How To Make Money With Apps

How To Make Money With Apps

Make Money on AppsMy past few posts about app development have been getting a lot of attention on Google and have brought up some really good questions (Jeff from area code 214 – thanks for the voicemail, I’ll call you back asap). With the first posts focusing on the development and production side of the development process, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time on what makes my mouth water – turning these great ideas into money. Good lord, does that sound good.
So you’ve moved past the phase of Miller High Life and dreaming about this idea that is going to put the Angry Birds app to shame and are doing something about it. Sweet! You’re on your way. You’ve created a road map for development and have a team of people working with you make this all a reality. The app is coming along nicely and – BOOM! – you’re in the store! Between the champagne popping and city lights flashing in your eyes, you wake up every morning glued to your iTunes Connect account, watching your download and purchase analytics pour in.
Itunes Connect Screen Shot
The problem is, it’s more of a trickle. In fact, it’s just a leaky faucet.
“Why isn’t my iPhone app making money?” is probably accounting for 50% of your thought processes. All things being equal, here’s why:

Leverage is the Key to Success

Leverage is defined as “The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.” (Investopedia). For the purposes of making money in the app world, we can refer to capital as traffic. In other words, you’ll never make millions unless you have millions of people looking at your app. Leverage can make this happen because instead of using the influence of one person (yourself), you need to join forces with an outlet that can turn your voice into thousands. Here are a few ways to leverage yourself on the web:

  • Reach out to bloggers in the niche space your app is targeting and offer them free downloads of the app. Make it very appealing and easy for bloggers to download and use your app. If you are feeling ambitious and have something to offer beyond the free download, offer them a link off your website or a guest post that highlights their blog – anything that will make it worth their while to preach your app to their reader base.
  • Have your app reviewed on an app syndication or app review site. There are hundreds of these sites out there and they all get great traffic from app users that are looking for the next great app. Often you can purchase a review from these webmasters, getting you a link and exposure to thousands of readers. In some cases you can create partnerships that will get you a free app review for something the reviewer may want.
  • Partner or Sponsor email marketing campaigns. You would not believe how powerful email marketing is at reaching engaged customers. Having your app highlighted in a marketing email or newsletter can create a spike in downloads.
  • Social Media. A powerful toolset that requires enormous effort to do it right. Your best strategy is to partner with an established social media presence.
  • Outsource everything. 95% of this work is research and outreach. If you think that’s worth your time, you’re in the wrong business.

When it comes to leveraging yourself and your app, you want to create the largest multiplier you can while maintaining a realistic ROI. With no budget, you can’t hire a PR firm to guarantee you a million eyeballs, but you can reach out to 30 bloggers who each have a few thousand subscribers. Your App Leverage Factor should always be maximized, which fundamentally equates to the best use of your time.

Blogging for App Marketing

Blog Platforms for AppBlogs are increasingly joining the ranks of website in terms of importance for SEO and for idea proliferation. As Google unveils yet another Panda update, everyone in the web world is realizing the value of good content. Blogs can be hit or miss with quality, but they’ll always have content – and lots of it. With a few thousand followers under their belt, you can only imagine how many organic visits there are getting. Depending on the exact theme of the blog, you can target an ocean of followers but appealing to the person running the show.

Don’t Start Your Own Blog

One of the biggest mistakes is to reverse engineer a marketing strategy. To build a blog that has a following takes months, if not years, and hours of hard work. This is NOT a good use of your time. Even if you spin up your own WordPress or Tumblr account, outsource and crowdsource the entire thing, you’ll never make it worth your while. In my own experience it has taken anywhere from 2 months to 2 years for a blog to start getting real traffic, and that is with constant attention. Starting your own blog to market your app will NOT get you downloads, but it will help with credibility if someone wants to learn more. Think about it – if you see someone who just started a blog, don’t you wish they just didn’t start one at all? If you’re not the best, you’re nobody.

