Launching a Successful App.

Gary Milne

Active Member
Licensed User
I think most of us have found out the hard way that writing an app is only the halfway mark in the whole app lifecycle. Getting app visibility in a very crowded marketplace is a very difficult, time consuming and sometimes costly endeavor. I'm interested in sharing experiences with others in getting a successful launch. This is what I have found so far.

A) Nobody gives a crap about your app, don't expect even a well written app to become successful on its own merit without some promotion or a lot of luck. If you think that you will just list you app and the money will come rolling in you are not being realistic.

B) Test your search keywords on the app store before you write your app, a free account on is good for this. If that keyword returns more than 250 results it means that your app will not visible to browsing users unless they enter a more distinctive combination. In my case the keyword "tennis" has more than 250 results, to find my app you need to put in something more specific like "tennis charts".

C) To get into the top 250 you need installs, retention and reviews. It's tempting to use one of the black-market services that offer to provide installs and reviews but I believe that this is counterproductive. Sure you can get 500 installs in two days but that will be followed by 500 uninstalls over the next week and that makes your app look very very bad in Google's eyes because the retention rate is so low. It basically looks like 500 people tried your app and they all through it was crap and uninstalled it. In the case of buying reviews I believe this is also counterproductive as these are usually transparently fake because they are written by people with only intermediate English skills and thus a negative. Get your friends, family and colleagues to get installs and reviews if you must, but nothing will hold up as well as genuine reviews for a good product. Q) Does anyone have a good incentivized way to get reviews such as a free install.

D) Many people have two versions of their product. A "Pro" version which is the paid for product and a "Lite" version which is free and is either a restricted functionality or Ad based product. Given the challenges listed in item C above, taking this approach compounds this issue by having two products with the same problem of installs\reviews. I opted to do a single app with some free functionality and some functionality that was unlocked by making an In-App purchase. I don't know that this is best but I think in the long run the installs and reviews are a very big problem in getting an app noticed.

E) Take the time to put together a good listing with high quality screenshots and a short promotional video. I can't quantify the importance of this but I know from my own experiences that if the screenshots depict a poor looking app I'm onto the next one without hesitation.

F) Before you start take a look at the competition. How many installs do they have? Which one leads the field? How much do they charge? Are they doing regular updates? Is there a free app in the market? Can you write a better app that has some significant differentiation? Do you have the stomach for a protracted "war"? The incumbent has a huge advantage in the app store, the psychology is simple. Take two restaurants adjacent to each other. One is quite busy while the other is almost empty. Our mind tells us that the busier restaurant must be better, that the people in the busy restaurant know it's better and that is why they have chosen it. The same psychology is true of apps. Most people will look first at apps that have either A) Many Installs, B) Good average review score and a distant third C) An Icon which strongly suggests a match for the type of need they have in mind. An app which has few installs, few reviews is unlikely to succeed on it's own merit.

So if you are looking to enter a market where there are some strong incumbents you should plan on doing some marketing which will take time and $$$.

G) The app store is so crowded that it is difficult to get traction. As I have mentioned previously, if there are more than 250 entries that match the most obvious keyword for your app, let's say "pinball", then a newly published pinball app will not be visible when someone searches using the keyword "pinball". You need a combination of installs, retention and reviews to slowly claw your way into the top 250.

If your app were pinball with a cow theme then a search of "cow pinball" would almost certainly display your app but searching using those two keywords is likely to be very rare. You would find yourself in dilemma, the primary keyword is too common and the use of two keywords is very unlikely. Might have been a good thing to know before you started.

So, your new app is launched and you are not in the top 250. How are you going to get there? Your network of family, friends and colleagues will get you started but that will dry up quickly. Beyond this point you need to do some marketing, "Horrors" you say, "I'm a programmer, not a marketer". You may also ask "Will that cost me any money" and answer is "Almost certainly."

Depending on the type of app you have created there are many different avenues to pursue, reviews from respected sources, web publications, message boards, social media, website, marketing lists etc. Of course the most obvious one is advertising which I'll touch on below.

