This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Getting Traction For a Mobile App

Just because you build it doesn't mean they will come.

As app marketplaces mature and saturate, getting an app noticed and on the road to success has become a complicated business. We'll offer a few pointers.

In the large app stores, Apple's and Google's, the days are long gone when a developer could get an app approved and expect that on its own merits people would find it, download it, or buy it. (It's easier to get noticed on a smaller app store such as Amazon's, as we have discussed here.)

Ouriel Ohayon, co-founder of the mobile app discovery and promotion network Appsfire, wrote a blog piece for GigaOM with multiple perspectives on why app discovery is a problem with no simple solutions.

The main techniques for getting noticed break down roughly into the categories of: paid discovery (i.e. advertising), getting featured on the app store, app discovery tools, and the more traditional forms of buzz and PR: owned media, earned media, and word of mouth. None of these is simple. As Ohayon points out, developing and running an effective advertising campaign can be a full-time job in itself.

It's hard to get onto the Apple App Store and Google Play lists of recommended apps. That usually happens after an app has already gotten some positive notice on blogs, Twitter, or Facebook, and perhaps reviews in more mainstream outlets as well. It also helps if the developer or app studio has had one or more hits before; in this way the business of apps behaves like book publishing, where authors of previous best-sellers have a leg up onto the recommended book lists.

App discovery tools
A whole category of tools and apps has emerged whose purpose is helping users find apps that they will use and enjoy. Developers can work with these vendors to make sure that their apps play nicely with the discovery tools. GigaOM reviewed three such apps: Xyologic (for Android and moving to iOS), AppHero (for iOS), and AppAide (for iOS). Xyologic takes a search-engine-like approach to sorting discovered apps into categories. The latter two tools are reliant, respectively, on clues from the user's social network and on a form of collaborative filtering. Both strike me as being rather speculative and not terribly well proven.

Mark Shander expounded here recently on one strategy for success with mobile app development: giving users what they want by soliciting and incorporating their feedback prior to first release. GigaOM profiled another discovery tool, Ooomf, designed in aid of this very process by helping the developer to build an engaged community around the app during development and testing.

In our recent discussion of the growing trend toward users preferring to download free apps, we concluded that the apps that succeed in the future will be those offering users long-term value and engagement. Oyahon, the Appsfire co-founder, summarized this point when he wrote, "If an app doesn't solve a critical need in a beautiful way, it has little chance of survival in the long run."