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If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it? And if your app joins the 50 bajillion other apps already on the market, will anyone notice?

I’ve had the privilege of building apps with hundreds of thousands of downloads, but sadly, the default answer is a big, bold no. In fact, a recent study revealed that 60 percent of apps don’t make money. You, however, want to be in the 40 percent. Don’t leave it up to luck, take action.

In a roughly descending order of importance, here are some ways to beat the odds:

Build a great app

I know it’s shocking, but great apps are going to sell better than crappy apps. So make sure you’re working on something great!

That could be a totally new type of app, or it could be a completely re-imagined approach to a common app type. What it cannot be is yet another boring matching-jewels game: there are 5000 of them already.

Having a great app isn’t just about a great idea, it’s also great execution: design, user experience, even details like a great icon. Perhaps shockingly, having a stunning icon is hugely important. It’s often the first thing users see, and they will base their impressions of your professionalism, design, and hipness on that tiny little square of pixels.

Get great reviews

Users are going to decide whether or not to risk the time cost and dollar cost of downloading your app based on the reviews they see. It can be cruel and brutal, but your app’s life is dependent on users who may not see important features, sometimes make stupendously stupid assumptions about what a $0.99 app should offer, and can even in a few cases be malicious.

So do whatever it takes to get good reviews. Test, re-test, and re-re-test. Make sure your app is solid. Send promo codes to friends and family, people who are likely to give you a bit of a break and maybe rate your product just a little bit higher. Make sure everyone in your company, if you work for a company, downloads the app, rates it, and reviews it.

Do what you need to do to get 4+ stars and great comments, because the next two marketing methods are 100 percent dependent on this step.

Build in social

If there’s anything that the explosion of social has taught us, it’s that people like to share. And, that the best way for your company to grow is to crowdsource marketing by giving your passionate users a bigger voice.

If your app is a game, do a leaderboard. Use Game Center on iOS, and equivalent functionality on Android when it arrives. Let people tweet and share, boasting about their high scores.

If it’s a utility, find social equivalents: sharing notes with colleagues, tweeting app activity, publishing accomplishments, highlighting insights.

The best social, of course, is baked right in. Think Draw Something — it has the network effects of a fax machine: one is useless, each one added to the network makes all the others more valuable.

A final note: an app with one star and withering reviews is not going to become successful through social channels. It may very well be highlighted in social networks, but not for the reasons you want, and not with the results you’re looking for.

Pitch, pitch, pitch (and then pitch some more)

Get comfortable with selling. To make your app move, you need to sell yourself, your vision, your angle, and most importantly, your app. You want to get noticed by the app blogs and the top tech blogs, and you need reviews.

To get them, you’re going to need to pitch. It helps when you have a good story (rinse and repeat, see the first tip) but that is not going to be enough. You need to confidently and competently pitch editors, journalists, bloggers, and ordinary people on the shining merits and sheer awesomeness of your wonderful app.

If you can’t get excited about it, why should anyone else?

SEO your app description

Discovery in the crowded app store or Google Play is a function of popularity (which you don’t have on day one) and placement (if you happen to get lucky enough to know the second cousin twice removed of an app store editor, who places you in the featured apps category) and search (yeah, that’s where you sit).

Search on the app store is just like search on the web: more and better data equals higher ranking. So write your description with care. Look at what your competitors are saying … especially those who are ranking well. Craft it with appropriate keyword density for the search terms that you think your potential customers will use. And tweak from time to time to shake it up.

Unfortunately, multivariate testing is not really a viable option here.

Be free, freemium, cheap…

Unless you’re Disney or Zynga, no-one knows you and no-one cares. Taking a risk on your app is just that: a risk. And most people don’t like risks.

So reduce the riskiness by being free or cheap. Use a freemium monetization model to drive initial downloads, if that works for your app. Do a lite version that rocks, but leaves user wanting just a bit more. Give away lots of promo codes initially. Have sales. Try different price points.

If all else fails, advertise

It was Jon Bond, an ad exec, who said that “in the future, marketing will be like sex. Only the losers will have to pay for it.” Well guess what, sometimes we’re losers and yes, we have to pay for it.

Advertise for downloads on AdMob and other networks, but note that costs per download can be in excess of $1, and just like in the Google AdWords world, there are scammers looking to suck up your cash and leave you with no real users.

Or, cross-promote your app with other apps using services like Playhaven or Applifier so that you and other developers can share users and build audience.

If *really* all else fails, buy users to get in the top app lists

If you are really desperate you are going to enter gray-hat or even black-hat territory, and simply buy downloads so that you rise in the top app lists, from which you hope to generate real customers and real revenues. (Just to be clear, I don’t recommend this … but it does happen.)

To do so, pay a company like GTekna $10,000 or so and let the magic happen. You’ll get on the leaderboard and have a shot at hundreds of thousands of downloads, just from the visibility. Whether you can stay there or not depends on how good your app is, and how well you’ve done all the other steps.

Marketing your app is just as hard, if not harder, as building your app. It’s a long tough slog, and not everyone can do it. Have you successfully marketed your apps? Let us know how in the comments!

Apps image courtesy of ShutterStock

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