H) Advertising (AdWords) - (This section is a late edit)
I've used both Google Adwords and the Bing equivalent (their interface is almost identical) to promote my app to generate installs and hopefully reviews. Before you start you should know that there are two different advertising methods.
  • Paid Search - This is where you list one of more keywords that you are interested and place a bid on that search term. When someones search matches your keywords then your ad is eligible to be displayed on the first page of search results. If a user clicks on the Ad then you are charged. I tried this for a while and it was expensive, the first page on Google is expensive real-estate that could easily cost you several dollars a click depending on your search terms.
  • Display Ads - In this approach you create a banner ad, keywords and target one or more websites. Your ad may be displayed on that site whenever the keyword(s) are found within the content of the page. This is a lot cheaper in comparison but will vary depending on the website. The biggest benefit is that I know my target audience ( is a good match for my app and I'm much more likely to get a retained install.

Google AdWords does not come cheaply, I'm paying about $0.51 per click for my Display Ads but that will vary greatly based upon the keywords that are relevant to your app and the site(s) that you choose to run them on. For example the words "cruise", "flight" or "hotel" are very expensive because a click could sell a $200 room, a $500 flight or a $5000 cruise. If you have written an app called "Hotel Buddy" that is useful to people that stay in hotels and you wish to advertise on the web then you could easily pay $5 per click. If 1 in 5 people that click your link actually install the app then you are paying $25 per install through advertising. For most small developers this would be prohibitively expensive. So be very, very careful when entering a market and figure out where the installs are going to come from before you start writing the code.

I) Android Market Stats
Here are some stats that I pulled from AppBrain this AM (6/26/2015)
Number of Apps: 1,588,489
Free\Paid: 1,384,107 / 204,537
Rated Apps: 982,961 (at least 1 rating)
Average Rating for all Apps: 4.1
Apps with less than 3 ratings: 605,683 (38.1%)
Apps with less than 100 installs: 564,872 (35.6%)
For more stats go to

I've included a screenshot from that I referenced earlier. They have a limited free version that you can sign up for. In the screenshot you can see the keywords I have entered, their current ranking and the total number of results returned for that query. You will notice that for the word "tennis" my ranking is "out" (meaning I'm not in the top 250) and that the number of results is 250 (or greater in this case). These are for the Google Play store, for the App Store they do top 1000 if I remember correctly.

The gold rush is over, the times of creating a very simple app (like flashlight) and getting rich are long gone. The marketplace is huge, mature and growing. App prices are generally very cheap or free (especially in the Google Play store) with some minimal advertising revenues. The hugely successful apps are generally in the domain of established development houses with teams of employees and big marketing budgets. The indie developers are relegated to the niches which are largely already occupied by existing products that have the incumbent advantage regardless of their quality. When entering an incumbent market you have to be ready for the long haul and be prepared to A) have a damn good product, B) invest time on marketing and continuously improving the product and C) invest money in marketing the product until it becomes self sustaining by virtue of it's ranking in the store.

I'm eager to hear other peoples thoughts on this. I only have one app out there but I have done quite a bit of reading and these a combination of my experiences and impressions formed during my research.


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Active Member
Licensed User
Thanks for sharing your experience!!
A while ago I started writing a similar post about my experience with Google play, but I never got the time to finish it and post it on the this forum... I think that making an app is not 50% of the work, but barely 10%. 90% is getting your app noticed...

I agree with a lot of what you said and I will add to it that:
- The incentivized based install website that offer a cheap rate do you more harm than good. These should be avoided at all cost. ALL their users are DEAD users that will not use your app but just uninstall it as soon as they get their credit for installing... don't believe any of the retention nonsense that those websites advertise.

- As far as visibility, my experience is that you cannot rank an app in the top ten of a search query unless you have at least 1000 total downloads (with good retention). To get there you also have to use very aggressive ASO; repeating the keyword five times in your description is not enough anymore, you have to use other words that relate to your topic. So if you're app is about winter, you should include words like thunder, rain, snow, seasons, etc...

- Google has added some other factors related to your developer account as a whole. My understanding is that they evaluate a developer based on their history, and that affects the search ranking of any new app you add...

