10 Inbound Marketing Tips for Mobile Apps

This is a new and improved version of a popular post published on March 21, 2012.

Inbound Marketing

With over a million apps available today in both of the major app stores, it’s natural for companies with mobile apps to look around for easy ways to stand out in the sea of apps. While there are numerous paid channels for boosting downloads, it’s not always affordable or desirable to be spending money in order to generate momentum for your app. In fact, spending money to promote your app before you’ve determined that you’ve got a real success on your hands is an almost certain route to failure.

We’ve seen far too many early stage app projects die because they spent more money on User Acquisition (UA) than on product iteration and finding product/market fit. This is true for the small startup, but particularly painful when it comes to apps from the world’s largest companies and most popular brands. The all too common “orphaned” app from a big brand communicates that the company hasn’t really figured out mobile and isn’t trying in an ongoing manner – not the perception that companies want on the part of their consumers.

A better approach to launching your brand’s mobile app and generating momentum is to utilize a healthy mix of inbound marketing as a means of getting your first coverage and downloads. With companies like Moz and Hubspot raising awareness of the benefits of inbound marketing over the past several years, more people than ever before understand that providing useful and relevant information for your target audience is one of the best ways to generate interest and awareness for your product.

Every mobile team can take these 10 simple steps to increase their inbound marketing efforts for their apps. This will help you find more organic customers, the ones who will truly help you find product/market fit and iterate to sustained success.

If you’ve got questions, let us know in the comments or ping us for a demo

1) Set yourself up on Social Media

We’re always shocked when a company doesn’t have a Twitter or Facebook page for their app(s) (we’re on Twitter and Facebook btw). Regularly timed tweets, discussing progress on the product, making points about features and capabilities and highlighting interesting uses of your app are all easy to share on social media. For large brands with existing social presences, this might not require a separate app-focused handle, but we’ve seen companies be successful building a specific app-focused Twitter handle.

2) Talk with your friends

Inbound marketing isn’t just about online activities – at its core, inbound is the process of making sure that the right audience finds you and your app. At the beginning of your app’s development, be sure to actually talk with your friends (and colleagues) about the app. Involve them in the testing and let them play with the app, on their own. If you can involve them in the process early on, they’ll be much more likely to help promote your launch and assist in the discovery of early adopters, because they’ll understand who should be using the app and why.

This can extend beyond just your friend network to folks who have a reason to be an advocate for you, by the way. One of the reasons that we’re big fans of appbackr is that the process of winning backrs to your apps creates a team of people who share in your success, giving them a reason to help spread the word. This is why the largest consumer brands are starting to see success with advertising their apps through their other channels. Companies are utilizing the space on their grocery bags, websites and products in order to spread the word to their existing customer base to drive downloads.

3) Create a core destination to house your content and marketing efforts

Publishing an app in one of the major app stores is simply not enough. You need to take ownership of your app’s presence on the web and this means choosing a core destination and investing in it. For example, our friends at Chewsy have a fantastic site for their food rating and dish discovery app.

Do you have an existing website for your business? Create a section on it for your mobile app. If you want the app to become a standalone brand, go get the domain and start building it out. Remember, you can often take your app’s name and add “get” as a prefix or “app” as a suffix.

4) Start creating content

Now that you’ve got a central destination that you’re going to be investing in, you should start filling it with content. Select content that is relevant to your app and zone in on exactly what unique value you can offer to your audience. Are you all about restaurant quality in a certain locale? Have a game that’s great for kids? Write about restaurants or kids games.

Importantly, content isn’t just about writing blog posts and creating new materials. These days, curation of relevant information is as important (if not more) as creating content. Share great resources and information that are relevant to your selected topics. Create a reason for people to come find you and stay for a little while. The good folks over at Buffer do an awesome job with this, check out their post on adding cool symbols to your tweets.

5) Words are good, videos are great

If you’re making a mobile app, the experience with your app is the most important thing right? Get used to creating short videos about how to use your app, what the benefits are and what a typical use case might be.

People love videos, especially short videos and if you can manage to make the video informative and entertaining, you might be really on to something. We’re not saying that all of your videos are going to get shared and “go viral”, but if you make something worth sharing, you can guarantee that good things will happen.

