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My Apps Don’t Make Money – How to Diagnose an App Failure

app failure app success
Photo Credit: StockMonkeys.com

Are you frustrated because your apps don’t make money? If you’re new to app development, app flipping, and/or app reskinning, it’s not uncommon for your apps to not make money, or if they do, not the amount you imagined. Did you see yourself sipping a drink on the beach while you bought that hot new source code? Trust me, my partner and I have been there…

What do you do when your app fails? If you reskin an app and it doesn’t make money, do you have any options?

Quick Note: This post is intended for iOS apps, but the general principles and guidelines discussed can be applied to other markets.

Well, first think about the question…

Why is it that your Apps Don’t Make Money?

This might seem obvious, but when you’re building apps quickly, sometimes your app will tank and you forget to step back to ask yourself this question. Why exactly isn’t the app making money?

It all comes down to two possibilities, both of which could be the case. Let’s look at each one, and while you’re reading, think about an app you made that failed, and try to figure out which bucket your app falls into, if not both.

My Apps Don’t Get Downloads

This should be pretty easy to understand. Take a look at how many downloads you’re getting each day and compare it to other apps you have released. If you haven’t released many (or any) other apps, take a look around online for posts that share real app data.

My Apps Don’t Monetize

Maybe you’re getting a normal or even high amount of downloads, but the money isn’t pouring in. Again, you should probably compare this to some type of benchmark. If you reskinned a source code, did the developer provide some hard data that you can compare against? That’s always helpful. You can use other people’s data or your own and compare it to other apps, but in either case, you should have an idea of how much money per download this app should make. You need to be realistic, though. Don’t compare your Bingo app to your Personality Quiz app. Various styles of apps will perform differently–for example, in this case, a Bingo app in the Casino category will likely hit hard and fast, while a content-based-code (CBC) app might be more of a long-term play in terms of monetization.

Once you have determined which bucket you’re in (and again, you could be in both buckets), we need to ask “why” again.

Why Don’t My Apps Get Downloads?

Here we have another two buckets. I know, there are lots of buckets… but this “tree” or “path” can help you quickly dissect what the issue is, and you can choose to fix it or come up with a new strategy for your next app. As before, it’s possible to be in more than one bucket, so you really need to think about your app and try to see it from someone else’s perspective. Better yet, get someone else’s perspective! If you’re struggling with this exercise, feel free to leave a comment below with a link to your app so we (and our readers) can give some feedback.

The first bucket:

Users Can’t Find My App in the App Store

If users just aren’t finding your app in the store, this is probably the best case scenario, especially if you’re not in any other bucket. The reason is that if this is your only issue, you could be making $1.00 per download with your free app because people who download it buy in-app purchases and click on the ads… and if that’s the case, congratulations! It’s time to enter the world of paid advertising.

Finding your app can feel like looking for Waldo.
Photo Credit: Carolyn Coles

Sadly, it’s more likely that you’re in multiple buckets, or you’re not making a lot of money per download. What this boils down to is a marketing issue. People need to find your app, and that’s what ASO (App Store Optimization) is all about. ASO is a whole topic on its own, but most of what it comes down to is:

