecast, and you wouldn’t go into a job interview without researching the company first. Launching your app is the same; the more you know about the conditions you’re thrusting yourself into, the better prepared you’ll be to make informed decisions at critical times.
Market research is an essential first step in developing an app because it tells you whether there is demand for your product, and shows you how to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Look up apps with similar features, themes and visual styles, and study how well they’re doing in the market. Do they rank on any Top 100 - or better yet, Top 10 - lists? Have they ever been featured by Apple or Google? How are their user reviews? Dig up the positive elements and consider them for your own app, and use the criticisms to make your project bigger and better where it counts. Applift advises to “try to focus on the recurring missing features that are mentioned by users so that you can eventually provide them within your app”. This strategy will help you differentiate yourself from competitors in a positive way, even before you start coding.
Even if you have all the features your customers crave, nobody will know unless you do some good old-fashioned marketing. Once you have your core features down, get your marketing team involved and start brainstorming ways to spread awareness of your app before you release. This will help you in the long term, as you’ll be able to benefit from strong awareness that could bump you to the top of the App Store on launch day.
A good marketing strategy should carry you far past launch, though. As Forbes points out, “if your app is worth building, it should also warrant the effort to iterate and optimize its performance and user experience.” Plan not just for launch day, but well beyond as you continue to optimize and improve your product.
Marketing can drive users to your app over the duration of the campaign period, but in order to achieve organic, long-term growth you will need to optimize for the App Store. That means taking a long, hard look at your app’s title, keywords and description (plus short description, if you’re launching on Google Play), and gearing them towards the trending terms that will help you gain traction with your target audience.
ASO is an exhaustive topic that’s always growing, but there are a few ways you can kickstart your efforts without spending weeks working on a strategy. Begin by taking those competitors you found during your market research phase, and see which search terms they’re ranking for. If you type in ‘casino games’, will you find competitors for your Poker app? Also be sure to make notes of the title tags used by your competitors, and develop a strategy here as well. Will your app use tags? Which terms will you target? Keep in mind that you’ll want to use trending search terms in order to ensure that your app has the highest chances of being found.
When conducting your research, make sure to use mobile data from a true app store intelligence platform, and not SEO data.
A successful optimization takes into account more than keywords. You’ll also want to test and optimize your creative assets, including your app’s icon, screenshots, preview video, and even its name. Adobe found that just as an app’s screenshots can draw customers in, they can also make “the bounce rate [skyrocket]...if the images are of poor quality and add little value to the mobile app”.
You’ll want to make sure that users will love your app’s icon, screenshots and other creative content. This can involve running focus tests featuring your creative, and A/B testing your app with unique creative components. Study user behavior and really take that feedback to heart as you work on finalizing your presentation.
And remember, tastes will change and styles will come and go. Take Apple’s recent Earth Day promotion, which featured green and blue icons prominently on the store page, as an example. Just as you’ll want to have a long-term marketing and ASO strategy, you’ll also want to have a long-term creative strategy.
So you think your app is ready to go, but you’re worried about receiving a bad reception at launch. A soft launch is perfect for gathering real-world user feedback without alienating large portions of your fanbase.
Testmunk describes a soft launch as “a staged rollout for an app…[in] a specific region, state or country”. During this time your app will really be live, but only for users in a certain region. This will allow you to collect feedback including live reviews, testing on a much broader scale, and gather data on how your users interact with your app. This is particularly helpful for polishing the crucial tutorial flow, where users who drop off may never return to your app again.
If you’re hesitant to release your app to the world just yet, consider launching a beta. Testflight supports beta distribution for up to 1000 users, and can be incredibly valuable for complex apps that require a lot of testing.
Even if your app isn’t in a playable state, it’s still essential to create a marketing plan. By implementing the five steps detailed above, you will put yourself on the path towards a successful launch and a fruitful first year in the marketplace. And remember: optimization doesn’t end once you’ve launched. Keep researching and keep improving to continue pushing your app towards the top of the pile.
Dave Bell is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Gummicube. In this role, Dave is responsible for overseeing the business strategy for the company, driving growth and market development. Dave is a pioneer of the mobile entertainment industry with more than 15 years of experience publishing, marketing and distributing mobile applications and games across carrier, direct to consumer and app store channels.