Navigating The App Store Landscape – Getting Your Application Featured

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Meaghan Fitzgerald has nearly a decade of experience working with technology companies in both the US and the UK in leadership, marketing, product and business development roles. Currently she is the head of marketing at the photo sharing app 23snaps and this year we had the honor to hear her talk at the App Promotion Summit in London. She gave an incredible talk about app store marketing based on her experience with 23snaps and their success at getting featured in the iOS and Google Play Stores and using alternative app stores to drive downloads.  We are pleased  that now we’re able to share audio recordings of the event as well as transcription.  Meaghan’s talk covered the following areas:

  • The Major Cross-Platform Players In The Application Stores Landscape
  • Discovery Channels For Your App Beyond The App And Play Stores
  • Case Study: How 23snaps Got Featured In The App Store

For those who prefer listening to a podcast while out for walk we have the audio of “WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GETTING YOUR APP FEATURED” talk here:

The “WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GETTING YOUR APP FEATURED” is available below on slideshare:

Here’s the full text of the talk below:

Meaghan Fitzgerald: I am Meaghan Fitzgerald, and I’m the head of marketing and operations at 23snaps. 23snaps is a relatively young app we launched in June of last year, and the app allows parents to save photos, videos, updates of their children to a private digital journal, share that with family and friends all over the world, and then order prints and photo books. So they can get those off their phones and into their hands and into the hands of maybe some other less tech savvy family members.

Like I said, we launched about a year ago, but 23snaps is cross-platform. We are available on the iPad, the iPhone, Android, Windows 8, and online, and we’re currently building our Windows phone 8 app as well. We have hundreds of thousands of users around the world, and a large part of our success has come from taking advantage of the app stores that are out there and really making sure that we are placing ourselves in the best position, using the ASO techniques and also trying to do our best to get ourselves featured on these app stores, which is a little bit about what I’m going to talk about today.

So, the talk I’m going to give is really about the App Store landscape. I’m going to give a brief overview of the main app stores, the ones you guys know about, give you a few numbers to talk about the size and the scale of those stores.

And then I’m going to talk a little bit about some of the alternative app stores that are out there and why those are important and why you should be thinking about getting yourselves placed on some of these third-party app stores. And finally, I’ll tell you bit about how we got featured and how you can start thinking about where you want to be featured in these stores and how you can take advantage of that.

So I’m going to go through these quickly because you guys know these stores already. The biggest player out there right now, probably the one that’s most relevant for people here, is the Apple App Store. You guys have heard the numbers that came out recently. They’ve just surpassed 50 billion downloads. They have almost a million apps in the store, and there’s 575 million registered accounts in the App Store. So this is a huge market by anyone’s terms, and obviously a place you guys want to be thinking about getting featured, making sure you’re using those ASO techniques.

But the Play Store is fast gaining, and if the numbers continue the way they’ve been going, the play store is going to be overtaking the App Store quite soon. They’ve announced that they’ve passed 48 billion downloads. They have 850,000 apps in the store and, interestingly, they say they’ve got some 900 billion registered devices, and that is almost 50 percent more than the App Store has. So this is a huge market, and if you don’t have an Android app, it’s definitely worth thinking about how you can get yourself on this platform and able to take advantage of this audience.

The last major app store I’m going to talk about before looking at some of the alternatives is the Windows 8 App Store. This is definitely a smaller player in the space, but Windows has the entire Microsoft machine behind it, really throwing resources into building this up.

And they’re reporting that they’re generating about 200 million downloads a month. Compare that to the number of apps that are on there right now. There’s about 160,000 Windows phone 8, and 100,000 Windows 8, apps for the Surface and laptops. So this is a much smaller and less competitive pool for what’s actually generating quite a high number of downloads right now.

We have a Windows 8, app and we’re starting to see that this is a market that’s becoming bigger for us. It’s why we’re putting resources towards Windows phone 8 as well.

I’m going to talk a bit now about some of the alternative app stores that are out there. Richard actually alluded to some of these and talked about how big they’re getting, Amazon being one in particular. But these alternative app stores are important for a number of reasons.

For both developers and users, one of the biggest problems with the Play Store and the App Store is really lack of discoverability of apps, and the difficulty in finding the apps that are there. A lot of third-party app stores have come up to try to solve this problem. There are also third-party app stores that address a specific device, such as the Amazon Kindle. And there are a lot of great reasons why you might want to start thinking about using these other app stores, which I’ll go into in a little bit of detail.

Finally, it’s important to look at these because there are some other promotional and future opportunities. If you’re struggling to get featured in the App Store or the Play Store, many of these other stores do have featured sections, and it’s much less competitive to reach out to the people who are creating these third-party stores and try to take advantage of those feature opportunities there.

