As the Apple App Store and Google Play are the main channels for downloading apps, acquiring the highest ranking in these stores becomes really important. This “ranking envy” led to the trend of incentivized downloads with a new group of app promotion companies helping developers drive downloads by cross promoting apps between different publishers. Essentially, this means that a developer can manipulate the system to obtain a top ranking for his app and thereby gain visibility and increase downloads. However, the quality of users acquired through these channels was relatively poor, as they had no intention of engaging in the app – very similar to a person standing outside sports complexes during a big game and handing out flyers that users tend to discard or hardly read. These app users’ only motivation for downloading the app is to get the reward in the form of virtual currency or a voucher to download a paid app for free.
The situation changed when Apple banned incentivized downloads in April 2011 to prevent app developers from gaming the system, in an attempt to create a level playing field for new and differentiated apps.
However, developers have plenty of options which they can learn from traditional marketing. Advertising has been in existence for decades and we know that it works. In our experience targeted advertising to promote apps works far better than incentivized downloads, as it delivers high quality users who download the app with a genuine interest in using it. In the era of mobile rich media, the ads themselves have become very sophisticated so the user can actually experience the app in the ad itself (play a small portion of the game or dive into the features) before committing to downloading it from the app stores. App developers are now realizing that they can work with ad agencies to market their apps through a combination of mobile marketing strategies, PR and media relation services, SEO and social media services.
The Nielsen Social Media Report reveals that active Internet users in the US spend nearly 80 percent of their time on social networks and blogs, which indicates the importance of social media for app promotion. Apps related to three categories – games, weather and social networking – are most popular among smartphone users who download apps. App developers could consider embedding social media within the app or game itself enabling users to find friends to play with. Apps targeted at niche segments could deploy search engine optimized (SEO) websites and target keywords to generate traffic.
Currently, app promotion networks are using multiple approaches to promote app downloads:
- Cross promotion: Relevant apps are provided on other apps and games resulting in exchange of traffic between apps/games.
- Analytics: Relevant apps are recommended based on the other apps a consumer is using.
- Advertising: App developers promote games developed by other publishers through banner ads on their pause screens or through interstitial ads along with pay per download option.
App developers can leverage the scale of mobile ad networks that often tend to deliver higher value/quality users. There are several networks in the market that offer a variety of options ranging from banner ads to video ads and interactive ads that can be displayed on mobile sites and apps. Some networks also offer cross promotion opportunities within the network in return for running ads.
Despite using targeted advertising, developers may still face challenges in getting their apps noticed. However, the ban on incentivized downloads has led to networks coming up with creative solutions for app promotion. Each developer needs to identify the right combination of traditional promotion techniques and specialized solutions that works for them. Given the high level of activity in the app development space, the app ecosystem is set to witness some significant changes.