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

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

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


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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