How I got 6 million app downloads without investing in marketing

Chandan Mishra

Sometimes, even if the product is right, it will not reach the customer if the startup or the team never focusses on distribution

The first challenge any app product manager would face after product launch is getting customers. 90 per cent of any app downloads comes from App Store search. That was enough revelation for me.

Product managers, CEOs, and COOs of a startup or any company are in so much love with their product or the idea that they fail to see what’s the concern is or where the problem is. They think magically product will take off, will go viral and will be downloaded by hundreds of customers, if not millions. This doesn’t work — sometimes what we think doesn’t sell the product, but it is usually what we are not thinking of that does.

Sometimes product is right, but doesn’t reach the customer, since the startup or the team never focusses on distribution. But once you get your product all right, the product manager will have to work on distribution. And it is not just product manager but everyone in the company.

Also read: 19 steps to marketing your startup when your budget is next to nothing

As a rule, when you develop an app, focus 50 per cent on product and 50 per cent on distribution. 90 per cent of apps fail not because of the product, but for the lack of distribution.

The right balance: App store optimisation

When we started with our apps on the Play Store, we knew we had to focus on getting the product right and focus on distribution at the same time. Since 90 per cent of any app downloads comes from spp store search, I wasn’t worried too much about the app downloads. The experiments had to happen on the Play Store or the App Store only. I knew ASO — or app store optimisation — is by far the most important thing I will do for the app. This is true for anyone.

ASO happens with extensive experimentation. Any growth is the result of multiple experiments which should improve your results by 10, 20, or 30 per cent, and so forth. Not every experiment will succeed, and you will have multiple failures — but don’t stop experimenting. At one time for us, a small change spelt a disaster, and we had to roll back the change. It also took us some time to recover, but we didn’t stop experimentation. The idea is to grow a little more than the last time. Keep improving and never stop.

Iterate fast, be agile

The next most important thing is the speed of execution. In a few days, you will get to know how your consumers are behaving. Thus, how fast you bring the change in ASO is key to your success. We usually relied on five days of results. If something worked in five days we implemented it blindly.

At times, this is not a great method to rely on, and one should wait for few more days. However, for us in numerous experiments, we realised that a 5-day behaviour is a good window to judge how the customer is going to take the experiment, and the results after the 5 day period more or less remained the same.

When focussing on the growth of app, list the persona of your target customer. Know what the customer is looking for and what activities they will do to search the app. List the right keywords for the app. Never — and never — generalise your app for everyone. Not everyone is going to download your app. Not everyone who downloads is going to use the app. No point selling to everyone; thus, always stick to your target segment. The app will grow faster.

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Since we managed hosts of apps on the App Store, we had the opportunity to experiment more and target various consumers. We grew from 2,000 to 10,000 downloads per day day in 8 months. Thereafter we kept it stable with numbers between 10K per day to 16K per day. The downloads in the first year reach 2.5 million. And in the second year, it kept the high momentum.

From the extensive experiments that we did for various products on ASO, we learnt the following:

  • Short description has to be a killer one. No one bothers to read the long descriptions. Long descriptions are for app store search and putting the right keywords. Remember: Discovery of the app depends on the long description, and downloads will depend upon the short description. It is always at an instant you will decide you may need the app.
  • Most of the users are wanderers — about 40 per cent of them, taking a stroll in the park and stumbling upon your app by various recommendations thrown automatically by the App Store. They don’t know your app. They might like to use it with almost no expectations. Most of these will remove your app just after downloading it. However, if these people like you, congratulations — you have won the virality game.
  • First three lines in the long description are most important lines that one has to write about the app. This will come on the Google search and will drive 10 to 20 per cent of your app downloads. This will also act a great tool for ASO or App Store search.
  • Keep permissions minimum on the app. Permissions will kill the app before it even gets to the user. Once you establish your brand, you may go on and increase the number of user permissions. Until that time, keep the user permissions to a minimum — only what’s most important and necessary.
  • Feature graphic is the most important graphic for your app. It is more important than your app icon. It is a must have and should contain a message highlighting the purpose of the app in few words.
  • The more downloads the app has, the more it climb up the ladder of app store ranking. The user may not check the reviews and ratings; however, they will look at the download numbers for sure. Download numbers are the single most important factor for ranking higher in your category of apps.
  • Positive reviews help, and you just cannot allow ratings to drop below 4. Below 4, it is a disaster for the app. Reviews are as important as ratings. If the app is new, it will rely heavily on the reviews for the growth.
  • You need to have a developer page, which should contain a powerful graphic with a few words about the app.
  • “What’s new” is very important field whenever you have a new app update coming up. The mobile app page lists it just below the short description.

Keep a note that ASO includes screenshots or your app, and if you don’t excite here, you might not entice the customer enough to download the app. You cannot have a great screen shot unless you have a great design. The design is most important factor for your app retention but it is also a key factor in app downloads. The innovative design of your app will bring a good number of wanderers and also target users just by looking at screenshots.

Growth for App may include a host of other factors. However, All the other factors may cost your marketing dollar and may not bring the best results. ASO will not ask for investments in terms of money, but it will bring the most of the returns for the company.

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In case you want to connect, I am reachable at chandan.mishra@outlook.com.

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