Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How To Get More App Downloads by Rethinking Your Mobile Marketing Strategy

I talk to hundreds of mobile developers all around the world — they come to attend or speak at our Mobile Growth Meetups, contact me over email, or chat with me at conferences. From SF to NYC, Amsterdam to Bangalore, Bucharest to Hong Kong, the questions are always the same: what can these mobile developers and marketers do to drive growth? How can they reduce their budget and still drive more app downloads? Is ASO the key, or is it finding the right person on the App Store team to get a coveted feature?
Unfortunately, as more and more developers are starting to realize, the App Store is not the solution. With more a thousand new apps submitted each day (let me emphasize that: one thousand new apps each day!) it’s almost impossible to stand out. The new iOS 11 Apple App Store design is not a solution — it shows even fewer apps on the main page than it used to. While Apple might believe this is better UX for the end user, this new design does nothing to help the chance of discovery via the App Store for a small app developer trying to get an app off the ground.
So what’s the alternative? How can a new app get discovered and drive downloads in such a crowded market without spending millions on advertising?
Here are some mobile marketing strategies that can help stack the odds in your favor:

Strategy 1: Forget about ASO — Focus on Your App’s Content

While many app developers focus on App Store Optimization, ASO is proving to be less and less relevant as the app ecosystem evolves. The top 10 search terms in the App Store are brands, and 90% of the top 50 terms searched are branded as well. While the App Store is figuring out its identity crisis, my advice to developers is give up on the App Store and focus on making your app content discoverable. Unlike the App Store, searches on the web are focused on intent. For example, if your app sells Nike red shoes, it might be practically impossible to appear in a search in an App Store for “shoes,” but you can work on getting the red shoes to appear in a web search, and from there you can get a user to download your app.
How can you get your app content indexed by Google? Here are the steps to make it happen:
  1. Make sure you have a website for your content. Don’t have one? Branch can solve this for you: we have a free product called Deepviews that creates an indexable simple webpage for each piece of content in your app.
  2. Make sure that your website and product webpages are mobile friendly. The best place to start is Google’s mobile friendly test. Some other things to keep in mind when building websites for mobile: configure viewports, space out touch elements, use legible font size, remove Flash,and work on loading speed.
  3. Add app indexing to your links.
  4. Configure your links to open your app if it is installed, and have a path for the user to install it if they don’t. Branch links also make sure these opens and installs are tracked, so you can measure which channels are performing best.
  5. Make sure your links are configured for deferred deep linking. You need to take users to the content they clicked on in search once they install open the app — this leads to a better first time app user experience, and can double retention and signup rates
Takeaway: making your app content discoverable in web searches returns a lot more benefit for your effort than ASO.

Strategy 2: Convert Your Web Users into App Users

In addition to making your app content discoverable on the web, you can use other methods to get users to your mobile website. These are often lot cheaper than buying app downloads.
Here are some strategies for attracting new web users and converting them into app downloads:
  • Work on traditional SEO methods to boost rankings for your site, including inbound links, social shares, blogs about your app and app content, search ads, social ads, and more.
  • When mobile visitors land on your website, show them a targeted interstitial or smart banner that takes them to download the app. Apple has a basic mobile smart banner, but it is not customizable. Branch offers both a free smart banner, and a premium upgrade that allows you to target users based on their visit, where they come from, etc.
  • If your web visitors come from Google, make sure you show them banners and not interstitials. While banners don’t convert as well as interstitials, interstitials are penalized by Google.
  • If your web visitors come from Facebook, email, or anywhere other than Google search results, you can show a half page or full page interstitial. Since users often find these more deterring if they are not familiar with your brand, we recommend not doing this on the first visit.Instead, target users who are returning to your site on a second or third visit.
  • (Optional) Offer an app-only special promotion in your banner to improve conversion Jet gave a 20% off discount for app users and tripled their daily installs!
  • For desktop visitors, use a text me the app landing page.
Takeaway: driving app downloads through your website can be a lot cheaper than running app install ads.

