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Tips on How to Get Top iPhone Apps

  |  June 15, 2010   |  Comments

A survey of B2B mobile app developers provides insights into why some applications rise to the top spot in app stores.

With the proliferation of mobile applications, the age-old marketing problem of discovery is now paramount. A major element of success is getting top iPhone apps.

My company conducted mobile application research with both B2B (define) mobile app developers/marketers and B2C (define) mobile app users in an effort to understand the successes and challenges developers face when vying for the top spot in various app stores. The results are useful as you develop your plan to develop top iPhone apps.

This month's column will cover the results of my company's B2B mobile application research. The results of the B2C mobile application research will be covered in my next column.

B2B Mobile Application Research Summary


This data was derived from 33 survey responses to our Mobile App Monetization and Business Model research. The survey was hosted online with links distributed through third-party sites and personal e-mails. Recipients of the survey link were asked to participate in the survey and received a white paper as an incentive.


The purpose of the application research was to uncover app marketing techniques employed to drive mobile app discovery and downloads of native apps developed for the top mobile platforms in the U.S.


A respondent was required to be a developer of native mobile apps for iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, and BlackBerry devices. Each of these platforms offer a proprietary "app store" to developers for managing the discovery, download, and monetization of apps developed on their respective platforms. Most respondents to our survey were iPhone app developers (53 percent) that develop native iPhone apps as their primary business (47 percent).

App Store Rankings

Tip: Learn how rankings in each app store work and how they affect the number of installs an app receives. Many of the top apps are using mobile app advertising campaigns to get them to the top of the ranking. Try flighting - run promotion to get to the top and then stop promotion and let it ride until the app drops below the top rankings, then run promotion again. Other app stores to consider are: Handmark, Handango, GetJar, and carrier app stores (long approval time).

Each of the three app stores addressed in this application research (i.e., Apple iTunes App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World) have specific methods for ranking mobile apps. Only half of the respondents to this survey had a clear understanding of how rankings impact the number of installs they receive. Most BlackBerry and Android developers don't know their peak popularity ranking in their respective app stores. IPhone developers have a better understanding of where they fall within the various rankings.

iPhone: Fifty percent of iPhone developers have achieved peak popularity in the App Store for a free iPhone app. Twenty-eight percent have made the top 100 list for a paid app.

Android: Thirty-six percent of Android survey respondents have achieved peak popularity in the top 100 rankings for a free Android app. Most Android developers (90 percent) don't know their peak popularity ranking for a paid app and 63 percent don't know their peak for a free app.

BlackBerry: Two out of nine BlackBerry respondents have achieved peak popularity rankings in the top 100 for both free and paid apps. Seventy-eight percent don't know what peak popularity ranking they've achieved.

Business Model

Tip: Understand how pricing will affect your demand. Offering a mobile app for free can rapidly grow your user base; however, to sustain your business you must have a source of revenue. Charging for your app is one option, other options include: ad supported, selling virtual goods for micro payments, and sponsorship. Run tests to optimize pricing.

Revenue from paid apps is the primary business model of most of our respondents (43 percent), followed by ad-supported free apps (22 percent). The three most important factors in determining the business model of their apps were: user acceptance/experience (81 percent), revenue-per-install (71 percent), and quality reporting (33 percent).

For the majority of respondents (81 percent), user experience and not revenue-per-install, was the more important factor in determining the business model of their app.

Advertising Techniques

Tip: Paid search is only one option. Because mobile advertising is experiencing slow adoption from major brands, much of the mobile ad inventory is affordable (think remnant). Also, once you have an application with a large user base, use cross promotion to introduce a new application. Cost effective tactics are PR, blogger outreach, social media, and the elusive viral marketing.

Most survey respondents have tried at least some form of advertising. The three most common practices were: offering ads within another mobile app (35 percent), mobile keyword search (26 percent), and ads on a desktop website (22 percent).

A significant number (30 percent) of respondents aren't using any of the common advertising techniques to drive demand for their mobile apps. This could mean that they either aren't advertising at all or are experimenting with entirely new and different techniques altogether. However, if we take into account that 42 percent indicated that they don't spend any money on advertising, we can safely conclude that this 30 percent simply doesn't advertise.

Although survey respondents have tried most of the common app advertising techniques, most (52 percent of ad techniques) yield average results.

User Engagement

Tip: Don't forget, retaining the user is as important as acquiring the user - depth of content and fresh content are both important to engage users. It's easier to plan engagement features into the development of the app than to try to retrofit. And you can't improve what you don't measure. How to measure: segment subscribers by multiple variables, prioritize segments, determine variables to measure, run A/B tests, roll out across segment, and continue to optimize. Reports can include: device reports by vendor and model, traffic reports on how content is being consumed, destination reports to identify potential partners, or places to run ads.

Most respondents are satisfied (52 percent) with how their apps were rated in the app store. However, 48 percent see that their ratings either need improvement or are not important.

When we asked app developers what they valued most, increased usage ranked highest (48 percent). Given the option of increasing usage of an app by 10 percent or increasing the number of installs by 10 percent, developers would rather increase usage. This is consistent with earlier responses, which indicated that 81 percent of developers value user experience and user acceptance over revenue-per-install.

Marketers are just beginning to get an understanding of how to get top iPhone apps. Hopefully this application research will give you some clues on elements that are important in your marketing and design tactics. Stay tuned for next month's column on the results of the B2C application research of 448 U.S. smartphone users. If you have any thoughts on how to get top iPhone apps, please leave your comments below.

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Rob Weber

Rob Weber co-founded W3i in 2000, growing W3i to be a leader in app user acquisition and monetization. For 42 consecutive quarters the company continues to be profitable and has grown to over 120 employees. For more than a decade, Rob worked to create solutions to increase distribution, drive revenue, and heighten engagement for app developers, such as DeNA, Gree, Kabam, PocketGems, and many other indie and public developers. Under Rob's leadership, W3i recently launched a mobile offer exchange that includes partnerships with leading offer providers.

Rob's business philosophy is to provide a collaborative environment developing solutions that provide value to app developers, advertisers, agencies, and ad networks.

In addition, Rob shares his passion for apps, digital media, and entrepreneurship by serving on the board of several tech companies. Rob recently presented at MobileBeat, GamesBeat, GDC, GDC Online, APPNATION, iPhone/iPad App DevCon, and also judged Start-Up Weekends.

Rob is an angel investor in a number of game, social media, music, video, and mobile app start-ups.

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