  1. Title – We recommend using a title like:
    “Halloween Casino – Spin the Wheel to Win the Prize”
    Adding keywords to your title is an easy way to broaden the amount of words that your app will show up in the results for.
    Tip: Don’t stuff your title with keywords, though, unless you don’t mind being rejected and having to change it.
  2. Keywords – Use all 100 characters allowed and don’t add spaces:
    scary,spooky,gambling,party,spin,win,coin,
    treat,play,candy,chip,ghost,cash,trick,
    jackpot,contest,cat
    Use words that aren’t in your title, and don’t use plurals. For example, don’t write “cats.” Just write “cat” and Apple should automatically count “cats” for you. For keyword ideas, try SensorTower.com. Look at an app that gets a solid amount of downloads, but one that isn’t in the Top Grossing charts in the App Store. Why? Top Grossing apps pay for their downloads. You want to find an app that gets their downloads organically. Using their keywords should give you a better chance of success. Second, beginners are probably using the keywords of Top Grossing apps, so those words are probably more competitive anyway!
    Tip: Using SensorTower, make a long list of keywords from a few solid-performing apps, and then take out the words that you don’t think apply to your app. Also try to eliminate really long keywords since they take up a lot of space, unless you’re convinced that it will get you a lot more downloads.
  3. Non-ASO Marketing Tactics – I’m putting all of this in one section because the rest of these options are much more time consuming, and if you’re all about speed and volume, then these might not be worth your time.
    • Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. – Have any pull or a good amount of followers on social networks? This could be a good source of free downloads. Instagram has worked well for us.
    • Press Release – And possibly use a service to distribute it
    • Landing Page and/or Website
    • Posting about it in Blogs, Facebook Groups, etc.
    • Pay for Sites to Review your App – I haven’t heard of many people having success with this.
    • Pay for Downloads/Advertise – Only do this if you make more money per download than you’re paying for, or if you can afford to run a burst campaign that will get you in the Top Charts.

    There are many ways to get your app out there, but I would only resort to non-ASO Marketing Tactics if you have the time and/or money.

App saturation can be a factor that’s influencing the ability of your app to be found in the App Store, but I feel like this is the easy excuse. When you think about it, other people are making money from similar apps, right? Then why can’ t you? If you’re convinced it’s a saturation problem, try reskinning the app in more of a niche theme to capitalize on different keywords that others aren’t going after.

Users Find My App But Choose Not to Download It

Again, this is about marketing, but less about App Store Optimization and more about your app itself. The users found your app but aren’t downloading it, so this means you couldn’t sell them on it. If you want to convert users and have them download your app, then you should consider these factors:

  1. Icon – Your icon needs to look good if you want a user to pay attention. You can easily license graphics or hire a designer to come up with something nice. Not sure which icon to use? Try Googling about A/B Split Testing, or just ask around. Again, feel free to post a comment below to get some feedback.
  2. Screenshots – These need to look good. If you’re all about speed and volume, you might be using literal screenshots of your app. But stepping this up and creating images that sell your app should give you a better result, especially if the app is used in landscape mode. You’ll notice that many games played in landscape mode have portrait screen shots–that’s because you can only browse the App Store in portrait mode, so screen shots are easier to view in that orientation.
  3. Description – The description isn’t as important as the icon and screen shots, but this can easily affect a person’s decision to download your app. Try to sell them on why they should download your app.

Now it’s time to move to the second big bucket…

Why Don’t My Apps Monetize?

Alright, so this is the big one. If you’re in the app game, chances are you’re looking to make a solid return on your investment–you’re in this to make money. The most common ways to make money with apps is from ads and in-app purchases, so we’ll take a look at each one. Obviously there are more ways (affiliate programs, etc.), but for the majority of you, and in the interest of not boring you to death, these two will suffice.

Apps Don't Make Money
Photo Credit: Tax Credits

Why Don’t Users Buy My In-App Purchases?

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but simply put, your app isn’t good enough for some reason. I know, it’s terrible and hard to hear. You have to be objective about this, though. Assuming you have downloads, if you have little to no in-app purchases, something is wrong with the app itself. So what could that be?

