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App Store Ranking: The Truth and Nothing but The Truth. A Developer’s Guide

Joe Bayen
Joe Bayen
Dec 18, 2015 · 6 min read

As the CEO of mobile app promotional platform, Free App A Day, I was responsible for promoting apps in the top 25 free ranking on a daily basis. Between 2009 and 2014, I spent most of my time glued in front of my computer screen, analyzing patterns and observing trends. In the early days of the App Store, the ranking was very volatile with new apps regularly entering the all too important top 200, and reshaping the structure of the charts on a daily basis. This environment forced us to constantly adapt to new realities in order to remain relevant. Below you will find a couple of headlines highlighting our promotional successes.

FreeAppADay bounces six apps into the US top 10 including Civilization Revolution

FreeAppADay.com Helps Propel iPhone App “Galaxy On Fire 2” to App Store Top 10 Grossing, Prevents Jail-breaking, Lands Dozens More in the Top 25 Overall Free Ranking

Why am I sharing this information?

I simply heard way too many stories of developers spending their hard earned savings and devoting the majority of their time towards building apps that were doomed to fail from the onset. However, if you really want to move forward with that amazing app idea of yours, the following piece will hopefully give you some insight into what you should expect as well as some best practices to succeed.

The Trend: The rich getting richer

The Daunting Math

1.There are currently 1.5M apps in the app store and the vast majority of the installs occur in the top 200 and to a certain extend, the top 300. Meaning, the odds are evidently not in your favor from the onset.

2. Since 2009, the app store has progressively evolved from a fluid ecosystem, where apps moved up and down the charts freely without much resistance, towards a much more rigid state. Indeed, ~70% of the apps, currently present in the overall top 200, have essentially become permanent residents. This new environment is dramatically restricting the ability for new apps to make a dent.

3. In regards to apps that solely rely on the app store ranking for monetization, the new paradigm has shifted towards which app monetizes better rather than which app ranks higher. Since theoretically and in actual practice, apps that monetize higher have the capacity to squeeze their competition out of the market by bidding for ad inventory at a higher rate.

The Dominant Apps

The calcification of the app store phenomenon, was caused by five distinctive types of apps that currently dominate the top 200 free charts: The viral apps, the ad network apps, the high monetization apps, the branded apps and Apple apps. Additionally, this process compounds itself continuously on a yearly basis, contributing to further clog the charts all together.

The viral apps

These apps maintain their high chart ranking organically and spend little to no marketing budget towards customer acquisition:

Example: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, twitter.

The Ad network apps

These are a very rare breed, but their impact in the app store is significant. The phenomenon occurs when developers are able to generate a network effect, by creating highly addictive apps that remain in top 100 rankings for months at a time. Then, through the use of banner ads, are able to easily promote other apps they own. The velocity that is generated, is powerful enough to propel any app in the top 100 and maintain them in that position for an extended period time. Ad network apps can often simultaneously maintain 3 to 4 apps in the top 200, contributing to further obstruct the chart.

The most successful ad network apps: 2048, Wishbone

The high monetization apps

These apps mainly focus on the freemium business model. They are free, but the core principle behind the addictiveness of these apps, is the fact that developers use time as a commodity to their advantage to optimize their revenue. This means that in order to progress faster or gain a competitive advantage, users will need to spend exceedingly more money. These are the most sophisticated developers, who are consistently dominating the top 200 chart as well as the top 200 grossing chart. The top freemium developers are perennial top 200 residents.

Most successful freemium developers: Machine Zone: Game of War, Supercell: Clash of Clans, King: Candy Crush

Apps promoted by Apple.

Apple constantly promotes their own apps as well as about 20 new apps weekly during their app of the week promotional campaigns

The Big Brands Apps

CNN, HBO,Starbucks, target, Google, Bank of America, Uber….

Can you still strive?

In order to optimize your chances of success, you should:

  1. Develop apps, that do not solely rely on the App Store ranking for monetization such as Uber, Airbnb, Robinhood or Blue Apron.
  2. Develop apps for niche markets that are bringing true value to your audience: Handstand, Springrole.
  3. Build apps that extend or complement your core business: Medium, Evernote.
  4. Avoid developing freemium games unless you have raised several millions of dollars.
  5. If you want to move forward with your great app idea, be passionate and go all in. Because all your attention will be needed to increase the likelihood of success. As John wooden said best:

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen”

7. In order to justify putting your heart and sweat towards developing your app, always remember that you can have a great team, a great product, and be passionate, but without a large enough market you are bound to fail.

Do it like a pro!

If you are still willing to move forward with your great app idea, you should use the tools that the pros are using to optimize your likelihood of success.

Kochava:

Kochava will help you evaluate if your marketing channels are effective.

Mixpanel:

Mixpanel will help you get a better understanding of your users, which in turn will help your make adjustments to your apps or build new features.

Appannie:

Appannie charts will help you understand your competition. It will also help you evaluate how various concepts, that are similar to yours, fared in the past.

Famebit:

Do not underestimate the power of influencer marketing. If you can’t get your eye balls in the app store, get others to generate some buzz for you. Influencer marketing platforms, such as Famebit, can be really effective at placing your app in front of the right eye balls.

The app store ranking used to be very unpredictable. Nowadays, it is much more predictable and smart developers have better tools at their disposal to increase their likely of success.

If this was a bit too depressing, this final pic will hopefully put a smile on your face.


Joe Bayen is CEO and Founder at Lenny Inc, lives by the sharing is caring mantra.

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