As anyone who has launched an app can tell you, the marketing is a huge amount of work. If you get it right, your app could be launched into the top of the charts and make you rich. If you get it wrong, even a little bit, all your efforts may well be wasted.
I read recently about the Product Launch Formula course and although I have not participated in their “coaching session”, I do wonder what sort of information it might contain.
Over the past 2 years or so, I’ve read a lot of information on iPhone marketing. I’ve launched several apps and I’ve watched others launch apps. More recently, I’ve read a lot of great posts on iDevBlogADay with more information on app marketing.
What I noticed after launching my recent kids app, Animal Stickers, was that I didn’t apply all that knowledge to launching this app.
I can look back and see several things that I know I did wrong. I think primarily I just did not take the time to think about it enough. I decided that I should make a checklist of things to do to market my apps, taking into account everything I’ve learned so far (that I can remember anyway).
As a result, this post is the beginning of an ongoing effort to create a checklist for iOS developers to refer to as they develop their apps and games, and prepare to market them. The idea is to read through the list a few times as you develop your app and take appropriate action at the appropriate time.
This list is going to have a permanent home soon on another website, along with other useful iOS developer resources, but that is a topic for another post. It will be constantly updated as the iOS market changes with new information.
iOS Development & Marketing Checklist
The list is divided into five phases to correspond with the phases of development of your app.
Currently this list is mainly focused on the marketing aspects, but it will be greatly expanded over time to include development best practices.
1. Design Phase
The following items are things that you should design into your application from the start. They will help with spreading the word about your app, and will help you get feedback and better iTunes ratings for your app.
1.1 Include Social Media Features
Ideas that spread, win. Include ways for people to let users know about your app and what each user is doing with it. This mainly means including Twitter and Facebook integration. Try to make this integration meaningful. I think everyone is tired of seeing things like “Ken just scored 1 billion points in Charmed!”.
1.2 Include Other Features that Connect People
Games like Word with Friends require other people to get the app in order to play the game. This helps the app spread further.
1.3 Include Direct Feedback Features
Allow users to send your feedback messages directly from inside the application. This can be emails or submissions directly into your defect tracking system. Ideally, you should include a way to reply to the feedback directly as well. Also, provide a way to send news messages to users, either via a push notification or when the app is running and can connect to a server to pull down the latest news.
1.4 Prompt User to Rate Your App on iTunes
The old “rate on delete” feature in iOS prompted users to rate your app as they were deleting it from their devices. This usually meant one of two things: 1) they either did not like it that much, or 2) they really did not like it. This resulted in more negative feedback than positive feedback.
Although the “rate on delete” feature is no longer present in iOS, you should still make an effort to prompt the user to rate your app on iTunes. Bring up periodic reminders at times when the user is more likely to feel positively about your app, such as when they just earned an achievement or got a new high score. Make sure to provide a “Don’t Ask Me Again” option to allow users to no longer receive these prompts, otherwise you might get negative feedback about your app nagging them.
1.5 Create a Twitter Account & a Facebook Page
Twitter and Facebook are the two largest social networks. People tell their friends about things they like. If you don’t already have accounts for yourself or your company, create them now. Go ahead…I’ll wait. You might also consider creating another account just for the specific app. The downside for this is that you will likely have fewer followers. By having a single developer account, you can get a larger number of followers across all your app titles.
2. Implementation Phase
During the Implementation Phase of your app, review the items from previous phases to ensure that the ones you’ve chosen to include are on track and being implemented.
This may also the time to start communicating with your potential audience. Be careful though no to start communicating too early, as you don’t want to waste the enthusiasm of the fans you earn at this stage by having them fade away before your app is ready.
2.1 Write a Game Development Blog
Keep your fans up-to-date on the progress of your app with periodic developer blog entries. It is up to you to decide how detailed these need to be.
2.2 Organize Beta Testers
Shortly before the next phase, you need to find beta testers. You can use sites such as ibetatest.com to help find qualified testers. Sending messages on game & app review site forums is also often a good way to find people. Anyone who has contacted you for support questions may also be a good candidate. Make sure to get at least the following information from each tester: device type (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad), device generation (3rd gen, 4th gen), UDID
3. Testing/Pre-Launch Phase
At this phase, you have a working app and want to get feedback from users before launch. It’s also the time to start ramping up publicity and organizing reviews.
