How to Market iPhone Apps

by Brook Lenox on May 16, 2009

iphone-appsSo how do you market an iPhone app?

I want to share a couple of things we’ve learned at Pinger.

The Pinger product team and engineers are amazing.  They’ve created 4 20 top 100 apps (Textfree with Voice, Textfree Unlimited, Doodle Buddy, and Stickwars to name a few).  Textfree Unlimited was a top 50 paid app for 65 days 420 days, even though it was priced at $5.99. Textfree continues to be a top 100 free app over 2 years after it’s launch.

Here are 7 things you may want to consider when marketing your iPhone app.

1) Build a great app
2) Have a lite & paid version
3) Advertise on iPhone ad networks
4) Get free exposure
5) Test everything
6) Listen to feedback
7) Go global

#1 Build a Great App

app-rankingIt is really hard to get in and stay in the top 100, with a mediocre app (although it happens).

Our first app, Pinger Phone, was in the top 100 free apps, for 15 days. It was a good app. Textfree Lite on the other hand was a great app (now replaced by Textfree with Voice). It was in the top 100 free apps for  375 days.

Why? It’s easy to use. It works. It’s something people need. Reviews have consistently been 3 1/2 stars for the lite version and 4 stars for the paid version.

#2 Have a Lite & Paid Version

Not going to spend a lot of time on this one…so much has been written on iShoot’s success. If you can create a good lite version and an even better paid version, it will very likely help drive sales.

#3 Spend Money on Mobile Ads

admob-logoIf you’re serious about getting above the now over 500,000 apps, you’ll most likely need to spend some money.  I’ve read some ridiculous articles suggesting that app developers should use Google Adwords, Yahoo mobile and others I won’t mention.  Yikes!

Read my article on the Top iPhone Ad Networks and then go run a small test with Admob.  Spend $200-$500 and see where it gets you.  You can target by country, device, and test several ads at once. Make sure you can track your new users and ranking hourly. Learn from it.  Then spend more if you can.  You’re goal is to either: 1) get enough downloads to get into the top 100 and get a huge organic download boost or 2) get enough downloads that you start building a user base that you can monetize.

Note: although I’d still suggest you run a small test with Admob, it doesn’t work for every app. I’ve see huge swings in cost/download on Admob. As low as $.35/download and as high as $75 spent and no downloads!

#4 Get Free Exposure

If you’re on a shoestring budget, there is nothing like free exposure.

You should contact:

  • App Review Sites
  • YouTubers that do app reviews
  • Bloggers that focus on the iPhone or iPhone apps

There are so many apps available now, don’t expect them to find your app.  Contact them and tell them (humbly of course!) why your app is so great.

#5 Test and Track Everything

chartI’ve shared my frustration before with the app store’s lack of tracking.  Since your downloads go through the app store, you’ve got ZERO help from Apple in connecting the dots on your marketing attempts. But don’t give up.

Think about tracking these types of activities:

  • Downloads versus rank
  • Downloads/rank versus releases
  • Downloads/rank versus mobile ad spend
  • Downloads/rank versus reviews going live

Find out what works and keep doing it. If you need more info on app ranking tools, there are some great apps and services out there to help you.

#6 Listen to Feedback, Make Changes

When you’ve started getting feedback in the app store, LISTEN. This sounds so obvious, but it’s important.  When we launched Pinger Phone, our product team picked up on that people really liked the IM feature.  It was really a texting feature that they wanted.  From that Textfree was born and as I said above, it has done really well.

Another great example is the guys who make Pocket God. They incorporate user feedback and create new content weekly. Pretty difficult to do, but they continue to pull it off, and are doing great.

#7 Go Global

globe2Several app developers have shared that ~ 50% of their sales come from outside the US.  This is too big to ignore. If you can localize the banners you use to advertise, your descriptions, and even your app, it could bring big returns.

May want to read this report on Flight Control (by Firemint) sales. There sales are 43% outside the US.

In Summary

Although the iPhone is a great opportunity, you’ve got to be able to rise above the hundreds of thousands of apps out there.  I hope these marketing tips help you be successful.


Need more help? Check out the How to Market iPhone Apps eBook!

