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Marketing on the App Store

From #Pragma Conference 2015, Tim Oliver gives you tips on how to make your app stand out above the crowd! He covers how to market your app on the App Store, including, but not limited to: app title, keywords, app icon, screenshots, descriptions, localizations, and business model. He then touches on social exposure and app marketing outside the App Store.

Marketing on the App Store: you have an app (or are about to have an app) on the App Store, and you are looking for how to make it stand out above the crowd, how to make it shine, and how to get downloads and users.

My name is Tim Oliver. I am from the faraway place of Western Australia. I majored in an interesting degree: half computer science, half multimedia (I like to think I have a balance in designing and developing!). I was a web developer for five years before I transitioned to full-time iOS development. Last year I migrated over Realm, and this is my one of my hobbies (other than karaoke): app development (check out iComics, a comic reader for iOS).

The App Store (3:52)

The only official way to get an app onto your iOS device is through the App Store. There is over 1.4 million apps on the App Store. However, but also abandonware: 100,000 apps built for iPhone OS 2 are still available for download. As a result, it is really hard to get noticed. Certain categories are saturated; dead apps, by sheer virtue of being there longer, sometimes rank higher. You have to compete both with dead and comparative apps.

“Build a great app. Build it and they will come”… that does not happen. If you want to get people to notice your app, you have to make sure it stands out, it has to be really polished, good, and above all you have to tell people about it. You have to market it.

App title (6:04)

The app title (not the name of your app specifically; but appears next to the icon on the App Store) should be easy to spell, no plurals (e.g. there is no concept of plurals in Asian languages). Even if you check whether the name is available on the App Store, always check the trademark database (the main one is the American). Also, when you add flavor text, you can localize it. Even if you keep your app name in English lettering, you can let international users know that your app is still translated to the language, by translating that flavor text to their language.

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Keywords (8:03)

The main way to search for your app are the app name and the keywords field on iTunes Connect. Keywords have a 100 character limit (without spaces between the words, comma separated; it is a good idea to think about possible words that users will be searching). Plurals are not necessary. Any keywords that you put in the title are given more weight (when adding flavor text, iComics ranking went from number 45 to 15), but do not use “free” or “fun”: everyone is doing that as an attempt to get fun apps, and you will never rank in those ones.

App icon (10:18)

The icon is the most important part of your app: the first thing a user will see when searching for your app (it will form their initial opinion). Before iOS 7, the only thing you could see in the search results was the app name and the icon. Now we have the screen shots: we have more content we can control. But back then, the icon was main thing that would pitch to people that you have a well-crafted app. Every time I do an icon, I test it at every size. You can use this template to set up how your icon looks in preview, and then to export.

Screenshots (11:58)

Two screenshots are visible. The first two ones are the ones that count. Whatever portions of your app a user uses the most is what you should have. You should demonstrate what your app looks like.

With device borders (instead of having a screenshot of your app), people are taking a screenshot, then taking a template of a device, putting the screenshot in the template, shrinking it down, and text at the top. Since the screenshots are visible in search results, this lets you add more text. You can tell the potential user more about your app. The problem is it takes effort. Thankfully, Felix Krause created fastlane: a series of Ruby gem tools that try and automate every single possible facet from your XCode project all the way up to the App Store. It does provisioning profiles, builds, pushing to things like TestFlight or HockeyApp, and then even pushing to the App Store itself. It can actually automate the entire UI process of taking screenshots (tool: snapshots or screenshots), automatically doing it for every screen size through the simulator. There is also an additional flag you can set to do device bordering. You have to grab the device template from Apple’s marketing resources, put it into the folder with the tool set, and it can take JSON data, dictating what to say, and put it all together as finished screenshots automatically. It can also push it to iTunes Connect automatically; you do not have to upload them manually.

Make sure the status bar appears polished in your screenshots (no carrier name, full bars, full battery, 9:41 a.m.). Simulator Status Magic can help you achieve an Apple-level status bar.

Description text (16:13)

That big block of text next to your app icon, your app profile, once you tap on the app. Let’s be frank: no one really reads descriptions. The user will probably have already formed their opinion from the icon and the screenshots. Only when they want clarification, they might jump in (depending on how large and complex it is). Make them short.