3.1 Create IPA Files with an Embedded Provisioning Profile
Use the Build and Archive to build the Ad Hoc version of your app. Then create the IPA file using the Save to Disk option. This makes it easier to send Ad Hoc builds to your testers.
3.2 Consider Using testflightapp.com to Allow Over-the-Air Ad Hoc Installs
Once you have the IPA file, consider using the testflightapp.com service to host your IPA files. This allows easy installation by clicking on a link in an email directly from the tester’s iOS device.
3.3 Contact Review Sites to Offer them Early Access to Your App
You may want to wait until your app has gone through one round of beta tester feedback, but it’s time to start building the buzz around your app. Having a few preview articles written about your app before its launch can help with this.
Alternatively, you can ask the reviewer to write a full review, but have them hold the article until the day of your product launch.
3.4 Post a “Coming Soon” Preview Thread to App Review Site Forums
Sites like TouchArcade.com have forums where you can post a preview of your upcoming app and start to build a following. Engage users and get early feedback. It may be too late to make major changes in your app, but keep note of things that are suggested.
4. Launch Phase
This phase includes a lot of presentation work where you need to put your best foot forward. Make the choices mentioned below carefully and deliberately.
4.1 Choose Your App’s Keywords
Choose your keywords very carefully. You only get 100 characters, including commas, so spend some time thinking about what to put here. Don’t put any words that are already in your app’s name as those are already searchable. You can only change your keywords when submitting an app update.
4.2 Choose Your App’s Category
Look at which categories your competition is in. See how they are ranked in those categories. Consider which categories are appropriate for your app. You can only change your category when submitting an app update, so you need to choose carefully.
4.3 Polish Your App’s Icon
Your icon is like a mini-banner ad for your app. Along with the name, it’s the first thing people see to decide whether to investigate your app any further. Make it stand out.
4.4 Craft Your App’s Description
With the way iTunes truncates your app description, the first sentence of your description should be a strong marketing tagline which gets people’s attention. Once your app has been approved, you should double-check this first sentence to ensure that it shows up well with the truncation.
You should also pay attention to the remainder of the description, but the first sentence is the most important, so don’t waste it.
4.5 Create Interesting Screenshots
Once someone has clicked on your icon in iTunes, the next thing they will see are the first screenshot or two of your app. Don’t waste this by showing your title screen or menu as your first screenshot.
Make sure to include additional marketing blurbs in your screenshots and/or make them interesting in other ways. Some examples:
4.6 Control the Release of Your App
When submitting your app, iTunes will ask you whether to release the app immediately when it is approved, or to wait until you release it manually. Always control the release manually so that you can coordinate it with your other launch activities. Have a date in mind and coordinate that date with app reviewers and any other promotion you have planned.
4.7 Post to Forums on App Review Sites
Post your product release announcement on the various iPhone app and game review forums. Ensure that you engage users on the sites and followup and answer any questions.
4.8 Post to Social Networks & Email Lists
Send out a tweet and post to your Facebook page. Send an email if you have an email list. Send update messages when you get good reviews or when significant events occur, such as being featured by Apple.
4.9 Create a Product Web Page
Create a one-page brochure for your app. Include screenshots, video, audio as well as a good description of the app. Hit home with bullet points on the key things that make your app awesome. You did make an awesome app, right?
4.10 Send Out a Press Release
Send a press release announcing your new app. Many developers rely on prmac.com for distribution to the iOS media, but there are other options as well.
4.11 Create a Short Product Demo Video
Short is the key word here. Keep the video around 1 minute. Show the most interesting aspects of your app. Don’t go through all the individual menu items or high score screen. Focus on the main functionality if it’s an app or on the main gameplay if it’s a game. Remember that this is a commercial for your app, so make it interesting and something people will spread the word about to their friends.
You can upload the video to YouTube or other video sharing site, but also embed it directly on your product launch page.
4.12 Choose a Price
5. Post Launch Phase
During this phase, you need to follow up on the activities from the Launch Phase and keep an eye on how things are going.
More items coming soon!
I have many other items to add to various sections of the list, but I am out of time for the moment.
What’s missing from this list? What things do you do to prepare for launching a new app?
Soon I will post announce the new home of this checklist and it will include many more items, as well as items suggested by your feedback.
Added section 4.1 on Keywords which was accidentally deleted.