Tips for Making Your Mobile App More Discoverable

Healy Jones is the head of marketing for OfficeDrop, a service that makes it easy for small businesses to scan and manage documents in the cloud or on their phones.

While some like the Financial Times have bypassed app stores by creating HTML5 “web apps,” the vast majority of Android and iOS developers have to think about how to market their listings within app stores. Marketing within app marketplaces is still a black box. Most marketplaces (like Apple’s, for instance) provide no analytics or feedback. But by using the little information you do get, and comparing results across various marketplaces, an app developer can start to get an idea of the marketing tactics that work. These tips can help drive traffic, and hopefully sales, to your listing.

1. In-Marketplace Optimization

Over the past 10 years, we’ve been conditioned to associate “getting found” with search engine optimization. These instincts shouldn’t be lost within an app store, especially in light of developments like Yahoo’s app searching site and mobile app.

From the limited analytics data available, I estimate that up to 80% of the visits to my company’s app listings are from customers browsing the store’s category page, or from specific in-store searches. And it is logical to assume that, for most new developers, in-store searching will drive a large percentage of new views to your listing. Some marketplaces, such as the Google Enterprise App Marketplace, let you install a Google Analytics tracking code for more insights, but most app destinations are sorely lacking.

Therefore, in-marketplace search optimization is critical for the success of your app, particularly when you are still building a brand name. You listed in the marketplace to benefit from its distribution — now you need to win those visits.

The first step to winning views in a marketplace is to put yourself in the shoes of your target customer. Survey customers to find out how they’d search for your app. Since my company had an existing web service, we were able to speak with a lot our customers. These discussions not only helped with the development of our apps, but improved our descriptions of them in the listings.

Secondly, do some test searching within the marketplace using the terms you’ve gathered from your customer interviews. This will accomplish two things:

  • You’ll have a better understanding of the discovery process your customers will go through, and
  • You’ll see what other applications rank for the same terms and how they compare to what you’re offering.

It may not be such a bad thing if your app exclusively shows up for a given search. It may mean that you are listening better to your customer than the competition.

That said, understanding the competition is important. A simple competitive analysis of other apps in your sector can also help you learn valuable lessons on what to do and what not to do. Do any of the top downloaded, most reviewed or highly ranked competitors have similar terms or phrases across their listings? You may wish to consider adding these terms to your app description. Find where your competitors list their apps (some categories are obvious but others are more ambiguous, such as “business” versus “productivity” apps.)

This type of reverse engineering can help you find out what terms to pack into your listing, while still keeping the narrative descriptive relevant to users. When composing your title and listing, consider this: we’ve found that, in listing our own apps in both Google’s Android and Mac/iPad marketplaces, Apple tends to rank titles more heavily, while Android tends to favor descriptions.

2. Drive Inbound Leads From Outside the Store

Never underestimate the power of a good link in the right place. Reputable third-party sites and reviews, other marketplaces and even your own website can drive more traffic to your listing, and are the best way to kick-start downloads.

The right kind of PR, not the “spray and pray” method, can prove to be a serious driver of traffic to your app, especially if you’re able to garner some positive reviews in key places. I’ve had the best luck with press in targeted communities of platform-specific fans.

Check a blog’s traffic on, check out their Google pagerank for key terms, look at the author’s or blog’s Twitter following and check the comments section to tell whether the blog you’re pitching has an interested community. The goal is to not only create press that pushes traffic to the app listing, but also to create positive reviews that rank highly in traditional search engine results (and will subsequently push traffic to the search listing).

Secondary marketplaces, or app ecosystems and stores within other apps, such as Evernote’s Trunk, can provide a major boost of buyers to your app. Seek out partnerships with companies on the business development side — they may be able to hypertarget an audience of potential users. Think carefully about any additional development effort required to enter some of these ecosystems. Make sure there are enough users in the ecosystem to justify the development investment, and confirm that the ecosystem provider is willing and able to promote you to their end users.

Finally, be sure to make the most of your own site. In press releases and company blog posts, link to both the page on your site that describes the app and directly to the app store listing. For users visiting your site from a mobile browser, you can drive traffic directly to your listing within the app store by using OS detection. You may also want to take advantage of Android’s QR code-reading features. By adding QR codes to your website, mobile users can scan the code and be directed straight to your marketplace listing.

3. Make the Most of Customer Reviews

Word-of-mouth, even if it comes from strangers, continues to be one of the most powerful drivers of sales (and rankings) within app marketplaces. Rigging reviews is never recommended, but having genuine interactions with your customers should be a key strategy for maintaining loyalty and driving even more positive word-of-mouth to your app.

Find a group of your biggest fans and give them early access to updated versions of your app before they land in the app store. Use their feedback to get better before you “go live,” and tap that group for objective reviews once your app is listed. People can be brutal in reviews — you might find people complaining about things that your app clearly doesn’t do. But having a core group of people who are informed about the features can counteract this effect.

If you have customer service teams, use them! On the communications front, while emails and push notifications to customers should be used sparingly, they should always contain something that adds value for the user (for example, a new way to use the app or a giveaway). In these communications, don’t be afraid to ask for a review — after all, if you don’t ask, you may not get anything in return.

Much like search algorithms, the rules of in-marketplace promotion are always changing. But paying close attention to these essentials can help independent developers rise above the app store clutter to develop better products and get found.

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