January 19, 2012
How To

Mobile Marketing How-To: 9 tactics for improving ranking in Apple’s App Store and the Google Android Market

SUMMARY: Mobile marketing is an exciting channel, and no part is currently more buzzworthy than mobile apps. Once you create the app, you will market it through outlets such as Apple’s App Store and the Android Market.

In this how-to article, you will find nine tactics provided by two experts in the field. The tactics cover a range of app store ranking topics: ranking factors for different platforms, using multiple traffic sources, and using organic users. They also answer why a worthwhile app is important, how app ratings improve app rankings, how app category choice can affect rankings, and more.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter

You’ve made an app part of your mobile marketing efforts, but now it’s time to promote that new asset. One way to get your app noticed is to improve its ranking in the app stores.

To help with this process, we spoke with two experts in improving app store rankings.

Micah Adler, President, CEO and founder of Fiksu, created the company to help marketers and advertisers overcome the complex and expensive challenge of promoting mobile apps.

Andrew Martin, Vice President, Metia, a digital marketing agency with multiple global offices, is involved in the mobile marketing channel for clients such as Amazon, Microsoft and Pearson Group.

This how-to includes nine tactics that address a number of mobile app store ranking areas including utilizing organic users, fitting the app store ranking improvement effort into an overall marketing plan, and a look at whether a sustained marketing campaign might be more effective than a one-time push to rise up in the store rankings.

Plus, learn how to approach different mobile platforms, and how app ratings can improve app rankings.

Tactic #1. Use different approaches for different app platforms

Adler said that the different app stores should be approached in different ways when looking to increase app rankings. To illustrate this concept, he discussed Google’s Android Market and Apple’s App Store. The Android Market features around 400,000 applications and the Apple App Store more than 500,000.

"Android app ranking algorithms are dependent upon a number of different factors ranging from the number of active app users to the acceleration of downloads and an app’s [user] rating, creating an environment in which sustained advertising dollars are more effective at increasing an app’s ranking slowly over time," he explained.

Adler continued, "Apple’s rankings are primarily driven by the number of downloads an app generates over the trailing two or three days, creating an environment where marketers are more capable of pushing up the rankings with a concentrated push."

Some places to spend an app advertising budget include paid downloads from an incentive such as virtual currency, and ads on mobile networks. Adler suggested spreading the ad buys across many sources at first and optimize over time to find the best performing channels.

Martin added a few very noticeable differences in the stores for different platforms:
  • The app approval process

  • How information is uploaded to the store

  • The reporting the store provides on your app

He said that the Android marketplace is the most challenging because there are "a lot of different Android marketplaces out there," and that Apple and Microsoft exert more control over their marketplaces.

Adler said one specific tactic that works better on a particular platform is incentivized downloads. He said this even though the incentivized inventory on iOS (Apple) has gone down because Apple is looking to phase out that traffic source.

Incentivized inventory is paid traffic or downloads that result from an incentive such as cash, virtual currency or gift points.

"While incentivized download traffic sources can be effective on either platform," Adler stated, "the difference in algorithms has meant that incentivized traffic is more likely to improve rank on iOS than it is on Android."

Tactic #2. Understand your audience and make your app worthwhile

This tactic is a bit like Marketing 101, but it’s sometimes important to remember even when handling the most cutting edge of marketing channels, the basics still apply.

Martin said creating an app that can rank highly in an app store begins with understanding your audience -- knowing who they are, what they like to do, and how and when they will come across your brand.

With this information in hand, you can deliver focused solutions for that customer.

Martin also said after you get to know what your customer is trying to do, look at the app marketplace to see how other businesses are approaching some of the same customer interests and issues that your customers face.

Once you decide to create the app, Martin stated there are mechanisms you can put into the application that facilitate improving the store ranking. For example, he said an e-commerce application could include a polling function that asks the user to rate the app. (See tactic #8 for more on this idea.)

"That is most likely when they have had the best experience with the app," explained Martin. "So hopefully, (your customer) will feel like rating the app highly."

Along with understanding both your customer and the specific app marketplace you are looking at entering, Martin said the most important big picture tactic is creating something worthwhile.

"It is not just the case of having a little piece in an app store that doesn’t really add value to the customer," he stated.

Martin continued, "What you have to do is make sure you are thinking about what your customers are trying to achieve, and how you want them to associate with your brand and make sure that you are delivering something that gives them value."

Tactic #3. Work with multiple traffic sources

There are a number of traffic sources for improving app store rankings, including:
  • Mobile ad network - placing banner or text advertising on mobile devices

  • Real-time bidding platforms - technology that offers direct access to a range of publisher sites

  • Incentive-based programs - offer incentivized inventory, that is, paid traffic and downloads

The idea is to cast a wide net and combine these traffic sources.

Adler explained, "Using just one traffic source will limit your results. It is better to work with many traffic sources to realize the lowest-possible user acquisition cost and to protect your app from audience saturation."

Tactic #4. Focus on loyal users

According to Adler, focusing on loyal users is an effective tactic on the Android platform.