User validation is very important: if anyone has written a nice thing about your app, add a quote; if you have won awards (e.g. one of my favorite apps, Jetpack Joyride, a popular game made by an Australian game developer), add them. Your app profile page is visible on the internet, it is also good for SEO.

Localization (18:16)

If you want to focus on users getting your app, think about localizations. Stuart Hall runs Appbot, a service to do an analysis of the App Store (e.g. how many apps are localized vs. how many downloads; he also wrote: Secrets of the App Store, if you want to learn more about it). He used his platform to gauge how many different languages the reviews were coming in (English is the major player, followed by Chinese). You can load your app title with localized description, to help let users know that you are available in that language (Stuart even recommended to go on maybe for translation services). In iComics, I stole this technique from Dean Herbert, who runs a cool game called osu. He wanted to translate his game to different languages; he crowd-sourced it by making a Google spreadsheet that had a list of all the strings in a column, then every other column was a separate language, and put it online for translation. Not only was it translated really well, it was self-policed.

Business model (20:51)

I do not know how the search algorithm works exactly (Apple does not want you to know), but it is seem to imply the more downloads an app has, the higher it ranks (as opposed to reviews). Up-front paid is a hard sell: lower set of downloads than a free or freemium app. The fact that the App Store does not have a demo mode encourages freemium. Marco Arment once wrote, if you have a free and a paid version of your app, 80% of the people will use the free one and stick with the free one, and they will put up with whatever limitations there are, as long as it does the job they are after. iComics is paid at the moment, but I am thinking I want to grow my users, potentially moving the app to completely free and unlocked (and trying a full-screen iAd). If you have a sufficient user number, it is possible to make sufficient money with ads. But monetization can help (ironic): it encourages user-interest by saying, I have an ulterior motive, I want money.

Marco Arment released a new version of his app Overcast. Originally it was freemium, free to download, but you had to pay to unlock the features permanently. Yesterday, he released version two; the entire app is now free, unlocked, anyone can use it, and he is asking for optional, patronage. If you make a really good app, people use it, even if 5% do tipping, it might be a viable business model (you are still providing a good service to everyone). Appbot, Stuart Hall, also used this approach.

App Store page validation (24:32)

App Store Health Check can grade your App Store page to see how well it is doing. If you put in your iOS apps, App Store URL, it will analyze every aspect of the App Store, and give you a grade from D+ up to A (e.g. whether it has localizations, it has been updated recently, the title has a sufficient number of keywords).

Eliciting Reviews From Users (25:25)

Now that you have made a really good App Store page, what can you do inside and outside your app to make it more appealing? Listing reviews from users. But getting reviews is hard. Apple does not make it easy: it is like a five-step process of having to go into the app page, hit the reviews tab, put in your iCloud password, write out the review, and then hit send.

The golden standard for a long time has been Appirater. You drop it into your app, and every now and then, whenever the user opens the app, this modal will appear, “Hey, are you enjoying this app? Why do not you go and rate it?”. But it is a disruptive experience (interrupts users, and they have to act upon it, which can be irritating). I am trying a subtle version: when a user finishes reading a book, there is a label at the very bottom, “Did you enjoy that?”. Tapping this button, takes you straight to the App Store and you can rate it. It is subtle, non-modal, optional; once the user does tap it, it goes away, so it cleans itself up in the UI. You can yank the Appirater source code for this, but it is possible to take a URL and put it into your app, that when you tap it, it will take you straight to the review tab on the App Store. You can also hook it into the iTunes API; get how many people have rated it in your region, and report that inside your app, saying, “Why do not you rate this app? Only five people have done it so far”.

Have a Social Media Presence (28:23)

You should always have a social media presence. Social media pages are good to solve user questions, or provide support. They also rank high in SEO. Instagram (hashtag system), great for organic discovery.

Submit to Blogs for Review (29:14) provides a list of all the blog posts and blogs, and you can ask them to evaluate your app (although they are highly demanded). iMore journalist Peter Cohen did a really good talk at AltConf this year, talking about his perspective as a journalist, and how can you improve your relationship with journalists.

