You’ve Built an App: Now What? Part 1: User Acquisition

user acquisition

Developers are makers. They solve pains, entertain, enlighten, and enhance productivity. Building an app can be an exhilarating experience and the joys of shipping can linger for… about ten seconds. Then comes the question, “I’ve built an app, now what?”

“Building an app is incredibly hard,” said Brenden Mulligan, former LaunchKit founder, which was recently acquired by Google. “But getting people to use it is an even bigger challenge. Once an app is released you start getting so many signals of how it’s doing, and it’s important to have the right infrastructure set up to receive and learn from those signals. Things like user activity, app store reviews, churn… In addition, devs have to be thinking of the next feature, or bugs they need to fix.”

Earlier this year, Ægir Thor Steinarsson and Anne-Marthe Lorck built an app to resolve what they were seeing as a common pain point.

“I am a fairly introverted person, and I am a bit disconnected from social groups: I’m studying with people much younger than me, I live in a foreign country. I mostly felt content in my day to day life, but also that I was missing out: I would end up repeatedly cancelling stuff I did want to do, like go to a concert or even a museum, because I didn’t know who to invite,” said Steinarsson.

“We did interviews with about 40 people and found others were experiencing social isolation as well,  we asked people to give it a pain grade on a scale of 1 to 5 and we started seeing everyone giving it a high pain point (3 and above). That turned out to be the main theme rather than the exception.”

Steinarsson and Lorck created BudUp as an app to solve that: users can register an event (a concert, movie, dinner party or other activity), and specify the number of people they hope to attend with.

The app was released on the Google Play Store. Android is the main mobile platform for professional developers, according to VisionMobile’s State of the Developer Nation quarterly report, which found that Android accounted for 79% of mobile developer mindshare.

For the BudUp team, while they have plans for an iOS app, for now their focus is all about traction: to get user downloads. As they ramp up their user acquisition, Steinarsson wants to make sure he has data systems in place to know what is happening and to monitor the user experience.

Knowing what to measure and using the free tools that can help developers do that quickly is crucial, said Caroline Ragot, Co-founder of Women in Mobile and Mobile Strategist at InfoJobs, a company of Schibsted Spain.

Ragot says there are two tasks to focus on after building an app: the first is acquisition, which is really about marketing an app.

The second task for a new app is to focus on retention. Ragot says retention is about marketing and the product working together. Analytics underpins an understanding of both these tasks.

Focusing on Acquisition: App Store Optimization (ASO)

Increasing user acquisition for your app starts with app store optimization. 30% of downloads occur after someone has searched by keywords in Google Play. So getting noticed within the app marketplace can already drive up user downloads before looking at any other type of promotion.

Ragot says there are three components in app store optimization:

  • text
  • icons
  • Screenshots
  • Review and rating.

Building off the experience of websites in getting noticed, app store optimization makes an impact. Ragot suggests thinking what people will search for when looking for your app, and making sure that those keywords are included in the application title text. “Put the keyword close to your brand,” said Ragot. “When I have done that for app projects, within about two hours I have seen apps move from a ranking of 30-something to a ranking of 8.”

After ASO, the next task is to make sure your icon looks appealing. Don’t believe this is important? Ragot suggests doing a simple app search for something like ‘clock’: “You will see that there will be some you don’t want to download just by looking at them.” In the Google Play console, there is a function to allow developers to A/B test their icons. Ragot suggests testing several and seeing which icon design drives more downloads for your app.

Screenshots are also important. “It’s like the landing page for your app. When visitors arrive, they need to understand what your app is about and it should inspire them to download. It is your first touchpoint with a user,” Ragot explained.

Finally, reviews and ratings make an impact. App stores like Google Play use metrics of downloads and active users as part of their search ranking algorithm, and reviews of apps makes a significant impact on helping encourage searchers to download.

Organic and Paid Acquisition

“The two big acquisition buckets are organic and paid,” said Mulligan, who recently talked about how to optimize app launches with First Round. “Ideally, an app can attract users organically. To do this, there are a lot of ways to optimize a launch to be more successful in initially attracting users. You need to make sure your product name is short and your tagline is clear and concise. You need to figure out what good acquisition looks like for your product and track it from the beginning. You need to bake in marketing hooks that let users share with others how they’re using your app and invite their friends to join them. When the time is right, you need to target the relevant reporters to cover your product and post it to sites with good lead generation like Product Hunt. And the whole time, make sure your line of communication with your early community is very open so you know what’s working, what’s not, and how to change your product to boost your acquisition.”

Other acquisition ideas include Facebook ad campaigns, which Ragot cautions can be expensive, but suggests it is still a good idea to dedicate a small budget of a few thousands dollars to encourage initial traction. Ragot also suggests focusing on social media by encouraging downloaders to share that they have downloaded your app and encourage their networks to do the same.