Do Find Relevant Bloggers

Let’s say your app is a Grilling app with hundreds of delicious BBQ recipes and pictures. It’s incredible and you are the most awesome person in the world for creating it. Congratulations. Now you need to find the people that would actually care that you have such a great app. Scour the internet for different blogs that touch on many different parts of your demographic – foodies, grill fanatics, even weekend warriors. You’ll find hundred of resources out there. QUICK TIP: steer clear of the first page or two when it comes to the bloggers – you’ll have a much harder time getting them to do anything unless you have a budget for this. If you move towards the later SERP pages, you’ll find people more than happy to build partnerships. Here are a few points you can take with you when reaching out (usually via email)

  • I’ve developed a mobile app that does XXX. It’s already gotten XXX downloads. I wanted you to check it out for free (here’s the free code) and if you like it, say something about it. If you don’t like it, do nothing. I love your blog and hope you are doing well.
  • I found your blog while researching the XXX industry and love what you have done. I recently published an app that I think your readers would love. Here’s the link and a free code. If you like it, I’m happy to link to your blog if you write a quick post about it.

You get the idea. Honesty is always the best policy when reaching out to people like this, and don’t expect the world. A blog post is their currency and you are asking for it – be respectful of that.

App Review Websites App Review Websites

These websites are becoming closer to App Aggregation websites, but the core is the same – they pull in apps by the arm load, review them, then turn that into a content machine. Often you can submit your app for a free review or you can pay for a premium review. In my opinion – always pay for the premium review. Always. Why? Because the free review is going to do nothing for you. These websites burn through thousands of apps a month and if yours doesn’t stand out you’re wasting your time.
I’m not going to sponsor any app reviews sites right now, but I can say that some are better than others. Submitting your app for review to every site you can find can actually start to make some moves, but it takes time. To maximize your immediate impact, try a few of the paid reviews and measure your downloads in the days following. Then do the same thing with the free ones. You’ll start to be able to calculate an ROI.
If you want to get really serious about this – see the area below about Outsouring your entire plan.

Partner or Sponsorship Email Marketing Campaigns

Email marketing can be an incredible way to get thousands of downloads and reviews in one swoop. This doesn’t have to be the traditional Groupon model either, I’m talking about your local shops and friends that have the 800 person email lists to targeted demographics. By creating an incentive for the list owner to feature your app or at least put a blurb about it will get you a big spike in downloads and interest. Beyond the injection of PR, you’ll also see a long tail effect of email marketing on your downloads. Here’s a snapshot of one of my last email newsletters:
Email Marketing Long Tail
Notice the spike on the left (send date) then notice that the amount of times this email was forwarded and opened again nearly doubled the list size. When you are doing your projections for target list sizes keep this in mind – a thousand people can easily turn into 2,000.

Sponsored Email Lists

If you want to skip the handshaking and personal touch of partnership marketing, you can keep it clean by buying real estate in a list. Look at companies like Daily Candy as an example of this. These can be huge lists and proven metrics (typically in a sales deck) but have a price tag that make it hard to justify the ROI. Different companies will offer different terms – many mandate a discount and others just want your product to be worth while. If you don’t know where to start, hire someone to find you a set of potential lists you could partner with.

Social Media for App Marketing

social media outletsThe gorilla in the room and I’m talking about it last. Funny how that works, but there is a good reason.
Social media has become the obvious foot in the door when it comes to leveraging yourself in the app world is through social networking. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, StumbleUpon – you name it – are seemingly low-hanging fruit to jump start your endeavors. My response to that is that you can gain traction using social media by leveraging niche markets and creating easy sharing capabilities.

Social media is very similar to blogs in that you have the choice of starting your own campaigns or riding someone else’s. It’s a phenomenal tool to get things going and is becoming a staple for any brand and marketing effort. But the key here is the “effort” in Marketing Effort. Are you going to tweet every few hours about your app? Post on Facebook? More importantly, will it be quality?

