App Store Keys To Success

Today, there are over 800,000 apps in the iTunes App Store [148apps]. Let that number sink in for a moment.

For app developers, this is a daunting statistic – especially for small teams. How could you possibly compete and get noticed in this sea of applications?

Although there is no copy & paste formula for achieving app store success, there are several ways to give yourself a better chance to rise to the top of the store – even without big (or any) advertising budgets.

Whether you are a single developer in a garage working on a passion project or a team of engineers working toward an industry-changing idea, keep these tips in mind while you’re working on your next app:

Focus on user experience

Our designer friends will say ‘duh, of course’ to this tip – but it’s not as obvious as it may seem. Notice it’s user experience rather than user interface. Hiring the best designer in the world to generate your app’s screens would be great – but having pixel-perfect design is not the solution. That would be the equivalent of jamming perfectly painted puzzle pieces together and hoping they fit. The same sentiment goes for perfect engineering; if you have the best and most clever code in the app store, it doesn’t necessarily translate into users.

Your app’s success is defined not only by your idea but also by how the user feels while they are using your app. Do the views flow well together? What is the user’s reaction when this button is pressed? How long does this action take? How can we speed it up? Where can we reduce the work required by the user? Can we use a gesture instead of adding a button? All of these tiny things can make the difference between good and bad user experience. It’s the attention to detail that helps apps stand above the rest.

Take Instagram as an example. In a group of hundreds (if not thousands) of photo sharing apps, this is the one that shot to the top – doing so through pleasant interactions, smooth integration with social networks and a very fast user experience. Even though its feature set was not as useful as some of its competitors, it had fewer filters, it didn’t advertise, etc. users loved it. This was no fluke.

Start small, iterate often

One of the biggest pitfalls for developers is trying to do too much too fast. If you haven’t heard of the lean startup, I recommend checking out its concepts here. This movement coined a term called MVP (Minimum Viable Product), which is invaluable for app developers. An MVP for mobile applications is the smallest, most targeted application that you can build while still giving users a strong value proposition. It gets your app in the app store and in users hands as quickly as possible.

Once your app is being used, beat up and thrown away by users (yes, that will happen) you can figure out where to move next. Make sure you utilize a powerful analytics tool or two. These tools will help you figure out what’s great (and not so great) about your live application. Based on the results inferred from your app usage, you can plan your next steps for updates and improvements based on real data.

Keeping up with quick iterations will not only keep your product evolving in the right direction, but it will keep your users happy. For example, if a user has an issue which they see fixed a few days later, this is a good sign that the application is maintained and active (unlike a large segment of apps currently available). Even if the root cause of their concern was a bug, the user will still have a good experience because they feel the app is improving. Your improvements and changes will be noticed by your user base, and in itself is an extension to the user experience within the app.

Don’t get discouraged

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t give up. Building an app is not easy and competing in the app store is even tougher. If you believe in your idea and take the time to build a focused and excellent experience for your users, your chances of success improve dramatically. If your initial version isn’t downloaded by millions of people in the first day, don’t worry! Learn from your users, pivot and improve until your formula sees results. Never stop improving.

If you have any tips for fellow developers, let us know in the comments. Good luck developers!

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