Gary, don't use adwords or any service that charges you per impression or click. If you want to get legitimate users to install your app, do a pay per install campaign on appbrain. With appbrain you can pay as low as 0.2$/install if you target a worldwide audience. For the U.S you will probably have to raise your bid to 0.6+ to be competitive (on holidays like thanksgiving, 0.2 will work for the U.S... 4th of July should be same ;-) ). If you decide to use it, ignore what appbrain tells you about your bid being too low, it tries to encourage you to raise your bid and you don't need to do that.
Appbrain installs come from other apps that have included appbrain ads, so it is through banners, interstitial ads, etc... Users you get from appbrain are normal users that will use your app, rate it if they like or hate it, click on your ads, etc... here's an example of a campaign for an app I recently launched:

I stopped the campaign at 73 because my app had reached a 100 installs (I also use the appbrain SDK which tracks installs and conversion rates within an app and updates like every 2 hour). A 100 installs + good graphics + moderate ASO (or SEO) should be enough to help your app get normal installs on Google play. Of course, you have to wait for Google play to update their stats for this to kick in; that might take 1 to 3 days...
Also notice in the picture above the numbers of CLICKs vs. IMPRESSIONS vs. INSTALLS. The IR (install rate) for this campaign is relatively low, I usually get an IR from 0.1-0.4%; I am just mentioning this to show you that a pay per impression or click could be very wasteful.

Hope this helps... I will contribute more to this thread when I get the time :)
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Licensed User
As far as visibility, my experience is that you cannot rank an app in the top ten of a search query unless you have at least 1000 total downloads (with good retention).
actually, with a bit of luck you get into this "new apps" section listed. last week I saw a game in there with 300 something installs.

if enough people notice that and install it AND spread the word you COULD be extremely lucky.


Active Member
Licensed User
actually, with a bit of luck you get into this "new apps" section listed. last week I saw a game in there with 300 something installs.

if enough people notice that and install it AND spread the word you COULD be extremely lucky.
That's different than what I am talking about. I am talking about a search. The new category is not hard to get listed in and be well ranked in some countries.

Gary Milne

Active Member
Licensed User
Gary, don't use adwords or any service that charges you per impression or click. If you want to get legitimate users to install your app, do a pay per install campaign on appbrain.
Marc, thanks for the detailed post.

I think the info on AppBrain is a good add and I took a look at it this morning. I do not see a way to Target where ads would be placed (unless competitors are targeted), Do I have any control over that? When a user clicks on an AppBrain ad does it install the app right away or does it just go to the app install page? Lastly, what kind of retention rate are you getting with your AppBrain installs?

I don't see how an install through AppBrain is "better" but perhaps I'm missing something. With google adwords I can target a specific website that I know is related to my app topic. When a user clicks on that ad they go to my website where they can read about the app, see screenshots etc. From there they can click on an install link to take them to the install page on Google play etc. So they have plenty of time to bail out if they are not interested. My lifetime retention rate is 48% which I'm fairly happy with.


Active Member
Licensed User
You can target countries that you want to advertise in, ads are displayed in apps and not websites and their SDK determines the best app to display your ad. Here's a picture of where you set your target:
6-26-2015 10-50-09 AM.jpg

Here's how their ads usually work, it asks the user in apps that have their SDK if they are interested in "more free apps", if they click on yes it shows a list of apps available with a short description that you provided (an app wall). If the user picks your app, then he's taken to your app's google play page where he can choose to install your app or not to... note that Google does not permit any ad service to automatically install any app... that would be considered a violation of their ad policy.

Appbrain only charges you for installs you get and not clicks on their ads (Your app has to be installed and run on the device for appbrain to charge you). Retention is actually good, I've seen 40-50% and I generally see more clicks on my ads from those users. The reason it is better than adwords is because you are getting the same quality of users and paying much less. If you look back at the numbers I showed up there, out of 348 clicks (people that visited my app page on Gplay) only 73 installed, and I was charged 73x0.2=$14.6.

So to summarize:

Appbrain: Your add is shown in other people's app that appbrain decide is best in countries you target -> User clicks on your ad -> User goes to your app page -> They either install your app or not -> if they do, you get charged $0.2, if they don't, you don't

adword according to what you said: your ad is shown in websites you target -> users clicks and goes to your website -> you get charged for those clicks -> user can decide to go to your Gplay page install or not -> user decides to install your app or not, but you have already been charged $5

Pay-per-install is much more efficient than pay-per-click, and the rate appbrain has for installs is much less than what you said you are paying for clicks

If you check other android forums like making money with android, you'll see that most people use appbrain to get installs, I have not seen anyone recommend adword.


Licensed User
Add an "option" to your app:

"Suggest [APP NAME] to your friends"

which can send the Google Play address of your app (by EMail, Whatsapp,...).

"Word of mouth" is the best thing.

@LucaMs, expert of... never published apps :D