  1. In-App Purchase Price – I’m listing this first because it’s the easiest to test. Schedule an in-app purchase price change on a certain day in the future and try it out for a week. Compare that to the revenue of the previous week, but make sure you divide it by the number of downloads so that you factor out changes in download numbers. Then take a look at whether or not your revenue per user was better… the problem could be a simple pricing issue.
    Try discounting the price and sending out a push notification about it. Does that help? If not, your problem is probably bigger…
  2. Development – If development isn’t up to par or it was built for iOS 6, people will notice. Are there bugs? Again, people will notice. No one wants to buy an in-app purchase for an app that’s completely outdated or buggy.
  3. Graphic Design – Does it look good and fit in with the current iOS version? If not, you might need to step it up with the graphics.
  4. UI– This is the user interface. Can people even find the in-app purchases? Try making the user go through the store before playing the game.
  5. Content and/or Gameplay – This can be tough to fix and can be a combination of the above, so hopefully you did your research before developing or reskinning the app. The content should be leaving users wanting more or the gameplay should leave users wanting to play more.
  6. “That’s Not What I Wanted!”– Have you ever downloaded an app based on a keyword, only to realize that it’s not at all what you were looking for? This is a possibility and shouldn’t be ruled out. Maybe you played off a great keyword, but it’s not relevant for your app. This is why we recommend using keywords that actually apply to users that will enjoy your app. Another possibility is that you paid for incentivized downloads of your app. In that case, you got a low-quality user who probably didn’t want your app to begin with. Last, if you used some sort of marketing scheme, it’s possible that the people who downloaded your app weren’t really interested in the first place.
5 star app reviews can make you more money with apps
Photo Credit: ChrisL_AK

Tip: Read your reviews! Calendar it. Do whatever you have to do to check in and see what people have to say. It could simply be that there’s a small bug that you can fix very quickly.

You can probably confirm that something is wrong with your app if you have access to app analytics, like Flurry. Analytics are relatively easy to install–even we can handle it for you. Just contact us if you’re interested.

If your number of sessions per user metric is low and/or your average time in app is low, that’s a symptom of one or many of the bigger problems mentioned above.

Why Don’t My App Ads Make Money?

Ad revenue is really about two things: impressions and clicks (or installs). Here come the buckets again…

Why Are My Ads Not Getting (a lot of) Impressions?

  1. Are the Ads On? – I know… am I serious? Well, yes. When you’re launching tens or hundreds of apps and you disable ads before sending them in to Apple in order to prevent rejection, you might forget to turn them back on. I’ve seen it happen before… so make sure you double check. Along those lines, if you’re using a More Apps page, make sure it’s displaying apps other than your own so you can make money from those installs.
  2. Placement– Where do you place the ads? There’s a good chance that a user will only open your app once, even if (you think) it’s awesome. That’s why we approve of ads right at the opening screen, and even double-popping two different ad networks right at launch. If you’re not showing a lot of ads, or users can get away without seeing any, you won’t get the impressions you need in order to make a solid amount of money, unless you’re getting a ton of downloads.
  3. Fill Rate – Are ads even showing up? Fill rate shouldn’t be an issue with a bigger ad network, but it’s something to think about and rule out. This seems to happen more frequently with banner ads, and it can help to use a banner ad mediation service so that you have a 99.9% fill rate (and also show the ones that will pay you the most).
  4. A Bigger Problem – Back to the same issue with In-App Purchases… it’s possible that your app just isn’t good enough, and so your metrics aren’t good. If that’s the case, you’re not going to get the number of ad impressions that you should be getting, and that will affect the number of installs you drive for other apps, which leads to a lower revenue for you. You should take a look at the section above about In-App Purchases to diagnose further. App analytics can confirm this problem.

Why Are My Ads Not Getting (a lot of) Clicks and Installs?

This is a bit of a gray area, but what this comes down to is irrelevant ads. The user is not clicking on the ads and installing the apps because the ads don’t apply to him or her. The key to fixing this issue is understanding what ads are showing and why these aren’t appealing to your users.

  1.  Ad Network– Irrelevant ads can be caused by an ad network–for example, if you have a casino app, it would be best to use AppLovin or Upsight. If you have a puzzle game, it might be best to use Revmob or Chartboost. Look at some data on which ad networks have the best eCPMs to pick which ad networks to display.
    Tip: Some ad networks (like Chartboost for example) allow you to filter out certain types of ads, like religion or gambling, or even specific apps themselves. It’s a good idea to regularly review this data and eliminate ads that don’t perform well with your users. Check out our post on improving Chartboost eCPM for more information. On the flipside, consider making a direct deal with another app that compliments your app. Direct deals allow you to make more money per download that you refer.
  2. Types of Ads– Along the lines of ad network is ad type. Banner ads are known to have terrible eCPMs (cost per thousand impressions, or in your case, the amount of money you make per thousand impressions).
  3. A Bigger Problem– The ads could also be irrelevant because the user that downloaded your app thought they were getting something different; however, if this is the case, you’ll probably also see a low impression rate, because your metrics won’t be great with an app that has a “bigger problem” like this.

