How to Get your App Noticed: Grab on to the Hype

Apple recently announced that there are now over a million apps in the app store. As an app developer, doesn’t that make it even more difficult for your app to get discovered? What can you do to get your app noticed?

The good news is that Apple actually helps you in this area by resetting the bar from time to time. The iPhone app store was launched in 2008. If you created an app in 2008, it was a LOT easier for your app to be noticed and discovered then, since there was much less competition. By April 2010 however, there were already 185 000 apps in the app store. How would you get noticed?

New Devices

That’s when the iPad was announced, and with it, the ability to create iPad specific apps. All those users of shiny, new iPads looked for iPad specific apps to take advantage of their device. Apple also separated the app store into iPhone and iPad sections, making it easier for iPad apps to get noticed. By the end of 2010, there were only 40 000 iPad specific apps, compared to 360 000 iPhone apps. So if you had come out with an iPad app then, your chances of being noticed would be much higher.

However there are now over 400 000 iPad specific apps out there. Maybe you missed the boat already. Fear not though, as other new devices may show up over the next few years that your app could support. Developers are usually given a few months of notice to prepare. Doing so can allow you to be one of the first apps that are released with a new device.

  • Apple TV: The big rumor is that Apple may one day open up support for apps that play on TV via the Apple TV.
  • iWatch: Will Apple release a smart watch that can talk to your phone?

New OS Features

Each summer, Apple hosts its World Wide Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. At that event, they usually introduce the next version of iOS, and all the new features that version brings. Depending on what your app is, you may be able to take advantage of some OS specific features. For example

  • iOS 5 saw the release of iCloud. You could now back up app data onto iCloud, which could then be synced onto multiple devices
  • iOS 6 saw the release of Passbook. You could create loyalty type coupons that showed on screen, when the user was near a key location.
  • iOS 7 saw a brand new visual design. You could redesign your app to better match the new design principles featured in iOS7

When a new OS is released, users want to get a feel for what’s new – so they are more likely to try out apps that take advantage of such features. Apple as well is more likely to feature apps that take advantage of new features or resources. In cases like the iOS7 visual redesign, apps that are not updated to take advantage of this are penalized by users for not being up to date.



New Hardware Features

In some cases, when a new version of an existing device (iPhone or iPad) is announced, it includes new features that you as a developer can take advantage of. For example

  • iPhone 4: retina display
  • iPhone 5: taller display
  • iPhone 5s: 64 bit, M7 sensor chip

As more and more of these devices are sold, it is imperative that your app is updated to support them. Apps that are not optimized for the retina display and 4″ screen don’t look good or perform well on modern devices. Similarly, in a few years it might be expected that all apps are rewritten to take advantage of the 64 bit hardware that is made available.

New App Store Categories

kidsAs the app store becomes bigger, with more and more apps filling up each category, Apple opens up new categories to help users discover new apps. Keep an eye out for new categories that your apps might qualify for and resubmit your app to fit in the right category. This is a great way to get a leg up on competition that have not updated their apps accordingly.

Survival of the Fittest

Even though there are over a million apps on the app store, the vast majority are not updated regularly to take advantage of the above updates. By keeping your eye on the market and what is coming out, you can be prepared to be one of the first apps to take advantage of a new update, giving you valuable publicity that you couldn’t get otherwise.


App Store SEO – Increase your Discoverability

With 775 000 apps on the app store, how do you get your app discovered? There used to be a time when each time you released an update or a new app, your app would showcased on the front page of the latest apps released in a particular category page. As a result you could expect a sales bump from being showcased on that page, until other apps moved you down that list.

However nowadays, with thousands of apps being updated or released each day, any promotion you get on that page is short lived if any, so additional work is required, to increase your discoverability on the app store. Here are a few methods you can use:

1. Keyword Research. 

App Store Keywords

This is the most important tool at your disposal. Apple allows you to enter a limited set of keywords totaling up to 100 characters. Additionally, you can only change your keywords when submitting an update to your app, so choose wisely!

So how do you know what keywords to select from? There are multiple ways to do this.

