If you are a struggling artist or developer working on the next great mobile app, you need a strategy for drawing in users.
Keep in mind that buying traffic to convert to users doesn’t always add up. Developing for the mobile platform is vastly different from e-commerce, where the potential average revenue per user (ARPU) is considerably smaller, and in many cases non-existent. At the same time, there’s a limited amount of advertising inventory, and discoverability remains poor.
If you’re considering buying downloads, today’s cost per download (CPD) rates range from $1 to $2, which means it would cost you $10 million to $20 million to buy 10 million to 20 million downloads, which is the current benchmark figure for a successful app.
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One way of getting around this is to optimize heavily for organic growth without trying to reinvent the “social graph wheel.” There are already existing, sizable social graphs (like Facebook), and using them will save you time and money
So what’s the trick to get the right kind of growth without breaking the bank? Here are four key tips for taking your app platinum.
The app you build needs to have huge consumer appeal and real world value. A great example is Onavo. In the face of ever-increasing data charges and operators transitioning to tiered pricing, Onavo takes a unique approach to help customers get the most of their plans. Once installed, the app compresses data to allow users to double or triple their existing data plan. The service claims it can help users save up to 80 percent of their data, which in turn saves them money.
Focus on design and usability
At the end of the day, nothing beats great design and usability. There are over 1 million apps in the iTunes App Store and Android Marketplace for consumers to navigate, so how do you know when your app is ready to test the waters? To stand out you not only need to look great, but have an intuitive user interface (UI) and be responsive. Even the smallest user experience improvements can have an enormous impact on your download figures. Check out Pinterest, the hot virtual pinboard. It has a graphic-intense UI, easy log in procedure, and a great design. With 10 million unique users and a site that drives more traffic than LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ combined, it’s a great case study on how to make a product stand out.
Add a social and viral component
Social and viral are two much-touted words, and they are the keys for creating successful mobile applications. What better way to ensure you build up a large user base than to get your users to build it for you? Make it simple for people to invite and share with friends, position your application as a specialty product that allows for self-expression, and be sure to leverage existing social graphs for distribution. For instance, imagine where Instagram would be without the integration of existing social networks. Communication apps are also great examples of this. See Voxer, or my own company Rebtel which has benefited tremendously from over 70 percent of our users coming from referral from current users and word of mouth.
Test your app, iterate on it, and test it again
There’s probably no better way to develop a great app than to listen to your users. At the same time, there has to be a balance, as most of the time, users don’t know what they truly want or need until you show it to them. Product testing and soliciting user feedback can make a good product great, and a great product even better. And don’t be afraid if you need to redesign or re-engineer your product; just be sure to move fast when you do.
The bottom line for any developer is, just like the record industry, you can’t buy platinum hit on mobile. So build something with real value, with a great user interface and user experience, and something that proves that the more people use it, the more valuable it becomes.
Lastly, make it easy to share and (if possible) a part of that users’ everyday life. You also need listen to your users and iterate fast, or another product can swiftly gain traction on you. If you do all these things then you have a chance to succeed.
Remember, securing a smash hit on mobile can be hard, but with a great team, some help from smart PR pros, and a little dash of the X-factor sprinkled in, you’ll be more than ready to satisfy even the toughest of critics.
Andreas Bernstrom is the CEO at Rebtel, the largest mobile VoIP provider after Skype (based on revenue). Prior to Rebtel, the Goldman Sachs alum was COO of Taptu, a leading UK-based mobile search engine, and TradeDoubler, Europe’s leading performance based marketing company.
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