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Blast-off: How to successfully launch a mobile app

You made the decision to build a mobile app, and your team has been tirelessly working on design and development for months. Now you need to focus on the launch.

As you know, your app faces some stiff competition in the marketplace, with more than 4 million apps available for download in the Android and Apple app stores as of Q3 2018. Do you (or someone on your team) know how to promote an app?

If your answer is no, there is no need to worry. We have helped a number of companies launch their apps and are happy to share what we have learned. These tips can help you increase app findability, downloads, and revenue.

How to launch a mobile app

Before you release your mobile app into the market, we recommend making sure it is truly ready for launch. We have found there are additional steps to take beyond the traditional build process that can make the difference between launching an app that simply works and a working app that is also successful—earning top-line revenue for your company.

Optimize your mobile app for search

You may be familiar with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but are you aware of App Store Optimization (ASO)? The concept is very similar to SEO, determining where your app is listed when an app store user enters certain search terms.

Just as with SEO, there are several factors that contribute to ASO, including number of downloads, positive reviews, and the keywords used in the app name and description. Of these factors, keywords—especially those in the app name—play a big role in ASO.

Let’s not forget, though, that app names are limited to 50 characters and keyword stuffing is a bad idea. This makes it important to strike a balance.

Try to come up with one or two focus keywords to include in the mobile app name. A concise name allows you to also include a very brief description of the app within the title. For example, the popular letgo app is listed as “letgo: Buy & Sell Used Stuff.” This is a catchy, short name, followed by a brief description that lets every user know exactly what the app does.

Comprehensive quality control and security

We know from experience how difficult comprehensive quality control can be. But we also know how important it is.

Quality refers to both the quality and application security of your code, but also encompasses the overall quality of your product. Load times, performance bugs, and other issues should be uncovered and addressed through a proper Quality Assurance (QA) process.

Discovering bugs post-launch is bad for business, which is why we recommend conducting thorough application security and QA testing throughout the entire development process. This typically involves a combination of both manual testing and automated testing tools, in addition to user testing.

There are tools available to streamline this process, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. The right tool correlates results from multiple testing tools and identifies the issues that pose the most serious threats to your application (and reputation).

Quality control is an area where outside help is a good idea if your internal team is not well-versed in the proper processes and tools.

Implement app analytics

Analytics are the key to growing your app—adding improvements and increasing your user base. The right tools need to be in place before you go to market or you miss out on critical data.

Accurate and real-time measurements of downloads, user sessions, and churn help you monitor and manage the app once it is in the marketplace.

The purpose of analytics is to track when/if/how people use the app, learn from the data, and continue to make the app better. Tools such as Google Mobile Analytics are available to make this process easier to manage.

Formally plan the launch

It would be great if you could just publish to the app store and be confident users will download your app. But as most of us know, reality is quite different. “Build it and they will come” is a recipe for failure.

Even an initial download does not equate to success. A recent survey found that more than half of users deleted an app from their smartphone within the last week. That’s where a formal mobile app launch strategy comes into play.

You may have a marketing plan in place for post-launch, but there are also steps to take even before your app is available for download. For example, contact the Apple and Android app stores to see if your app can be a featured app to reach a wider audience base during the initial launch period.

You can also publicize the pending launch through blogs and social media. This can be very powerful if you have a relationship with any social influencers within the app market you’re trying to reach. A Facebook post or tweet from a well-followed gamer is some of the best publicity you can get for your gaming app.

Consider whether your app would benefit from advertising, and, if so, what mediums are best for reaching your target audience. A little bit of pre-launch marketing can go a long way when done correctly.

Select the app store(s) that will yield the best results

While Google Play and the Apple App Store are the most common distribution channels, your app will face a lot of competition. It can be difficult to make your app stand out from the millions of apps available. You may want to consider other options, such as the Amazon Appstore or GetJar, where there is less competition.

If your target market is in a specific region, that may also impact which store is the best choice. For example, the Xiaomi App Store is a good choice for those focusing on the Chinese market.

Weigh all your options (including the costs related to each store) and choose the store(s) that will yield the best results for your app.

Design an icon that stands out

We already discussed how important the app name is. The same holds true for your icon.

This doesn’t mean your design has to be overly complicated or fancy. On the contrary, a simple, yet memorable icon is the best approach. Consider how basic the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn icons are. Simple is always the most impactful.

Create an app profile that is informative and enticing

The description of your app should clearly state what the app does and how it adds value to the user.