Strategy 3: Find the Right Allies

One of the best ways to find new, cheap, highly engaged users for your app is to find app marketing partners. You probably know who they are — the challenge is to convince them to work with you.
Here are some strategies that can help finding the right app marketing partner easier:
  • Propose an experience where sending people to your app enhances the user experience of the other app. Here are two examples of partnerships that make that happen:
Yummly (a recipe app) and Instacart (a shopping app). When a Yummly user finds a recipe they want to cook, they can shop for all the ingredients through a link that takes them to Instacart, with all the ingredients automatically added to their Instacart cart. If Instacart isn’t installed yet, the user is taken to download it and the ingredients are still added once Instacart opens.
SpotHero (a parking app) and Waze (a driving directions app). As users are getting directions to specific locations in Waze, they can go directly into Spothero and find parking at their destination
Make sure you track which users come from your partners and give them a personalized experience. Your partner will likely want to know how many new users they are driving to your app, if they come back, etc.
  • (Optional) Incentivize your partners for each new install they drive.
Takeaway: seamless linking from apps that are complimentary to your services is a great way to get more users.

Strategy 4: A New Spin on Traditional Marketing Channels

When I moderate Mobile Growth Meetups, I always ask this question of panelists: which channel works best for bringing users back to your mobile app? The answer, whether from small apps or big, is always the same: traditional channels like email continue to outperform push notifications. But traditional channels can also be a great source for new app users. Charlotte Russe ran a mobile email marketing experiment where they sent their userbase email promotions with an app only discount, and they saw a download spike for their app with every such email.
Here are some other mobile spins you can put on traditional digital marketing channels to drive more new downloads for your app:
  • Social. Promote app content into your social channels, helping boost SEO for that content and also driving new app downloads directly. Our friends at Goat (a shoe shopping app — yes I have a thing for shoe shopping examples) leverage their social channels by promoting their shoes and taking people straight into the app to check them out.
  • Email. Use deep links in your marketing promotions. Our friends at Instacart increased their conversion from email by 6X when they sent users into the app instead of the mobile web.
  • Search and Display Ads. Running ads for app content and deep linking users into your app instead of taking them to the mobile site can double the conversion of your ads.

Strategy 5: Build Virality into Your App

The biggest mistake new developers make is building and launching their app without viral mechanisms. My Branch co-founders and I made this error when we built our first app, a photobook printing app called Kindred. We were fortunate to get featured by Apple in Best New Apps, but because we had built only our core functionality without sharing or invites, new users had no way of sharing the app or the photobooks they created with their friends. We missed out on free referral traffic.
Here are some basic viral mechanisms you can build into your app:
  • Content sharing. The most viral part of your app is its content. Apply basic principles to make sure your content goes viral: use emotion, appeal to ego, and give incentives. But keep in mind, not all content is created equal and the more engaging your content, the more likely it is to drive virality. Looking for examples on which emotions you should appeal to, and how to get started? Check out my introduction to app virality.
  • Referrals. Incentivize users to share your app, and reward them when they drive app installs. Our friends at The League did this by implementing a incentivized wait list: when a new League users downloads the app, they are placed at the end of a wait list. But every time a friend they invite downloads the app, they move up. This strategy helped their viral growth in new cities as they expanded beyond the Bay Area.
  • Double viral loops. The double viral loop concept was first described by Josh Elman. It means that by tracking when referred users engage with your app, you can notify the referring user of that action. Knowing their friend engaged will likely trigger them to come back and interact with the app, making them more likely to keep inviting other users.
  • Takeaway: add viral features to your app from the beginning. This helps make sure that every new user you acquire can bring in new additional engaged users at no cost to you.


Whether you are a small app developer or a marketer for an app with millions of downloads, focusing on only ASO and app install ads limits your reach. There are better ways to bring in new users by marketing your app outside the box. I have seen strategies like these help app developers all around the world, and I looking forward to hearing how you implement them in your own app.
P.S. If you have done something different or implemented one of these strategies well, I encourage you to submit an entry in our Mobile Growth Stories Contest. We have three prizes of $5k each, and a lot of goodies to send out to all participants!

