How to get found in the mobile app store—in 6 steps

With the volume of apps out there, it can be tough to get noticed. But if you develop and present your apps well, you’ve got a real shot

6 steps to making your mobile app stand out in the app stores
Credit: geralt via Pixabay

You spend countless hours building a mobile app that works properly. Then you submit it to the app stores, it gets released, and … nothing happens.

App store optimization is a huge need for mobile developers, who need to work on discoverability and persuading users to download, says Amir Ghodrati, director of market insights at mobile app analytics firm App Annie. 

The good news is that there are steps developers can follow to boost their chances to stand out in the app stores. Here are the six key steps you can take to get your mobile apps noticed. Notice how the first three happen while you’re developing your app; it’s important to get the app right in the first place, because no one is fooled for long by lipstick on a pig.

Step 1: Be mindful of performance, functionality, and security

About one in four downloaded apps are opened once and never used again. Either the app does not match its description or it simply does not offer compelling functionality.

A common deficit in mobile apps is when they do only what your company’s website already does. There should be a reason to use the app instead of the website, such as geolocation and easy digital payment like with Apple Pay or Google Pay.

It’s critical that an app work smoothly and appear secure. If the app comes across like an amateur project, users will not trust it. That’s especially true in sensitive areas like health and finance. “People are absolutely freaked out if they’re doing something where they’re trying to transact something with finances,” such as using a credit card, and the app goes "glitchy,” says Peter Blair, vice president of marketing at Applause, which crowd-tests mobile applications and devices. Once a trust is broken, it can take a long time to win back a consumer if the brand is not strong enough.

For security, encryption is particularly is important to have applied to the data in your apps.

Step 2: Be aware of platform and geographical differences

Developers need to be aware that while users quickly adopt the latest version of iOS, the Android world is different. “Almost no one is on the latest Android,” Blair says. That fact matters greatly in how you design your app.

Having users on the same version of iOS makes it easier for developers, who do not have to worry about older versions of iOS not supporting new features, Ghodrati says. But Android apps can’t depend on the latest Android features, since few users will have that latest version. Android apps typically should be optimized to a version from two, even three years ago.

Apps also may need to be tweaked for specific countries because of cultural differences. “In Germany, it’s nice to have a German version but you can get away with English,” Blair says. “In France, you need to have a French version.” Then there are functional differences to consider, such as differing national laws on privacy protection and marketing to children.

Step 3: Test, test, and test again your mobile app

Testing is important throughout the development process. Yet some developers believe they can just put an app in the app stores and fix it if feedback indicates something is wrong. That’s too late, Blair cautions. “If users have a problem, they’ll just going to walk away from the app.” He recommends testing apps with a set of people who represent customers, and doing so over multiple iterations of the app as it is developed. “Don’t just wait to the end” to test, he advises.

Step 4: Pick a good app icon

A seemingly minor detail like what the app icon looks like turns out to be important for developers. Icons provide the first opportunity to communicate an app’s purpose to would-be users.

“The simpler the better, and also be aware of color scheme,” Blair advises. Icons should be kept simple and recognizable, Ghodrati says. You can get a sense of good app icons searches in the app store to see what exists already in your category. That’ll help you both avoid looking like another app's icon and get a sense for how you might stand out while remaining easily understood 

Step 5: Get smart about SEO

Developers need to pay attention to key search terms in app stores; tat process is known as search engine optimization (SEO), and it applies to app store search just as much as to website search.

More than 65 percent of all downloads in the Apple App Store come from search, Ghodrati notes. You can use tools like App Radar, AppTweak, Google Keywords, and Sensor Tower to find the most-searched terms so you include them in your app descriptions. Looking at user reviews and competitors also reveals which keywords are being used.

For example, consider using the word “TV" for a video-streaming app, not just “streaming." The word “streaming” has a lot of search volume, but a lot of popular apps use it so you’re competing with a huge number of other apps in the search results. Using a term such as "TV shows" might reduce that competition.

SEO is something that is critical for your app titles — a made-up or obscure name is a great way to become invisible in search. Yes, your description also counts, but also considering supplementing that unique app name with some appropriately descriptive text so people who see just the app name know what it does. Note that Google has a 30-character maximum for app titles, while Apple’s maximum is 50 characters.

Just be careful to not add irrelevant or low-relevance keywords to try to goose up your SEO. That will backfire, because the search engines know to look for such gaming and will down-rank you as a result, Blair says.

And don’t rely solely on keywords. Once people get to your app page, they need to be persuaded to download it. So, there should be enough information to convince potential customers to think the app is worth downloading.

Step 6: Encourage app store reviews and feedback

You should encourage reviews and feedback for your mobile app on the app stores. You might do that in the Help or Notes section of your app, for example.

“The ratings and feedback in the app store is just huge,” Blair notes. "Looking at those comments can help give you a good sense in terms of what part of an app is resonating with users or potentially causing issues,” Ghodrati says.

Just make sure you’re getting real reviews. Do not pay people or ask friends and family to put up fake reviews. People can quickly smell those fakes, and the odor is not pleasant. Plus, you risk a public backlash in comments by real users complaining about those fake reviews.