Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel 11 February 2016

Growth Hacking For Mobile Apps

In 2013 there were more than 50 billion app downloads from Google’s Android market. In 2014, Apple hit 75 billion app downloads. It’s predicted thatin 2017, there will be more than 268 billion downloads, resulting in $77 billion revenue for their developers.


I think it’s safe to say that mobile apps are seriously big business. But what does this mean for marketers?

First of all, it means that if your company doesn’t already have an app, you should probably consider designing one – especially if your competitors are.

It also means that if you do have an app, while downloads and use (in the market generally) will grow, so will your competition. Consequently, if you want to make your mark in the mobile app market, you’re going to have to up your game when it comes to driving traffic to your app and boosting downloads.

Stick with me while we take a look at how you can get started with growth hacking for mobile apps…

Defining Your Market

Targeting the right audience is the first step towards making a dent in an already saturated app market.

If you’re creating an app to complement your existing web offering, you need to establish whether your audience actually wants, needs, and will use your app. How is your app going to enhance the user experience? Unless designing an app is going to make your customer’s life easier, plowing the cost of that app’s development into marketing your website could prove to be a sounder investment.

Designing an app that exists independently of any current ventures you might be involved in is a little different.

Ideally, you want to find the right balance of audience size and competition – i.e. you should find a niche with a large enough potential audience to give you a genuine shot at success, but low enough competition that your app doesn’t become lost amongst the noise. 

Choosing a Name

Choosing the right name for an app tends to be one of the biggest challenges designers face. You’ll want the name to grab people’s attention and help you stand out from the competition, but at the same time, you should try to include a keyword or two. This will help the app get discovered by the right audience (more on this below…).

Don’t leap straight in and name your app based on what sounds different and fun. Take the time to review your competition and establish what is and isn’t working for apps that are currently on the market.

The ideal name should be snappy, memorable, and descriptive. For example…





And MyFitnessPal


Bear in mind that if your app name is short enough, you can include a further, optimized descriptor in the same field.

For example…

Progression – Fitness Tracker



And Geek – Smarter Shopping


App Store Optimization

A study published in October last year found that around half of users found apps via an app store – specifically, 47% of iOS users and 53% of Android users.


While these figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt (the study surveyed only 875 U.S. users and asked them about only the last app they downloaded), they do provide (albeit shaky) proof that app store optimization (or ASO) is pretty damn important.

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with app store optimization, it is the process of optimizing your app so that it ranks higher in the app store’s search results. Essentially, it’s not that dissimilar from search engine optimization – the process of optimizing your website so that it ranks higher in the search engine results.

However, ASO is decidedly simpler than SEO. Unlike the web’s organic search results, app positioning is determined primarily by two key factors: the text (i.e. keywords) used in the app’s title, description, and keyword list, and the actual performance of the app, e.g. it’s ratings and reviews and, of course, how popular it is.

On-page app store optimization


Keyword research for ASO can be approached in much the same way as keyword research for SEO or PPC. You’ll probably want to begin your research with Google’s Keyword Planner. Pay attention to the search volume and competitiveness of relevant keywords, just like you would when carrying out keyword research for any other medium.

Beyond that, there are a number of app specific tools that can assist you in your keyword research. Sensor Tower is arguably one of the best known and most popular but I think App Mind and the App Store section of Keyword Tool are worth a look too.


Remember when I talked about choosing a name for your app? In the app store, your app name is also your app title, which is the equivalent to thetag of a webpage.


It needs to serve two purposes:

  1. Enticing users to want to learn more about your app
  2. Providing clear clues (usually through keywords) as to the content of the app

Apple’s App Store allows titles up to 255 characters in length, however, depending on the device being used, only the first 25 or so of those will show in organic search. Any characters that follow will be hidden.

It’s worth considering then, how a truncated title will appear to users and affect click-through-rates (and subsequently downloads). It’s pretty imperative that you ensure users can understand what your app is about from those 25 characters.

The All-in Fitness app is a good example (courtesy of Sensor Tower).


With this title, they’re able to communicate their USP (the most critical element of their app that will help differentiate them from the competition): the fact that the app contains a massive 1,200 exercises and workouts.

To get an idea of how your Apple app listing will appear in the search results, use theStoreFront tool.

App titles on Google Play need to be 30 characters or less – period. Longer titles won’t be truncated – they just won’t be accepted.