Updates – 5/3/10

  • Textfree Unlimited has now been in the top 100 paid apps for 420 days.
  • What I think has helped it stay there is a combination of updates according to customer requests, cross promotion in our other apps, timely ad spends, and constant attention. Hope that helps.
  • I orginally mentioned that no conversion tracking existed through mobile ad networks. But Admob, Quattro, and possibly others now offer conversion tracking. Of course, this is very useful in determining how much you’re spending to get a download of your app.

photo credit: Super Dave Chen, tradetosuccess, sudhamshu

{ 94 comments… read them below or add one }

Brook Lenox October 19, 2010 at 5:04 pm

@Chris – hi there. Send you an email. Still love Admob as long as you use conversion tracking or have NO other marketing activities going on so you can estimate cost/download accurately. Don’t like Facebook ads because they are very hard to track. Good luck!

Ludmal November 7, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Good Article, this worked in my app as well.. — http://itunes.apple.com/sg/app/visit-singapore/id399627023?mt=8

Vadym December 3, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Thanks for the great advice. I will work on my app marketing and follow your ideas. Here is my app — itunes.apple.com/us/app/pixitag/id402027549?mt=8. It’s a photo tag app to annotate images.

Brook Lenox December 10, 2010 at 8:14 pm

@Vadym – looks like a nice app, although $1.99 seems a bit high. That’s just me. Best of luck!

Rod Liberal January 14, 2011 at 1:16 am

Hi Brook,

I just released my very first app and am having a hard time getting some feedback. I really thought it was a good app, but it’s getting harder to justify investing without any real motivation. Would you be willing to check it out?
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/screen-time-media-time-manager/id412387263?mt=8

I’d appreciate any feedback.

Thanks,

Rod Liberal

Avi January 14, 2011 at 9:37 am

Brook,
Thanks for the great advice. As a novice I didn’t bother about marketing, I was just concentrating on creating a great app. I have just published my first app and so far the response has been great. I fully agree with you that we need to incorporate suggestions and feedback. Feel free to leave a feedback (good/bad). I am already in a process of creating an upgrade based on the feedbacks so far. Check out my Growth-Chart apps for Moms, pediatrician at
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/growth-chart/id412528222?mt=8

Brook Lenox January 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm

@ Avi – best of luck with your next version!

Brook Lenox January 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm

@Rod – I’m super busy, but I will send you a quick email with some thoughts.

Justin Neale January 23, 2011 at 6:20 am

Great article. Its definitely given my wife and I some ideas. We just launched 2 apps aimed at babies/toddlers but didn’t really know where to start on the marketing side and don’t have lots of money to spend doing it. We will definitely try some of the ideas you mention out. Our apps are Farmyard Sounds and Vehicles HD, both really easy to use for small fingers!
Farmyard Sounds
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/farmyard-sounds/id403545638?mt=8&ls=1
and Vehicles HD
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vehicles-hd/id413882563?mt=8&ls=1
Our website has videos and lots more info about how we were inspired to create them by our daughter. http://www.nealedesigns.co.uk

……Justin

Steven Wilson February 1, 2011 at 11:36 am

I love this site. So much great information. A little worried about Admob. I have been doing a lot of reading stating that unless you have a lot of money or a strong brand you dont really see a return on your investment. Do you agree with that for people on a tight budget for marketing there app?

Brook Lenox February 12, 2011 at 12:53 pm

@ Steven – I agree with your statement that Admob can be tough to make work on a tight budget. It all depends on how much revenue you generate per user. If you can generate $2/download on Admob, but generate $2.50 over the life time of the user, it works. IF you have a budget, I’d encourage you to do a small test on Admob.

Nick Mellos February 15, 2011 at 12:18 am

Hi Brook,

Managed to get my hands on your book and some really great advices inside so kudos for your efforts. I have released an app that till now has produced only good reviews in app store but the download rate seems too low…any suggestions from you personaly that might help? Would admob make any difference for me? http://itunes.apple.com/gr/app/bet-agenda/id378089769?mt=8

Thanx in adnvance,
Nick (developer)

Brook Lenox February 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm

@ Nick – congrats on releasing your app. There are many factors that go into your marketing strategy. Do you have a clear way to monetize your app? Do you have money to spend? IF you have money to spend I think a small test on Admob would make sense. I would encourage you to read my blog, eBook, and other blogs. Then make a list of marketing efforts (some free, some paid if possible). Prioritize that list from what you think will be the most effective to least and then start working down that list. Hope that helps.

