How To Succeed On The App Stores – featuring @AppLift @appsfire @appannie

APS2013 logo - large

ASO panel header

The panel on HOW TO SUCCEED ON THE  APP STORES was held at the inaugural App Promotion Summit in London.  The panel was chaired by me (James Cooper) and also featured Ouriel Ohayon, CEO of  Appsfire, Adrienne Gauldie, Senior business development manager EMEA at App Annie,  Kaya Taner, CEO and co-founder of AppLift.  The conversation touched on a number of topics relating to app marketing and Appstore Optimization (ASO).

You can listen to the discussion “How to succeed on the Application stores” in high quality audio below or download as podcast:

We also have the full text of the panel discussion reproduced below.

James: Okay, we’ll start with Adrienne. We’ll just go down and if you’d like to introduce yourself and give your tip for App Store success.

Adrienne: Okay, I work for App Annie in London, and I think my big tip for App Store success is use data and metrics, but also use your brain. People tend to either go one way or another and over-rely on incremental improvement using conversion tracking using App Store data. I think you absolutely need both.

You need to know what’s going on out there, what’s going on in your app, but you also need to think of new ideas, keep your users excited, keep it fun, and think about what you’re doing. I made the assumption that everybody knew who App Annie is, and that’s probably not correct. Go check out www.AppAnnie.com. We do market intelligence for the app stores.

Ouriel: Hi, new tip. So my name is Ouriel, I’m the CEO of Appsfire, which is an app discovery and marketing company, so we’re helping on one side, users finding applications. If you want to have a taste of what that discovery should look like, you just download the app, which has been downloaded 12 million times, and which is very highly rated, and you have a clue of why people like it.

On the opposite side, we’re working with developers to build sustainable growth beyond the dream of reaching the charts, growth that helps them stand over time. We also provide developers a lot of free tools that many times are paid on the market, but we give them away for free so that they can stick into their app and help users engage in their app. So you can check that out at Appsfire.com.

My tip is that I’m going to assume first that your app is good. Because if the app is not good and we can talk about what is in a good app, it would take hours for that, but if your app is not good, don’t do marketing. Don’t even bother; it won’t work. You cannot sell crap to users. It doesn’t work anymore. It used to work but doesn’t work anymore.

Assuming your app is good, my tip is that marketing is not a moment effort. It’s an ongoing effort. The same amount of time a developer puts into developing a great app or a great game, he should put an equal amount of effort, obsessively thinking about how we can market this app. And this moment does not start when the app is ready. Marketing an app starts way before the app is ready.

I’m talking not only about how you are going to present your app and how you’re going to introduce it to the market. For example, by building a trailer, like a little bit of movie and some apps to that very well. I’m referring also to how you are going to build the marketing identity of your app and all the tools that are going to help you build the relation with the users into the app. So it’s really at the code level.

Many times, what we see when working with hundreds of developers is that when they start to talk to people like us and others, and there are lots of people in the market, it’s already too late. They haven’t made that effort, and are arriving on the market with an app that is not ready to be marketed because they haven’t started to think about marketing early enough in the process. And then, once they start to market it, they obviously invest time in that process.

When it’s over, it’s not over. As she just said, measuring, iterating, and doing that on a constant basis, being obsessed about improving all the time is another very important thing. So there’s not just one tip about doing marketing right. It has to be a permanent, ongoing, obsessive effort from the build level to the iteration level.

James: Thanks Ouriel.

Kaya: Hi, I’m Kaya Taner. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Applift. Applift is a mobile game marketing platform, so what we do is we market on one end from advertisers that are mobile game publishers. We market their games into user requisition for them. And on the other hand we monetize media partners traffic through promoting mobile games in their apps, for example. So our company, we are 50 people now and based headquarter in Berlin with an office in San Francisco and in Seoul and a presence in Paris. So what’s my tip for marketing apps and mastering this challenge?

I think, first of all, it’s very important to understand the product itself. So the first step should start with really analyzing and soft launching in the market, for example, to really get the eyes wide. Is the monetization working? The retention rates, are they working as I want them to be working? To really test out different things, to have the first product right, and then understand the different aspects to marketing.

We already heard one aspect of this is then when you’re actually present on the platform, so people are driven to that platform, be it the iOS app store, the Google Play Store, they will encounter every factor that is related to the app store optimization.

So everything that drives conversions directly when people are already in the App Store, and if people find my app by searching it, we have a lot of tips early on, so I’m not going to delve right now so deep into it, but app store optimization on the one hand, and then understand the two other channels: free channels, first of all, through PR and marketing through corporations, having blogs, write reviews etc. And then, more importantly, because its budget intensive, the paid channels.