Descriptions (for Apple Apps)


Much like a website’s meta description, using keywords in your iOS app description won’t affect where you’re positioned in the app store’s search results. It can however, impact your performance in web search, so you should still be sure to include relevant keywords here where possible.

The description itself can be up to 4,000 characters, but bear in mind that users will see only the first few lines (between 2 and 5) unless they click to read more. This means beginning your description by highlighting your app’s very best features.

Descriptions (for Android Apps)


Android apps have short descriptions (that are visible in the app search results) and long descriptions (that users have to click through to be able to view).

Your short description can be no more than 80 characters, while (like with iOS) you have up to 4,000 characters to play with in your long description. Unlike Apple however, the keywords you use here are used as a ranking factor. Use this to your advantage, but just as if you were writing copy for a webpage, write for humans, not search engines.

Keyword field

Although Apple may not use the keywords in your app description as a ranking factor, they do allow you to enter up to 100 characters in a keyword field. This is an extremely important part of app store optimization for Apple – and really easy to implement too – so make the most of it.


Icons aren’t a ranking factor, but they are a key element of your branding. Your icon will often account for a user’s first impression of your app, and may be single-handedly responsible for whether or not a potential customer chooses to know more (think of it like the meta description you write when optimizing a web page). That’s a lot of responsibility, so it’s imperative that you get this bit just right.

You icon should look good, be logical, and help to convey the “theme” of your app – it should help to give your app an identity.

Good examples of this include…

Elevate – Brain Training




And Urbanspoon


Off-page app store optimization

There are two key elements to off-page app store optimization you need to be aware of: ratings and reviews, and (in the case of the Android app store) links.

Ratings and reviews

The search function of an app store operates like any other search engine: it wants to serve the best possible results to the user. This means, along with showing results that match the keywords used, serving up apps that have received a good response from other users – namely, good reviews and a high rating.

Unfortunately, your users will rarely come and rate you without prompting – most of the time, you have to ask.

The most obvious way to do this is with an in-app pop-up, which will usually look something like this:


Unfortunately, in-app pop-ups suffer from one inherent flaw: they interrupt the user experience while they’re engaging with the app.

While there’s no easy way to get around interrupting your users, you can boost the odds that they’ll complete your desired action by making said action as easy as possible for them to complete.

A pop-up like the one above, for example, signals to the user that clicking “Rate It Now” will take them away from the app. That’s off-putting to someone who’s currently busyusing the app.

An alternative is to offer the ability to rate the app there-and-then, like so:


Of course, there’s no rule that says you have to follow a generic template when asking users to rate or review. “If you enjoy using [this app] would you mind taking a moment to rate it? It won’t take more than a minute. Thanks for your support!” sounds fine on the surface, but if I’m being completely honest, it’s a little lame.

Where’s the incentive for the user to leave a rating? How does it remind the user that there are real people behind this app, who have worked hard on it and genuinely need their users’ support?

Take a look at the image below. This has personality and serves to remind users that someone worked hard designing and developing the app in question. It makes you think that if you’re using and enjoying what they worked on, the least you can do is take a minute or two to leave them a rating.


The style and language used above is by no means suited to all contexts, but the idea behind it most certainly is.

Link building

Unlike Apple, Google has access to PageRank. This means that Google will take into account the number (and quality) of links pointing to your App Details Page when deciding how much prominence your app should be given in the App Store. 

Now, I could write a whole post (maybe even two or three) just about link building. For today, though, I’ll leave you with a few brief ideas for building links to App Details Pages:

  • Submit your app to (quality) web app directories – there’s an excellent list here.
  • Contribute to crowdsourced posts – HARO is an excellent source for finding these sorts of opportunities.
  • Reach out to app review sites – Shane Kittelson of App Battleground has compiled a comprehensive list of sites like this which you can find over here.

Using Search Engine Optimization to Growth Hack Your App

13% of Apple users and 15% of Android users said that they found the last app they downloaded either by “reading about it on the web” or “searching on the web”.

This means that just because your app is for sale in app stores does not mean organic search optimization (or SEO) can’t help to boost its discovery.

Depending on the nature of your app, this might mean creating a landing page specifically for your app. If you don’t have a suitable home for said landing page, it’s also going to entail designing a micro-site.

Fortunately, there are heaps of examples of companies doing an awesome job with their app landing pages and microsites that can serve as inspiration for you. Here are a few of my favorites…







So what is it that makes these websites so effective?