The first one I want to give some insight in is the Amazon App Store. So Amazon is a massive platform for Android apps to get distributed on Kindle devices. Amazon is very tight-lipped about how many downloads they’re actually generating, but some recent estimates that came out from Flurry, the app analytics platform, has estimated that in terms of revenue, they’re driving almost comparable numbers to the App Store, and a lot of that’s because of some specific tools that Amazon has.

Amazon’s an interesting platform because they have a special network called Game Center that allows games to cross promote in-app purchases, and really helps drive revenues for games there. Amazon also has AV testing for apps, so one of the reasons that it’s a difficult to figure out what works and what doesn’t is you can only have one version of your half but a time. Amazon’s recently released a tool to allow developers to test multiple versions of their app at the same time and measure the difference and how that affects retention and engagement.

It also takes advantage of the one-click download which Amazon offers. If you’ve ever bought a book and just a had that one click sends it right to your phone, that’s a feature of the App Store as well, so it really does give you a quick way to reach quite a large audience.

One of the other third-party app stores which is quite interesting is the Opera. Opera is traditionally known as a browser, but they are trying to take advantage of this app ecosystem. They’re relatively new; they have reported that they’re generating about 2 million downloads a day, mostly in emerging markets. But if you’re familiar with some third-party app stores, you might be surprised to discover they’ve actually been purchased by Opera. So they’re trying to amalgamate a number of the third-party app stores in this area. They’re also one of the only ones that supports iOS apps.

So, iOS apps, because of Apple’s terms of service, often can’t be placed on these third-party app stores. Opera is basically a window that sends people through to the App Store and really offers another level of distribution for many apps beyond just the Android apps, which you’ll find on lots of other platforms.

BlackBerry App World isn’t really third-party platform. Obviously, it supports the BlackBerry devices. But you can port your Android apps over to the Blackberry World Store and it’s a great way to get some additional distribution for your Android apps.

BlackBerry’s actually really keen to get developers building on the platform. They’ve even run events where they’ve paid developers to build apps for their platform. And if you have an app that’s focused at a business audience, it might be a really great way to kind of reach out to an audience that you couldn’t necessarily reach as effectively through the App Store or the Android store.

There are dozens of other app stores out there. There are some that allow you just to upload the links to your Google Play or your Amazon App Store account, such as the Opera store, and some that actually require you to maintain a version of your app on their service, which is how Amazon and something like GetJar work. But it really comes down to the business decision that you guys make and whether it’s the right fit for your app or not.

For 23snaps, we have had a lot of luck with the Opera and we’re actually starting to work on the AV testing on Amazon. One third-party store that I don’t have on this slide, which is incredibly important, is actually Facebook. Facebook does have an app store, and you don’t need to have a native Facebook app in order to list your app in Facebook’s App Store. So we’ve also had quite a bit of success in the app section of Facebook, just having a canvas page and a link through to our Android app and to our iPhone app.

So probably the thing that everybody wants to know about is how to get featured. 23snaps has been fortunate to be featured in the header section and in some of the categories of the App Store globally, in categories locally, in the Android store, and in the Windows 8 store.

I will say up front that getting featured is a bit of a double edge sword, especially for a free app. You’re going to hear a lot about how to maintain the engagement and increase retention. If you’re featured in an app store and you have a free app, you’re probably going to acquire a lot of users who aren’t going to stick around. So we always see a very significant spike in downloads when we get featured in stores, but in terms of the retention, they’re not always the most effective users. So, as important as it is to get featured there, for all of the benefits  that drives, it’s not necessarily the definitive way to get the most engaged users.

So, the first thing I wanted to talk about is where you can actually get featured. I’ve got a picture of the App Store here, but it’s actually very similar placement for the Play Store as well. On the main page there are a couple of places where apps can be featured. That main header section at the top with the rotating images, they’re actually doing fewer and fewer app placements there. More often now, Apple is promoting their categories, Apple’s own apps, but every so often need to include an individual app up and then top section, and that’s really probably the Holy Grail of placement if you want to get featured.

But on that main page they have two other sections as well: New and Noteworthy and What’s Hot. Those terms don’t actually have much bearing on what is actually hot in the App Store. You don’t see the same top 10 most downloaded apps in the What’s Hot section.

That’s just a place for the Apple Store to feature some of the apps that  definitely see the biggest spike in downloads. Much more so than the category sections, which is the other place where you can get this placement.