So we’re coming to that point, the pay channels we already heard about, the best campaigns. I’m very convinced that it’s super important to understand the long-lasting effects of marketing, as well, so that you have to not only have to promote one point in time, but actually take into account the long run, and not only to get the metrics right, meaning we should optimize towards return investments.

So how do you do this? There are a lot of ways that you can integrate deeper than just install based. You shouldn’t pay just on an install basis, but you should actually track performance, what happens after I drive marketing budgets into those installs? Do these people monetize, do these people engage, are they viral, etc?

James: Great, so right. So we’ve got three really good people here. It’s your chance to ask them questions you might have on app stores, and here they are to answer. Any table like to kick off, with maybe something, an issue or question that you were discussing? Okay, we have one here, just have the mic.

Rube: Hello, my name is Rube. I’m from Infobip, and I have one question for the panel regarding, let’s say, the first launch of the app. Is it really important to do a spike marketing at the launch, or would you prefer to do tweaking, like measurement and improving the app for this particular target group and then engage with marketing and serious money afterwards once you have the right users or the position?

Adrienne: I think, if you, as Kaya said, you do soft launch. So my approach would be get some market data, of course. Look at the data, get a theory about what you think is going to happen when you launch. What is your performance going to look like? Soft launch in a small country, a test country that looks like where your other big markets are going to be, and then if that works, make sure you don’t have any bugs. Never hit it really hard right after launch because if you’ve got a bug, you can easily blow a lot of cash in one day.

But if you can, there’s some evidence to suggest that bursting right after an update or release can have more bang for your buck. But it’s a risk, right? It’s much less risky to wait for a week or two, let it run, and then hit it.

Ouriel: Yeah, that makes complete sense. Yeah, don’t jump in the pool until you know there’s water in it. So make sure it’s the right temperature, but also don’t use just your brain. Use also your heart and your listening ability. It’s very important to listen to your first users. They will tell you things that numbers can’t tell you about how good is your app and how engaging it is and things you should improve. And only your heart will tell you if it’s right or not. You have to feel it. If the numbers are telling you that there are 10,000 users coming back once a day to your app, it’s an indicator. But it’s not going to be enough.

You have to be convinced, as an owner, that your app is going to be vibrating in the hand of the users. And this you will know only by quality discussions with you users. It’s very important that you do that.

My second insight is that don’t necessarily think burst. Think continuous growth. It’s a lot more healthy, and probably less expensive, to build a pattern to grow your app over and over time rather than just having a big spike of users in one day, and there are tons of solutions on the market that can do that that are extremely expensive and many times useless, because they will last one day and it will be over, versus trying to really understand what works in terms of user acquisition channels that are paid, owned and paid, and many times it can be free, but requires a time and effort, and do that consistently.

Kaya: Just coming straight to the question, so definitely before you get the big marketing box in their hands, definitely do a test and a soft launch. So typical markets if you’re planning to go in the English-speaking markets, a typical soft launch might be in Canada or Australia. We see that a lot of our advertisers going to take a small budget, around $5- to 10,000, and test that market and really look at the metrics. That’s a very, very important to understand this initial data and then tweak so that you get the results that you want to achieve. Only then take the higher budgets into your hands.

So I partly agree with what my partner on the panel said, and some less campaigns should be handled with caution. They might make a lot of sense if your app, for example, has a broad mass appeal. The question of course depends in the beginning. You shoot up, you get a lot of attention, might be very useful, but at the same time, the questions is are you really targeting users that will keep playing your game?

Earlier there was the presentation early on that showed those Flurry statistics, and month two engagement rates dropped to below 40% already, from 100 percent. Now think, you have a card game or so and you do a burst campaign, you should up, nobody likes the game because maybe they’re looking for something on a much more broader appeal, so these engagement rates will be much, much lower, meaning the money spent, you got some visibility, but you don’t get a life from it. So it might make sense to burst it, but it depends very much on the appeal of the game, I would argue.

James: Great. That’s an interesting question to start off with. Anyone else on the tables got a question for the panel? Great, we have one down the front here.

Tom: Thanks. I’m Tom from Appellation. One of the points we made earlier was about taking time before you launch to check the quality of your app. How do you balance making sure that your app is perfect and the quality is high with keeping up with market trends? We develop the games. How do you make sure that you are maintaining pace with the markets and the trends that are coming out? But at the same time making sure that your app is the best it can be when you’re a fairly small developer with a limited budget?

Adrienne: I think there are a couple things. One is don’t do it unless you can do it well. There’s no point. If you’ve got a limited team, don’t try to include features just because Kabam, it’s including features. You’re not going to keep up with Kabam. You need to find your own path that’s going to optimize revenue for you guys.

