Organic & Paid Acquisition: How to Put Together a Foolproof Plan to Gain More App Users (in 6 Steps!)

No_plan_quoteHave you heard of Spork or Foodspotting? These are both apps that help people find delicious food, but only one survived. What’s the difference between Flickr and Instagram? These are both photo-editing and photo-sharing apps, but one is far more profitable. 

The reality of the mobile universe is that truly unique ideas are hard to come by (there’s likely already an app for that). Today, success is less about how creative your app is, and more about how many people get value from it.

Let’s dive deeper into the first part of that statement, because remember: the very first goal of an app is to acquire app users (which doesn’t happen automatically, even when you have a really cool app). 

Gaining app users is a comprehensive process and it doesn’t happen magically or overnight – you need a plan! So, let’s walk through six steps that can help you build a foolproof one.


Step 1: Start Getting Attention Early

Contrary to popular belief, the right time to start thinking about acquiring app users is long before your app hits the market. Astute mobile marketers never underestimate the power of curiosity or the importance of cultivating an early following. If you involve people in the development of your app, share sneak peeks, and interact in the same communities as your target users, people will anticipate your app’s launch with excitement.

Things to Put in Your Plan

Ask yourself: who are my app’s ideal users? Where do they hang out in the online world? Also, consider building a social media presence to showcase your brand’s personality to pique the interest of your target audience. 


Step 2: Seriously Consider a Soft Launch

Before you launch your app with a big bang, consider executing a soft (a.k.a. smaller) launch. A soft launch is essentially a beta release of your app and it allows you to carry out some guerrilla testing. Soft launches are immensely valuable because they’re cheaper to conduct, result in your first set of app downloads, and provide app marketers with valuable insight on what’s hot (and what’s not) in your app. Wouldn’t you rather spend 20k versus 200k on a small, private launch to learn about what you can improve in your app?

Things to Put in Your Plan

If you do choose to carry out a soft launch, make sure your early adopters represent your ideal user segments, and think about the different platforms you can use to conduct guerrilla tests (such as online or at physical locations). In addition, promote your social media accounts as a place for early adopters to congregate and integrate social sharing mechanisms into your app. You want to make it easy for your first set of users to interact with each other as well as entice them to help spread the word about your app. 

As you monitor your social communities and conversations around your new app, separate the satisfied users from the not-so-satisfied. Think about how you can turn these happy users into evangelists who will positively review your app in public forums.


Step 3: Build Your App’s Online Presence to Boost Your ASO (App Store Optimization)

The most effective way to get people to download your app is to make sure people can find it. With over a million apps in both Apple’s and Google’s app stores, visibility is a huge issue. Therefore, mobile marketers need to prioritize organic acquisition tactics so their app is easily noticeable – not buried on page 30-something of the iTunes’ chart.  And the best part is that it’s much cheaper (if not completely free) to gain app users through the natural process of search and discovery.

Things to Put in Your Plan

Organic acquisition is an absolute must if you want your app to become self-sustaining. Here are a few things you can do to optimize about your app store listing:

1. App name, publisher’s name, and app description (in the app store)

  • Be explicit and clear about what your app does
  • Incorporate keywords/keyword phrases and keep it short (if your app users are browsing the app store on their phones they’ll only see the first 30 or so characters)
  • Think about what terms your app users are searching for and find a balance between this and your brand
  • Check out this tool to help you find some keywords to use

2. App ratings

  • The better rated your app, the more visible it will be
  • The more positively reviewed your app, the more likely it will appear in top charts
  • Think about how to motivate your happy app users to publicly rate your app
  • Obsessively resolve negative reviews

3. Overall app rank, category rank, and sub-category rank

  • App stores have algorithms that assign a score to apps which determines your app’s rank compared to similar apps
  • Aside from the two elements listed above, your app’s rank is also influenced by the number of languages your app is available in, the page visits to your app’s product page, and app screenshots/video
  • Carefully weight your options on whether you want to fight for a top ten spot in a generic category like “Games” or, whether it’ll be more beneficial to rank in the top three for a more niche sub-category 

