How Do People Find Apps? Influencing Factors of App Discovery

How did you find the last app that you downloaded onto your smartphone, tablet, or PC? Was it in an app store? Did you use a search engine? Were you intrigued by something a friend or family member said and decided to try it out for yourself? Did you see something in one of your social media channels? According to the latest research by industry thought leaders, all of these methods are how people are primarily finding apps, especially search. The problem for developers is two-fold: there are literally millions of apps available, and there seems to be no good system in place for helping people to find what they are looking for in an intuitive way. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what factors influence app discovery, as well as track what developers can do to influence this process positively.

Structures are still evolving

There are a lot of apps out there. The problem is finding the good ones, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the ones with the most downloads. While app stores are constantly evolving, there doesn’t seem to be a good structure in place for people to find anything outside of the inevitable curated top ten lists.

On the Web, we’ve got a tangible system in place to deal with the issue of discovery: socially curated links, content directories, ranking signals, meta data, and search engines. We’ve come a long way from the walled garden search indexes of the early 90’s, and we’ve still got a long way to go for Web content to be presented in a completely meaningful, semantic, intuitive way, but at least it’s going in the right direction.

The app discovery ecosystem seems to be where Web content discovery was ten years ago. It’s basically a Wild West scenario, with factors changing rapidly and the spoils going to whomever can afford to spend the most in their marketing budget. While we have relative signposts to direct our paths on the Web, we don’t see this kind of structure around app discovery, other than in-store structures that can be gamed somewhat easily (top downloads, top views, etc.).

Most app downloads are coming directly from curated “most popular” lists that don’t necessarily give us a real picture of how popular or even how good an app is. App store optimization does help in the app discovery process, but until there is a better in-store search process in place, it’s somewhat difficult to figure out what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.

How users find apps

Each app store can offer a drastically different experience to the user, and there are major differences depending on where you’re located geographically. Localized apps can get a larger chunk of airplay, especially when they’re optimized for location. For example, an app that is made for both English and German users would do well to offer both English and German language descriptions. Many developers miss out on huge opportunities to gain more users simply because they don’t put their app descriptions in other languages.

The same opportunities exist around device and device features as do around locations. If your app is using the latest issue of something, and you put this in the app description, then this can aid in app discovery for people who are just picking up these devices and looking to play around with them a little. For example, someone who’s just bought a brand new Ultrabook™ is going to be more apt to download an app that is advertising itself with the latest and greatest touch and sensor technology.

Ratings and reviews are another major factor that influences app discovery. Every app store out there has a ratings and review system living within their app discovery structure, and most of us are going to gravitate towards the apps that have that familiar three stars or higher in their review status.

App discovery also relies heavily on category selection. Developers need to be really choosy about which categories they place their apps into. A “long tail” selection is always smarter than a more generalized category simply because in a niche there tends to be less competition. Placing an app in more than one category will also guarantee greater discoverability.

Social media signals also help in app discovery, and many apps integrate this seamlessly into their apps. For example, you might have been invited to share an app that you downloaded on Facebook or Twitter, or actual app activity is something share directly on a social platform; i.e., Farmville, Words With Friends, etc. Some app stores give a heavier weight to social signals than others, but overall, this will aid in app discovery whether users are using an app store or “old-fashioned” search to find you and your app.

Pricing is part of app visibility, but it’s also a factor that’s difficult to measure as far as effectiveness. Some apps are .99, some are free, and some are priced at seemingly outrageous prices. Users are definitely browsing app stores and choosing their downloads based on price, which also drives discoverability.

Factors influencing the app discovery process

The basic problem is this: thousands of apps are launched every week, some good, some bad, some mediocre. There is a major signal to noise problem, and in-store app discovery is at its earliest stages. How do developers get their apps to rise above the rest? Merely building an app doesn’t translate into getting people to notice your app. How do you get consumer to notice the app, and what will they do with it once they get it? How do developers start connecting with their users more, and getting their app into the hands of the people who really want to use it?

The best way to get people to notice your app is simply to build a good product; however, it doesn’t stop there. App store optimization, social media outreach, influencer/thought leader outreach, and other marketing efforts are important influences on whether or not an app will survive in an increasingly crowded marketplace. App discovery is being driven more and more by search and word of mouth, and not by the walled gardens of app stores with their curated lists, which makes app store optimization especially an important practice.

Overall, app store discovery is something that is evolving incredibly rapidly. No one strategy or solution is going to be the one that is going to solve everything. App developers have to stay ahead of the curve, and while building an app is definitely a means to an end, it is by no stretch of the imagination the end of the story. The way that people discover apps shows us that merely building an app will not guarantee visibility.


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