Navigating the AppStore

The iTunes AppStore continues to experience explosive growth, and if it hasn’t already been said, has changed the face of software distribution forever. While not without its faults, the AppStore is a great platform to launch new ideas, extend existing product functionality, and cost-effectively promote brands and engage consumers. Saltlick Labs’ Colin Anawaty offers advice for successfully launching and sustaining apps in one of today’s most competitive markets. Saltlick Lab’s most recent release is Little Black Book.

The Basics
It costs $99+tax to get setup to publish on the AppStore but this process usually takes a few weeks before all the contracts are approved and you’ve been cleared to accept sales on the store. Make absolute certain that the bank you sign up with supports SWIFT codes. A SWIFT code is for international transactions so most local, state, and internet banks do not offer SWIFT codes. Stick with the majors.

Note: You may submit your application for approval before your contracts are cleared for publishing. If the application is approved before the publishing contracts, all pending contracts are pushed to the front of the line.

AppStore FlowchartApplication Approval:
On average ~90% of applications submitted are approved within 14 days but you can be 100% certain at some point your app will be rejected for the most trivial reasons. We’ve approached rejections two ways:

  • Immediately resubmitted the app and made a strong case why we disagreed.
  • Quickly corrected the issue and addressed the corrections in a brief email response.

Generally you’ll receive a response within 24-48 hours, but often on the same day if your response is timely, polite, and to the point. Do not forget to include the case number.

Market Timing
If you don’t plan around the AppStore’s quirks, launching your application can be a disaster because of the uncertainty surrounding the approval process. Flexibility is key. When submitting your application, I suggest adjusting the Availability Date to one year forward so upon approval you then have the freedom to pick an exact date to coordinate your marketing attack around. A strong app launch is critical to a lucrative sales month as long as the AppStore continues to slant toward hit-driven sales.

app-store_date

Sales Tracking & Analytics
For the first 6 months of our business, I spent many painstaking hours converting the AppStore sales data into usable spreadsheets. Unfortunately, a lot of data was left out of the official sales data from Apple such as Top Chart position and movements, consumer review consolidation, and more. AppFigures.com is one of the most impressive web services I’ve found for automating sales data. The service crawls your account and applications automatically, breaks down sales by country, displays current Top Chart position and movements across every country’s store, and delivers a summarized email by 9am. We track 5 applications for less than $5 a month, and the time saved amounts to thousands of dollars.

Not only should you track sales data but also usage and interaction with the application. There are numerous analytic services coming to market to give developers and marketers a thorough understanding how consumers use their product. I recommend Pinch Media, it’s currently the most feature-rich mobile analytics platform and takes 10-20 minutes to plugin to your app.

Top Charts
The overall and categorical Top Charts are driven strictly by volume so there is no correlation to revenue, which by no surprise explains the pricing pressure to $.99. The AppStore economy created the “hit driven” model in software sales and love it or hate it, it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future.

iTunes 9 shows significant signs of improvement overall, and the introduction of Top Earners should pull the premium and niche applications above the overload of spam and gimmick apps cluttering Top Paid charts. Currently the Top Earners section only features apps out of the entire store but with a few hacks, you can expose the data categorically. This suggests that the functionality is already in place and hopefully will be exposed to consumers in the near future.

Application Updates
Updating your application has proven to be one of the most successful methods for generating sales simply because consumers can easily find your app amongst the noise. But to drive your application back to page 1, you’ll need to be on top of the the approval process and adjust the Availability Date to the current day. It’s a bit hacky and works like this:

  • Each morning, regardless of whether or not the application is approved, go into your Developer Center and edit the app so the date is accurate.
  • Doing this will ensure that when your app is approved it will be pushed back to page 1.
  • Do NOT set the date to a point in the future or you’ll temporarily remove your application from the store.

Abusing this feature by updating your application constantly is spammy. You’ll annoy consumers and contribute to the increasing volume of spam and unprofessional behavior. Respect!

Customer Reviews
The consumer reviews can work against you because more often than not, happy customers do not leave comments and many upset consumers don’t bother contacting you directly. I blame the latter as the result of many developers not committed to quality service and consumers are jaded. In addition, because there’s no real identity verification system, competitors have been caught leaving negative remarks and cross-promoting their app. Trying to have these comments removed by Apple is virtually pointless.

On the flip side, it’s important to distinguish and address the honest and often critical feedback. When I come across a review by a disgruntled customer, I rely on Google to track the user down and reach out; sincere reviewers typically post under the same username elsewhere on the internet. Certainly this is the most unscalable aspect of your business but by surprising customers with great support, you build trust and loyalty which can turn them into product advocates.

Last Words of Advice
Be passionate about the products you build and strive to give customers a quality level of service. If your company is focusing solely on the AppStore, it’s easy to get caught up overextending yourself by releasing product after product or worse, rushing an app to market before reaching the Apple-factor. As long as the AppStore remains hit-driven, aim to make your product and launch memorable — first impression is a big deal amongst 75,000 applications.

If you have any additional questions, please leave them in the comments below.

Navigating the AppStore

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