Posted by stuartkhall
Back in 2013, I co-founded a music discovery mobile app that grew to more than 4 million downloads. Many of the things we tried to grow the app were successful, but some were a complete disaster.
I wanted to see if I could repeat the success of the music discovery app with a new app. Would the techniques I learned still apply?
First, though, I needed an idea for the new app. 7 Minute Workout was buzzing around Hacker News and The New York Times.
The simple idea was connecting with people. So I got to work building an app for it.
The simplest implementation I could imagine (and what I could complete in a single night) was a list of instructions for the 12 exercises and a simple timer. So that’s exactly what I built.
(7 Minute Workout app.)
I ran a whole bunch of experiments over the next 18 months and shared them as a series of five blog posts. Some experiments were more successful than others, but overall downloads were steady.
Eventually, I ended up selling the app to Wahoo Fitness. It was a great ride where I learned a lot.
Ultimately, I believe the success of the app can be attributed to a small list of actions I took. I’ve summarized them in the following six tips:
Tip #1 – Make something people are looking for
Think about it like an SEO: Do you pick some keywords that nobody searches for and then go off and generate traffic? Or do you find keywords people are searching for and then optimize for those keywords?
Products are no different. We are looking for areas of demand that are under-fulfilled.
The 7 Minute Workout was perfect for this. People were digging it. I could see this from how so many people were up-voting it on Hacker News and reading about it in The New York Times.
Yet there was a lack of products available to help you with it.
The demand still continues today, the press is still writing about and linking to the app.
I also attribute some of the success to getting the name “7 Minute Workout” in the App Store, which adds a layer of authority.
Tip #2 – Don’t forget about SEO
In the app world there’s always a lot of talk about ASO (app store optimization). ASO includes optimizing things like icons, app descriptions, screenshots, and keywords for the app stores.
Luckily for us, the majority of app developers completely forget about SEO. Even though there are still millions of people searching Google for apps every day, app developers ignore SEO in preference to ASO.
Through a combination of getting the official app name “7 Minute Workout,” great backlinks from a heap of press coverage, and good SEO, I managed to become the No. 1 result on Google for “7 Minute Workout App” and No. 2 result for “7 Minute Workout.”
This drove great, steady traffic and downloads of the app.
(Mobile app SEO.)
Tip #3 – Get on Apple’s radar
It took a while, but I managed to finally get on Apple’s radar by giving them what they were looking for.
Most people believe getting featured by Apple is black magic, or it’s who you know. But Apple is actually on the lookout for great apps to feature. The trick is getting on their radar by providing them with a reason to feature you.
When I saw HealthKit was being released with iOS 8, I thought it would be a great fit for the app. I made sure I had it implemented for launch and made a lot of noise on the standard contact forms for Apple.
When HealthKit launched, only a handful of apps had implemented the functionality. Apple was looking to push HealthKit, so our app was featured on the front page of the App Store.
The result was an amazing lift in revenue during the time it was featured.
I’d say the extra effort was worth it.
Tip #4 – Listen to users
I’m a big believer in getting users to drive products. This doesn’t mean implementing every feature request; it simply means listening, asking why, a lot and getting to the real pain point.
Grouping feedback from social, support, and app reviews into topics is a great way to make it much more manageable. You can use online services for this, or do it manually if you don’t have a lot of data.
All the feature iterations during the 18 months I owned the app were driven by user feedback, mainly from app reviews.
The initial in-app purchase was called the “Pro Upgrade,” which allowed users to perform multiple sets and adjust durations after being flooded with requests to make the workouts more difficult.
Alternative workouts were added after I saw and heard people were getting bored of the same 12 exercises over and over. Being able to add your own custom workouts came from a whole bunch of different requests, which, when analyzed, came down to users wanting more flexibility.
Finding these pain points and addressing them helped the product evolve and led to increased revenue from additional downloads.
Tip #5 – Make app reviews work to your advantage
App reviews are really important to the success of your app for a number of reasons:
- A study by Yahoo Advertising found that reviews and ratings were the most important factor when people search app stores.
- App reviews and ratings, behind downloads, are the second most-important factor in weighting top chart ranking and search results.
- They are full of amazing feedback, bug reports, and feature requests.
I wanted a way to encourage users to leave me reviews and also get more feedback on the app. But I didn’t want one of those annoying popups that interrupts you using the app.
So I came up with a review workflow. It asked a simple question:
“What do you think about 7 Minutes?”
If they said they liked it, I asked them to leave a review. Otherwise, I asked them to send feedback.
The real key was showing it at the right moment. For my app, the right moment was right after someone completed a workout.
You can see the results below, a 5X increase in the volume of reviews with a solid 5 star rating:
Review workflow results
Just in case you need more proof, here’s what happened recently when the new owner removed the review workflow:
(Review workflow results.)
Encourage reviews (without being annoying) and get great feedback from users to improve your app.
Tip #6 – Handle pricing changes with caution
What really helped catapult the app is the decision to change the pricing model.
I originally launched the app at 99 cents, which only generated around $20 per day.
When I switched the app to free, I received more than 250k downloads in three days. Running with the free idea, I introduced in-app purchases (IAP) instead of charging up front.
Over time, I introduced more IAPs and offered purchasers the ability to buy all IAPs in one bundle. With each progression, I measured and continued to iterate, which resulted in growing revenue.
(Finding the correct pricing.)
Most of these techniques will apply to any sort of product. Now that I’m running a SaaS company, I’m still listening to users, selling a story, reading reviews, experimenting with pricing, and doing SEO.
Find something you are passionate about and keep iterating as fast as you can.
I’d really enjoy hearing your thoughts. Do you have any experiences producing apps that you’d like to share?
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!