4. App website

  • Build a microsite for your app that showcases what your app does (you can gain inspiration from SnapChat’s sleek design)
  • Drive traffic from the web to your app’s product page in app stores

5. App blog

  • Create and curate interesting content on subjects that are relevant to your app
  • Employ inbound marketing methodologies to rank on the web as well as in app stores (an example of an app that does this well is Buffer)
  • Drive click-throughs to your app’s product page in app stores


Step 4: Allocate Budget for Paid Acquisition Tactics

Now, as much you want to be a frugal app marketer, organic acquisition shouldn’t be the only strategy up your sleeve when it comes to gaining app users. Why? Because every app uses organic marketing tactics, but paid acquisition can be the differentiator that gives your downloads a nice big lift. Also, when executed properly, paid campaigns complement organic ones because they work faster to bring in new users (whereas organic tactics take a bit longer to accomplish and mature).

Things to Put in Your Plan

Sit down with your marketing team and figure out how much budget you want to allocate to paid acquisition. Then, add these things to your plan:

1. Paid web vendors

  • Weigh the pros and cons of a variety of paid channels (email, banner ads, social media ads, etc.)
  • Drive traffic to your app’s website/app store page with each paid campaign
  • Think about where your target audience is and invest appropriately

2. Paid mobile ads

  • Also buy ads in the mobile sphere (these ads appear inside other relevant apps)
  • Facebook’s platform is the most used but, consider other ad platforms as well (here’s a list of the top 10)
  • When evaluating a mobile ad partner, look at its audience, performance measurement metrics/benchmarks (like cost-per-click), the user experience and technology, etc. (here’s a detailed checklist)
  • Use deep-linking so people land on the most appropriate location within your app (don’t just send people to your app’s home screen)
  • Don’t incentivize app downloads because Apple is cracking down on these types of mobile ads


Step 5: Secure Press Coverage

Every time your app is mentioned in the media, you earn credibility, new views, and an inbound link to your app’s website or app store listing. Mobile marketers need to actively reach out to journalists (during all stages of an app’s lifecycle) and work hard to get their app featured in news publications. 

Things to Put in Your Plan

In the beginning, when your app is still in development or in a beta release, consider targeting growth hacker or tech communities like Product Hunt. After your app has fully been accepted to app store or has accumulated a decent set of initial users, submit your app for awards like The Mobileys. And if your efforts to secure press coverage in American media turn out fruitless, don’t be afraid to reach out to press in other countries where your target app users live! 


Step 6: Measure the Success of Your Acquisition Strategies

If you want to create a truly fail-proof plan to gain more app users, you need to tie in metrics that will help you assess the health of your organic and paid acquisition campaigns. How else will you know what’s working (and what’s not) if you’re not measuring anything? While it is true that downloads are the main number acquisition campaigns try to improve, the most savvy mobile marketers care about both the quantity and the quality of new app users.

Things to Put in Your Plan

Alone, downloads are a vanity metric because 20% of apps are only used once. So, add these performance metrics to your plan:

  • Compare the cost per new app user to the price of your app (or the new user’s lifetime value)
  • Monitor how quickly new users return to your app (pay attention to your app’s churn risk window)
  • Try to invest in paid channels that use CPE (cost per engagement) so you only have to pay for engaged customers
Overall, your app users coming in through your paid campaigns should be behaving in the same way as those trickling in through organically. 


Moving From Gaining Users to Retaining Them

Congratulations! You’ve gotten to the end of the six-step process on creating a comprehensive plan to acquire new app users. As you watch downloads pour in, the next thing is to recalibrate your app marketing team to focus on retaining users. As your app moves from new app store entrant to established mobile player, you should reallocate resources to engagement driving marketing tactics (like push and in-app messaging) while never completely stopping new-user acquisition ones.  Above all, remember that the most successful apps always have a plan – a plan to gain users, and a plan to keep them close.

Download the Beginner's Guide to App Marketing by Localytics