7 ways to focus on development and gain the best marketing results
7 ways to focus on development and gain the best marketing results
CMO of monetisation and cross-promotional ad company Tappx, Ignasi Prat, gives us the best ways for developers to spend time on their game and encourage discoverability
Mobile app discovery is one of the toughest tasks facing indie developers. Around 270 billion apps are forecast to be downloaded across global app stores in 2017, an increase from 228 billion last year, according to data from Statista. If you’re a budget conscious developer, ad networks may not be the first feasible point of call to acquire new users.
At Tappx we’re no stranger to this situation as we started out as budding developers ourselves with a blank canvas. Through this article, we provide our top recommendations for increasing your app download rates, helping you to stand out in a busy and competitive app marketplace.
1. Consider your app store distribution strategy
Don’t limit yourself to just iOS or Google Play App stores. The smart strategy to increase your chances for more downloads is to launch across other app stores in geolocations in which you’re launching into. The core duo is, of course, the Apple App Store and Google Play. Beyond these two market leaders, there are a myriad of other additional app store options available.
The number of apps available in leading app stores. Statista, March 2017
2. Explore cross-promotion communities and promote yourself within
Ad networks are a powerful and proven channel for acquiring news users. If your development studio doesn’t have the necessary budget to invest in ad networks yet, you should explore the various cross-promotional communities available for free. 
Most of them work on the same premise - a network or community of app developers exchanges users or ads for free. Some examples include Tapdaq, Tappx and Everyplay. This is a strategy which can benefit everyone, whether you are a new indie developer or part of a large franchise of mobile games. Many leading app developers use cross promoting as a primary means to increase downloads when bringing new apps to market.
Integrating a cross-promotional mobile ad strategy has powerful benefits. Developers can conduct highly targeted ad delivery with options to choose specific geolocations across various vertical industry sectors, e.g. deploying banner ads for a casual puzzle mobile game launching into UK, France, Germany and India, across similar casual gaming titles.
Once developers have activated a cross-promotional ad campaign, they can then capture and evaluate their campaign data, such as being able to view click-through rates and gauge impressions. To optimise your cross promotion activity, you’ll need to conduct lots of testing and analysis to deliver the best results. 
3. Implement a creative, engaged and targeted PR strategy
As you’re intimately involved with the development of your app, this makes you eminently qualified to promote it across target media outlets, influencers, blogs and social media platforms. Ensure you create an end-to-end PR strategy to help create buzz and excitement. For example, app gamers like to hear about up and coming new games which possess unique features and innovative gameplay mechanics/graphics.
Other possible news announcements include interviews with lead developers, leveraging any notable IPs which may be involved, inviting influencers/journalists to your development studio, writing development blogs and providing insights and recommendations to your community. Also, nurturing an inspired and engaged community is a great source of feedback and ideas, so it’s important to be responsive to your fans and media.
4. Keyword optimisation in App stores
Research and try different selections of relevant keywords to increase the organic visibility of your apps. Using tested keywords in your app title or name is a proven method to increase app store rankings. It’s worth noting that utilising keywords multiple times doesn’t increase your rankings on app stores. It is critical to test different combinations of keywords, descriptors and synonyms to discover which combination yields the best organic search results.
In our experience, it’s preferable to appear in the top five search results of a targeted specific keyword search than compared to appearing in a top 100 list of a more generic keyword search. Additionally, if you wish to explore professional premium App Store Optimisation (ASO) tools, there are a number of key providers which can fulfil this need. Some examples include App Annie and apptamin.
5. Optimise app design and visual assets
App store logo
Ensure that at your app logo or app store icon is clear, succinct and eye-catching. Research what your competitors are doing and deliver something unique for potential new users. Test a few different candidate logo options via a/b testing, and see what delivers the best results.
App store screen grabs and descriptors
Using your best screenshots which sell the unique propositions of your app. Regardless of your app’s category or key functionality, this part of the app store experience needs to be executed with finesse. Ensure you include descriptors for your screen grabs, highlighting features/benefits/selling points. Consider using video content if relevant as this is a potent way to communicate your app’s key benefits and messaging within a few seconds.
6. Enter business and consumer awards programmes
Shout about your successes and achievements by promoting your talent and apps through various award platforms. This is a potent way to gain the respect of your target audiences and your industry peers. Winning awards recognises business achievement accolades, that resonate with audiences whether consumers, investors or other. Some notable app award platforms include the Google Play Awards and Best Mobile App Awards.
Also, explore your industry/app category awards. For example, the Develop Awards 2017 for games trade, or The Golden Joystick Awards for consumers. It’s definitely worth noting that these awards often have indie developer specific categories, so it’s certainly worthy of investigation. So spend some time, consider your most successful projects, and submit your entries. Remember, you’ve got to be in it to win it.
7. Build a microsite or website
Many indie developers forget to implement this vital step. Establish a website or microsite as a key destination for all your important stakeholders, whether they be consumers wishing to be notified about your latest app updates, or businesses researching your latest blog or publicity. In our experience, a good site empowers you to engage with traditional marketing practices like SEO, banners and link exchanges. Often enough, having a simple site with app store download options is sufficient.

