You have an idea for a killer app and have chosen to pull the trigger on it and have it developed. You do some research on how to design an app. You put together some mockups and wire-frames, maybe (definitely!) hire a graphic designer to take care of the artwork, and you locate a developer to program the application.
Some weeks go by and the app is looking good (according to you). You’re getting excited because soon you’ll be unleashing it onto the world. Your app, you say, will help a lot of people with “this or that problem” and earning you along the way a nice little stream of income.
The day is finally here! Your app has been approved by Apple and it’s finally in the iTunes Store. Maybe you developed a web app or plugin, so you flick the switch and now the app’s website is live and ready for business. You’re excited. You’re nervous. And everything in between…
And then, nothing.
No instant hit. No raving recommendations. No traffic to your app’s website. Your iPhone app is not on the “New and Noteworthy” list in the iTunes store. Or the “What’s Hot” list. It’s not on any list.
You blast and spam your “friends” on Facebook and Twitter with the hopes to jump-start sales. But the needle barely moves. Days or weeks go by, and you realize that your app is not helping thousands of people. And it’s not making you any richer either.
You might as well have hitchhiked on the space shuttle to the nearest black hole, and launched your app into it using an escape pod. Both scenarios are (more or less) equally as absurd, and equally unlikely to produce a successful app launch.
Of course, I’m oversimplifying things in the above introduction. But you get the point. And as hard to believe as it may be, this is pretty much what a lot of first time app creators are doing when launching their app.
They focus all or most of their time and resources on developing their idea. And barely at all on creating the foundation and platform to enable a successful app launch.
So what could you do differently to give your first app, and every app you publish a fighting chance to succeed? Here are some things you could (*cough* should *cough*) do before you launch your app to give yourself a better shot at beating the odds, and succeeding as an app creator and publisher:
What’s your problem? Nail it down:
Before you hire a developer. Even before you get started on any mockups or wire-frames, you want, and need, to clearly define in a concise and bite sized way, exactly what it is that your app aims to accomplish for your users.
Nailing down your app’s purpose will greatly dictate the direction you will take when it comes to development. It will help you refine your initial feature set and save you time and money in the development process.
But most importantly, knowing what your app absolutely must do, and what it shouldn’t, will help you create a clutter free, more user friendly tool that delivers on its promise.
Clear, concise, and communicates effectively with potential new users. Use the app for 5 minutes and you’ll see that all the features they included, and just as importantly, everything they left out, is aligned with what they defined as their app’s purpose. Brilliant!
It’s your problem. But is it theirs, too?
This part of the “pre-game show” can make or break your app before you even get started. And this is a good thing!
It’s a good thing because you absolutely don’t want to spend your hard earned money and precious time developing and launching an app that nobody needs!
So how can you get a sense of whether or not there’s a market for your app? Do other people share the problem your solution is supposed to tackle? Here’s some basic things you can do to find out. This is not extensive market research by any means, but it should help you paint a basic picture of what your app’s market looks like:
1. If your idea is for an iPhone app, search the app store and find your competition:
Are any of them on the “top lists” in the iTunes Store? Have they stayed there for a while?
If a competing app (or several of them) show up in their category’s “Top Apps” lists, this is a good indication that there is strong demand for apps like yours and that many people share a common problem that other apps have attempted to solve.
If no competing apps show up on the Top Lists, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should give up on your app idea. Instead, dig deeper.
Perhaps the other apps haven’t quite been effective in their approach to solving the problem? Maybe the market is smaller than you thought, which isn’t to say that your app can’t still be profitable. Keep reading to find out what you can do to answer some of these questions.
2. If your app is meant for the Web, or a plugin for say, WordPress:
Perform a similar exercise by running a Google search and locating as many competing apps as you can. Then run searches specific to each of the apps to get a sense of how many results around the internet are mentioning those competitors.
In the case of WordPress, visit the WordPress Plugin Directory and you’ll easily find what other similar plugins are available (most of the plugins here tend to be free BTW!) by running a plugin search.
A lot of search results for each app is a good sign. Few or none could tell you that demand is not strong enough yet for your type of solution.
Few or no applicable results could indicate that your idea is revolutionary, and nobody has attempted it yet. This is a risky place to be. Tread lightly if you find yourself here. As in any economic endeavor, great risk may produce a great reward. It may also indicate you’re ahead of the market and that your app may fail miserably.
Another alternative to explain lack of competing apps for a particular idea is that what you’re attempting to do can’t be done at this moment for one reason or another. This is the case for example for iPhone screen capture apps. Plenty of folk have the means and know-how to do it. But you won’t find any apps in the app store because Apple’s terms forbid it (shout out to Trey Smith for sharing this tidbit!).
Mine is bigger than yours… How does your idea measure up?