He said, "Loyal users are critical to your business success and you cannot rely solely on low-cost downloads to drive app success or ranking, particularly on Android."

Low-cost downloads are more likely to lead to low-quality users who will be less likely to repeatedly return to the app. However, low-cost downloads can help drive higher rankings with iOS because Apple’s ranking algorithm relies more heavily on download volume than Android.

Adler also offered three specific actions to help you obtain loyal users:
  • Define the characteristics of your loyal user based on your success metrics and goals

  • Automate tracking to identify traffic sources that generate these loyal users at the lowest cost

  • Steer your ad spend toward these traffic sources

Tactic #5. Fit your mobile app efforts into your overall marketing mix

"How does (the app) fit into an overall marketing mix?" asked Martin. "How do you get awareness out of that? There is no point in spending the time and effort to build an application if nobody ever uses it."

Martin said the solution is to utilize your customer base to share and market the app.

He added one way to do this is find a way to fit your mobile app marketing with your social channel so you can get customers who are happy with the application to share it with their social networks.

For example, Martin said ask your app users to rate the app (see tactic #8 for more on rating apps) at a point where they are likely to be most satisfied -- after a purchase for a commerce app, or after completing a challenge in a gamification app -- but don’t require a rating every time they use the app.

When you find a point in the app where the rating is consistently high, you know you’ve found a happy customer.

"You should use the same trigger points to ask them to share the app with their friends via social channels," explained Martin.

He added you should also make it easy to share via Twitter or Facebook right from the app and to be sure to include a link to landing or download page in the shared content.

More awareness and popularity can only help in improving app store rankings.

Tactic #6. Drive app downloads from organic users

Adler described organic users as people who actively seek out, and download, your app because either they already know about your offering, or they come across it while browsing the app store.

He stated as improving store rankings tactics begin to show positive results, you should test how your app responds at higher rankings. It’s possible to allow organic users to create a self-sustaining cycle that improves your app store rank.

"Additional app store visibility may bring in additional organic users and help the app ‘float’ at a higher ranking," explained Adler.

One way to accomplish this is to conduct a quick effort to drive downloads via low-cost sources, such as a heavily discounted download cost, and as the app’s ranking begins to rise measure the uplift in organic downloads.

Adler stated the effect will be significant for some apps, such as:
  • Brand name apps

  • Broad appeal apps

  • Gaming apps

And the effect will have much less impact on other apps, such as:
  • Niche appeal apps

  • Geographically limited apps

  • Apps with an unclear value proposition

"Ultimately you then need to decide whether the additional organic users justified the additional spend," Adler explained.

Tactic #7. Consider alternative categories

This tactic actually ties into the previous tactic of driving organic user traffic. App stores offer many categories to place your application in, and most likely your app could fit into a number of categories.

Adler said one way to achieve a higher store ranking is to place your app in a more specific alternative category, rather than in a broad-based category.

"While your gut instinct may be to place it in one of the most popular categories, you may fare better in an alternative category if you can obtain a higher ranking and more organic users," he stated.

Adler added, "For example, it might be better to rank fifth in a smaller category as opposed to 25th in ‘games’ if the smaller category generates more organic downloads."

Tactic #8. Require app users to rate your application

Martin provided a real-world example to illustrate how requiring users to rate your app will improve store rankings.

His company worked with Amazon Fresh, the grocery division of Amazon in Seattle, to create and market a mobile app. Feedback was good, usage and downloads was high, but the app just wasn’t ranking very high in the stores. One cause for these unsatisfactory results was users were not rating the app very often.

The app was re-developed so that anytime a customer used the app to place an order, they had to also rate the app.

"This has increased the number of ratings substantially, and also moved it up into the top five percent of applications in that market place, which for a very local application is pretty good," Martin stated.

Tactic #9. Understand why you want to have a high app store ranking for your application

Adler said the first question to ask when embarking on the effort to improve app store rankings is, "Why do you want improve your app store ranking?"

A push to get the highest ranking possible has benefits for PR, buzz and one-time campaigns, but Adler stated a sustained marketing campaign might provide better overall value in terms of cost per loyal user.

One key challenge in achieving a high app store ranking is there are a very large number of apps fighting for a fixed number of top positions.

"To compare the difference between a top rankings push and a sustained marketing campaign, it might make sense to compare app marketing to weightlifting," Adler said. "Would you rather try to do a single 300 pound bench press or learn how to comfortably lift 100 pounds over and over again? While the 300 pound lift is more likely to turn heads at the gym, you might get hurt! Perhaps more importantly, lifting 100 pounds over and over again might let you lift more weight overall."

He added, "Which strategy is a better fit depends on whether you want to try getting noticed during a very short time period or whether you are trying to build a program that reliably builds up over time."

Improving an app store ranking can be a very good practice, but it might not be the best practice for every marketing situation. The takeaway here is when you ask "why," go ahead and think about what marketing investment best fits your overall mobile marketing goals.

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