  • Simple, clean, attractive design
  • Clear USPs
  • Large CTAs

Of course, designing and launching your microsite is only one step. You also need to optimize and promote it. At this point, there’s only really one clear difference between optimizing and marketing an app site to any other website: your goal.

We’re all familiar with marketing a website. We know that most of the time, our goal is for the website to be the visitor’s final destination.

An app site’s a little different: while we do want to drive traffic to the site, we don’t want the visitor to hang around for long. Our end goal is for those visitors to click through to an app store and actually purchase our app.

This tends to mean that your focus should be on optimizing and building links to a single page – your homepage.

A/B Testing

Marketing your app isn’t really that different from marketing a website. As well as optimizing your app to improve its performance in app store search, you can take steps to boost your conversion rate (i.e. the amount of people that download your app), and your in-app performance (if you offer in-app purchases) by performing A/B tests.

I can’t stress this enough: just like when you A/B test the features of a website, A/B testing your app can make a huge, huge difference to how successful it is, and most importantly of all – how much money it makes you.

There are three variations of A/B testing for app performance. 

A/B Testing Your App Microsite

As above, the goal of your microsite is to drive visitors from your site to the app store where they can actually download your app.

If you’re going to achieve this, it’s imperative that your app’s website gives visitors the right information, and enough of it, to entice them to want to purchase your app.

This might mean split-testing:

  • The language and length of the main heading
  • The language and length of the description/s
  • The size and position of the CTA button
  • The imagery you use
  • The screenshots you use
  • Whether you include all key information above the fold or require visitors to scroll to read more
  • Your use of social proof

A/B Testing Your App Store Listing

Until recently there was no easy way to perform split tests within the actual app store, and to date, there’s still no way to do this in Apple’s iOS store. However in May this yearGoogle launched “Experiments”; a feature that enables app developers to “run experiments with different versions of text and graphics to see which are most effective in converting visits into installs on Google Play.”


A/B Testing Your In-App Performance

Not all apps cost (and therefore make) money when a user downloads them. Freemium apps cost nothing to download – the user is only charged if they choose to make an in-app purchase.

Forbes actually found that in February 2013 “in-app purchases generated a record 76% of all revenue in the Apple App Store on the iPhone (in the U.S.)” so clearly, there’s a huge market open for you to “exploit”.

If you choose to go down the freemium route, optimizing the performance of your app by carrying out tests to establish the language, colours, visuals, and features which drive your users to make the most purchases is pretty critical.

This could be as simple as changing the color of a CTA from green to blue. It might mean lowering (or even increasing) the cost of your upgrades. It could involve swapping and changing the features you offer to customers for free, and for a cost.

To get you started, Optimizely offers a dedicated platform for A/B testing mobile apps.

PR for Mobile Apps

A great mobile app PR campaign begins like any other great PR campaign: before the product is actually launched.

If you’ve designed an exciting new app that solves a problem and boasts a strong USP, you probably have the ingredients necessary to start drumming up interest before your app is actually complete and available for purchase. This can be instrumental to the rapid growth of your app upon launch.

Begin by building a list of potential contacts. Look for publications and writers that have covered similar apps, related topics, or – best of all – written about the gap in the market that your app is about to fill.

Next, begin emailing your contacts (while every contact is different, I’ve written about what I learned from being on the receiving end of PR pitches, over here). You might want to include a press release; however, a bullet point list of USPs and key features may suffice. Include imagery if possible, too. However, avoid attaching images (they can flag spam filters). Include a link to where they can be found online, instead.

There are a number of ways to give more weight to your PR campaign. You could try…

  • Gathering statistics to back-up the need for your app by surveying your target audience.
  • Getting authority figures to try out and provide feedback on your app.
  • Tying the launch of your app into current events.

Growing Your App with Push Notifications

We spoke about in-app pop-ups earlier. Push notifications are very similar, except your customers don’t need to be using your app for them to appear.


Sadly, they come with one small drawback: users have to decide to activate them. However marketing company Responsys surveyed 1,200 adults and found that seven out of ten adults who have downloaded apps have also enabled push notifications.

They also found that marketers tend to experience 50 percent higher open rates with push notifications than with email.


Let’s take a look at how push notifications can help you to grow your app…

  • They can help re-engage idle users, which in turn can help to retain your existing customers.
  • They can be used to encourage in-app purchases.
  • They can allow you to cross-promote from an app a user has already downloaded to a similar app you think they might be interested in.

That’s it for my take on growth hacking for mobile apps. As usual, I always love to hear your ideas, or your thoughts on the ideas above.

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