In the early days of apps, life used to be so simple. You built it, released it into the app store(s), spread the word about it and waited for the downloads to roll in. That was in the days when apps were novelty items and people were still amazed at the utility and functionality that could be coded into something they could keep on their homescreen and use whenever they wanted.
Fast forward a few years – nine to be exact – and things look somewhat different. While mobile phone OS fragmentation has eased somewhat, leaving iOS and Android as virtually the last men standing, the fact remains that there are more than 2m apps in Apple’s App Store, and another 2m+ in the Google Play store.
And while clearly there’s a massive amount of duplication, as developers build and release for both platforms, even with 2m other apps competing for attention, it’s hard to stand out. Factor in the thousands of new apps released into the app stores every single day, and it’s clear that getting your app discovered and downloaded is becoming harder with each passing day.
Even if you get that far, the numbers around app churn are truly scary for brands. According to research from Urban Airship, based on a study of 63m app users, only five per cent of people who download an app will still be using it 90 days after they open it for the first time. So all that time, energy and, let’s face it, money spent driving downloads of your app, is wasted.
So given the competitive nature of the app landscape, how do you cut through, get your app downloaded by the right sort of people, and then encourage them to open it once and keep going back to it, once installed?
For Simon Spaull, MD, EMEA, at AppLovin, the process starts with the app itself. “People spend millions on TV ads and then come to us with a crappy app where the user journey is awful,” he says. “People like Amazon have nailed this, minimising as many processes as they can, but it is amazing how many people come to us with dreadful apps.”
Josh Todd, CMO at Localytics, tells a similar story. He says: “People need to ask themselves, ‘What is the purpose of the app? What unique value does it provide?’ Creating an app for the sake of creating an app is a recipe for failure.”
Download duties
Assuming the app is fit for purpose, the next job, of course, is to get it on consumers’ handsets. In recent years, Facebook has taken billions in marketing dollars from brands and app developers looking to do just that. While his company spends no money with the social giant, AppLovin’s Spaull says he understands the platform’s appeal.
“People go to Facebook first, and we will push them that way, because the data is strong and it converts very well; there’s no hiding from that fact,” he says. “Then once you start seeing success on Facebook, we can get you to the next level. You’ll get maybe 50 per cent of your coverage on Facebook, but there are people on apps outside of Facebook and we are happy to play in that space.”
When the talk turns to mobile ad spend and Facebook, Google is usually not far behind, and according to Mick Rigby, CEO of Yodel Mobile, search is becoming increasingly important to drive app downloads.
“App indexing is becoming essential for app discovery via search through Chrome and Safari,” he says. “App packs are the tiles that come up on mobile search when you type in a request. If you type in a search on your mobile for something like ‘Cheap hotels app’ or ‘Luxury hotels app’, if you scroll down past the usual paid results at the top of the page, you get three tiles, each promoting a different app matching that description. And if you click the ‘More Apps’ arrow below the tiles, you get a full screen of app tiles. If you know what you are doing, you can steal a march on the big brands and spenders. You can get into the top three or six and completely outplay the big names at a fraction of the investment – by being smart. Lots of marketers are missing out on the opportunity of app discovery through search on mobile handsets.”
Simon Baptist, director of business development, EMEA, at Tune, puts it even more forcefully. “To win mobile users you have to win in search first,” he says. “To crack the top 150 apps in the Google Play store, app marketers need to use 15–25 different search terms to grab enough users. For the iOS store it’s more like 25+ terms to crack the top 150 apps in a given category. Savvy app marketers and makers use app store optimisation software to do keyword analysis to figure out what people are searching for and then optimise accordingly.”
But app discoverability is not all about reaching random consumers online. If you’re an established brand with established lines of communication with your customer, then clearly it makes sense to use them.
“Owned media is one of the biggest opportunities for brands that are more established,” says Localytics’ Todd. “We know more than half of emails are opened on mobile and a lot of companies have an email newsletter, so this is a great place to promote your app to your more engaged users. Companies like Staples and CBS have done a great job in this respect over the past couple of years, but a lot of others are still ignoring the opportunity.”
Engaged users