6) Share your data and experiences

With so many apps out there, other app developers are hungry for lessons learned and data. If you want to be part of the conversation, monitor your own data and performance and then share it out. Your unique experience can be helpful for others in the space and there’s no better way to attract the attention and links from other developers than to be open about what you’ve done well, what you messed up and what you’d completely avoid in the future. It might be scary to share too much, but realize that the uniqueness of your app isn’t in the numbers, it’s in how you connect with your consumers. We’ve seen a lot of great examples of this, here is a good example:

Importantly, large companies that are more open with their development process do a better job recruiting mobile developers. Share your story, you might find people who want to join you because you do.

7) Listen to your early customers for feedback

This is a topic near and dear to our hearts here at Apptentive, of course. Companies using our in-app feedback and communications tools service regularly tell us about the victories that come out of their customer interactions. When you launch an app, you’ve got, at best, a guess about who is going to use it and why. Once it’s in the wild, your job is to figure out what you were right about, what you missed on and how you can improve.

The best way to do so is by listening to your customers and engaging with them as you make updates. When it comes to creating evangelists who will share your app with others, nothing is better than being responsive and engaging. Anonymous customers become trusted advisors and advocates when you make it easy for them to give you feedback, without the hassle. Every brand is in the business of building evangelists and promoters – doing so at scale is difficult, but possible, within your mobile apps. When you use Apptentive, of course :-).

8) Ask the right people for ratings

When it comes to earning an install, there is nothing more important to your app’s success than the overall ratings and most recent reviews. The vast majority of app downloads occur after someone has viewed your app’s page in the app store and most of their attention is focused on the ratings and reviews section. As a result, when it comes to inbound marketing in the app stores, you need to always be on top of what people are saying about your app.

Many app developers take the approach that it’s just enough to prompt people to rate their app, but this is really insufficient. Too often, these prompts, by being about the developer rather than the consumer. This can turn people off and lead to bad reviews and app exits. Instead of prompting everyone, instead focus on understanding what people think of your app and only when you’ve understood that they’re happy with your app, should they be prompted to rate you. Our “Ratings Done Right” approach to this is one take that really helps companies find customers at the right moment in time and understand how they’re feeling. Listening to the typically “silent majority” helps drive company goals forward much faster than just focusing on the vocal minority of unhappy critics in the app store.

9) Get involved in the relevant communities

If you’re adding value to the app ecosystem and have learned along the way, be sure to share your knowledge. Whether it’s sharing technical lessons or talking about the subject matter of your app, there are sure to be devoted communities to the topics that are relevant to you. Spend 30 minutes a day researching and finding places on the web where others are sharing and join the conversation. Add value with advice, humility and respect and the benefits will accrue over time to your app, as an audience of people who trust you come into contact with what you’re working on.

10) Make sure you’re making it easy!

We can’t tell you how many times we’ve come across a site for an app and found the links to download the app to be non-existent. Make sure that you’re using the right links for downloading your app wherever you establish a presence and get good at tracking those links as well. Using tools like, you can track the links for social sharing and get the added bonus of knowing exactly what’s working.


The lean app developer and customer communication

Lean App Developer

Being lean = less waste

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, there’s another great piece on the importance of “Being Lean.” Learning from Eric Ries, Steve Blank, David Cohen & Brad Feld and many others really drives home the point that startups should move faster, focus on developing customers and testing hypotheses. We are huge proponents of the lean methodology, as evidenced by our presentation at the Lean Startup Seattle pitch event.

They’re not just lessons in books, however – every successful app developer we’re working with has an incredible focus on 3 important things:

  • Finding their core customers,
  • Figuring out how to make them happier,
  • Focusing on the things they care about the most.

A major benefit of the lean methodology is that you AVOID building features that customers don’t want. We think that this is extremely relevant to app developers because users expect applications to just work. The more complex you make your app in a vacuum, the more hypotheses you’re making about users’ wants and needs. This tends to result in apps that are confusing and overly burdensome on new app users. So, we urge you to keep your apps simple to begin with and to learn and grow with your customers in order to be more successful and efficient.

Customer service & communication: your secret weapon

At Apptentive, we are driven to provide powerful yet simple tools for direct customer communication so that app developers can build the best apps possible. When done well, customers don’t need to be “sold” or “marketed to”, they just need to try your app out for themselves and let it speak to them. Customer communication is absolutely vital to the process of innovation: it allows you to learn. Information directly from consumers about what’s working for them and what is causing friction helps you assess your execution against your goals.

