NOTE: This data for post was derived from 35 responses to our iPhone developer survey on app marketing techniques. The survey is still open and we will post updated results if a significant number of additional surveys are completed. You can find the survey here.
Nearly 9,000 developers have shipped more than 27,000 iPhone apps through the App Store. A small (but well-publicized) minority have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for their developers, but the vast majority enjoy a brief spike of downloads upon release and quickly fall off as other newly-released apps fill in behind them. With little ability to influence their position in the App Store, developers have started applying their considerable creativity to building and sustaining demand for their applications in other ways.
Our survey captured the experiences of 35 published developers and shines a light on what’s working - and what’s not working - in the realm of iPhone application marketing.
Our respondent base included a healthy cross-section of the developer population. 40% had just one application to their credit, but 37% had 2-5 applications in the App Store, and nearly 6% had published more than 20.
As expected given their dominance in the App Store, more than half (56%) of the surveyed developers specialize in Games, but Utilities (37%), Entertainment (29%), and Lifestyle (23%), were also well-represented, with Education (6%) Books (3%) and Other (9%) applications making up the balance.
The predominant revenue model for our survey participants is charging for the application itself, with 86% indicating that paid apps were their primary revenue source. None reported developing free applications, while 6% rely on out-of-app monetization methods like driving users to a supporting e-commerce or ad-supported website, and 9% monetizing in other (unspecified) ways.
Respondents also bucked the trend when it came to their ability to make a living as iPhone developers. Over a third (37%) report that they make money primarily by making and selling their own apps, while just 11% supplemented their income by taking on contract iPhone app development projects. But over half (51%) are still holding on to their day jobs and developing their apps on the side.
Marketing Techniques Employed
Given the challenges of standing out in an increasingly crowded App Store, the surveyed developers are already employing a wide range of techniques to boost visibility and drive incremental sales. The two most common practices were: publicizing their app on forums (employed by 71% of respondents) and creating a supporting website for the application (66%). But several other practices were almost equally common - most of which attempt to maximize exposure in the App Store itself. These include:
- Making frequent updates to their app to increase App Store visibility - 57%
- Offering a “lite” version of their paid app to stimulate trial - 57%
- Submitting their app to review blogs - 57%
- Soliciting user reviews within the App Store - 51%
- Making price cuts to stimulate demand - 43%
Other techniques tried by a minority of respondents include:
- Purchasing advertising on other websites - 14%
- Purchasing Google AdWords to attract buyers - 14%
- Purchasing / trading for in-app advertising - 14%
- Hiring paid Public Relations help - 11%
- Search Engine Optimizing (SEO) supporting websites - 11%
Marketing Technique Effectiveness
Despite the broad array of marketing techniques employed by developers, relatively few were reported to be worth the investment of time and money. On a 3-point scale, from Most Effective (valued at 3 points) to Least (1 point), five techniques received an average rating greater than 2. The leaders (including the average rating / number of responses) include:
- Paid PR - rating 3 / 2 responses
- Offering a Lite version - 2.58 / 12 responses
- Submitting to app review blogs - 2.4 / 10 responses
- Making frequent updates to increase App Store visibility - 2.3 / 10 responses
- Soliciting user reviews - 2.01 / 7 responses
Three other techniques were judged to be somewhat effective, including:
- Cutting price - 1.88 / 8 responses
- Posting to forums - 1.8 / 10 responses
- Creating a supporting website / landing page - 1.63 / 8 responses
And three were viewed as the least effective (at least among the small population who had tried them):
- Keyword advertising (Google AdWords, etc) - 1 / 2 responses
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - 1 / 2 responses
- Paid advertising in apps (AdMob, etc) - 1 / 1 response
What’s the Single Most Effective Technique?: Tips and Tricks In the Developer’s Own Words
We offered survey participants a chance to describe their single most effective strategy in their own words. Here’s what they said, grouped (loosely) by strategy:
- “Lite Version”
- “Offering a lite”
- “Offering a Lite version and then cross promoting to a paid version is the best way to promote applications on the App Store. The market is insanely packed with “cheap consumers” who just want free stuff. Offering something for free and then luring prospective users into a paid app is what we’ve found to be the best way to promote applications.”
