Publishing an app to the app store is a major accomplishment.
As someone who has worked with a startup to release an app into the real estate space, I can tell you – the journey is one for the books.
From experience, I know you don’t want to hear crickets.
However the app landscape is so crowded, it’s hard to not hear crickets when you want to see thousands of downloads.
How do I get app users and downloads?
The big question that I’m answering in this post.
How do you overcome the intense market saturation and the “big guys” in your app’s niche category?
The app market is more crowded than ever. There are approximately two million apps on the Apple App Store and 2.8 million apps on the Google Play Store.
How do you gain traction in the competitive space? How do you get people knowledegable about you and wanting to smash the “Get” button on the App Store?
Below I share some free avenues and key thinking points, as well as a few budget-friendly ways to boost app awareness and hit your first 1,000 downloads.
Optimize your app’s name to make sense in search.
This is the first point, because it’s an important point in App Store Optimization (ASO).
Your company or app name might be clever and obscure – which is fine – but you want it to still be found by your ideal end users.
For example, this app in the app store:
The name of the app is “Lake”. Unless they put “Coloring books” after the title, I would have scrolled right on by.
I would have no idea what the app was for. Fishing? Finding local lakes to explore?
Make the name intuitive for the user and easy to connect your app to a clear and understandable experience.
Using these additional keywords will also help in search for your app for people not searching for your direct name. Similar to the instance for “Lake”.
This is the same tip for putting keywords in your Instagram name to get people to find you in search results on that platform. If your app is on Instagram, apply this same strategy for your name.
Cleverly incentivize reviews.
This does not mean incentivizing good reviews.
This tip is aimed to encourage people to download, experience and leave a review on the app. In exchange, you’ll pick a select group or users, or the first X number of users to send something special.
In exchange for the review, send them a physical thank-you gift and encourage them to shout it out on social media.
Encourage them to tag you and/or your app in receiving or using their gift on social media.
For example, I reviewed a podcast (The Social Reset Podcast) when it first launched at the start of 2021 and received a Vistaprint hat in my mailbox.
I shared my hat, and got a shoutout from the account – resulting in my gaining a number of followers in cross-over story posts as well.
Guess how many downloads in the first month for this new podcast?
Over 2,000 in less than 30 days! And the podcast ended up trending globally in Entrepreneurship through the sheer number of EARLY reviews and word of mouth.
You can use the same concept for your app reviews.
How can you give a small gift toward the users that are committed to sharing their great experience with you?
How can you use a unique gifting approach to stimulate virality and more downloads?
Get people involved in your app.
People like contributing to a higher good. There are people out in your ideal user base that are willing to be beta testers and early adopters.
If you’re wondering how to find potential testers outside of social media, here’s a recommended list of beta testing sites.
These beta testing sites have users and qualified quality assurance teams to help you test before you hit the the launch button.
Market and hint at app features on your social channels and through word of mouth.
Put up polls on social posts and stories to ask people about what features interest them.
Conduct market research through a Google form in order to gauge demographics, app usage, features and other questions you’re curious to get straight from your ideal users.
Ask people if they would be willing to be testers and identify a core group as your VIP tester or Power Users. These are the people who would be most likely to pay or use the app and share with their friends or team members.
An example app that has heavily used market research, trusted testers and beta testers, is the Herd App.
You can check out their market research approach here on their site.
Do strong keyword research.
It’s likely you found my blog post through keyword research – whether it’s Google, Instagram alt text or Pinterest captions.
Keywords are the secret sauce in getting eyeballs on your app as well.
Like search-engine-optimization on Google, you need to focus on search intent.
What are people actually searching for in finding your app?
Note that this may be different than what you would search for or how you would describe your app experience.
Step into the user’s shoes and do some searching on the app store. What would they be likely to search for to specifically find your application?
Do a search with target keywords that match your app experience and spot the related keywords that pop up.
Again, like inputting a search into Google, you’ll get auto-filled suggestions and related searches that give you insight into what people are looking for.
Do your due diligence in picking choice keywords that reflect what people are actually trying to find.
Write an app description that your customer would write.
This is where the reviews you get pay you back. You can pull the keywords and critical “sound bites” from your users to write a description in their words.
In this approach, you get targeted language that really hits the soul of your ideal customer and user.
What if I don’t have any app reviews, though?
No sweat, my friend. Go and seek out your direct and indirect app competitors.
What are their user reviews saying?
What are the keywords you see that would be great to implement in your description and showcase how your app benefits and changes your user’s life?
Overall, your app description should be short and clear, rather than insanely clever and go into the app complexities.
Give your user a glimpse of what they can expect from the experience. Create a gap between what they need and what you have.
Play with price drops.
If your app is available on a pay-to-download basis, play with pricing.
Share a limited-time drop in price to get people to take advantage of the pricing while it’s lower to get access to your app.
Scarcity breeds potential surges in demand. Especially with firm countdowns, deadlines and rarity in discounts.
From there you can encourage users who download to share the news on social media, share their reviews and further fuel word-of-mouth.
Comment on niche blogs.
In order to spread the word and share the value of your app, blog post comment sections are the next spot to take advantage of.
Search blogs in your niche focus area.
Find blog posts in their published content that you know that you can lend value in commenting on.
This is important, because you don’t want to share a link and leave. That will cause the blog owner or writers to delete your comment or mark it as spam.