Steinarsson and Lorck will next focus on content marketing: getting featured in blogs, in particular. They believe when starting to acquire users it is important to do things that don’t necessarily scale in order to maintain an initial personal contact with potential users. They will target several content domains and see in which ones they get traction and focus on those segments to start.

When starting with acquiring users, it can feel like everything is an opportunity cost: choosing one strategy means not investing in another. Setting up analytics to quickly identify what is working is crucial to being able to do more of what works and quickly identify where effort is wasted. Ragot, Mulligan, Steinarsson and Lorck all agree: setting up analytics for acquisition and retention is essential.

And while their strategies are universal across mobile platforms, all three have focused on how to build acquisition with an Android app, reflecting the dominant position of Android in the mobile app developer’s mindshare. According to VisionMobile’s State of the Developer Nation report, 80% of those building apps professionally target Android.

In our next part, we will look at how to retain users once they have started using your app and in part three, we examine what analytics techniques for acquisition and retention to have in place and what free tools to use.

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App Stores Growth Accelerates in 2014

2014 was quite an eventful year in our industry. Apple finally gave in to the big screen but also teased us with the small screen of the upcoming Apple Watch, and even surprised developers with Swift. Google wasn’t quiet either, revealing their vision for the future of UI with Material design and tackling wearables head-on. To celebrate such a great year, we’ll be taking a look at app store growth in 2014.

In this report we’ll be exploring the growth of each of these stores in 2014, but let’s start by establishing a baseline of how big each of the stores are, in number of apps, and how they got to where they are today.


Looking at the chart above we can see all three stores really expanded their app catalog. It’s the kind of healthy growth you’d expect from an industry that’s still relatively new. The most obvious takeaway here, however, is that Google finally closed the gap and actually jumped ahead of Apple, ending the year with more than 1.43 million apps compared to 1.21 million. Amazon, although a distant third, grew its catalog by nearly 90% to 293k apps.

Google surpassed Apple for number of new apps for the first time in 2014


Looking at the number of app developers who publish apps for the different stores, we see a familiar picture. Google Play’s developer community grew tremendously in 2014, exceeding Apple for the 3rd year in a row. In fact, [tweetable]Google Play is distributing apps from nearly 400k different developers[/tweetable]. This is a much higher number than what we observed in last summer’s report on app developers, meaning the Play store saw rapid growth in the last two quarters of the year.

Google’s developer community continues to grow faster than Apple’s for the 3rd year in a row

More apps than ever!


App development is certainly on the rise and the platform doesn’t seem to matter. [tweetable]In 2014, all three app stores grew by at least 50%[/tweetable] (by the way, when we say growth we mean the percent change from the end of the previous year). What’s interesting is that although Apple continues to grow strongly, it’s really Google Play that’s growing. In 2014, the number of apps distributed through Google Play has doubled. Amazon is also enjoying impressive growth, albeit from a much smaller base.

[tweetable]Google Play more than doubled in number of apps in 2014[/tweetable]

We initially only set out to look at aggregate growth, but with so much data at hand, we just couldn’t stop. So TL;DR Let’s have a look at the top 5 categories with most growth during 2014:


We expected to see Business and Games rank very high as both are fairly mainstream, but Food & Drink, with the second largest growth, was certainly a surprise. Keep in mind, for the comparison to be apples to apples, these charts look at growth and not total size.

More than 128k new Business apps were released in the iOS App Store in 2014


On Google Play, Games are in abundance with the category more than doubling in size. Interestingly enough, although tiny in comparison, the Photography category saw abnormal growth in 2014. Selfie Stick anyone?

Developers. Developers. Developers.

This is surely amazing growth, but are those new apps being published by new developers, or is the catalyst for this massive increase in apps a result of incumbents expanding? You’re about to find out.


More developers joined Google in 2014 than Apple and Amazon combined! With developers flocking to Google Play, the store has reached a new milestone: 388k developers — more developers than Apple (with 282k developers) and Amazon (with 48k developers).

More developers released apps for Google in 2014 than Apple and Amazon combined!

Let’s break this down by categories:


We can see the relationship here between app growth and new developers, with most new Apple developers publishing business apps. What’s interesting is how games started off slow and sped up around March, catching up with the steadily growing lifestyle category. It’s no surprise that Apple developers, much like their Google counterparts, are focusing on mainstream apps.


The amazing growth in games we mentioned earlier correlates directly to developers. The category saw the highest number of new developers, more than the business and entertainment categories that are tied for second place.

Most new Google developers focus on games, Google Play’s fastest growing category

There you have it, a whole year of amazing growth by the numbers.

[tweetable]2014 was certainly the year for Google Play growth[/tweetable]. Kudos to the teams who run the store and help developers! With the most apps and largest developer community, Google Play is starting the new year with a kick. Market fragmentation and varying device capabilities don’t seem to detract developers from making Android apps. But, with the upcoming Apple Watch, Swift, and a larger screen, Apple is giving developers a lot to be excited about.