This notion of the more engaged user is one that has come to the fore in the past year or so as the app marketing business has matured. Previously, the only KPI anyone really worried about was the number of downloads, but given those scary app churn figures mentioned earlier, there has been a gradual realisation among the app marketing community that you get what you pay for.
“Sure we can drive installs for $1, but that will only get you crappy audiences,” says AppLovin’s Spaull. “If you’re prepared to pay $5 or $10, you’ll be bidding for higher-quality inventory and, ultimately, you’ll attract a better customer and make more money in the long run.”
This is the approach taken by Francesco Loschiavo, digital marketing and CRM manager at NBC Universal’s Hayu reality TV on-demand service. Hayu works closely with Yodel on its app marketing and Loschiavo concedes that in the early days “we started out being concerned about volume but now it is all about quality.”
To find higher-quality users, Hayu uses AppsFlyer tech in the app. ‘Events’ are flagged in the app, such as when someone makes it past three months as a paid subscriber, or completes a given number of programme views. The app then sends a signal back to Hayu’s media partners to say that the channel this user came from to the app is delivering better-quality users, so spend should be optimised for that channel. In addition, on Facebook Hayu will identify, for example, The Kardashians superfans who have watched more than 50 episodes and spent a certain amount, and who have a high number of app logins. It then layers its customer data against Facebook interest data to build a strong lookalike profile to find more potential customers of the same quality.
So you’ve lovingly crafted your app, you’ve optimised your app store presence, you’ve fine-tuned your media spend so that your ads are appearing in the right places to attract high-quality users and, happy days, the downloads start rolling in. The next thing the savvy app marketer needs to think about is the onboarding process, when the user opens the app for the first time and you, as the app developer or the brand briefing the app developer, have to decide how far to push things on that first engagement. If the app is on an iOS phone, it will ask the user’s permission to send push notifications on first open, though Leanplum, which specialises in post-install engagement, has a piece of tech that can circumvent this.
There are lots of permissions an app can ask for, in addition to push notifications. The most obvious ones are permission to access your location, the phone’s camera and its address book. “There are two types of onboarding: initial and progressive,” says Yodel’s Rigby. “Initial onboarding is getting the user to understand the app and if there are any essential elements you need them to opt in to, get them straight away. So if it’s a dating app with a ‘People Near Me’ feature, you need to get them to opt in to location from the off. Progressive onboarding is stuff they can come back to at later stages. There’s no one right way to do this because every app is different and requires different data, but as long as you understand this, you can build a strategy.”
But of all the permissions an app can seek, push notifications are undoubtedly the most important, offering the app owner the opportunity to re-engage users who have downloaded the app but haven’t opened it up for a while. So what does best practice look like here?
“You have to show them a little bit of value then earn the right to ask for those permissions in context,” says Localytics’ Todd. “RetailMeNot did a great job with this. When you got inside the app, the first thing the user had to do was to select which brands they wanted to receive discount coupons from, so when the app asked permission to send push notifications, it was in the context of getting deals from the brands they had selected.”
According to Leanplum, the average opt-in rate for push notifications is 43 per cent, but the retention rate for users opted in to push is 20 per cent higher than for those who are not. “For an app like Pokémon Go, that number means you would have an additional 1.2m players by day 15,” says Joyce Solano, Leanplum’s VP of corporate marketing. “What an arsenal that is in terms of retaining users and being able to monetise them.”
The other $64,000 question where push is concerned, is frequency. As the app owner, it’s tempting to reach out to your users every week or maybe even every day to get them re-engaging with the app and, hopefully, spending money with you. But common sense dictates that if you turn up the dial too high, users will see you as spammy, tune out, and probably uninstall. So what is the golden number of push notifications an app owner should be looking to send?
You’ll struggle to find anyone to give you a definitive answer, on the basis that every app is different. News organisations probably can get away with a daily push, or even more, but a retailer might start to look a bit desperate if they adopted the same approach.
Emily Buckman, global strategic consultant at Urban Airship says: “Frequency is more about relevance than cadence. Our studies clearly show that among hundreds of apps analysed, more frequent engagement through messaging will drive better retention rates, so long as you have something relevant to say that is aligned to the customer journey and experience. But the messaging must be relevant, personalised and contextual. If not, if you’re just sending a message with a flash sale every day, it will have the opposite effect to what you’re trying to achieve.”