We came across an interview with Eric Ries on the Assistly blog that was incredibly relevant to how we think about customer communication and app development. Eric addresses why customer service is critical to learning (emphasis ours):

ABS: How would you rate the role of customer service and support in the lean startup?

It’s very, very important, but it must be understood correctly. In larger companies customer service is seen as a cost center, a necessary evil, not related to the mission. Marketing and product development are outbound functions, and customer service is seen strictly as inbound. That’s extremely shortsighted because we’re really better off trying to have a deep understanding of the customer and their behaviors. Customer service is really a learning function.

We can do so much more to integrate support into product development to tighten that loop. It’s easy to say but hard to do. Most companies do not have a way to value this “validated learning.” At the end of the day you can have all your slogans, but what are you actually doing?  You need actionable data. That’s why I advocate the tenets of the lean startup—rapid experimentation, shorter development cycles, and measuring actual progress to learn what customers really want.

Learning from customers has never been easier

Today’s consumer environment has trained people to speak up and share their thoughts and opinions any time, any where. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, their blog or directly in your app, customers expect to be heard when they speak up. This means that as an app developer you have a huge advantage: simple solicitations of feedback are consistent with user expectations. You don’t have to teach customers to help you out – they’re ready and waiting for you to ask and listen.

Your opportunity awaits you – are you going to trust Eric, Steve, Brad, David and the rest of the people urging you to listen to your customers?

(for those of you totally unfamiliar with the lean startup principles, we suggest stepping through the slides below, they’re very helpful and a quick overview)

Lean Startup presentation for Maples Investments by Steve Blank and Eric Ries

View more presentations from Eric Ries


Better ratings for your applications

[Editor’s Note: Due to the popularity of this post and the ever-changing nature of the app stores, we’ve released a free 55-page eBook full of actionable steps to improve your App Store ratings, rankings, and reviews. Enjoy!]

Better Ratings

Begging for ratings is lame

It’s a commonly held belief that more good ratings and reviews will lead to more success for your app.  As a result, we see a lot of developers experimenting with ways to get ratings.

Ratings solicitation tactics
If you’ve ever engaged in one of the following, you know what we’re talking about:

  • Asked all of your friends to download and rate your app
  • Used your Twitter account to remind every follower that they should check out your app and rate it
  • Told every friend you have on Facebook to download your app and like the Facebook fan page you’ve made
  • Installed code in your app that prompts a user to rate based upon how many days the app has been installed

If you’ve been doing this, it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, you’re trying to grow your business. We understand why you’re doing it and we think you’re ahead of many developers who aren’t even thinking about how to help themselves out.

There is, however, a better way. Asking for ratings needs to be about YOUR APP CUSTOMER.

Stop yourself and think about the rating process in this way:

How can you make your customers’ lives better by asking them to rate you?

This is a challenging question for some developers. Fortunately, we’re learning about this every day with our customers and we’ve discovered a few principles you might find helpful in thinking about ratings, reviews and the overall customer experience:

Ask a simple question: how many people love my app?

Remember: the surest way to better ratings is to have a better app FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS. It’s that simple.

Apple share of PC market trend chart - Apple's 11%

“Only” 1 in 10 PC buyers is getting an Apple device. Seemed to work out fine for them

Your app doesn’t have to make the entire world like it. It just has to have a rabid and loyal fan base.

Like Apple.

Got it?

Start with that goal in mind and work backwards from it.

You have limited time. Learn FAST.

A lot of our customers have fewer than 10 people working on an app.  Not a lot of resources. Which features do you prioritize? Which bugs are the most important?

One of the reasons we’re big believers in the Lean Startup movement is that it’s designed for organizations with resource constraints. A major benefit of the approach is to reduce waste by reducing the number of useless features you build as you discover your market’s needs. The more your product benefits from what you learn on a daily basis, the more likely you are to be efficient in its creation.