Oy… Sorry I went there… Just seemed like the perfect sub-header! Anyways…
At this stage you have a pretty good idea of what features your app will have. It’s time figure out if your app idea is actually as good as you think it is, or if it’s been done a hundred times already (which judging from the app store, doesn’t seem to stop many people from re-hashing the same ol’ app with shiny new graphics. And some of them do quite well, it seems! At least temporarily).
Here are a few things you can do to find out which features people love the most, what they hate, and most importantly, what they want and haven’t been able to get (yet!):
1. Read the reviews on the app store for the most popular competing apps:
There’s a wealth of information in the user reviews that you can leverage to build a more effective solution, packed with features people want, void with the features people hate, and to improve those features that people are indifferent of.
2. Use Google to locate reviews, blog posts and other info about your competitors:
Again, there’s a tremendous amount of insight to be found around the web if you just search for it. Read the reviews, user comments, testimonials. Follow the information breadcrumbs as far as you can to dig up as much valuable info as possible.
One red flag however: Some apps have affiliate programs where people earn money for every new user that registers. This means that a lot of people out there may write raving reviews of those apps on their blogs attempting to get people to click on affiliate links. Some reviews and blogs properly disclose whether you’re reading an affiliate review or not. But if you see a review that doesn’t strike you as “honest”, you know, all is good and the app is “perfect”, or if it’s full of affiliate links back to the app it’s “reviewing”, that is an affiliate review. Skip it and move on to the next.
3. Leverage Social Networks and user Forums for even more insight:
Head over to search.twitter.com and setup some searches. Visit the competing app’s Facebook page and read the posts or comments people leave on their Fan Page Wall.
Fortunately for you, people are pretty hasty to tweet out a complaint directed at the app’s official Twitter account. And they are equally likely to voice their frustration, or utter elation, with an app on their Facebook wall.
If you own the app, or are registered user, and they have support forums make sure you check them out as well. In them you’re likely to find even more raving users and people that have issues with the app and are seeking help. Make sure you listen carefully to what they have to say…
All this info is priceless to you when it comes to defining which features should take priority when developing your app, which ones shouldn’t, and which ones you can completely do without.
Now focus on your user base
What user base? You haven’t even built the app, right? Wrong.
You want and need to build an audience made up of exactly those people who may buy your app once it’s released. Consider the following things you can put in place:
1. Set up your Home Base:
Chris Brogan has talked and written extensively on this. You want to set up a “Home Base” for yourself and/or your app while you’re developing it, before you launch. Consider starting a blog that focuses on generating content and tips relevant to the problem your app is going to tackle.
Content Marketing has become indispensable for pretty much any type of business. App publishing is no exception! Assuming you’re generating content that’s helpful to your target market you’ll be building a platform of raving fans who will await your app anxiously with wallet-in-hand.
The content you produce at this stage will also serve another purpose: to start helping you rank better on the Search Engines for keywords associated with your app or solution before you launch the app. This means that when the app is released you will be able to funnel traffic from the search engines to your app’s website and app store page.
2. Create your app’s Twitter account, and maybe even a Facebook Page:
Start engaging your potential users. Do you know which of you competitor’s apps they use? Have you asked them what they love, what they want? Social Media is the perfect medium to cost effectively get user input, straight from the user, to then leverage into your app’s development.
Keep in mind that some users of your competing apps may not be writing user reviews, blasting out angry tweets, or participating in the support forums that you already checked. Sometimes the only way to get the information you need is to ask!
And remember those Twitter searches I mentioned before? Keep those running. Engage the users that are talking about your competitors. But remember while participating in Social Networks to NOT try to sell people on anything… Focus on being helpful, having conversations that matter to your prospective users, and you should be fine.
And finally, test before you launch
Testing your app before launching is of obvious importance. Otherwise you’ll find that things you could have easily solved in development are now posted as negative reviews all over the web and app store. And that’s not the worst: you’ve given your users a negative user experience that may drive them away from using your app again (I know I’ve quit using many, many, many apps after a single try!).
Beta test your web app, iPhone app or plugin as much as you can before launching. Make sure the important bugs are squashed, that your user interface is simple and easy to learn. And most importantly, that your app is delivering on its promise to solve a specific problem for your users.
Will these tips guarantee that your app will succeed? No. But ignore them and you are definitely far more likely to fail.
There are plenty of other factors that make applications successful. But as you can see there are many things to do while developing your app that are equally as important as the app itself. And are definitely a bigger factor to a successful app launch than how pretty your app looks, or how brilliant you think your idea is.
I’ve got a ton of great content coming your way here on Appeando including: Interviews with successful app publishers and entrepreneurs, tutorials and app critiques.
So please remember to come back or better yet, consider subscribing for email updates (it’s free and 100% spam free, use the form below the blog post) and follow @appeando on Twitter, or join the brand spankin’ new Appeando community on Facebook (woo shiny!).
What do you have to say?
Have you launched an app successfully before? Have anything to add? What else would you do to improve your chances of success as an app publisher?