  • What problems does your app solve? List the keywords related to the search terms that users might use to find apps that solve this problem.
  • What apps are you competing with? Run searches on the app store using the keywords you have in mind now, and see what apps show up now for those keywords. These are the apps you will be competing with. If the apps you think you should be competing with don’t show up in searches for your chosen keywords, then you will need to experiment some more. Maybe they are using a different set of keywords than you are? Decide if those are the keywords you should be using.

Apple uses its own algorithm to determine what apps to show first, when a user searches for particular keywords. Keywords in your app title probably count more than keywords just in your keyword list. Additionally, app results may show based on popularity – so if a competing app that is more popular has submitted the same keywords, then it may show higher in the list than your app.

After your app is live, search for the keywords you have specified in the list, and see where your app ranks when users search for that keyword. 3rd party tools are available that can provide you daily results of your appstore SEO rankings to see how you compare with competing apps. Here is the key: If you are not ranking significantly for particular keywords, then don’t use them in your keyword list. You only have 100 characters of keywords available to you, so might as well use those for keywords that you actually rank for than ones that you don’t. Try switching to a less competitive keyword that you do rank for instead. It is better to show up in the search results for a less searched (long tail) keyword, than to not show at all for a high volume keyword. So search for all the keywords you have specified, and remove the ones and replace with alternate versions for the ones where you do.

2. Get Ranked

If your app shows up on any of the top selling lists, it is more likely to be discovered and then purchased / downloaded. So when deciding what to price your app at keep in mind that a lower price usually leads to more downloads, which means a better chance for your app to rank in its category. Also, keep in mind that the app store ranking for each country is different, so just because you don’t rank in one store, doesn’t mean that you can’t rank in a different store.

3. Get Recommended

App Store Also bought List

When users are viewing apps they are interested in, Apple provides a list of similar apps below that. The algorithm for what apps show here has not been made public. However, this is another benefit of having more downloads, in that there is a greater chance that your app will be recommended, when users download similar apps.

4. Get Featured

Apple Featured Apps App Store

Apple has many curated lists of apps in each category, such as New and Noteworthy and apps that highlight different features of the phone. There is no direct way to get onto these lists, other than to have an app that is already generating some buzz, well rated with a good design and an eye catching icon. Again, note that it is possible to get rated in some country specific app stores and not others.

5. Run Promos

Not happy with your rankings? Want to increase the number of reviews you have? Want to generate some overall buzz? Want to increase the chance that your app will be recommended when users view a similar app? You can do so by running a promo on your app. Temporarily have a sale or even make it free to coincide with a time of year, or pick a random reason to. Promote these deals on your social media sites. Additionally, there are a lot of 3rd party sites that automatically highlight apps that are on sale. Users on sites like that can even choose to be notified when apps they are following are on sale. Take a look at what running such promos did to app downloads for one of my apps sometime back (2 promos were run that year – can you tell when they were run?).

STL Sales

6. Offstore Marketing

In addition to the efforts you make to increase your discoverabilty on the app store – make sure you also focus your efforts outside the app store. Submit your app to review sites, run targeted ads, write guest posts on targeted blog sites, post your promos on social media etc. All of these can link to your app on the app store, increasing its downloads, thereby helping your discoverability.


App Store Downloads – Be a Small Fish in a Big Pond

Small Fish in Big PondApple announced that all time iOS app downloads just crossed 40 billion, with 20 billion of those coming in 2012 alone. What does this mean for you, the app developer?

Yes, that’s a lot of downloads, but part of the reason is the number of apps out there, which is now estimated at 775 000. A little math shows that is still a healthy 51613 download per app. Still pretty good, right?

However a lot of these downloads are skewed towards the most popular apps. Temple Run for example had 75 million downloads by itself last year. So even though Apple has paid out $7 billion to developers so far, most of that money has gone to top tier publishers, who are making millions, leaving less for the average developer.

So what can you do to compete, with so much competition out there?

The good news is that with so many apps out there, this also opens up many niche markets which would otherwise be too small to compete in. You could create a very targeted app to a very targeted type of consumer and still have a big enough market to make good money.

Start doing your app store research to find out which categories have hot selling apps that you can tap into. If you haven’t done so already, sign up on the right sidebar to receive your free copy of my eBook – How to come up with a killer idea for your first iPhone app.