In the US app store, category sections also have that main header up at the top, so that’s a great place, and where we usually see our biggest spike is when we’re placed in that top section in the lifestyle category. But they also have globally the What’s Hot and New and Noteworthy sections as well, and that’s a great place to sort of get featured. And you do see a higher level of engagement from those users because it is a subcategory that really matches the interest of the person searching for apps.

The other place that you can get featured in both the App Store and the Play Store is in categories. So these are relatively new features from both stores that are trying to improve discoverability of apps. And these are sections that sit outside the subcategories. Apple has categories like apps for parents, apps for photography, apps for productivity, and these are very limited selections of apps that the store has brought together to help people find the most relevant and top apps to match certain interests.

Finally, the other area where you can get some placement is in promotional sections, so app of the week, free app of the day. Those are typically for paid apps that have a relationship with Apple and are willing to give their app for free for certain amount of time.

Quickly, what you want to be thinking about first, before you even start approaching either of the stores to get featured, is, I’ll cover that here. There’s an info graphic I really wanted to include because I think it is hilarious and spot-on in terms of the emotional journey of an app developer trying to get featured. It’s too long to include here, so if you go to QR reader, you can scan it. Also, this entire presentation is on SlideShare. You can look up the name of the conference or the presentation.

Thinking about how you want to prepare yourself to get featured. First thing, sounds obvious, make sure your app is perfect. If you have any bugs, if you have regular crashes, if you have scalability issues, these are all things that the App Store is actually going to be looking at. They do very heavily test these apps before they even consider featuring them. It’s not like you’ve got a great copywriter who sends in a fantastic press release and they think, “Fantastic, we’ll just put this in the App Store.” There is a very structured review process. So if you’ve got any issues with your app, that’s going to be in immediate no in getting a feature.

The other thing to think about is what are your reviews say? Make sure you got some great reviews and App Store. So having some validation that this is an app that people are using, people like. Whether you are incentivizing your existing users, adding and in-app that notification asking people to review your app, this is something you should be doing before you even approach the stores.

The next thing to think about is the requirements. All of the App Stores actually have very clear requirements in their developer handbook about what they need to look for, and the things you need to do. I don’t know if everyone here has read the entire Apple developer handbook, but you might be surprised to know that you will not get featured if, on your website, you have any overlapping iOS devices. So if you’ve got your iPad overlap with your iPhone, that’s no go.

Also, if you have multiple platforms, you must list the Apple platform first on your website. You can’t say available on Android and iOS or you won’t get featured in the App Store. So there’s some fairly tricky requirements in there, and going through those and making sure you’ve actually met all of those criteria are quite important before you actually reach out to them.

Next, you need to make sure you’re a good fit. Sometimes it’s hard to look objectively at your own app. But take a look at the other apps that are in the featured section, especially for the categories and for your subcategory. This is a good way to measure yourself. If there is a set of features from similar apps that you don’t offer for an app that’s getting featured, if there is a level of quality that you feel you need a couple more weeks to reach, hold off. You’re going to get one shot in many ways. You can always go back and re-introduce yourself to the App Store, but you want to put your best foot forward when you have the opportunity to do so.

And then get in touch with the App Store. The best way to do this that we found is actually through the developer console. We didn’t want to risk getting in touch with the wrong person, potentially annoying people in the app stores, and using the developer console, they have a series of different ways to get in touch with the App Store staff that goes to the right people. We were lucky enough when we reached out that we hit somebody who was a mom, who wanted to use our app, and who really recognized the value there.

But a lot of that was thinking about how did we fit in with the App Store, where did we want to be featured, and making a good case for our product. For 23snaps, we spent a long time thinking about where it was that we want to be featured. And in the end, we thought the best place was the App Store parents category. We knew this would drive nearly as many downloads as being featured on the homepage, but we thought that perhaps there would be less people asking for featured placement in their new categories section.

We also thought that this would drive a higher level of retention from the users that find us there. We think this worked out pretty well for us because we were able to go in and show that we understood how they had laid out the App Store, the goals they had for their users to find the highest quality apps, and that we were the right fit for a new category that they were launching.

Finally, once you’ve sent everything in, the last thing you can do is wait. We probably waited about three months before we heard back from anybody in the App Store, and to be honest we’d almost forgotten that this is something that we’d reached out to do. And during that time, I can either assume that they were going through the app and making sure it worked and we were sitting in a pile somewhere. But it goes to show that you don’t want to just write off that submission, that there are going to be people who are reviewing your emails, who are taking a look at your app.

So that’s it for me. I hope this gave you some ideas on how you can start thinking about feature placement in the App Store. Please come find me during the break if you’ve got any questions, and thank you very much.

Massive thanks to Meaghan Fitzgerald for giving such a great talk – you can find more coverage of App Promotion Summit here