Ratings and reviews are prime opportunities for you to learn. Here are ways in which you can utilize ratings/reviews and customer feedback as learning tools:

  • The comments from ratings and reviews can inform your view of what users care about
  • The velocity of your ratings, that is, the number of ratings you get per day or per week can inform you about changes in customer perception. Are you suddenly seeing a lot more ratings and reviews? Did you make a change to your app that creates a reason for people to be more active in giving feedback?
  • The score – the actual values that people are giving you. This is an obvious one isn’t it? Most people just focus on the overall rating, however, instead of analyzing how it changes over time and monitoring significant shifts in the trends.
  • What is it that makes people unhappy when using your app? What can you learn from the critiques and complaints you receive? Are there customers who just don’t make sense for you?
  • What is it that people LOVE about your app? This is the most important thing you can learn from your ratings – what is it that delights people and what kind of people are delighted by your app?

When you look at ratings and reviews, think about what they’re truly about: giving customers a voice. Your goal should be to build upon that, giving them a voice so that you can learn from their feedback and make your app better.

So, how do you do that?

Ask simply…

App Ratings Done Right: Asking Your Users' Opinions

Who loves you? Find out how you’re REALLY doing.

People often overlook the importance of asking nicely. Pay attention to when and how you ask for information. Pay attention to what you’re really asking for as well. What are you trying to discern from your app customers?

We think it’s fundamentally about love. If you can earn a customer’s love, you’re on to something. You’re probably on their home screen, they use you daily, and they actively recommend you to their friends (usually by demoing your app in-person).

It turns out that asking a simple question gets honest feedback, constructive criticism and yes, more customers who truly love you. (We’re happy to share our app ratings component with all of you for free, by the way)

When you ask this simple question you inform your customers that you care about their feelings and needs, while respecting their time. By giving your customers permission to answer no, you communicate that the question is really about THEM, not about you. This is a huge departure from the traditional tactics we’ve highlighted above, which are really not about your customer’s needs. Consumers are smart and they can tell when they’re being asked to do something just for you.

When you’re asking customers to share their opinion, you’re also setting the expectation that you’ll be listening. That’s a huge gap in the current behaviors we see by developers who are asking for ratings. In today’s incredibly connected environment, customers expect to be heard and responded to. So, give yourself that capability (or use us to be able to respond to consumers quickly and directly).

…and respond nicely!

Responding to consumers who are expressing frustration is often all that’s required to soothe the frustration. Instead of being incapable of following up with the person having the problem, you can actually get in touch with them and possibly debug your code together.

While many developers think that people just want to vent and complain, we find that most people appreciate the knowledge that something is actually being done about their problem. Negative ratings and reviews are not about publicly badmouthing an app so much as achieving consumer catharsis. By establishing a direct line of communication with your app customers and reducing the friction required to speak up,  the person with a problem is far more likely to talk WITH YOU.

While being willing to listen is great, true consumer happiness comes when you respond. Just the act of responding nicely provides catharsis to your customers, delighting them at a time when most consumers are left alone.

You don’t have to tell customers that you’ll solve their problems (sometimes you just can’t) but by being honest, polite and apologetic you’ll ensure that they realize you are a real person who actually cares about the time they’ve invested in your product. That is not an impression most of those consumers will ever forget.

Plan for the long-term & respect your customers

Ultimately, we’re here to help you build a business that lasts. We understand that many of you feel similarly to Arash Payan, who created Appirater due to his frustrations around the behavior exhibited by consumers in the existing ratings and review model. As he wrote on his blog:

“In comparison to the unhappy user, the satisfied user rarely takes the time to review your app. Which leaves you with crummy reviews from uninformed users hurting sales of your app.

If Apple would allow developers to respond to reviews, or more easily challenge the validity of a review, this would be no big deal. But I don’t have any hopes of Apple wising up and fixing anything, so I’m left trying to get more positive reviews of my apps to drown out the negatives ones.”

Those frustrations are very real, but it doesn’t mean that you should settle for solutions that don’t get to the heart of your customers’ needs.

The app world is more competitive every day and the only way to consistently win is to have a core base of users who absolutely love you. Those folks will keep you on their home screen, applaud your updates and eagerly give you feedback, if you make it easy. They will tell their friends about you, they will pay attention when you release new apps and some of them will help you build the best apps you can possibly make. So, aim for winning more of those customers and keep their needs in mind.

Remember: if you’re trying to get ratings just to get more ratings, you’re doing it wrong.

The Mobile Marketer's Guide To App Store Ratings & Reviews