Tips & Advice

Making and Marketing Apps That Succeed: A Chat with Author Dave Wooldridge, Part 2

Here’s part two of my chat with with Dave Wooldridge, all-around sharp guy and author of  The Business of iPhone and iPad App Development: Making and Marketing Apps that Succeed. Let’s get right to it:

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Do you think the ‘discovery’ or strategic process of creating an app gets short shrift in deference to the tactical work of programming? I live in the world of Enterprise system & app development so I’m curious. Even at this level there are plenty of instances where not enough time is spent figuring out what problem (need) you’re trying to solve in the first place, and how what you’re designing will actually DO that.

I definitely think that a lot of new developers don’t put enough emphasis on performing adequate competitive research and app design/architecture. Figure out if there’s an audience for your app before you spend several months developing it. Also, in the mobile world of small screen sizes and single thumb taps, often less is more. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink into your app doesn’t necessarily make it better. Often the best apps are the ones that may only do a few things, BUT they do them very, very well, making them best in class for that particular need or feature. I taught an online app marketing course for NYU based on my book and one thing I continuously stressed to the students throughout the course is that when designing and developing your app, always think like a user, not a developer. Is that an app you would love using on a daily basis? Is the UI easy to use with frequently used buttons in convenient locations within finger reach?

Absolutely, the physical aspects and considerations are critical.. How judicious is Apple — as the original sticklers for quality and great design — along these lines, e.g. are they weeding out the best of the best in terms of design, or are they becoming more lenient as they see potential for a bigger market?

As long as apps don’t break any of the important interface guidelines from Apple, I haven’t heard of Apple rejecting apps during the app submission process due to bad UI design or usability. Obviously, those are apps that Apple will probably never spotlight as a featured app of the week. Apple has been known to reject apps with limited functionality.

What would you say are the key marketing vehicles for successfully promoting an app? Best ratio of effort-to-return?

That depends on the kind of app you’re developing. There seem to be more opportunities for games than other kinds of apps. For example, integrating a 3rd party social gaming platform such as OpenFeint provides a lot of amazing community-based word-of-mouth recommendations and app discovery opportunities for games. But aside from games, all apps can benefit from cross-promotion strategies and utilizing social media sharing. Advertising can sometimes be effective if you find the right audience, such as in-app ads, but really, the best way to help market your app or game is to get people taking about your app via Twitter, Facebook, online forums, etc. People trust the recommendations of friends and peers. It takes a lot of time to grow your online audience, but it’s a lot more cost-effective than advertising for indie developers just starting out. Also, every app developer should have a web site for his or her app. With app discovery becoming more and more difficult in the crowded App Store, you should be doing everything you can to help drive traffic from the outside world to your product page in the App Store. Ranking high in Google search results with your app-related web site definitely helps, as well as posting app trailers on YouTube, etc.

And I would suspect that this is even truer for any kind of business or productivity app — we’ve all been down the road of trying something for a few weeks, deciding it isn’t “it” and moving to something else. If you have unlimited time you can experiment, but most people, I think, are a lot more willing to try what’s getting the best reviews.

I agree. that’s why getting into the top charts is so important because your position there becomes self-perpetuating if you’re lucky. The added visibility exposes your app to new users who only browse the charts for new apps, which in turn helps keep your download number high. That’s also why beta testing is so important because you have that one first impression to hook a new user. If they don’t like your app for whatever reason, you run the risk of not only receiving a negative App store review from them, but they also may never bother to give your app another chance in the future, regardless of how many bug fixes or enhancements you’ve added. First impressions are everything!

Amen to that!! OK Dave, I have a challenge for you: If you can give app developers one piece of advice — one thing they MUST do, even if they ignore everything else — what is it?

Man, that’s a tough one because an app’s success will almost always be achieved from a combination of factors. I guess, if I had to pick one thing only… Take the time to build the best app you can. It needs to offer a polished UI with a stellar user experience. Even though that may not sound like a marketing item, it is actually the most crucial marketing element on your list. Remember, no amount of publicity will help sell a bad app. Like I said earlier, your app is your most powerful marketing tool. So without a great app concept and well-executed app design, every other marketing strategy suddenly becomes less useful to you.

And now I’ll make it a little easier: that big one aside, what are the other core, critical steps that must be taken to have the best chance of success?

Plan your marketing well in advance of your app’s release so that you can capitalize on the visibility and exposure of your app’s initial release in the App Store. Grow your audience of Twitter followers, Facebook fans, web site mailing list subscribers, and other online platforms while you’re developing your app, so that when you’re ready to release it, you have a huge audience to market to. Also, let your users help market your app by providing them with convenient in-app social media features such as sharing high scores, URLs, info, news, and more via email, Twitter, and Facebook from within the app. Everything you do online should help drive more traffic to your product page in the App Store. I feel like I’m repeating myself a bit at this stage, but you’d be surprised how many developers don’t think about doing these things until after their app’s release (which is too late in my humble opinion).

That’s OK — I think it bears repeating.

Also take the time to establish relationships with key bloggers and reviewers before your app’s release. Reviewers are inundated with requests from app developers, but if you can offer an exclusive sneak preview or ad-hoc beta version of your app or game to a reviewer, then that person may be more inclined to pay attention to your queries. Especially if your app or game looks HOT. yet another reason to make sure your app’s design is breathtaking. I think design gets overlooked.

Even today, where you’d think we’d all have realized how critical visual design and user experience are in an electronically mediated experience. Even if you don’t know it by those terms, you know when something’s incredible to use and when it sucks.

So true. And I think if developers approach their projects with a user’s mindset, then hopefully that helps them spot usability and design issues. Otherwise they might not notice those issues if they’re constantly focused on only programming the proposed feature set.

BIG amen from the choir! OK Dave, you’ve been extremely generous with your time — so here’s your opportunity to plug away. Tell us all you want to about what separates this book from the pack. Why it works, why we all need it. Lastly, tell us what you’re up to now and what’s on the horizon for Dave Wooldridge.

Glad to do it. And thanks so much for the interview. It’s been fun! Although there are other app marketing books available, I think what sets this book apart from the others is the linear approach it takes, guiding readers through key marketing and business strategies that can be integrated into every aspect of the planning, design, development and post-release stages. And this is not your typical business book. Like most Apress books, this book was written by developers, for developers. You don’t have to know anything about marketing to understand and utilize the tips and tactics described in this book. There are even dedicated chapters on in-app cross-promotion, in-app social media sharing, iAd, and In-App Purchase with lots of code examples! Even if you’ve read the first edition, this new second edition has been greatly updated and expanded with a ton of new content.

NOTE: For more information on The Business of iPhone and iPad App Development: Making and Marketing Apps that Succeed, visit http://iphonebusinessbook.com.

After two solid years of happily writing books for Apress, it feels good to finally get a chance to get back to working on my own apps, as well as creating apps for clients. Beyond designing the UI for the Better Business Bureau’s BBB iPhone app and building the official iOS app for the popular Amazon sales rank tracking site, NovelRank.com, I’ve been recently having a lot of fun designing and developing the Qello iOS app for Qello LLC, which enables users to watch live concerts and music documentaries on their mobile phones and tablets.

That sounds awesome Dave — congrats!

Thanks, Joe — and thanks again for the great interview!

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That’s it folks! Be sure to visit Dave’s website to keep tabs on what he’s up to these days — and I strongly recommend checking out the stellar titles below:

The Business of iPhone and iPad App Development: Making and Marketing Apps that Succeed

Beginning iPad Development for iPhone Developers: Mastering the iPad SDK 

The Developer Sketchbook for iPhone Apps 

The Developer Sketchbook for iPad Apps

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