Creating a new app can be an exciting time, but there is also a lot of uncertainty associated with it. Will people actually want your app? Which features should you launch with and which ones should you leave for later?
These are important questions for everyone from the indie developer to the largest corporations. Luckily you can get some valuable insight without writing a single line of app code. This post will show you how to research your market and test the demand for your app even before you create the first prototype.
The first thing that you want to do is to find out if there is a market for your app. One of the best ways to do this is to see if there are other apps similar to the one you want to build.
If there are other apps out there that are on the Top Charts, then that is a good sign that there is demand. Examine their App Profile Pages and download and use the apps. Figure out how you can make your app better.
Even if there aren't any similar apps out there, that might be OK. Being the pioneer can be a good thing, but only if there is demonstrated demand. That is when it will be especially important to use the testing process outlined below.
The only time that you might not want to make an app, based on your market research, is if there are already too many strong competitors. Even then, you can still easily test your idea to find out if there is room for your app in the market.
Creating surveys might be useful for doing prelaunch research, but nothing says that you are serious like having a website. If people can see the vision for your app, they will be more likely to get excited about it, if it is something that they want.
So the first step to your testing your app idea is to purchase a domain and setup a landing page for your app. If you can get a mockup of your app designed inexpensively, then even better.
You can buy a premade theme or use a service like Unbounce or LaunchRock to create your landing page. Be sure to have an email opt-in so you can measure the interest in your app and so you can contact people who are interested, if you do decide to go ahead with developing your app.
Here is a good example from the Eighty app. Notice how they are able to communicate what the app does in one sentence. Make sure that your message is simple and to the point.
The important thing is to show people that you are actually working on the app and it is more than just an idea. Even if you are only testing at this point, you don't want to give people the impression that it might be months or years from production or nobody will be interested.
If it makes sense, consider making a simple demo video for your app idea. You don't actually have to show screenshots of the app to show potential users what it does. Be creative and you can communicate your message without having a product to show.
Before you get started, establish some guidelines as to what you will consider a successful test. Will it be 100 emails or 10,000? It will depend on your market and your goals, but just be sure that your threshold number will make it worth all the time that you will spend building the app.
Now drive traffic to your landing page in any way that you can. There are many different options out there, but here are a few ideas to get you started.
News sites: Reddit, Digg or Hacker News
Groups: LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+
Talk to people, attend Meetup groups
In-app ads in related apps
Post links with interesting titles to get people to visit your site. Ask for feedback from potential users. Sometimes asking a simple question like: "Is this an app you would use?" can result in clicks and valuable discussion.
How long should you promote your landing page? Until you feel that you have results that are statistically significant.
After you feel that you have been testing for a sufficient amount of time, then it is simply a case of moving forward if you hit your target number or scrapping the idea if you didn't. It may be hard to let go of an idea that you are in love with, but the numbers don't lie.
If your test was successful, you may also want to experiment to see which features people want the most. The easiest way to test this is by creating several different versions of your landing page. On each page variation, leave your existing headline the same, but create a sub headline that highlights one feature that you want to test for.
Send equal traffic to all your testing pages using Google Analytics Experiments or a service like Visual Website Optimizer. Whichever page has the most email opt-ins is the feature that you should probably develop first.
Using this method can save you hundreds or even thousands of development hours by testing to see if there is actual demand for your app beforehand. Testing for individual app features can also help you figure out how to prioritize the development process, if the initial test is successful. For a few hours of setup and possibly a few dollars in advertising, you can save yourself the letdown of having an app that nobody wants.
If you have used this method before, what were your results? Let us know in the comments below...