Which App Stores Should You Use?

Publishing your app in a store can involve significant effort. Depending on your goals some app stores can be more attractive than others. If you’re looking to earn direct revenue from your apps, which are the best stores to target? What follows is some general advice backed up by data from our latest survey.


To publish, or not to publish?

If you only want to build an app as a hobby, first consider whether you need to publish it on a store at all, or whether you can just share it privately with interested parties. There are more than enough apps already in the stores and the poor developers trying to make a living from their apps have to contend with a lot of noise in the very basic search results as it is. If reaching an audience is an important part of your hobby creation then building an Android app and publishing on Google Play is the obvious option. It’s low cost, there are few rules and there’s a very large user base.

Apple is where the money is

If you’re building an app to generate revenue directly then an iOS app on Apple’s App Store is still the best option initially unless you’re only targeting countries where the platform has very low market share. Even with an ad-supported revenue model, the larger user base on Android is usually more than compensated for by better engagement and higher rates on iOS. When aiming for reach then the most important thing is to match the target demographics with those of the platforms. In most cases you’ll want to target both iOS and Android.

These are the common cases and this is fairly common knowledge. As such you can see it reflected in the overall popularity of the various stores below.

If you already have an app published on one or more stores, the decision to add it to another is not always an easy one. Even if you don’t need to port your app to a new platform to access a new marketplace, you still need to learn about the publishing process, create (and usually pay for) an account, publish the app and future updates and monitor reviews and visibility within the store. If the audience using the new store won’t be reached by your existing marketing efforts you may have to expand those as well.

More stores = more money?

Looking at the average revenues of developers based on how many stores they publish on, it’s tempting to think that publishing to as many stores as possible (and thus using a cross-platform development tool) is the way to go.

However, this is getting causation backwards. There is an improvement in revenues for almost anyone adding more potential customers but looking at the median rather than mean we can see this is unlikely to cover the cost of managing the app across several extra stores. What we can really see here is successful apps tend to port to more platforms and so [tweetable]it’s apps that already have high revenues that then publish in additional stores[/tweetable]. There is also a [tweetable]higher than average proportion of developers working on a contract basis who publish to five or more stores[/tweetable], which pushes the median revenue up.

The same phenomenon causes the average revenue of all developers who publish in a particular store to be very misleading. Developers publishing in the smaller stores often already have successful versions of the apps on the leading platforms, or are simply contracted to port those apps. If we split developers by the number of stores they publish on and look at revenues by platform then the differences become clear.

Where to publish next?

Looking at developers who only publish on a single store, [tweetable]Apple’s App Store is far ahead of every other store except the Amazon Appstore[/tweetable]. However, the number of developers who only publish to Amazon’s store is extremely small (only 16 in this sample) so this figure is not reliable. That said, [tweetable]developers who publish in Amazon’s store and one other are far more numerous and have high average revenues[/tweetable], plus data from Distimo suggests that some Android developers are seeing significantly better revenues from Amazon than from Google Play.

If we consider those publishing to two stores then Apple leads with Google in a clear second place, while Amazon still shows relatively good revenues. The other interesting data here is “where do BlackBerry developers go” – those publishing to BlackBerry World are much more likely to have Google Play or the Windows Phone Store as their second store than others. Only 11% of developers publishing to BlackBerry World and one other store also publish to the Apple App Store. That’s somewhat surprising given BlackBerry’s previous dominance of the enterprise market and that iOS is now taking over in that space.

When developers publish to four or more stores we see a significant jump in revenues for those publishing to the Windows Phone Store. Since the revenues for those who only publish to that store are so low, it seems unlikely that it’s revenues from Windows Phone itself creating the difference. More likely is that Microsoft and Nokia have been providing incentives for the most successful apps to port to their platform. Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform is strongly differentiated from the others. Developers have to design a new UI and generally build it with different technology in order to target the platform. The associated costs are much higher than adding another Android or web-based platform’s store. As such, at similar scale to many alternatives, Windows Phone is unlikely to produce a good return on investment unless Microsoft provides a strong financial incentive.


For developers not looking for direct revenues, an Android app on Google Play is probably the obvious first choice. For those who are looking to monetize their apps directly, Apple’s iOS App Store is the clear leader, with Google Play as the first place to expand after that. BlackBerry World appears to be very unattractive versus the other options from a revenue perspective. Beyond that, the Windows Phone Store seems to be more popular than it deserves (although this might be due to ports paid for by the platform owner) whilst the Amazon Appstore seems unfairly unloved. Some developers have had issues with Amazon’s developer agreement and pricing policy but the results of those using Amazon’s store suggest it’s worth another look.