So you just finished building a new mobile app. It’s ready to launch. You’re excited. Time to dive in and watch the downloads roll through.
Except you don’t know a thing about mobile app marketing.
It’s not the same as marketing a web app, SaaS product, or any other platform. The key to mobile app marketing is velocity — how fast you’re getting downloads.
Velocity is important because the App Store is biased towards apps that are trending over established apps that have been around for a while. Being higher in the rankings means you’ll get more downloads organically as people spot you while browsing the App Store.
Taken together, this creates a virtuous circle:
- New app gets a burst of initial downloads
- App starts getting organic downloads from users searching the app store
- App builds number of positive reviews, download rate increases
- Rank increases due to increased velocity of downloads
- More users see your app in the rankings, organic downloads increase
- Higher rank makes it more likely you’ll be written about by the press
- Free press exposure drives more downloads, rank increases…
…and so on.
In mobile app marketing, word of mouth is always your number 1 marketing channel. It acts as an accelerant to the process outlined above.
More downloads = more people telling friends about your app
More friends = more downloads
More downloads = higher App Store rank
Higher App Store rank = more downloads
We could go on and on but you get the idea.
So, knowing how this works, your job is to maximize downloads.
We’ve outlined a 3-phase process to create a viral download loop around your mobile app. This process covers everything from testing your app for quality to running smart ad campaigns and beyond.
Along the way you’ll find Featured Ladder Tactics drawn straight from the Ladder Playbook to help you make an even bigger impact on launch day.
Featured Tactic: App Screenshot Variations
The screenshots you use for your app are the most important part of your app store page.
They’re the most important factor when a user decides to download your app. Run A/B tests on images and image order to see what works best.
Want to make a huge splash with your new mobile app?
Phase 1) Make sure everything works
It’s prohibitively expensive to advertise a mediocre and non-functional app.
Without a good number of five-star reviews, you won’t be getting the downloads and high App Store rankings you want. But that all starts with quality. If your app is terribly optimized, crashes all the time, and doesn’t work as advertised, you’ll either get 0 downloads or you’ll get a ton of angry feedback.
This hurts. You’ll get fewer friend referrals and free press and you’re going to have a bad time. So focus on reaping the benefits of having a bug-free app that addresses a genuine need.
Yes, this approach will force you to delay your launch, but for mobile apps, it’s better to get it right than to just get it done.
Featured Tactic: Mobile App Onboarding
Using a mobile app is different from using the web version of your product, so create a customized onboarding flow for new mobile users.
Explaining your app, showing each section and its functions, and guiding users through their first action immediately engages them with your app and ensures that they don’t bounce early due to confusion or lack of context.
Step 1) Beta test your app
Before you officially launch, test your app with actual users. If you’ve started collecting emails for a launch event, grab a subset of those users and put them on a beta version of the app. If you don’t have a beta user base handy, you still have options.
Sites like UserTesting, services like BetaList, and communities like Reddit will let you access an interested audience of early adopters who will be more than willing to critique your work, discover bugs, and give you feedback.
Featured Tactic: App Performance
After launching your app, focus on quick turnaround on bug fixes, increasing transition speeds and smoothness, decreasing app crash rates, and focusing on end to end stability and speed optimization.
This will ensure that you get high app store ratings from happy users and that you won’t lose users who find your app frustrating and difficult to use.
Step 2) Build and test a final version
Once you’ve gathered all these insights, it’s time to respond. Get your dev team to work on the most crucial of fixes. Focusing most on crashes, functionality issues, and bugs will make sure that your first public version will at least be stable.
Your beta audience will also likely ask for features they deem missing or necessary. Triaging those features and adding in the ones you consider most important is a good way to earn good will.
Once that’s ready, it’s time to push your app to the App Store.
Step 3) App Store optimization
Featured Tactic: App Description Optimization
Optimize your app description to increase app install rate and your app page’s conversion rate.
Use keyword optimization tactics and high-quality copy, treating your app store page as a landing page of its own. This can increase interest in your app and drive users to install.
Don’t guess how to convince people to download your app. Split test a few different messages via Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, or Google AdWords with a small budget. You’re certain to learn something you didn’t know about your audience.
Run ads with different copy and creative approaches – descriptive information, app screenshots, etc… Use small CPC bids and target your audience to see what copy and imagery works best. Once you have this information, it’s time to optimize your App Store listing.
Optimizing your App Store listing means treating it as a separate landing page in itself. That means paying attention to the copy you use in your description. It also means taking an SEO- and keyword-minded approach to the way you write that copy. Finally, it means picking the right imagery and even video content to get visitors hooked and eager to download.
Use the information you gain from your small advertising and SEO tests to guide this approach. Keep testing and iterating until you find a combination that drives downloads.
Featured Tactic: App Store Preview Video
Your app needs a preview video. Without a preview video, you significantly limit your chances of getting featured.
For inspiration search through a number of competitor’s app store pages and see how they approach it – what elements can you borrow? Where can you be different? You should also go back and look at the preview windows for the apps that you use most often or admire most.
Step 4) Seed early reviews
Early App Store success comes with good reviews. And a great way to earn those good reviews, beyond taking step 2 seriously and creating a bug-free release version, is to ask for them.