Adrienne: The other thing, of course, if you’re looking for features that are winning, that are resonating with consumers, and that are also pulling in some cash, check out the market data. And this is not all paid data. You can check out free products. There are a lot of free products out there, so when you’re looking at what to do next, how to improve your app next, what’s your next update, what’s your next app?

Use what you got in house. What kinds of skill have you got, what can you build well, and also look out at what’s new? What’s coming up in the charts? What’s working out there, and put those together to figure out what’s going to work best for you guys.

Ouriel: So I have the opportunity of an app developer because we’re an app first. So first of all, an app is never perfect, never will be. So no matter what you’re going to work on, if you’re happy with the work you’ve done, it means that something is wrong in the timing. You have to, I think it’s, if you’re releasing a good product, you’re releasing too late. So you have to assume that releasing an imperfect product is part of the game.

And, number two, a mistake that we make many times in the very early days of our company, and we see that with a lot of developers, is that you come in many times to build a map thinking what all the uses are going to like.

And this is a mistake. I think the first thing you have to consider is what are the features that you believe will be right for you as a developer and will make you like the app that you’re going to build for all users. So my tip is that if you are building an app, make sure you are building it for yourself, that you absolutely love your app as a user for yourself before building it for others.

When you feel this is happening, then it’s probably the right moment to release, even if it’s imperfect. But don’t try to imagine too many features that you believe others will like, and that you will not connect with those features or this experience. We made this mistake in the early days and we paid the price for it.

James: Great. Kaya, anything to add?

Kaya: No. I also agree. It will never be perfect, especially if you’re the one developing it. So you will always find some flaws whether you want to invest my time into it. I think the question mainly depends on the balance on the platform maturity. So if you have a platform that has a lot of competition in it, the products you have to create must be much, much higher value, and much better, because there are so many other products.

In the early days of a product when there were not so many apps out there yet, you could win still through speed. So a casual game that this may be not so well planned through, but doesn’t have any competitors would still make the market in the beginning. Whereas now, if you look at the Android, Google Play Store, or the iOS App Store, for example, then you should definitely be mature, or be well developed.

And then my recommendation would be if you’re developing something of a similar genre, so you always have some learnings. For example, I remember a speech by the CEO of King where he was saying they were built back in features. For example, everyone, I’m sure, has played Candy Crush. When you’re at the end of the level, you can see, I can master this level. I just need a two more draws.

They offer you to pay for these draws. So they integrated this feature to the back end. For example all other games, because they already know, this is working. And if you know it in the genre, these learnings might help you for the long show.

James: Great. Well, we have people here, I believe from King, so if you can find them during the coffee break, you can ask them to spill their secrets and other things they do. Hopefully that answers your question, Tom. I think we had a question from the gentleman. I guess it’s question time in the blue jacket.

Ben: I’m Ben Whately from Cat Academy. We teach languages through games where you click on pictures of cats.

Kaya: There’s an app for that?

Ben: There’s an app for that. These app discovery platforms, I can see there’s a huge need for them because it’s easy to get lost in the app store, but is their main advantage besides the fact that their smaller and therefore you could get seen, or is there a logical end point is the same with the app store? When you get really big, will you have exactly same problems as the app store? Or is it something fundamental that’s different that we should be thinking about it differently and sort of choosing which discovery channel to use for our app?

James: Okay. We’re covering that in more detail later on, but I guess thinking about new other routes into the app store, including these app discovery apps, what’s the view on them?

Adrienne: That’s a really interesting question. Is your app paid or free?

Ben: It’s freemium.

Adrienne: It’s freemium. I think basically what you’ve got a keep in mind here is that Apple doesn’t want another app store. We saw what happened to App Gratis a couple months ago. Their app was pulled because they got, well, this is speculation now, guys, I’m not speaking on behalf App Annie. It probably got pulled because they got too big. And there are a lot of other little players out there, but since this is newer, you go to these app discovery platforms, they’re never going to be like the app store. They are a way to get discovered, but it’s never going to be an alternative app store.

Basically, it is an alternative to display advertising or search advertising content marketing, and for Indies, for most of us, unless you’re a brand, unless you’ve got a reason to do a lot of display advertising, they are a serious option, and you should probably look at it, because your costs will come out probably cheaper. And there is a place for display advertising, and there’s a place for search advertising, but if cost is an issue for you, you should check out these platforms because they can advertise at a lower cost, basically.

Ouriel: Yeah, so being yourself an app discovery platform give you some secret tips and insights. Opera has no problem with app discovery apps. The proof is that we are already there and I have seven iterations during the best months, and others too.