Trust me, I’ve had to do this to some comments that just aim to promote.
To keep your comments alive, add value by responding to the posts main points or adding an additional point that the blog post may not have mentioned.
Share your thoughts in a polite, respectful manner, while establishing your authority on the subject.
Then include a natural transition in your comment conversation to including your link to your app.
Case in point: Feel free to comment and share value here on this post and add a link.
Again if you aim to only spam here – I will have to delete. Sorry…
Make your app the centerpiece of your website.
The imposter syndrome in launching an app is real.
However, you won’t get reviews and downloads unless people know what you do. You need to shout it from all channels. If you have a website, don’t create extra bandwidth for people to find it.
Make it super simple and not hidden in the navigation tab or footer.
Shout it from above the fold!
Otherwise, how would they know? Like, how would they know?
Make it so your website or landing page makes it easy to know what the app looks like, what the benefits are, and easily directs toward the app in the app store.
Here are a couple of examples for simple and more complex app-showcasing designs:
Tune into how your target generation makes decisions.
In creating your app, take into consideration how your target generations makes buying decisions or use their online environment.
For example, Gen Z users are more likely to take into account the recommendations from apps they are in – including the app store. If your app is featured or advertised in places like Tiktok, Spotify or Snapchat, this group is more inclined to take notice.
This group is also more inclined toward purchases that are impact-driven and socially conscious. Having great reviews also goes a long way as ratings drive decision making for this group in everything from what restaurant to eat at based on Google Maps to Amazon products.
Even if you can’t advertise to social platforms, consider how you can organically market to values for this customer segment and gather stellar reviews to push these users to jump on the bandwagon.
For Millenials and Gen X, Google searches and word of mouth are going to both be of a key motivator for individuals in this customer segment to use your app.
Working the search engine optimization (SEO) angle in doing guest posts or blogging on your own website will help to take advantage of passive traffic to your website and app over time.
You can also focus on promotional means like incentivizing users to share the app. This can include a sign on bonus or account referral credit for 1-2 free months from the user getting another user to download and sign up for an app account.
Interact with all user reviews.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
It benefits you to take time to view and respond to all reviews on your app.
However, if you have to prioritize time with a limited, bootstrapped team, go with the negative reviews. Nothing hurts your brand more than inaction when it comes to addressing complaints.
If users are unhappy, make it a point to respond within 24 hours to help clarify, understand and remedy the issue.
Make the individual feel heard, don’t be defensive in the comments and maintain a cool head in responding.
Your reviews can only help in prioritizing development in the next iteration cycle and feature deployment.
Feedback is fuel for success.
Give updates on updates.
In line with the above communication point, send out updates on fixes, bug resolution and enhancements.
If possible, shoutout and share a thank you to the user(s) that may have called out your product.
Bonus points if the update originated from a negative user review. (A thank you always throws a Negative Nellie for a loop.)
With shouting out users who give constructive feedback toward improving the app, these users are likely to share on their social channels.
This gives you a chance to gain more market share and potential ideal customers to download.
Beyond that, sharing updates on new releases and fixes keeps your user base informed on what they can expect to encounter in the app.
It helps them to know that you are focused on continuous improvement and they’re not just stuck with a bug-filled app. (In which case, they will easily drop off in activity in using your app.)
It also helps form a stronger, trusting relationship with your user base. Users feel like they have a stake in the product’s future and can make a difference in reporting bugs.
And obviously, with frequent updates – they also know when the issue is resolved.
Overall, updates help give users more confidence in using the app and being heard in reporting issues and making more suggestions in future.
All of this will provide a stronger customer-app relationship that fosters encouraging others to download and experience.
Make users want to fill their home screen with your app.
This is the final, critical point.
Why should someone let you take up space on your phone?
Besides creating a good-looking icon to fill their home screen (you should do this too…they’ll be looking at this icon for a long time), you need to share what makes your app unique and creates exclusivity.
If you’re a brand launching an app, what perks can you offer through the app that you can’t get anywhere else?
For example, Starbucks offers app users a star per each dollar spent. With these stars, you can redeem rewards starting at 25 stars, or $25 in coffee purchases. As you get up to 400 stars, you can get free bags of coffee beans, cups and other merchandise.
Apps like Chipotle and CVS apply similar strategies to give exclusive discounts to app users.
If you don’t download the Chipotle app, how else are you supposed to get free guacamole?
Even if you can’t offer perks in the way of discounts in the app experience, how can you solve problems that make it critical that a user can’t live without what you’re offering?
How do you do what you do differently?
If you’re a task manager, for example, you’re up against a lot of competition in the space. How do you do things differently? Do you use a different user experience (UX) design to organize tasks? Maybe instead of a board format, you organize tasks into a treasure map that a user has to journey through to unlock.
Do you include the use of creative automated reminders? Can users get specialized reminders based on the time of day that the task is detected to be done in?
Do you gamify completing tasks in a particular way? Do you have badges to redeem for rewards? Is there a fireworks show when the user completes a task?
Step away from your app as a founder and put yourself in the shoes of your user. What are the “wow moments” in your app?
What expectations do you need to set for your user to give them a vivid, exciting and accurate picture of the app experience?
What do you know about what makes you special that you can convey to your customer?
Shout that from the App Store rooftops.