Top 10 Lessons Learned from Launching iPhone Apps

Much has been written on the topic of launching iPhone apps, and software products in general. I have read a good bit of this info over the years and have tested many theories for how to successfully launch, and have come up with a list of what worked for me. So this is my personal checklist I go through every time I am getting prepared to launch a new product. This is the stuff that I’ve found works, so I hope it helps someone.

Warning: This list is long because there are a lot of things you should do, sorry about the verbosity, but all this stuff is important if you want your apps to have the best chance they can.

  1. Make the app itself as viral as possible
  2. Do speaking engagements
  3. Write a press release
  4. Write your own copy
  5. Create a dedicated launch page
  6. Submit your app to review sites, free and paid
  7. Advertise
  8. Have a dedicated Facebook and Twitter for the app
  9. Keep an e-mail list
  10. Cross-Promote your other apps


Make the app itself as viral as possible
So this may seem obvious, but you want your users to hook other new users in to your app, it’s in my opinion the single most important consideration when trying to launch a new product. Advertising dollars, press, and social media engagement can only get you what I’ll call “blips” of traffic, which is a large amount of traffic coming to your site/app all at once. What happens if those users don’t spread the app? You get a nice little asymptotic chart for your sales numbers that goes right back down to 0 the next day. Give users a reason to share things.In my photo manipulation app PhotoGoo, I started out with an app that let users just play with photos and save them to their library, and the app wasn’t really spreading very quickly. I saw spikes of sales followed by nothing. After learning the lesson of the importance of making viral features for apps, I added several sharing features. The first round was simply allowing users to share their edited photos on Facebook and Twitter. This served to smooth out the tail after spikes in usage occurred from PR, reviews, etc, but still ultimately didn’t spread that much. I realized that what really made Facebook photos spread faster was showing up on multiple user’s walls, which is easy to make happen if you allow users to tag their friends. Now for each shared photo, instead of showing up on the wall of 100 or so users, it shows up on the wall of 100 or so users for 2 different people, doubling the exposure from each shared picture.Finally, I added an in-app contest where users could submit their photos to become the “photo of the week.” This adds a little extra fun a social interaction to the app, but most importantly it influences users to share their photos more, in order to have their friends vote for their photo. With all these efforts combined, PhotoGoo now consistently pulls in new users regardless of if there is any press at that point in time.

Do speaking engagements
This is quite anecdotal, but I once did a speaking engagement to the PRSA in New York. It was partially to promote my products, but mostly to give me an excuse to go hang out in New York for a while with my business partner. I didn’t think much would come of it.During my presentation an influential PR professional was tweeting about one of my case studies for the app, iAugment. Within the next 24 hours almost every major news outlet in the country was talking about iAugment. That day the app received around 125,000 downloads and hit the top selling app for it’s category in almost every country, and remained there for over a month!I was able to repeat this success in public speaking on many of my other apps. People love sharing things they are hearing about at a conference, and there are a lot of tastemakers who attend these things.

Write a press release
Write a press release and send to prlog, prweb, prnewswire, and include a URL to your site in the release. If your app is a game, then you can also try Go ahead and make an account there now, because last I checked it takes a while. Press releases I’ve released in the past have been circulated around to major news outlets and sometimes driven some nice bumps in traffic, which leads to users, which leads to word of mouth, etc. It’s really easy to write a press release and can ultimately be done in about 10 minutes. There are companies that will do this sort of thing for you, but what you usually pay for with them is their network, and not their writing skills. I do not advise letting them write press releases for you, which leads me to my next point…

Write your own copy
You should write your own copy, or work directly with a writer if you think your writing is not so great. No one is more enthusiastic about your product than you, no one understands it’s value better than you, why should anyone else write the copy? Say in your own words what makes your app great, and if it’s all true, your passion will make its way through your potential customers. Never let a PR company to write copy for you, or if you do make sure you revise (rewrite) the entire thing to support your perspective and vision for the product.

Create a dedicated launch page.
This is important because the app store has basically no analytics, and what you’ll want to know is how people are finding you. Your dedicated website is not only a great way to see some basic analytics on your customers, but it is a great place to send anyone who may be interested in your app, and you can even get some basic SEO going on and get some organic traffic. Organic search traffic won’t make or break your app, but it doesn’t hurt. The only thing I would say is super important SEO-wise is that when someone searches for your product name, they get the site. This is important in the event that your app name is mentioned on television, in person via word of mouth, in a tweet, etc. People are going to want to find the app via a Google search, so make sure you rank for your own name! If it’s too hard to rank for your product name, the name might just suck.

Submit your app to review sites, free and paid.
Some people will scoff at the idea of paying for reviews, but the truth is you need to get your app in front of the eyes of your potential customers. And honestly, the reason these review sites charge is because other app developers are paying, and because they probably get so many submissions they need a filtering criteria in order to actually process the amount of submissions they receive. The prices are usually not unreasonable, ranging from $50 to $500 for video review sites, peanuts compared with the cost of developing a great iOS app.

