How to Get Featured on the App Store

Before you read any further in this piece, here are some things you should already be doing. If you’re not, you’re not ready to get featured on the App Store yet. Skip this post and focus on your work:

  • Build a great app
  • Invest in great design
  • Make sure your app is different and unique

Now, one more thing before we get on to the good stuff:

Getting featured is great. It’s very exciting, it’s a great opportunity and makes you more credible. But it’s not the end-all or be-all for your app. Your marketing plan needs to go beyond just getting featured. I already wrote about PR and press coverage here, which has the potential to drive a ton of traffic to your app. Here are some other things you should look into when you’re planning your mobile growth stack:

  • App Store presence + Search (ASO)
  • Video and web presence
  • Cross promotion
  • PR
  • Paid advertising
Next Keyboard banner featured on App Store

And now, for the main feature. Here’s how my team and I, at Tiny Hearts, got featured on the App Store multiple times (front page, category pages, Apple commercials, Free App of the Week and briefly at Apple keynotes), and how you can too:

1. Build Relationships

Look, obviously your app has to get an Editors attention. That’s why so many articles start off with, “Build a great app.”

However, if you want to be more proactive about it, the other way to get their attention is to get introduced to right folks at Apple.

If you’re in Canada — check out the Made In Canada section for Canadian developers in your area

For example, you could look at your local App Store and see who’s being featured. You can then look up these apps and meet the people or teams responsible for them. It’s likely that these people will be friends with App Store managers or the App Store editorial team. That means they could potentially introduce you to folks at Apple, if they’re interested.

At this point, you should already have an app that you’re proud of. Remember that even though you’re meeting with them, you’re not trying to sell your app to these people. You are trying to connect with this person as a fellow app developer. Go have coffee with them or ask them for a small amount of time (e.g., 15–30 minutes). If you’re based out of Toronto, come have a coffee with us.

When you first get in touch with them, you should have already used their product. Let them know what you think of it. If you love it, tell them you love it. (Flattery is only frowned upon if it’s insincere!) You should also have a version of your product ready, so you can show them and ask them for feedback.

I once received a video these app makers had created just for me, which I was really impressed with. They told me how much they enjoyed my apps, explained their app, and politely asked if I could support them. At that point I was happy to make a submission to Product Hunt.

Like what you’ve read so far? Join our infrequent newsletter to learn things like ‘How to get discovered on the App Store’ and ‘How to Make Products that People Love’.

2. Understand what Apple is Trying to Promote

Aligning your goals with Apple’s goals is one of the best ways to get promoted on the App Store. If you can make Apple relevant, they’ll return the favor by getting exposure for you (and themselves).

WWDC 2015 — Apple announcing El Capitan, iOS 9, and Watch OS2

Pay attention to WWDC (June), Apple’s software update schedule, Apple’s special hardware updates (September), and Apple’s hardware schedules. Most people watch and simply think about technical implications. However, there’s more to it — if you look beyond just a technical perspective, from a product perspective, you could see new opportunities to get an Apple feature.

For example, if you realize Apple’s launching or promoting a new API, you could ship an app or product update that leverages this API. When you build a part of your app around their product roadmap, Apple is keen to promote you because they’re interested in promoting their updates.

Apple promoting apps that incorporate 3D Touch

When the 6S came out, Apple promoted apps that took advantage of 3D Touch. So if that feature was relevant to your app, you could ship an update and reach out to Apple. This is twice as effective if you already have a contact at Apple. Apple likes selling more phones and making their phones more useful, so if you can help them achieve these goals then they’ll be interested in promoting you.

Obviously, I’m not telling you to mindlessly shift your product roadmap to match theirs. Ultimately, it depends on whatever makes sense for your product. Not everybody needs an Apple Watch or Apple TV app. If your users do, and if you can extend your user experience to that, then that’s awesome. But don’t force it. Balance the potential feature with your product goals and business objectives.

