There aren’t two App Stores, differentiated by how price conscious users are- there’s three! Overall Top 100, Category Top 25, and The Great Unwashed. Since no one wants to be in The Great Unwashed, and most of us don’t have the cash to get into the Top 100, lets talk about how to get into your category’s Top 25.
The most important thing for an iPhone app is to be in the Top 25 of a category or sub-category- it doesn’t matter what that category is! As long as you are in the Top 25 of one, you’ll have a steady base of traffic.
The App Store is an Amazon River of money- pageviews, dollars, and clicks flow through in unimaginable volume. The New page at the front of the App Store gets the full torrent of that traffic- it doesn’t matter how terrible your app performs, if you are featured, you’ll get huge sales by volume alone.
We see this time and time again in the Books category- you’ll have a third tier app that’s been stuck around 50th place for months, Apple features them, and, poof! They’ll be #1 in Books and in the Overall Top 100 for about three days. After those three days they’ll slide off the Featured list and lose momentum quickly. Within another day or so they’ll be out of the Overall Top 100, and, within a week of being originally featured, begin their inexorable slide back down to the pits of the Books category.
Outside of hitting the jackpot and being featured, the best way to make money on the App Store is to focus on a category and get to the Top 25 of it. It’s almost impossible to stay in the Overall Top 100 for a sustained amount of time, without a sustained amount of advertising money. But, when it comes to individual categories and sub-categories, you can maintain a high position for quite a long time. We’ve been in the Top Ten of books for about six months straight at this point.
Categories make up the river delta of the App Store’s Amazon. From the flow of the Featured tab the traffic spreads into a dozen directions, and, from there, subdivides further in the case of Games. For Books, being in the Top 10 means $300 a day. For other categories you’ll be looking at anywhere from $50 to $500. Here’s the key, though- as long as you maintain rank, that’s money in the bank. It’s steady. It’s dependable. As long as you maintain your rank.
Even when talking about high quality, higher priced apps like Things, they still usually can be found in the Top 25 of their given category. After the Top 25 volume dissipates so quickly you might as well not exist.
Rank is everything.
The iPhone’s screen can only see four apps when pulling up a category. The fifth has only half visible. Below the Top Five, you have to swipe to reveal each additional app. After App #25 you have to reveal the next ‘page’ of 25 apps, destroying the quantity of eyeballs seeing your app’s listing.
When launching your app, your target should be to be in the Top Four- that’s where the money is, because people don’t have to swipe below the fold to see you. The #1 position in a category is obviously awesome on its own- we’re enjoying the fruits of it right now. We usually do $300-$400/day in 4th-6th place. Since going #1 we’ve been doing $700-$900/day, net. Not too shabby.
Rank to Rank
Ok, so category rank is important, and no one without TapTapTap’s advertising budget should focus in on the Top 100 right off the bat. But, given a focus on ranking in a category, how exactly do you do that?
Getting into the Top 100 of a category is the first step- if you don’t exist after the Top 25 of a category, you REALLY don’t exist after the Top 100. Fortunately, though, it doesn’t take a lot of sales to get into the Top 100 of most categories. 25/day should suffice for sneaking into 98th place or so.
It’s getting from 98th to 4th that’s the trick
Here’s the key- at no point are you competing with the 4th place app, until you are within a screen of them. If you’re within 2-3 ranks of them, you’re fighting for conversions. When you’re 60 spots away, it doesn’t matter. At every stage you simply have to out-convert the app in front of you.
The Three Factors
Here’s the second key- you only have control over three factors in this phase of the battle. Title, icon, and price. Based on those three factors people will decided whether to tap on your app or the app next to yours.
Seems obvious, but looking around at most titles, it seems like most folks don’t focus on this.
If you’re doing your own outside marketing, have a ball! Go with whatever you want. But, if you want to take advantage of organic App Store traffic, you’ll need to optimize the hell out of those three factors. If your title doesn’t describe your app effectively and interestingly, you won’t have a prayer of a chance of out-converting the next guy.
Further, your title is just as important in App Store search marketing as Google search marketing- the words you choose will help determine which App Store searches you show in. If you make up a word, people won’t be searching for you unless you do your own marketing.
It’s about brand versus product- if you’re a startup building a brand, you’ll want that brand front and center. If you’re releasing a product, you want to make money every month, and might not care about brand as much as conversion rate.
A great example is DailyBurn- their primary app is called – you guessed it! – DailyBurn. However, their side-product is called ‘FoodScanner’. Self-descriptive enough, it helps you keep track of what you eat. Simple, to the point, stands out in a list. People who know about DailyBurn can get DailyBurn straightaway.
People who have never heard of DailyBurn will notice FoodScanner, pay money, and get upsold from the product to the brand.
As for icon- does it describe your app? It’s one of the three things in your power at launch. Will someone have a good idea of what your app is about? Will it stand out in a list of other apps? Will it draw peoples’ eye when they just scrolled through eighty other apps? Stand out!
As for price- if you want a better shot at the Top 100, good money seems to be on 99 cents. But, again, are you really shooting for the Top 100? Are you going to be able to buy enough volume – at least 1000 sales a day – through advertising? Or, alternatively, do you already have a built-in audience waiting for your app? If not, price higher.
Being at $1.99, in our experience probably won’t hurt your sales much. And, almost assuredly, you won’t generate enough extra volume at 99 cents to justify the hit to revenue. At the very least, launch at $1.99 and see how things go. If you get into the Top 25 of your category, you’ll have significantly more revenue than an equivalent application in your slot. It seems from our testing that $2.99 can significantly hurt sales, but being 99 cents never increases volume enough to justify not being $1.99.
But… but… those are all low prices!
The App Store is about high volume, low cost distribution with a lot of software sales overhead removed. Take it or leave it.
Three factors here- title, company name, and keywords. If you’re targeting something specific and have it in both your title and a bunch of your keywords, that will help you rank for the search term. If you have it in your title, keywords, AND company name, so much the better. It seems that search results are slightly weighted towards paid applications, with overall rank mixing with title/keywords/company name to determine your placement. Pick a good title, think through your keywords, rank high- search will then take care of itself.
Tools of the Trade
The best sales tool around. Fetches your sales info from iTunes Connect, makes it look great, creates shiny grafts, and even provides a list of your app’s reviews.
The best rank tool around. For just a couple bucks an app it gives you access to your current rank in every market, shows you graphs of your rank over the past 30 days, and generally helps you keep tabs on what’s going on around the world. To make it even better, track your category competition as well
You’d almost think companies like having ‘app’ in their name, or something. A free service that spits out a purchase link for your app and tells you how many of those clicks actually convert into purchases. You can do this on your own through LinkExchange and earn a 5% commission from Apple on your own app, but they make it so wicked easy I don’t bother.
Install this in your app, immediately! It’s directly responsible for helping increase our rating rate among our most hardcore users, giving us the boost we needed to get to #1 in Books. And, yeah, it does look like App Pirator. Their name sucks, but install it anyways!
Not specifically related to the iPhone, but it’s phenomenal for support. Allows you to conduct your customer service entirely through email, but also provides a great web interface for checking your response time, checking in on outstanding issues, seeing who’s left in your support queue, and generally just making sure you don’t accidentally have an email fall through the cracks.
We use them for our servers, so we don’t have to worry about our servers.
Server monitoring that’s better than anything you’ll come up with for server monitoring. Pay up!