Mobile applications are big business these days. Don't make the mistake of believing that Apple invented the app store (although iTunes has helped the industry a lot) because I was downloading and installing freeware .prc app files for my Palm III way before the original app-less iPhone was released. However, me simply saying that the mobile app market is big business is meaningless so let me put this into context. In 2012, applications generated $12 billion across 46 billion downloads. Oh and by the way, at the start of 2012, there had been just 37 billion downloads. In the space of twelve months, consumers more than doubled the number of mobile application downloads since the beginning of time. Or let me put it another way, in 2012, consumers downloaded more applications than in the previous five years combined. Things aren't expected to slow down any time soon with around 85 billion downloads for 2013. Depending on where you look, application downloads are expected to exceed 200 billion by 2017. These metrics are impressive but this success brings about its own problem: application visibility.
By application visibility, I mean making your own application visible amongst the crowd. Getting people to download and use your application because with such strong growth, anything that helps consumers pick your application over the competition could result in a significant increase in downloads, sales and revenue. I'm going to dig a little into some of the strategies that developers can employ to get their application noticed, used and loved and so create loyal customers.
Let's start at the top, then!
Design means a few things but essentially, the application needs to work! Follow the Google style guidelines and keep things up to date and contemporary. Don't try to cram too much into your application but make sure what it does, it does well. Drop underused features. Beef up the better ones. Add new features when they're ready unless you explicitly refer to them as a beta feature (and even then, be careful). It's better to master a few features than be a jack of none.
Title & Description
This is something that my editorial team love to remind me about, but a good title and description is crucial. The title needs to tell readers what your application is about: unique, short, easy to spell and remember. Oh and it needs to reflect the nature of the application. The first 25 characters appear in the search result so anything after this is fluff and you typically don't need it. The description is also important as this is your chance to showcase your article to readers. You have a few seconds to catch the interest. It isn't searchable so you don't need to worry about keywords, so stick to three and four sentences. Give users the features and benefits, sell the app as something they need to have to improve their life and if you're able, include "social proof," that is, awards and reviews. More on this later.
The icon is arguably just as important as the title but in a different way. Users' attention is drawn to both the title and the icon; a badly drawn, ugly icon will lose interest no matter how dazzling your title. So think carefully about the icon: make it representative of your application and your branding. Try not to include words, because they'll be difficult to spot in a small icon, although characters can work well depending on the context. And don't forget that the icon is going to sit on users' devices and not just on the app store.
Screenshots and Video
Application screenshots are as important than the title, icon and description. This links back to design but if an application looks sensibly laid out on the screen it will encourage me to stop and read the description. Don't bother with a splashscreen, even if it's different to your icon. And if you have to annotate the screenshot so I can figure out what's going on, that's fine but keep it simple and use few words. You should use the screenshots to highlight the most popular and needed features.
For a video, keep it informative. Not too short – thirty seconds, consisting of ten seconds of splashscreen and text; no thank you. Nor should you make it too long either, the video wants to be a sampler of the application. And please localize your screenshots and remember that American English is not the same as British English.
Where your application is positioned is less important than the look and feel of an application because people tend to search for keyword, select on icons and screenshots with relatively few searches by application category. Nevertheless, it's worth checking the other applications in the categories that you're considering if you have a choice: positioning your application in a less competitive environment is sensible, but of course there are limits to this!
Earlier, I wrote about "social proof," which includes ratings, reviews and we hope, awards. Human nature is to double check our decisions with somebody else. When we're in a shop we use our companions to help us decide if we should buy something. Ratings go hand in hand with reviews, but can be combined to produce a statistic. You want high ratings, of course, so encouraging users to rate the app in the Google Play Store is one way to do this. But please! Not too often. After completing every level, if your application pesters me to give it five stars I'm going to find the uninstall option.
Reviews are the social proof that can convince new users to download your app. If I like the icon, title, screenshots and I've read the description, I'll then look at reviews. The more the merrier as humans like a consensus of opinion. Encourage reviewers to write a thorough review with plenty of detail, because a five star rating with a handful of words isn't a review at all. If you are looking to gain exposure, you can also use a review service. A good review service will see your approved application reviewed by professional editorial staff and then promoted on the website, like the review service that we have linked to just a sentence back, so if you go down this route be sure to pick a successful Android website with plenty of followers; Android Headlines' website receives over two million unique visitors a month, and we just happen to have a review service.
One other point about ratings and reviews is feedback. Make it easy for unhappy users to contact you before they give your app a poor rating and review; offer a flexible refund policy. You likely will have unhappy people and you you will get bad reviews because some users just don't get it, but do everything you can to minimize this. Do everything to avoid a poor rating, because getting a one star will really bring the average rating down!
Respond to as many reviews as you can, especially those that ask for features or mark the application down because it's missing something. Users love developer engagement (it's one of my favorite features of the Android world); never underestimate the power of replying to a reviewer to explain that a given feature is in the list of "coming soon," but if you promise something, deliver!
I touched on localization a little earlier when discussing screenshots, but it deserves its own section. Millions of applications have been written in the English language and this is great to see, but the next billion smartphone users will likely not have English as their primary language. Consider localizing your applications into other languages, which means translating your application elements. You'll need to translate the metadata; the title, description, keywords and screenshots. You may need to rework any notifications and of course any text in the application.
Ultimately, money has to be a part of the process and there are several ways to market and sell your application. You can go down the free route, free with adverts, paid or freemium routes. Users are drawn to a free download and splitting your application into free and paid versions is an option. If you do this, a better option is to make your free version functional but supported by adverts, rather than time restricted. Freemium is reckoned to be the most profitable as once a user loves an application, he or she is far happier to pay for additional content within the application. Don't be afraid to experiment with prices – have a look at how competitor applications work, consider running special offers and other promotions (especially if you have multiple applications). Holiday sale promotions are a great way to introduce the application to new users and as the major Android blogs pick up on these, they'll also help generate more hits on your website.
Marketing is such an open, vague term but it's a great opportunity. You want your application to appear in Google Play Store searches, sure. But you can use traditional and online marketing channels to drive downloads of your application. If you have a website, promote it with a link to the Google Play Store. Reach out to the community via blogs: we are your friend. If you're running a sale, tell the Android blogs about it and they'll tell the world on your behalf. You also have pay-per-click, email marketing, Reddit and similar websites, plus of course social media. If you don't have a Google+ account (and surely you do?) then create one for your business. Engagement with people is a surefire way, but don't make every other Tweet "buy my app" as this quickly gets tiresome.