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How To Make An App Successful By Doing Pre-Launch Market Research

Some simple tips on how to make an app successful, that you can use before you launch.

Before we get started, it worth mentioning that there is no one magic formula for getting your app downloaded millions of times. However, there are a lot of different things that you can do that will greatly improve the probability of the success of your app.

One of these actions is to do some market research before you release your app and hopefully even before you begin development. In this post, we will use a top down approach to market research that can help you figure out how to make an app successful. Be sure to have a notebook handy so you can record on all your discoveries.

Find The Big Players

Certain apps are successful for a reason. If you want to be successful too, you need to model what they are doing, but in your own way. We are not talking about blatantly copying an app, but figuring out what basic characteristics make them popular.

What Do They Have In Common?

Take a look at our Rankings Page and navigate to the category that your app will be in. Then take note of what these apps have in common. Here is an example, using the Photography category:

lt="Photography sector research

Click on each of the apps to check out their Profile Page. As you can see, almost all of these apps are for editing pictures, specifically adding various effects or filters to make the pictures look better or alter them in some way. So if you want to make a popular photography app, having this feature, but putting your own twist on it, will probably be a good idea.

For example here are just a few things that the AfterLight app does:

lt="AfterLight features check

Even though these apps are successful, what are they missing? Is there a feature that you can add to your app that will fill in the gaps for users in your category? Can you localize? In the photography example, what kind of filter or photo editing feature can you add that these apps don't have?

One simple thing that AfterLight could do is localize their app. The Profile Page shows us that their revenue mostly comes from English speaking countries.

lt="App translation and internationalization

Spy On Their Keywords

Next, check out the keywords that these popular apps use. The easiest way to do this is to use our Keyword Spy module. Look up the app you want to research and the module will return the keywords that they are using. For example, here is what the Superimpose app uses:

lt="Keyword intelligence

Take note of all of the keywords of the top apps, using a spreadsheet, and see which ones could apply to your app. Then figure out what you might be able to rank for.

How Hard Is It To Get Ranked?

As part of our paid Optimization Tool, you will also be able to see how difficult it is to rank for a keyword along with the traffic. Using the Superimpose example again, here is how their keywords look:

lt="keyword rankings for Superimpose app

What Are Other Keywords That You Can Use?

Are there other keywords that these apps are missing that you can use? By using the Intelligent Suggestions Tool in Sensor Tower, you can get recommendations on other keywords that can help you show up in search more often. This is just a partial list of the the keywords that were suggested for Superimpose:

lt="Related keyword research

Optimize Your Keywords

Now take your best keywords and plug them into the Keyword Optimizer Tool and see if they are as good as they can be. Here is how the Superimpose app stacks up:

lt="Optimization of keyword field

The folks at Superimpose do a pretty good job with their keywords, but they do have some room to add a few more, which could help their visibility. Although it does take some work, this analysis can give you a much better picture of the features your app should have and the keywords you should be using. Be sure to check out this post to learn about other common App Store keyword mistakes.

Learn From The Small Guys

Now that you know what the big players are doing, it is time to check out the small guys. But we just took a look at people want, isn't that enough?

No way, we also want to learn two things about the smaller apps in your category. First, we want to figure out what they are doing wrong and not do that.

Are they adding features that nobody wants? Do they have an otherwise good app, but terrible marketing? Have they had reasonable success in the US, but do not localize and therefore miss out on international downloads? Are most of their negative reviews because of one or two common complaints?

Second, you want to look for ideas that you can implement into your own app. Now, we are not suggesting that you steal patented technology or copy a feature line for line, but figure out how you can create your own implementation of an idea that someone else has not developed to its full potential.

You can find these apps in several ways, but you can start by either doing a Google search or searching the Sensor Tower database to see what comes up. Start by typing in a keyword in the search box on our homepage. Using the photography example, you could start with the keyword "camera." For example, you might want to try the Camera Zoom 3 app and see what comes up.

lt="Related apps

If you are interested, you can check out that app and see what you find. There is definitely room for improvement.

Dig Deep Into Marketing

Regardless if you are checking out the popular apps or the lesser known ones, pay attention to how these apps market themselves. Obviously, if you are just starting out, you won't be able to do a big budget media buy, like Candy Crush Saga does on Keeping Up With The Kardashians (go to 1:40 in the video), but what are some of the cheaper mainstream, and free ninja techniques that you can use with your app?

Take some time to research where these other apps are marketing so you are ready to go as soon as your app launches. Do they retarget (also known as remarketing) Google Ads? You can figure this out if you visit the website of the app first. If they are retargeting, visiting their site will leave a cookie on your computer. Then, if you visit websites that users of that app might visit, you will see display ads for their app on that site.

lt="What promotion techniques are they using?

It might take some digging, but specifically targeting these sites can be a cheap way to get your ads in front of your target audience. Also look for other sites that use Google Ads that your competitors are not advertising on, and make note of them.

By now, you are probably immune to Facebook ads, but as part of your marketing research, see if you can find ads from other apps in your market. Since Facebook ads are specifically targeted by interests and demographics, if you are not a part of your target demographic, you should setup a dummy Facebook account with as many of the interests of your target audience that you can think of.

Then browse Facebook and see what ads come up. When you click on these ads, where are you taken? Is it their homepage or an app landing page? This may give you some great ideas for your own marketing.

lt="Facebook promotion

Are your competitors sponsoring related podcasts, are they active on forums related to your target audience, or do they have an email list? Are they using social video sharing within their app? What are they doing on Facebook and Twitter? Take some notes on things to try, then test, test, test, after you launch your app.

Actually Use Other Apps

This almost goes without saying, but do not only do a "Google search" review of your future competitors. Actually download their apps (yes, even if they cost money) and use them heavily for a week.

What annoys you about their interface? What do they do really well? Are they missing something that you could add? There are a lot of things that you can discover about an app that are not readily apparent in the iTunes description or the user reviews.


Taking this top down approach to developing your app can give your app the best shot at success and give you more confidence in developing your new app. Of course, you can always optimize things after you launch your app, but properly researching your market can get your app started on the right foot.

Do you have any tips on how to make an app successful? We would be interested to learn about your experiences. Leave a comment below…

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Hugh Kimura

Written by: Hugh Kimura, Head of Content

Date: July 2013