Tip: Try using a custom frame if you’re using Chartboost or any other ad network that allows it. This can make the ad pop a little more and make it look better in your app. This has been known to increase your CTR and IR (click-through rate and install rate).

Test, Publish, and Test Some More

If you’re an app reskinner, then many times, it’s best to let a failure be and just publish a new app. That way, you’ll get the nice 7-30 day boost from having a new app in the App Store. Even if you choose to do that, take this guide into consideration so that your changes will improve your results for your newest app. What I love about the reskinning model is that you can get an app in the store very quickly and inexpensively, so you can test something, publish a new app, and test again.

[Tweet “Don’t forget: after every app you publish, you learn something. What have you learned?”]

Need a code to publish in the App Store for cheap? We give away a Personality Quiz source code to every person that joins our mailing list, and it includes a free video tutorial showing you how to reskin it. It doesn’t get much better than that. You can sign up for our mailing list at the top right of this page. Need help reskinning an app or adding an SDK? Contact us for a quote.

Whew! So what buckets are you in? Hopefully this guide to diagnosing your app failure helped you figure it all out. If you’re still having trouble understanding what the problem could be, or if you think we missed something, feel free to comment below.

Best of luck!
Justin

app marketing

Flappy Bird and App Reviews – Why is it Number 1 on the Top Charts in the App Store?

As of right now, on average, a new Tweet about Flappy Bird app reviews is happening every minute. Insane. What caused this storm of hilarious app reviews? What really made this game viral? How did it reach the top of the top charts in the App Store? And why this game… a game that the developer himself–Dong Nguyen–admits took him only a couple of days to create? He even re-used graphics from his other games.

But take a look at these reviews and you’ll see why they’d go viral:

You have to admit that some of these are funny.

I tend to follow in Carter Thomas’ footsteps and generally agree with his perspective. He blasted Flappy Bird in his latest blog post, claiming it’s smoke and mirrors and the reviews are all fake. He says the “terrible reviews” give 5 stars and all have similar words–and are thus obviously created by a bot. I wouldn’t go that far… that can easily be explained by plagiarism. When something like this (think memes) goes viral, kids and even adults will copy others in order to try to ride the wave in hopes of being posted on a huge Instagram or Twitter account. Clearly, people are copying the funniest posts and reviewing the app with similar comments.

But Carter does make a good point–why are his other games doing so well then? He isn’t cross-promoting. The only way someone would see his other games is by clicking on “other games by this developer,” and that has not proven to be significant for Carter, or us. That’s where things seem fishy to me, and it’s possible he gets the ball rolling by using bots as fake downloads… or this is just SO viral that people are exploring his other games on their own, without cross-promotion.

While I think it’s possible that he gamed the system to get up the rankings in the first place, using App Store bots and the like, the “viralness” of these reviews speak for themselves and Flappy Bird wouldn’t be where it is today if that didn’t happen. I don’t think someone could even coordinate the reviews going viral. Banking on that happening is pretty insane. In my opinion, it’s just one of those things that happens to a lucky someone. Think of it as winning the lottery. This could only really happen with an app that is somewhat addictive and terrible at the same time. Flappy Bird fits that description quite nicely. And slearly he didn’t plan for it, judging by the fact that it’s the #1 Free App in Downloads, but nowhere on the Top Grossing list. So sad.

With all that said, how did it start? What got the game noticed in the first place? We’ll probably never know. I do know that having over a million followers across social network accounts (which I don’t think he has) can get you downloads, but going viral is out of your control. Trust us, we’ve been there. Actually, we are there, having over a million followers through various networks, and we couldn’t make this happen if we dedicated a year to it.