Also, keep in mind that a TV app might not change your company’s trajectory right now (if there are too few users). However, it could serve as the initial touchpoint with Apple that gets their attention.

Your product updates can be more than just updates. They could potentially serve as marketing tools. Use them wisely.

Like what you’ve read so far? Join our infrequent newsletter to learn things like ‘How to get discovered on the App Store’ and ‘How to Make Products that People Love’.

3. Make an Outstanding App Icon

I consider myself to be an app icon connoisseur. I could talk about app icons all day. (Maybe I’ll write a post about it in the future.) This could make for an entire blog post on its own, so I’ll just go into it really briefly:

We’ve been featured a few times, and we heard directly from Apple that they notice good app icons. Although it’s a tiny detail, it matters a lot more than people think. Your app icon serves as an indicator of potential quality. If your app icon is great, your app’s design might be great as well — which makes your app worth trying out.

Always judge an app by it’s icon.

Your app icon will have to compete with a million other apps. But, keep in mind that your app icon will also need to compete with all other people featured in this section. Most people use cooler colors (such as blue), so try something less conventional that will stand out in contrast to that. (For example, Snapchat’s yellow.) We used an orange gradient for Next Keyboard.

The Next keyboard app icon.

There are a few factors that play into outstanding app icons:

Top free iPhone app icons
  1. Technical: Use bold colors, drastic contrast, etc.

Have a look at Videoshop Video’s app, Forks Over Knives’ app, and the 7 Second Challenge app. Each of these have really bold, vibrant colors. They stand out from the cooler blues on the App Store.

2. Descriptive: They explain what your app does

Sago Mini Road Trip app icon

Your app icon should visually explain what your app does without any words. All the previously mentioned apps are great at that, but you can also have a look at Alto’s Adventure, Forest, and Sago Mini Road Trip for inspiration. Each of these are not only very dynamic, but some feature characters (this is more important for games.)

3. Consistent: Your icon should represent the app’s interface

Wake app icon — 8:24 is the average time people wake up

A well-designed app icon is indicative of a well-designed app. I’m not afraid to brag here — our app Wake does a great job of that.

When you’re designing your icon, keep in mind that an Apple Feature is worth hundreds of thousands in free advertising. It’s a great opportunity to promote your brand.

Trend of white app icons — Google, YouTube, and Pinterest

There’s been a trend of brands creating app icons that are their logos splashed on a white background. It’s not a bad idea for big brands — whenever people see your app, your logo and brand gains awareness. Google and YouTube do this. So does Groupon, Indeed, Dubsmash, Musical.ly, eBay, Kik, Pinterest, etc. There are downsides to this trend and it most certainly doesn’t work for most apps. Michael Flarup wrote a good post about this here.

Be Less Selfish

When you think about it, asking, “How do I get featured?” is just the beginning. Features can happen as a byproduct of thoughtful design, your relationships (“Who do I need to know?”), your timing (“How can I make this relevant to people and Apple?”), and how you represent your brand (“What impression does my icon make?”).

Obviously, as every other article about getting featured says, you need a great product. But that’s a prerequisite to getting featured on the App Store. I shared tactical specific examples of how some of my friends and I got featured. Hopefully they help. Have fun and focus on making an app that is worthy of Apple’s spotlight!

P.S. We design and develop apps for select clients. Feel free to reach out if you want help building a ‘feature worthy’ app. collab@tinyhearts.com

If you like this post, you might also like:

How Next Keyboard Became the Most Funded App on Kickstarter
Lessons on how you can use Kickstarter to your advantage and some warnings, when you’re crowdfunding software

Robleh Jama is the founder of Tiny Hearts, an award-winning product studio. They make their own products like Next Keyboard, Wake Alarm and Quick Fit — as well as products for select clients like Plantronics and Philips.

Check out our blog and join our newsletter to learn things like ‘How to get discovered on the App Store’ and ‘How to Make Products that People Love’.

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