The Good: Competing with apps isn’t as bad as competing with the rest of the internet.
Let’s face it. Getting users to your app is hard. Most apps get slapped with the power-law of the App Store:
“The chances that any [new app] will ever break into the top 1000 are effectively 0%”
— Alex Austin, CEO of Branch Metrics
Why? At the top level: Discoverability. Like anything else on the internet, your app will buried under the 2 million others available on the App Store.
So, now what? Do you quit your app idea or project? Will it all just be one big waste of time?
I’d argue not.
The Bright Side: Competing with hundreds of apps isn’t as bad as competing with millions of websites.
To contextualize, there are clear parallels between the App Store and the web; between SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and ASO (App Store Optimization). At this year’s WWDC, Apple announced paid discoverability on the App Store (this is kind of like SEM for Google search, right?) but holistically: the discoverability of apps is still in its infancy.
We know that neither Google (Google Search) nor Apple (App Store Search) will publicly divulge the sauce behind thier search engines, so some feel they are left spraying out apps, and praying they stick.
But, I promise you the success of apps not as random as you may think.
The reason I say hundreds of apps (though there are over 2 million apps on the App Store) is because in reality you won’t be competing with Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook apps if your app is about cooking. And you won’t be competing with Grindr if you’ve made a to-do list app.
I’m talking about relevancy.
Zoom out. Realize with relative perspective: apps may be more lucrative than websites. Why? The world is going mobile, and more people are spending thier time online inside mobile apps instead of desktop browsers or mobile websites. So, the actual number of apps relevant to yours will be significantly less, meaning less competition.
Here’s what you think your competition looks like:
YourFitnessApp = Competing with the entire app market…
YourDatingApp = Competing with the entire app market…
Zoom in. Realize that your app isn’t competing with the “app market,” it’s a tad bit more granular than that: your app is competing with apps relevant to the market you’re making an app for.
So, your competition actually looks like this:
YourFitnessApp = Competing with Nike, MyFitnessPal (fitness market, fitness apps)
YourDatingApp = Competing with Grindr, Tinder, Bumble (dating market, dating apps)
App Store and Play Store’s search are the next address bar of the internet.
I hate to say it, but staying competitive involves a numbers game. Kind of.
Just like when people search for your website on search engines, there’s funnel aspect to your app being discovered:
Number of people who you can potentially serve (market) > app store views > app store downloads > signups > users > referrals. This cycle repeats, hopefully resulting in revenue.
If you can optimize each step of the funnel, you’ve got a chance at long-term growth and rankability on the App Store.
Here’s how to stay competitive:
- Target a specific market, that has size and demand. Growing a market is harder than serving the need of one that’s already established. Aim for high popularity, low competition markets or niches. Start with those people, if you serve thier needs, they’ll tell their friends.
- Optimize, optimize, optimize. I’ve gained over 5M users to my apps, all with $0 in ads, marketing, and no social features. How? Optimizing your app’s iTunes Connect metadata. This is probably the most overlooked area of app publishing. It’s not easy to do, but it’s worth the time investment. This is both parts art and science.
- Have a good app. This one should be self explanatory. People are smart, impatient, and judgmental. You can’t grow a low-quality app. Design and function should be prioritized, and try to limit your feature set to features that only deliver upon your core value proposition.
- You have 1 minute to display value, if you can’t do that after the initial download— you’ve lost. Be clear about the value you bring to your users, don’t forget to communicate this value to your users in your UI, Metadata, website, etc.
- Measure & manage. Split test and measure growth attributed to your of metadata changes and app changes to see what drives the most growth. Test often with your product, and test your metadata assets every 2–4 weeks.
Final Notes On Staying Competitive
Things you shouldn’t get your hopes up for
Getting these things aren’t bad, but if you do, you’re not in the promise land. They don’t necessarily move the needle in terms of growth.
- an App Store feature.
- an ‘influencer shoutout-bump.’
- a TechCrunch-bump (or WSJ-bump, Forbes-bump, etc.)
- getting ranked
App features come few and far between — and only result in a ‘spike’ in downloads. 65% of apps get discovered on the App Store, where they live.Kind of like how 99% of websites are discovered online, probably not from newspapers, billboards, milk cartons, etc. (I made that number up, but you get the point). People don’t have the patience or attention to see your app on another platform or channel, pull out their phones, search your app, download it, and sign up. The only real driver of growth is good App Store placement, and a compelling product.
I admit, I’m biased. I’ve made lots of apps, grown them, and seen the ups and downs of publishing apps. All I can talk about is what I know for now, and I practice what I preach: Optimize (ASO & Product), test, repeat!
Bio: Founder. +160 apps, +50 top ranking apps, +5M users. Nominated for Forbes Under 30. Appeared in Yahoo! Finance, the Manila Times, and different blogs. More at chinolex.com.
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