Have a press kit available (30:05)

A press kit is a folder full of screen shots and icons (visual assets for journalists). Adding a PDF explaining the app is also useful (see Clear by Realmac, as an example).

Advertising Online (31:03)

Facebook and Twitter are good support. You have to drop in your app URL, and they will pre-prepare an ad. It is nicely integrated into the UI of their official apps (obviously there is money involved). It is always best if you can get people to talk about your app instead of advertising it directly. Product Hunt is great for getting the word out for new products (you need a friend’s invitation). With the new app analytics on iOS, on iTunes Connect, you can create campaign links. You can generate different links to your app store page; if you are creating different advertising campaigns for different sites, you can create specific links to work out where traffic is coming from.

Submit to Apple Marketing (32:17)

You can tell Apple about your app (check their 2013 talk, App Store Distribution and Marketing for Apps). They have an email address,, that you can email to advertise your app. They also have another email,, if you want to make your app free for a bit. They also generate promo codes for a campaign (e.g. 20,000 iTunes promo codes you can hand out at conventions, etc).

Conclusion! (33:18)

  1. Make a really good app (that is a given).
  2. Have a fantastic App Store page.
  3. Be active as well as pro-active with marketing. Do not sit there and wait for the good demos to come in, you have to work at this, and there is things you can do for free. Some things you can do for money, but I always recommend going for free first.
  4. Best of all, good luck.

Thanks for watching! Questions? (33:43)

Q: You already have an Android app, and then you ship the iOS version. I have not shipped any iOS version, but I heard that you cannot mention anything about Google, so cannot say “the very famous Android app is now ready for iOS.”

Tim: That is a tricky one. I have gotten away with using the word Microsoft in my keywords before… I guess it depends on the context…

We got rejected because we had Android & Windows Phone in the iPhone screenshots.

Q: Do you have a strategy for that? If you have a good user base for Android and you want to promote it for iOS.

Tim: I would say the best thing, because Google is a bit more lax about this, is from the Google side, in your Android app, maybe have a notice saying, “Hey, we have an iOS app now, you should totally check it out.” And then link it to that way. There is not really much you can do, Apple’s very touch and go about Android, anything you do on the Apple side will be a risk. Obviously it is not really bad: you get rejected, you fix it and try again. But, if you have already a really established Android app, I would recommend you can probably leverage that in some way to get the word out about the iOS app. And good luck.

Q: It is not a question, more like a comment. For screenshots, with LaunchKit you can upload five screenshots in the biggest size, and it has a web interface where you can type the labels and choose the iPhone size. It also generates all those screenshots, all those combinations that you can download as a zip with everything in it. It is a website, it is free. They have four tools, there is also another tool that monitors reviews of your app, and notifies you on Slack, for example.

Tim: Good to know, thank you for that.

Q: You mentioned your iComics is currently paid. You said that you might think about switching it to ads.

Tim: It is good that it is paid, I feel I am very lucky in the fact that it actually sells more than 10 copies a day, which is pretty rare for paid iOS apps on the App Store. But, I am at the point now, where I would think there is more value to the app by having more users. I want to get rid of the paywall. But not completely lose all revenue.

I understand your point that it might be more lucrative, but what happens to the users who already paid for the app?

Tim: There was a talk earlier about iOS app receipt validation, where you can get a record saying, this is a user who paid for the app in the past. For this model, it has ads, but you can pay, a one-time in-app purchase to get rid of the ads. Anyone who bought the app before hand, via receipt validation can say, okay, you have already paid, no ads for you.

Next Up: New Features in Realm Obj-C & Swift

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About the content

This talk was delivered live in October 2015 at #Pragma Conference. The video was transcribed by Realm and is published here with the permission of the conference organizers.

Tim Oliver

Tim Oliver hails from Perth, Australia! He has been an iOS developer for 6 years, and recently joined Realm in March 2015. Tim has a cool app called iComics and he loves karaoke! He does, in fact, also sometimes have the problem of too many kangaroos in his backyard.

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