Nathan Burgess March 2, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Any suggestions on how to successfully market my app? It’s a very simple, yet effective way to have fun and/or get off the phone. I would like to target three points:
1. Easy to use.
2. Everyone should have this in their app collection for the caller(s)
that never quit talking.
3. Takes advantage of iPhone’s main function – talking on the phone!

Your help is much appreciated.
http://itunes.apple.com/app/idropcall/id422236814?mt=8

Brook Lenox March 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm

@ Nathan – read this blog :) or get my iPhone app marketing ebook!

Gretchen Fuller April 4, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Hi Brook, I have a little different situation. I have, what I believe to be, a very sellable idea that includes a small device along with an app. Can I sell my idea to iphone, or do I need to sell it on my own? I imagine it would be too spendy for me to create on my own.
Thank you, Gretchen

doinitmyway April 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I have a Christian App called Morning Prayers Daily Devotional. According to my developers for the first three weeks it is doing really well with downloads everyday being at double digits. Expecting to see the numbers grow once I figure out a good marketing strategy. You have great advice here. Will re-read the blog and look at AdMob again. People seem to be really into games but it appears they like this devotional since it is short. Working to make this one the lite version and the one currently working on the upgrade. That is great advice. Thanks. Again, great site.

Brook Lenox April 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm

@ doinitmyway – thanks. Like the sounds of the app. I’ll have to check it out. Best of luck.

Brook Lenox April 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm

@ Gretchen – might want to try MEDL Mobile – I think they might buy app ideas, although not 100% sure. I’m expecting 10% of the sale price :)

Randy Smith April 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I have an idea for an app but is there a company that will look to create and market for a percentage?

Thanks

Randy

Russell Cummings April 28, 2011 at 3:26 am

This is great stuff. Thanks.

I have developed 2 apps that are going well but could use a boost. The first is a business and personal Problem Solving App – Force Field Analysis http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/force-field-analysis/id404324958?mt=8 which I am about to update to include French, German and Spanish language versions.
The second is an app that helps you compare your business to the Competition http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/competitor-analysis/id411888293?mt=8. I am about to release the iPad version of this app. Any feedback will be appreciated. Russ

Brook Lenox April 29, 2011 at 1:01 pm

@ Russell – the only feedback I have is pretty obvious. Since these are niche business apps, some of the things I suggested (Admob ads for example) will likely not apply. You’ll need to use more grass roots efforts in building a user base (like approaching reviewers, bloggers, etc). Good luck!

Brook Lenox April 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm

@ Randy – check out MEDL mobile.

Bryce Christiansen May 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Thanks for your post. We have just finished developing a web app and are looking at ways to market. Your post was very helpful. Will definitely be back to learn more.

Brook Lenox May 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

@ Bryce – you are welcome. Glad to help.

Deeps May 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Great article.
We just launched an app on iPhone http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/baghchal/id439564667?mt=8

We will certainly use the techniques suggested above to improve it.

Reza Hussain June 8, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I am going to try these with my new app

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ripped/id436217605?mt=8

Brook Lenox June 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm

@ Reza – good luck!

Jean A. June 11, 2011 at 5:00 pm

the amount of info I found on your website is invaluable. We are designing what we believe will be a hot must have beauty app, but since it targets a niche market, we have to find specific ways to market it. while our app is in development we are doing our research to find out how to get it before women, and it’s tough, what are some of the app review sites specifically geared for women and beauty apps etc.

check us out on Salonconfidentialmagazine.com our app is called “Stylista by Salon Confidential Magazine” and we beleive it will be a game changer for the salon and beauty industry also for anyone who may be interested in our progress on the app please follow us online at stylistabysc on twitter and as salonconfidentialmagazine on facebook

Jack Burger June 13, 2011 at 8:11 am

Hi Brook,

Thanks for the advice
Currently sales are low but I’m busy creating ‘lite’ version
I think App Review Sites is the way to go

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mycar/id440763677?mt=8&ls=1

Regards,

Jack

Brook Lenox June 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm

@ Jack – you bet, good luck.