The crazy thing is how simple this game would be to reskin and clone, and there are already clones gaining traction. But the success of this one is clearly not due to the game’s mechanics, but a series of reviews that sparked a series of reviews and so on–something that is nearly impossible to recreate. Or is it?

Did he just get lucky? Or did he use bots and fake reviews to climb the ladder and ride the wave from there? Am I way off here? What are your thoughts?

app marketing

SensorTower and Why You Should Use It For Search Optimization

Internet Splat Map by jurvetson, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jurvetson 

I recently discovered that after using SensorTower.com‘s tools for App Store search optimization for a good year or so, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. It actually makes me sad that it’s taken me this long to realize the potential of the public data offered on this site, especially since I consider myself a data analysis nerd. Just ask Lee. While attending Pepperdine University for our MBAs, Lee witnessed me doing extra assignments in our Data Analysis class just because I thought it was fun.

Anyway, while I could probably write a full post about each feature the site offers, I think it would be helpful for friends of our blog to quickly summarize what you can do there and why you should use it. Perhaps later we can dive into details of our favorite features and the best ways to use them in order to maximize benefits and profitability for your app. I’d also like to spark a place for discussion… how do you use Sensor Tower? Have you tried all of these features? Which are your favorites? What new features would you like to see?

So let’s get started…

Free Features

  • Search Rankings – Sensor Tower’s Search Rankings let you see how your keywords are currently performing and how they have performed over time. Breakdowns show how heavily searched those keywords are, how difficult it is to rank high with those keywords, and what your app’s ranking is. For example, our Pixtant app has an iPad ranking of #3 for the keyword “Voting.” “Voting” has a traffic score (computed by SensorTower) of 4.3 and an iPad difficulty of only 2.3. More on this later. You can also compare this to your competitors. And of course you can download the data–a data nerd’s dream.
  • Translate – I can’t believe I’m just learning about this one now. If you follow some other app reskinning blogs and gurus closely, you’ve probably heard about the importance of translating your app description and keywords to various other languages, especially to Simplified/Traditional Chinese and Spanish. Well, enter SensorTower and their tool for translating your keywords into 21 other languages. Not only that, but they will tell you how many characters you have left in each language… all in one place and with 1 click of the mouse. Ridiculous that this is given away for free!

  • Keyword Research – This is a really cool feature that is great for search optimization for an app. As I mentioned above, you can see how difficult it is to rank with a specific keyword, as well as how popular the search term is. This is vital information. You never want to use a keyword that is searched very little and/or is incredibly competitive. For example, the word “photo” has a traffic rating of 5.7, but an iPhone difficulty rank of 6.8 (the higher, the worse your odds of ranking well). Don’t waste your time with these words… users will never find your app based on this search term because there’s just too much competition. Knowing that can save you from wasted keywords, and researching better words can improve your download rate significantly. And as a bonus, Sensor Tower lists which apps perform best for the keyword you’re researching.

  • Keyword Spy – This might be the most popular tool, because it’s similar to the one that you see when you first visit SensorTower.com. If you haven’t seen this, you’re missing out. Basically, you get to see what keywords other apps are using. It’s surprisingly accurate, too, because I’ve actually tried searching for our own apps, and comparing what Sensor Tower’s keywords show vs. the actual keywords. Most of them were spot on. Oh, and when logged in/registered with SensorTower, this feature goes a step further and compares your competitor’s keywords with yours, showing you which keywords are shared.
  • Track Downloads – A few sites offer this, so you might not need it, but if you’d like to have everything in once place, you can also have SensorTower track your downloads. They present it very neatly with graphs and charts, and the important data is imported: dates, revenues, countries, etc.

There are lots of other features in paid versions of Sensor Tower, including Intelligent Suggestion and better automatic analyses. I highly recommend you start using at least some of these features if you’re serious about search optimization and improving your app’s download figures.

Also, don’t forget to join the mailing list on the right side of the page to get your free source code, and for exclusive content and coupons for courses on reskinning apps.

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