You may have picked up by now on the fact that you are probably not going to be able to get by with a purely “word of mouth” campaign. Yes, to successfully market a new app, you’ll need a marketing budget. Yes, I know there was that one app that one time that made all that money with no marketing budget, but that’s probably not you. You should be buying up ads on all the major mobile advertising platforms for launch day. It doesn’t have to be an astronomical amount, but you need something to drive sales, and advertising works pretty well. In particular companies like Tapjoy and PlayHaven, etc are great for their pay-per-download campaigns.

Have a dedicated Facebook and Twitter for the app
Yes, it is a pain in the ass to keep making new Facebook and Twitter accounts, and to attempt to continue putting content on them and building a following. However, it is what people expect, and when your product blows up you are going to be kicking yourself if someone else has taken your ideal Twitter or Facebook page name. You should ideally set these up at the same time as you set up your domain, and you should do all these things after securing the name in the app store. If you don’t you’ll end up stuck paying like I did for the domain name, and unable to use @photogoo on twitter because some person is using it as a nickname.Creating a dedicated Facebook and Twitter page is important because it’s one of those critical-mass building components you can integrate in to your app, webpage, interviews, and speaking engagements. It’s always good to be thinking about how you are going to continue to build your audience. Don’t expect people to just remember the name of your app, or visit the website for updates. You need to get them to agree to be pushed content about your app, updates, new products, etc while they are still experiencing your product for the first time. You want to hook in to that initial excitement they have of finding something new and cool, which brings me to my next point…

Keep an e-mail list
Even if you don’t intend to keep up a regular newsletter, I highly recommend keeping ‘Signup for the mailing list’ buttons all over the place, just like your ‘Like’ and ‘Follow us on Twitter’ buttons. It goes back to the idea of building your audience. Capturing e-mails from the get-go is an important step if you ever want to release a version 2, or if you want to do a special promotion, etc. If possible, you should integrate all this stuff in to your app. You can see an example of this right on the start screen for a time tracking product I made a while back, called Finch. The e-mail field is pre-populated from the user’s address book, the subscribe button defaults to being checked, and the Like and Tweet buttons make a presence right off the bat. Most user’s sign up for the newsletter here, which has allowed us some great marketing opportunities long after our launch.Finch Mac App Start Screen

Cross-Promote your other apps.
How do publishers consistently succeed at selling new apps? I’ve talked to many people over the years who work with major publishers on the iOS app store, and they all pretty consistently point to cross-promotion as the number one thing driving users. All the things I’ve listed above are important, especially if you are working on your first app, but cross-promoting your new apps inside of your existing apps is the most cost-effective way to advertise. It also allows you to keep a mass of users, to grow your base and expand as a provider of apps.

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8 Great Open Source Projects to use in your next iPhone App

I’ve scoured the internet looking for great open source iOS apps, and what I determined is that what is really more interesting is the open source iOS components and frameworks. So here’s my list of the most useful open source iOS components.

8. PSCollectionView
PSCollectionView is a custom collection view that allows for the easy creation of Pinterest-style image collections in your iOS apps. Source on Github


7. GMGridView
This little grid view library allows for the simple creation of highly interaction view sets. You can see a nice video of an example result hereSource on Github


6. PRTween

PRTween is an extension of the core animation framework. It is an effort to take the power of core animation, and make it easier to use. The commands available may remind some of the stupid-simple jQuery animation commands like fade, hide, or show. Source on Github



5. iHasApp
I recently was asked by a client if we could detect their other apps installed on the device, and if the user didn’t own them if we could have the app present cross-promotional ads. I wasn’t sure what the answer to their question was, it seemed like something that might fall under the dreaded “private api” category. But here this project is an App Store friendly library to detect other apps installed on the user’s phone. Source on Github


4. NUI
NUI is a very interesting project that aims to make styling of iOS apps as easy as styling in CSS. Take a look at the syntax on the project’s github page and you’ll see what makes this such an interesting project. Source on Github


3. grabKit
If you are writing an iPhone app that involves the user’s photos, one thing that’s always a bit tricky is adding support for all the various social networks that the user might prefer to host their photos on. grabKit makes this easier with this drop-in library that let’s the user import photos from Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Picasa, or the iOS device itself. Source on Github


2. MultistrokeGestureRecognizer
This library is great for anyone creating a very touch-centric game, or any app that uses lots of complex gestures. The library is based on the N Multistroke Recognizer which is a great algorithm for detecting very complex touch gestures. If you remember the gestures in the game Black & White, it’s kind of like that. Source on Github


1. Filepicker
Similar to grabKit, Filepicker allows for the importing of files from various social networks, but also includes many more services such as Dropbox, Gmail, and even Github. The library is also not limited to only photos but can be used for a range of content types. Source on Github


Honorable mention: cupertino
Cupertino is not an iOS library, but rather a ruby gem that allows for administration of your Apple Developer Account. This has been a missing piece of the formula for automating iOS development work for years, so I’m glad to see some hackers have decided to take up the challenge of making a CLI for the Apple Developer Account system.

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