June 20th, 2017
This blog post was originally published in 2017. You can also read one of our newer posts on how deep linking plays a vital role in cross-platform user acquisition.
I talk to hundreds of mobile developers all around the world — they come to attend or speak at our Mobile Growth Meetups, contact me over email, or chat with me at conferences. From SF to NYC, Amsterdam to Bangalore, Bucharest to Hong Kong, the questions are always the same: what can these mobile developers and marketers do to drive growth? How can they reduce their budget and still drive more app downloads? Is ASO the key, or is it finding the right person on the App Store team to get a coveted feature?
Unfortunately, as more and more developers are starting to realize, the App Store is not the solution. With more a thousand new apps submitted each day (let me emphasize that: one thousand new apps each day!) it’s almost impossible to stand out. The new iOS 11 Apple App Store design is not a solution — it shows even fewer apps on the main page than it used to. While Apple might believe this is better UX for the end user, this new design does nothing to help the chance of discovery via the App Store for a small app developer trying to get an app off the ground.
So what’s the alternative? How can a new app get discovered and drive downloads in such a crowded market without spending millions on advertising?
Here are some mobile marketing strategies that can help stack the odds in your favor:
While many app developers focus on App Store Optimization, ASO is proving to be less and less relevant as the app ecosystem evolves. The top 10 search terms in the App Store are brands, and 90% of the top 50 terms searched are branded as well. While the App Store is figuring out its identity crisis, my advice to developers is: give up on the App Store and focus on making your app content discoverable. Unlike the App Store, searches on the web are focused on intent. For example, if your app sells Nike red shoes, it might be practically impossible to appear in a search in an App Store for “shoes,” but you can work on getting the red shoes to appear in a web search, and from there you can get a user to download your app.
How can you get your app content indexed by Google? Here are the steps to make it happen:
Takeaway: making your app content discoverable in web searches returns a lot more benefit for your effort than ASO.
In addition to making your app content discoverable on the web, you can use other methods to get users to your mobile website. These are often a lot cheaper than buying app downloads.
Here are some strategies for attracting new web users and converting them into app downloads:
Takeaway: driving app downloads through your website can be a lot cheaper than running app install ads.
One of the best ways to find new, cheap, highly engaged users for your app is to find app marketing partners. You probably know who they are — the challenge is to convince them to work with you.
Here are some strategies that can help make finding the right app marketing partner easier:
Yummly (a recipe app) and Instacart (a shopping app). When a Yummly user finds a recipe they want to cook, they can shop for all the ingredients through a link that takes them to Instacart, with all the ingredients automatically added to their Instacart cart. If Instacart isn’t installed yet, the user is taken to download it and the ingredients are still added once Instacart opens.
SpotHero (a parking app) and Waze (a driving directions app). As users are getting directions to specific locations in Waze, they can go directly into Spothero and find parking at their destination
Takeaway: seamless linking from apps that are complementary to your services is a great way to get more users.
When I moderate Mobile Growth Meetups, I always ask this question of panelists: which channel works best for bringing users back to your mobile app? The answer, whether from small apps or big, is always the same: traditional channels like email continue to outperform push notifications. But traditional channels can also be a great source for new app users. Charlotte Russe ran a mobile email marketing experiment where they sent their userbase email promotions with an app-only discount, and they saw a download spike for their app with every such email.
Here are some other mobile spins you can put on traditional digital marketing channels to drive more new downloads for your app:
The biggest mistake new developers make is building and launching their app without viral mechanisms. My Branch co-founders and I made this error when we built our first app, a photobook printing app called Kindred. We were fortunate to get featured by Apple in Best New Apps, but because we had built only our core functionality without sharing or invites, new users had no way of sharing the app or the photobooks they created with their friends. We missed out on free referral traffic.
Here are some basic viral mechanisms you can build into your app:
Takeaway: add viral features to your app from the beginning. This helps make sure that every new user you acquire can bring in new additional engaged users at no cost to you.
Whether you are a small app developer or a marketer for an app with millions of downloads, focusing on only ASO and app install ads limits your reach. There are better ways to bring in new users by marketing your app outside the box. I have seen strategies like these help app developers all around the world, and I look forward to hearing how you implement them in your own app.
P.S. If you have done something different or implemented one of these strategies well, I encourage you to submit an entry in our Mobile Growth Stories Contest. We have three prizes of $5k each, and a lot of goodies to send out to all participants!