Seed your early reviews from your friends, family, and beta list. Ask them directly to download your app, play around with it, and pop in their review in the App Store. Even if it’s just them giving stars, that first push will get your ranking up.
The higher-rated your app, the lower your cost of acquisition when you finally start running app install ads, and getting at least five five-star reviews get your app to show up in searches.
Note: You’ll have to do this every time you release a new update to your app. While reviews don’t reset, the App Store prioritizes reviews for new versions, which can affect your search rankings. This is also helpful if you release a buggy version, get bad reviews, and want to hit the “Reset” button.
Phase 2) Hit them hard, all at once, with everything you’ve got
A good app will get more press than a new app, so don’t set yourself up to fail by coordinating your launch campaign with the day the app goes live.
Instead, launch early, gather data, run tests, and find a winning combination.
Then hit them hard.
Your goal will be to get as many downloads in a 36 hour period as possible. That means you’ll need to coordinate all of your efforts to land at once. If done right, you’ll successfully convince the App Store’s algorithms that you’re a big deal – worthy of a high rank.
Step 1) Inform your insiders
Don’t be afraid to spam your friends and beta users — they will forgive you so long as it doesn’t become a habit.
Send a MailChimp email blast out to all users, add a popup on your mobile site, and create a banner on your desktop site.
Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, it can even be obnoxious. But it’s a one-time thing for an exciting moment in your app’s life. You shouldn’t be doing this every time you update your app, certainly, but for its big launch, go all out.
Your insiders will be your first major source of reviews and traffic. Make sure you send personalized emails and make the hard ask for downloads and reviews. You already have a relationship with them, so they’ll be likely to download.
And don’t hesitate to follow up if people don’t open your email!
Step 2)Run ads
It’s time to run ads driving app installs.
Push to go ROI negative on your marketing at this point if possible – forced growth during this period will pay back dividends when your increased rank starts to drive organic downloads.
A high spend on ads will help you get that initial boost of traction you need to start driving more attention to your app. Getting installs means getting users in your system. A prompt within the app during use asking for a rating can convert those users into even more organic traffic for your app.
Pro tip: Create an app download page on your site that will show up for SEO. Add a site link extension in your brand paid search campaigns to make it even more accessible.
Featured Tactic: Twitter App Install Ad
Twitter’s App Card is a powerful ad format that allows mobile users to preview an image, view app ratings, and install or open an app directly from their timelines. Use it to drive downloads straight from your promoted Tweets.
Step 3) Social, blog, and press
Post on all social media platforms. Ideally, by now you’ve spent time cultivating a social following and building buzz for your app. Sharing reminds people at the right time that your app is out.
Don’t forget LinkedIn, especially if your app caters to professionals. Chances are your personal network and that of your colleagues is directly relevant to your app. Create a post on your blog and share it in relevant LinkedIn Groups to access a highly targeted audience.
Featured Tactic: Milestone Journalist Pitch
Hitting an important milestone, whether it’s the initial launch of your product, a major and exciting update, a favorable ranking from an influential ratings site, or any other major news is a perfect opportunity to pitch journalists directly.
If they pick up the news and write articles, you’ll earn more awareness and site traffic from interested readers. Pitch your milestone to journalists who cover your space to ensure the news is relevant to them and their readers.
Ideally, you’ve also been building a list of bloggers, journalists, and other influencers to reach out to. This is in the hopes of both app reviews and features/shares. Send highly personalized emails (ideally prepared earlier) to your list. Also, submit your app for review by major publications in your field that deal with technology.
Pro tip: If you haven’t built this list of influencers and journalists yet, sign up for a BuzzSumo Pro account to quickly find relevant influencers. Use ClearBit, Connectifier, or Rapportive to find email addresses. Or better yet, find a freelancer on UpWork to get quick turnaround.
Finally, make sure you submit your app to relevant directories. Places like G2 Crowd, AlternativeTo, Angel List, Crunchbase, etc.. are all good places to list your app/business. Sites like Startuplister can do this for you themselves for cheap if you have the budget.
Phase 3) Maintain momentum going forward
At this point your initial blast should be working, and you should be seeing the initial traction start to come through in organic downloads — the key now is to maintain that momentum as long as possible.
Email any users that didn’t click or open your first email to remind them to download your app — this can work particularly well.
Continue your conversation with influencers who haven’t written about you — telling them when you get featured as ‘app of the week’ in one publication is likely to convince them you are worth writing about.
Keep updating and refining your App Store page to make sure you’re visually attracting users. Make sure you work on retention as well, reactivating users that have dropped off your platform.
Twitter App Re-Engagement Ad
Have users that have downloaded your app but dropped off the face of the earth? Chances are they liked what they saw but just forgot about your app. Re-engaging them with promoted app card ads that direct them straight back to your app is a great way to boost retention. Let users open your mobile app straight from a Tweet and watch as they flock right back to it.
This strategy isn’t guaranteed to work — App marketing is a competitive, high-stakes game. There will always be the risk you blow your whole marketing budget and barely move the needle.
But at the end of the day, the best marketing plan is just to have a good app. Failing that, this plan should help you get the best bang for your buck. A good app + this guide will make it more likely you’ll see your download numbers rocketing upwards.