- “By offering a demo of the app (or a “lite” edition), customers had a chance to see the app in action, and then (in some cases) purchase the paid version. Lowering the price on the paid version periodically helps, too. “
- “Having many apps in the store linking to my other apps.”
- “Word of mouth. semi-frequent app refreshes. cross-app promotion (my apps are releated, and I cross-promote them from within the apps)”
Reviews / “Social Marketing”
- “Giving promo codes to kids to make YouTube reviews. sales shoot up every time”
- “Commenting on Techcrunch about my apps when there was an article there about a related app.”
- “The best possible thing is getting a good review on a popular blog. We were profiled positively on TUAW and our sales increased 4000% Unfortunately, that didn’t last, though. Dropping the price to 99 cents has definitely increased our chart placement.”
- “Twitter and Facebook. Free app for 2 days. Track using Appfigures”
- “The single most effective one-time sales promotion for one of our apps was an in-house PR campaign… The app was innovative and the story was picked up at wired.com and subsequently at many other leading tech/music online outlets. I had been very careful to put links into the release copy, most of which were pasted into stories intact. This PR blast drove thousands of sales within a few days. But then sales fell off a cliff as the stories fell away from tech blog home pages. We have tried all the other tricks. We find that nothing succeeds like success. Get in the top 10 or top 20 and you’re likely to stay there indefinitely.
- “Our PR team got us placement on tech news sites, which led to articles on Wired.com and BoingBoing the first week of the app’s launch. After that, WOM has led to a remarkably consistent download rate, with small spikes during future press coverage.”
Product, Product, Product
- “My ability to influence sales has been minimal at best - all of the sales I’ve had have come as a result of the game selling itself. The good reviews, forum buzz & app store featuring all came as a result of the app not being a 99 cent crapfest, and having artwork above the stick-figures-on-graph-paper herd.”
- “Changing our pic on the iTunes store from our game landing screen (with the main menu) to an in-game screenshot doubled sales.”
- “I really don’t know what worked. I did a number of things, and my app was in the top within a week, so I don’t really know what did it. I did get thousands of views on topics about my games and some really good beta testers from forums (toucharcade.com).”
- “Don’t feel like we’ve cracked the nut on a really effective strategy”
What are the Top Unmet Needs in App Marketing?
We asked our respondents for the one area in which they’d most like help. The responses included clusters around topics like analytics, advertising and (inevitably) Apple’s invisible hand:
Data & Analytics
- “Tracking reviews and ratings across the 80 app stores.”
- “Stats, stats, stats! I want google analytics level detail on traffic to my app store page, I want to know where I’m being featured, and where I am in each chart and each territory. All of my traffic goes straight to the app store, and I have no idea what drives it or how to influence it.”
Advertising & Promotion
- “Don’t know if adverts on reviews sites work and which ones.”
- “Couldn’t find a way to track conversation rate on advertisements. So I ran thousands of Ad Mob ads (through exchange) and Facebook ads. I got a lot of clicks, but had no way to track if they were effective.”
- “I’d like to better understand adwords and whether it does or doesn’t allow an advertiser to link directly into the app store.”
- “Just getting word out there.”
Customer Knowledge & Feedback
- “Better understanding the cultural dynamics of iPhone users. Do the frequent updates work or turn people off?”
- “I wish Apple weren’t so mysterious with how to get recommended and featured.”
- “Finding away to become featured or an apple staff pick”
- “Getting the crap apps off the store!”
As two survey respondents indicated in the comments below, it’s still pretty early to draw conclusions about app marketing best practices:
- “We’re learning from mistakes, the AppStore is a young market, and we love watching it grow. The experience on it is priceless.”
- “It’s early days…really too early even to be able to answer this question. Whatever answer I give you now will likely be irrelevant in a week or a month.”
Despite the lack of hard conclusions, we hope this survey has shined a bit of light on current best practices in iPhone application marketing, and we invite comments, feedback (and more survey participation!) from the developer community so that all of you can be rewarded for your hard work and creativity.
Thanks for reading,
The AppStoreHQ team