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Got an app? Now crack the App Store code

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So you got an app. Now, go sell it.

That is the tough part.

Gone are the days when you just built an app, and users came and bought it. Today, millions of apps jostle for users’ attention, besides competing on features as well. Consequently, you will go nowhere without acquiring some smart marketing skills or, specifically, some tricks to grab eyeballs on Apple’s App Store.

Four months ago I created Maths with Springbird but had no clue on how to drive users to buy it. It didn’t make any sense to spend a $1 on marketing the app when it was sold for $1.19. Then I began to dig around to find ways to win attention. I found stories of apps getting featured by Apple and reaching the top of the charts. “If only I could…,” I thought. And, you know what, I could. So can you.

At the time, Apple offered no guidelines or tips on how to increase one’s chances of getting featured. So I had to find out the hard way. After months of research, testing and experiments, I cracked the code. Eventually, my app got featured in the iPad App Store and zoomed to #1 in the Australian and New Zealand iPad App Stores.

In the spirit of entrepreneurship, I would like to share my lessons with readers. So here are six things to check as you venture to the App Store.

1. Know your market. How and where do your potential customers make their purchasing decisions? Test with some early customers first, get their feedback and build relationships with them.

We did this by reaching out to parent and teacher groups, both in Australia and overseas. We joined Facebook groups, forums, blogs and other parent/teacher communities to keep in touch with our target market. We let some of them alpha test Maths with Springbird. We got great feedback and there was a snowballing effect too, as other people in the community saw that we were listening and implementing their feedback into the app.

2. Build a great product. This means having a product that your customers love, and also having a product that Apple will love for its customers. Test your product over and over again with real customers. Use their feedback for further improvements. Ensure the user experience is smooth and satisfying.

We had a core group of testers for Maths with Springbird, gave them early versions of our product and watched how they used it (without giving them guidance). From these tests, we found that some parts of the user experience weren’t as intuitive as we thought. This allowed us to further refine the product.

3. Fill a need in the app store. Does the App Store need your product or is it another fart app? How many other apps do the same thing as yours? How can you differentiate your apps?

During our research, we found that there were a lot of educational games for children based on literacy, but hardly any for numeracy. Maths with Springbird found a great niche in the iPad App Store for children between 4-6 years old who wanted to play a game, but their parents wanted them to learn and practice mathematics.

4. Test and test again. Use products like TestFlight (testflightapp.com) or Kickfolio (kickfolio.com) to fully test your apps with real customers. Kickfolio is great because your testers can run the app from the browser, without having to jump through the technical hoops of TestFlight. Once you’ve gotten the product tested and implemented their feedback, have a soft launch on the App Store and watch the results.

5. Tap Apple’s strengths. Apple stands for the very best technology, design and much more. Clearly, for Apple to feature your product and sell it to millions of customers, it must meet the same high standards.

Closely watch the WWDC keynotes and recognise the features Apple plans for the future. A good example would be the rumoured new smaller-screen iPad. Prime your apps for them. For Maths with Springbird, we updated for the Retina display and made use of a number of iOS5 features.

Also, read the marketing and developer guidelines given by Apple. We tried really hard to follow all of Apple’s guidelines, including adding the trademark disclaimers in all of our marketing materials.

6. Release often. We didn’t update Maths with Springbird for about a month and saw downloads steadily drop. Once we realised this, we released two major updates in quick succession (less than a week between version 1.3 and version 1.4). Shortly after the updates, we got featured in the “New and Noteworthy,” and then as a main header in the Education App Store.

So, it’s important to keep checking. When are customers dropping off? What can you do to stop that? How do you retain your users? If your app does get featured, will you be able to maintain the momentum with the new customers? Or will they be disappointed and never use your app again?

Keep implementing the feedback and releasing updates. If your product is more than two weeks old, it won’t get picked up by Apple for featuring.

David Truong is the founder of Broccol-E-Games Pty. Ltd., one of the graduates of AngelCube’s Melbourne accelerator program this year. His Twitter handle is @feedmybraininfo.

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