Brook Lenox June 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm

@ Jean – sounds interesting. Good luck with your new app.

Angela June 29, 2011 at 8:11 am

Hello Brook.
I am helping my brother and his wife with their apple game development company as summer intern. My brother asked me to help figure out ways to market their recently released game. It is the companies first game, and I have been doing tons of research and came across this page. The information was invaluable and the link under the free exposure section was something I had been looking for, for a while now.
I do want to ask though, we have a brand new game coming out by the end of this summer, and I feel I may be failing at my job of marketing. We had no budget for our game Aqua Burst, so I stuck with submitting to review saites. Yet none returned my emails or have yet to review the game. We have a great game and everyone who plays it says its addictive, but our sales just are not moving. We get a small trickle of a handful of downloads a week if we are lucky.
What can we do to market our first game better, and maybe what can we do for our next game? We will have a marketing budget for our next game, but since it may be a low limit budget we really need great ideas to stretch our budget. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Maybe check out our lite version of our game, I truly think Aqua burst could have been the newest, addictive crave when he showed it to me.
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/aqua-burst-lite/id438181210?mt=8
Thank you,
Angela
Marketing Intern
AlgoCrunch Inc

Shweta July 1, 2011 at 8:10 am

Hi Brook,

Thanks for all the advice. I tried implementing some of that and even reached in top 100 of category Games->Word in US. Though after that the sales dropped drastically.
Could you please have a look and suggest a strategy?
http://itunes.com/apps/appkruti/catchaword
Appreciate any feedback and help.
Regards
Shweta

ANSHU July 4, 2011 at 4:18 am

Hi,

I would like to ask you a simple question about releasing an app. I would like to release an app with ten puzzles. I would like to give 2 puzzles for free and rest paid. I would like to release only one version of the app as a free app and you have to pay to get rest of the puzzles. I dont want to release a lite version. Just one version which you can update to get all the puzzles. I am hoping that in this way the number of downloads dont get distributed between the lite version and paid version and it would be easier to climb the ranking for the top free app. On the contrary I see most of the successful apps having a lite and paid version both. I am confused and would like to know your thoughts on this.

Thanks in advance for your help.
Anshu

Jake July 6, 2011 at 6:15 am

Very informative. Thanks!

Here’s my first-ever app if anyone’s interested to check it out:

http://itunes.apple.com/app/crazy-kite-lite/id445818037?mt=8

It’s a kite-flying game!

Hunter July 13, 2011 at 11:39 am

Hi Brook,

I think all of your info was really good. I also think that you should add something about using google analytics and implementing it into your website so you can track the traffic there….In my opinion the app store format people always link to is not always the best source to show off your app. And if you get people always going to your website instead of apples, then you can track that, and where those users are coming from so that you can focus your attention there! Also integrating social media platforms such as Hootsuite, where you can track which tweets are getting clicked on, is a great tool for us developers.

Check out my new app I have created for renters. My Rent Report…
http://www.myrentreport.com

Let me know what you think of my ideas.

Karthick K August 15, 2011 at 5:57 am

I have a website for app promotion. If anyone interested please click my name to visit the site.

Brook Lenox August 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm

@ Hunter – I think it’s good to have a website, but the main focus should be the iPhone ecosystem. Most people will find your apps on their device, so I’d spend time getting people to iTunes.

Brook Lenox August 26, 2011 at 2:56 pm

@ Shweta – you are very welcome. Don’t have any additional ideas beyond what I’ve shared in my articles!

Brook Lenox August 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm

@ Anshu I’m a big fan of having free apps or a free & paid app combination. Having just paid apps is too limiting. I’d suggest promoting your free app and then putting hooks in that free app encouraging people to upgrade. That’s my 2 cents.

Brook Lenox August 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm

@ Angela – marketing with no $$$ is becoming more and more difficult! You have to choose to spend or just keep trying to get attention of forums, blogs, and review sites. Good luck!

Carmin Harty September 22, 2011 at 4:23 am

Hi,

i have an idea for an app, but have no idea who can build it and sell it. can you help?

Brook Lenox October 11, 2011 at 8:15 pm

@Carmin – I’d suggest you check out MEDL Mobile.

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