The problem is that Apple has a problem with companies that are guaranteeing results in terms of downloads, in terms of ranks, and do it in a consistent way. Whether they’re using incentivized techniques, or whatever. That’s the problem. So you should be very careful when you’re working with app discovery platforms about the way they work, and not so much the fact that they are app discovery services. So that’s point number one.

Point number two was that they are one of the channels that are useful to use the same way you should use PR and a beautiful app icon and a nice app trailer and all those marketing efforts. Those are one of the channels that you should consider. And very important, make sure they are respectful and in the spirit of the guidelines of the app store. Many are not; the majority are not. They incentivize download, or they guarantee results, or they gave the charts. So you need to be careful about that.

And number three, I think it’s a lot of try and fail. So we’ve been working with 500 developers today, something like that, and not everything has worked. We failed working with a lot of developers because we are overestimating the impact that we could have for them, or because it was inadequate terms of audience. The good news is that you can do a lot of trials before you scale that. So, it’s important that if you do that and its true, by the way, a discovery of the things that you can do in terms of user acquisition. Measure. Measure, see what works, what doesn’t, if it makes sense for your app and if the store is right for you. It might work with us. It might not work with us, but you have to try.

James: Kaya, you say on app discovery apps at Applift?

Kaya: We work with app discovery apps, so our incubator group, our sister company, is also an app discovery app. In general, I think the question is, again, do I find the right users in that particular channel? That’s always at the end of the day. If you look at the evolution of the past, so what’s happening in the first wave basically everyone was heading towards app discovery apps, even without being able to track and paying lump sums. Here’s $25,000, please post me. I don’t know how many installs I got, but I get boosted.

And then the second wave came where the link to CPIs, and so you would pay for every install, and now at least the shift is and where the whole market needs to head in, do I get the right users? So I pay for a CPI, again, like what we do with our partners, for example, if we sit down and we define certain KPIs in terms of engagement. How was, for example, seven to eight retention rate or three day retention rate in terms of virility, how many users share it, how many connect via Facebook and in terms of monetization?

What’s at the end of the day is how much money do I get out. So if you’re able to track this, then this will actually make the money spent worthwhile. It’s not then about so much getting discovered, but it’s about getting discovered by the right user who would bring the value to the most and have a positive effect on money spent.

James: Absolutely. We’re going to be discovering app discovery apps as well a bit more after lunch. Has anyone got a question specifically relating to app stores?

Diego: Hi, I’m Diego from Jampp. Going back to the app store tips subject, there’s been a lot of talk about iOS and you guys haven’t talked a lot about Android, and I’d like to know, it’s pretty clear now that to get up the rankings in iOS. It’s a combination of download, velocity and getting a lot of installs quickly. On Android, I think, and on Google play, it’s not that clear. Can you share what tips on what you seen in some of your advertisers on what things have got them to the rankings on the Google stores?

James: Let’s mix it up. Let’s start with Kaya.

Kaya: I think if I ultimately knew the secret of the algorithm I wouldn’t be sitting here, Diego. But, yeah, what we know, and I think is common knowledge, is that you can’t just buy the downloads, drive up in the rankings. What Google Play also measures, for example, is the uninstall rates. So afterwards. Meaning if you buy tons of incentive traffic for example, or again, not quality traffic, then the install rates will affect the ranking. But I don’t have really deep knowledge into the algorithm itself.

Adrienne: Can I jump in?

James: Yes.

Adrienne: I absolutely agree, and I think you guys have been talking a lot about the trend moving from getting your CPI down, getting your CPC down, over to CPA, and what is your LTV, and I think that’s really key. We’re all here to make it, at the end of the day. You’re never going to gain Google, so rather than paying attention to getting up in the charts, look at how you’re going to maximize return on your advertising investment.

Adrienne: And the other thing is I would consider exploring alternative Android app stores as well because the search algorithms are different, the ranking algorithms are different, and the little guys are going to be a little bit more willing to play ball with you in terms of features and stuff like that.

Ouriel: So two elements on rankings. The first one is that it’s like the Coca-Cola recipe. Everyone knows what’s in it, but no one knows in which proportion. So it’s in Fort Knox, and the ones that can get in there into Fort Knox, doesn’t matter. No one really knows. And nobody thinks it doesn’t matter. Even if you knew, no matter how good your app is, you will not stay in the ranks. Even if you get there. So it doesn’t matter. So, forget about the ranks. Just grow really consistently and you’ll be fine.

James: Okay. Well, that might be a good place to stop. Matthew, have we got time for one more question? No. Okay, well, we have more round table discussions carrying on later in the other sessions, so you probably still have a chance to ask you question. I’d like to think the panelists, Adrienne from App Annie, Ouriel from Appsfire, and Kaya from Applift. Thank you very much.