Screenshots are critically important to include, as you only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and show them what your app can do. Pictures communicate functionality faster than words.

Screenshots also let potential users know what your user interface and app design are all about, and be more in tune with what they want to accomplish with your app, which can sway them to pick your app over another one that fills a similar niche.

Following these steps produces higher download numbers, more positive reviews, and improved user retention.

How to promote and market a mobile app

There is still work to do post-launch; this is where marketing and promotion come into play. There are some general tips to follow no matter what type of app you are launching:

  • Encourage users to rate and review your app—Positive reviews and high ratings will help your app rank higher in the app stores and in search results. Don’t be shy in asking users to review and rate your app. Make sure the user has engaged with the app a few times before asking for a review, so you can be sure they will have valid feedback to share. It also doesn’t hurt to provide an incentive for reviews, such as unlocking new content or a new level in a game. A small thank you for users’ time can help increase your total number of ratings, which is essential for improved visibility.
  • Make a short video to promote the app—A short video that provides a brief demo of your mobile app builds anticipation and sparks interest; this can even be used before the product is officially launched. The video can be shared on your website, through social media, and any other marketing channels you have in place.
  • Offer discounts if your app is for sale or has in-app purchases—Sales and discounts should be clearly advertised either through push notifications to current users or through advertising and marketing campaigns.
  • Encourage current users to share your app—Your current users may very well be some of your best salespeople. Add a sharing feature to your app, so they can easily send information to friends. You may also want to consider using incentives to encourage users to spread the word about your app, either through discounts, points, or some other item of value within your app.

Beyond these general guidelines, certain categories of apps benefit from specific marketing techniques. The eight most popular app categories are listed below, along with a few extra mobile app promotion tips to keep in mind.

1. Gaming and entertainment apps (Candy Crush Saga, Netflix)

As the category name implies, these users want to be entertained. Home in on that when promoting the app. All marketing and advertising should clearly demonstrate the fun your users will have with your app.

Be sure to make videos and other content appropriate for your target age and gender when it comes to gaming and entertainment apps.

2. Business apps (Square Register—Point of Sale)

First impressions are always important, but even more so with a business app. These users have no interest in wasting time.

Get to the point quickly with a clear and concise description of the business value your app provides. No need for bells and whistles.

If you can, provide metrics on the amount of time you can save users as productivity and efficiency are key for this market.

3. Educational apps (Quizlet, Memrise)

Industry influencers can prove to be very powerful when it comes to educational apps. Share your product with influencers in the education industry before launch (and, of course, incorporate any feedback they provide).

If you can win the support of a few key influencers, your app stands a better chance of gaining traction in the market.

4. Lifestyle apps (AroundMe, Hey! VINA)

Whether your lifestyles app focuses on dating or buying and selling used items, there is going to be a lot of competition.

You need to figure out what makes your app stand out. Why is it different and what makes it better than other similar lifestyle apps?

That differentiator should be very clearly displayed in your app description, and, of course, in all advertising and marketing.

A potential user will only be drawn in if they see greater value and/or interest in what you bring to the table. Make sure you’re giving them a reason to download. A cookie-cutter app won’t cut it.

5. Tool and utility apps (My Verizon)

Security and ease of use are the most important elements for tool and utility apps.

The user interface should be clean with a simple design. Emphasize the simplicity of navigation.

If your app will store sensitive account information, make sure users know their private details are safe.

6. Finance (Mint)

Security is of paramount importance here as well, as users will be entering a large volume of personal information into the app.

Promotional efforts should focus on security, as well as the added value your app provides.

You should also show users how easy it is to use. Simple navigation makes it easy for users to start using your app today to progress towards their financial goals.

7. Productivity apps (Todoist)

These apps are all about saving time, so keep marketing efforts short and to the point.

Productivity apps should allow users to perform the necessary tasks in as few taps as possible, and your promotional efforts should clearly demonstrate ease of use and time savings.

8. Social media apps (Facebook)

Social media apps are about interactions and connections. How does your app make social connections easier or more engaging?

There are some dominating forces already established in this niche, so what makes your app unique and worthy of a closer look? This is the customer draw, and, therefore, the focus of marketing efforts.

You have invested the time and money into building a quality mobile app. Make sure you get the maximum return on your investment by planning and executing a proper mobile app launch and promotion strategy. This should not be an afterthought, but rather part of the planning process from day one. Make sure you have resources on hand with the required skill set to launch your app into the black.