The other thing that can help where push is concerned is a bit of variety, something beyond plain text. iOS 10 - in addition to enabling app users to leave a rating for the app from within the app, rather than being redirected away to the App Store – also enables app owners to send rich push notifications, including GIFs and videos. It also enables a brand to personalise the app icon on the user’s phone, so that a Starwood hotel user who hits Platinum status in the company’s loyalty program, for example, could see that reflected in their app icon.
In the same vein, app marketers are seeing great success with that other unlikely marketing success story of the past 12 months, the emoji. “Our customers see great results when they use multimedia and non-text-based communication to re-engage users,” says Tune’s Baptist. “Emojis and GIFs are two great examples of fun tools that app makers can use to engage with mobile customers. Data suggest that sending mobile users personalised, emoji-based notifications can boost open rates by as much as 80 per cent. Why? Pictures are valuable, lasting and fun. That’s exactly what you want mobile users to think of your app.”
At The Economist, audience development director Tom McCave says push notifications have increased in importance in recent years. McCave is responsible for The Economist’s ‘World In [2017]’ series, published annually. He says: “People are engaging with apps in different ways than they did three or four years ago. There are fewer people looking for the apps they want to open by browsing their phone; it is much more prompted. We put out a notification when the new edition is published but that would only be once a year, so we go further. ‘The World In’ predicts how the year ahead will unfold, so when some of these predictions come true, we can re-engage with those users through push. It gives us a way to have a continued conversation throughout the year. This is one thing push is really good for.”
At Hayu, Loschiavo says the brand is taking a tiered approach to push. “We do a lot of A/B testing to see what works, and carefully manage that we aren’t overusing the frequency of the channel,” he says. “If it’s a C-level show, not a big premiere, we might just do an email. But if it’s a new series of the Kardashians, we will roll it out across all channels and stagger the messaging through the day, so you might get an email in the morning, an in-app notification during the day and a push notification in the evening just before the show goes out. We also use push notifications for early engagement, as an educational tool, when someone has installed the app but not subscribed yet.”
So what next for app marketing? Tune’s Baptist would like to see brands take analytics more seriously. In this respect, he says, they can learn a lot from the gaming companies, who lead the way in mobile user acquisition and engagement because they use deep-funnel behaviour analytics to drive action; they rely on rapid testing and adjustment as a core strategy; and they are quick to jump on new opportunities and cultural trends.
“Analytics can make a real difference,” says Baptist. “Mobile games are free to play and are designed to drive players through a carefully scripted series of tutorials and events, with the objective of creating affinity for the game. At the end of this journey, or funnel, are micro-transactions like buying coins to level up faster. Gaming companies have designed their mobile product specifically to move players efficiently through this funnel to a point of purchase.
“They measure the customer journey with pinpoint accuracy along the way. By focusing on deep-funnel analytics, i.e. what behaviour a player takes just before and just after a point of purchase, gaming companies can constantly configure their game to maximise this action. It’s this level of attention and data that informs both marketing strategy and product strategy, which leads to a constant evolution of rapid updates to make the game better.”
Urban Airship’s Buckman believes brands are improving their messaging capabilities. “Businesses, especially larger ones, are finally starting to shift the culture towards being more mobile-first and data-driven, implementing DMPs and data warehouses to send the right communications at the right time, so messages are becoming more contextual and relevant thanks to better data and analytics,” she says.
Meanwhile, Hayu’s Loschiavo says he is already looking towards what comes after apps. “These are interesting times,” he says. “I read recently that people only use seven apps on a daily basis and it’s mostly between two companies, Facebook and Google, with maybe a bit of Snapchat and one or two others in there. This is the evolution of how your brand is going to talk to your customer. It might not be in the app store or in other apps that you do your marketing. It might be natively in Facebook or in chatbots and messenger bots. We are looking at this and we’re seeing how chat is becoming a global leader in terms of where people are spending time on their phone, so it’s going to be really interesting to see how this all plays out.”