How to Sell Your App

Illustration credit: Mike Munroe

What’s up, nerds? It’s me, your inner suit. We’re going to do that thing you always say you want to do: make money from your indie app.

If you listened to the last article and built an app in the right niche, you’re halfway there. Now, it’s time to sell it, which requires just two things:

  • Be where users are looking for you
  • Some of that ‘marketing’ stuff you’ve heard so much about

We won’t be doing any programming today. Instead, we’ll be fixing your metadata, Photoshopping some tight screenshots, and tweeting dank memes. Let’s synergize our core competencies and get to work.

Rule 1: No cleverness

Were you so inspired by all those successful photo collage apps that you went and made your very own? Good job!

Here are your new brand guidelines:

  • Your app should be named “Photo Collage”
  • Your icon should be a tiny photo collage
  • Your screenshots should show collages of photos
  • Your description should be about photographs and the collaging thereof

You’re trying to look like the default choice for a popular organic search term, not win a Clio. Your app’s brand and assets should be intelligible and direct. That means a boring name and a straightforward icon.

Don’t get cute. Your potential users don’t want to have an inside joke explained to them, they just want to know that your app solves their problem.

Rule 2: Be in the right place

If you’re convinced that your competition is succeeding organically (no giant paid acquisition campaigns, no ‘big brother’ app or website pushing traffic to it, etc.), then they must be capturing app store search traffic. You need to reverse-engineer how so that you can appear alongside them.

Start by making a list of potential search terms that might drive traffic in your niche (like “collage maker”, “photo collage”, “collage app”). Check the results of these searches. If the niche leader appears near the top of the results, add that keyword to your own listing. (If you can’t find any keywords like this, revisit your assumption that your competition is succeeding organically.)

There is no guarantee that these keywords are what’s boosting your competition — correlation is not causation — but it’s a good guess.

Next, go deep into your competitors’ reviews. Here you can see, in their own words, how customers describe your niche. You couldn’t pay for this quality of user research! Your competitor’s reviews are a goldmine for keywords and customer insights: you might check out a photo collage app and find customers leaving reviews with novel phrases you wouldn’t have guessed (like ‘greeting cards’, ‘photo montage’, and ‘brochure’).

These two strategies will yield a list that you should use in your keywords field, and also liberally in your app’s description and feature list.

Rule 3: Look good

If you want your app to sell, it needs to look good. Not “I did all the required fields and it passed the app store’s review” good, but actually, objectively good.

iOS and macOS developers were apparently born knowing this. Android developers seem to have caught on. Microsoft Store developers are, well, hopefully reading this.

You don’t need design sense, you just need diligence; making your app’s listing look good takes more effort than skill. Here’s your checklist:

  • Provide every art asset. Each art asset is another opportunity to show off your app, for free. Don’t leave optional fields blank.
  • Consider the usage of your icons. Some app stores use a different icon in the search results than on the product listing page. Most use different icons for the installed app than the app’s store listing. Optimize each icon for its purpose. Don’t blindly copy-and-paste.
  • Make realistic screenshots. Don’t half-ass your app’s screenshots with “Lorem Ipsum” or obviously-fake data. Make it real and inspiring, so your prospects can actually see themselves using your app.
  • Update, update, update. Metadata requirements and opportunities change regularly in every app store. Apps that keep their metadata updated will have double or triple the install rate of their lazier competitors.

Rule 4: Get paid

If your app is available for free, it has a funnel. A funnel is the list of steps you need to lead a user through in order to get them to some kind of desired outcome (like paying you). It’s called a ‘funnel’ because as you get further down, it becomes harder and harder to drag users to the next step.

Your app’s funnel is like Drake’s Equation for estimating the odds of whether there’s intelligent life in your developer account. Do you know yours well enough to bet your business on it?

Unless you have an active strategy for converting your free users into paid users, stop it with your month-long free trials, your IAPs that only gate 1% of your user base, or your subscription that only 0.1% of your users will ever buy.

Slide 4 from our Series A deck

If you’re working by yourself, your app should either cost money, or have a compelling (and early) in-app purchase, because optimizing a deep monetization funnel is a full-time job.

Be aggressive — your put hard work into your app, and you deserve to make money. If you’re afraid of negative reviews caused by buyer’s remorse, fix your app instead of pussyfooting around the transaction, and stick to your guns in your review responses.

And about pricing: test, test, test. You should be regularly changing your app’s price, putting it on sale, and charging different amounts for different regions. You are allowed to do this. It’s not dirty or unfair.

Some of your users who bought at a higher price will complain. Either suck it up or make them whole, but don’t let it stop you from testing. Finding the sweet spot for your app’s price can literally double your revenue just by fiddling with some metadata fields.

Rule 5: Be popular

To finish your app’s store listing beautification project, you’ll need some social proof from your users in the form of sweet, sweet positive reviews. You can either wait a few years for them to trickle in, or get them in a week in four easy steps. How, you ask? Just FALP!

  • Free: Put your app or IAP on sale for free.
  • Advertise: Announce to the world that your app’s gone free. Twitter comes in handy here. So does Reddit or any other news aggregator where you can submit your app’s sale.
  • Listen: Listen to the avalanche of feedback you get from all the users who just got your app for free, and fix any important bugs or missing features
  • Prompt: Send a segmented push notification to all of the users who just got your app for free asking for a review. It’s the least they can do for you.

You might think that FALPing will cannibalize your eventual earnings by letting everyone get your app or IAP for free, but the increase in your listing’s effectiveness from the positive reviews outweighs any future lost sales.

Rule 6: Never skip web day

No one’s stoked to make a web presence for their app, which is why it’s such a good idea. Having a baseline web and social media presence is a permanent credibility buff.

Get your own domain and either make a website with Launchaco or use static hosting on S3/Cloudfront. (Total cost: <$100 per year.) All you need is the following:

  • A page for frequently-asked questions and contacting support
  • A privacy policy
  • A lander for each of your apps
  • A sales page for people looking for volume licensing or enterprise contracts

That’s it! It takes about 30 minutes, and then you can leave it forever. Now, whenever you submit your app, you can fill in those annoying fields for ‘privacy policy’ and ‘support’ with something that looks professional, instead of fname_support@hotmail.com like you usually do. Users seeking support will respect you more and be nicer to you.

You need some social media, too — at least a dedicated Twitter account for your apps. Maybe you’ll enjoy posting your very own bad Photoshops:

Tweet some memes = get some press

If you don’t have a burning passion for shitposting memes, then all you have to do is tweet every time you update your app.

Again: customers will see that you’re active, and be more respectful because you look more professional and responsive.

Good talk.

I’m glad I reached out and touched base.

We’re not trying to boil the ocean here. Plucking some low-hanging fruit will actualize your indie app development success. If you circle back on these action items, you’ll be empowered to stretch the envelope on your app’s performantness.

All the best,

Your inner suit.

Sent from my iPhone


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