Cooperate With Established Social Media

My point here is that social media is best used when you partner with a powerhouse – cooperative marketing will help you more than trying to move the world yourself. Reach out to people and companies much the same way you do with bloggers and ask for similar trades – free app downloads for a post on Facebook to their 20,000 fans, etc. You’ll be amazed at how open social media managers are to this – it’s good content, it’s taken care of, and it fills their quota for coming up with new things each day.

Outsource Your Marketing Strategy

Call it outsourcing, sub-contracting, off-shoring, whatever – it’s hiring someone else to do something that you can’t afford to spend time doing. The more menial the task, the more urgent it is to outsource. You can extend your ability to leverage by enormous amounts with this strategy – hiring teams of people to take care of all your work in a fraction of the time and for a reasonable cost. Here is exactly how you outsource your marketing strategy:

  1. Create an account on one of the top outsourcing sites (,, etc) and get used to the interface. Read through the sample job listings and create one of your own. You will quickly see how much is possible…and it’s all done while you’re sleeping.
  2. Create a job posting that gets you a list of bloggers and their contact info. Set up a job posting that outlines your goals and your deliverables, including who you want to reach and what you want the hired work to deliver you (usually a spreadsheet with URL, email, name, etc). Once you get this, you can either run it through a Constant Contact account or just start firing off emails to these people with a boiler plate template (which, incidentally, you can outsource as well.)
  3. Create a job posting that gets you a list of app review sites on the web. Have them list out all relevant information, including free vs paid, benefits, etc. You can even turn around and give them all the information necessary to go through the list and submit the applications (no pun intended) for you.
  4. Create a job posting that builds and maintains your Twitter, Facebook, and other channels. Custom designed and well maintained accounts are a must and are in demand. You’ll find hundreds of firms that can design all your social media pages and even generate content and get you fans/followers. You can also integrate any of the above logic to create a plan to target small businesses that you can reach out to.

The biggest hurdle here is going to be budget – this is my biggest beef with Tim Ferriss and the Four Hour Work Week. He talks about all these fantastic ideas with outsourcing but doesn’t give a real cost involved. For all the work in the above 4 steps, you’ll need $2,000-$3,000 for it to be done right – most of which comes down to the social media. The research will be cheap, but it will probably not be done perfectly the first time. At the same time, if you tried to do this on your own and value your time and $80/hr or even $50/hr, you’re looking at a $12,000 investment. The numbers still make sense. Bottom line, marketing costs money and this is the cheapest way to do it.
Similarly, if you are willing to drop $15,000-$50,000 on an app to be developed, you better have some money saved up to get an organic marketing strategy like this up and running.

Larger Budget Strategies

Everything above hinges on the idea that you are an individual and are not working with a company or a $250K budget to blow this app out. If you do have a larger budget, here are a few ideas that will make you some money:

  • Create a YouTube campaign around the app that can go viral
  • Target huge email lists that drive users to custom landing pages
  • Leverage your current brand to infuse the app’s social media outlets with fans and followers
  • Have everyone in your company write a review in the app store and submit a blog post about it
  • Hire a PR firm to have articles written about you in publications
  • Targeted advertising campaigns on high traffic websites
  • Experiment with the colossus of television (this still has not been done correctly and is a HUGE opportunity)

The beauty of this sort of marketing strategy is that you can track everything. Every dollar spent is accounted for, no matter what the channel it comes from. Google analytics has a whole new set of tools and metrics that do two things:

  1. Makes this level of marketing highly measured and optimized
  2. Puts a huge smile on the face of data geeks like myself


If you have an app in the store, awesome. But sitting around and waiting for it to turn into something explosive is a losing strategy. If you want to blow up, go make it blow up. Get creative and get real about what it takes to be the best. The internet has created an environment that is less about being super advanced and more about separating the people who take the time and people who don’t. If you are interested, check out my own personal experience (and breakthrough) regarding how to make money with apps by clicking here.

“You’re nobody ’till somebody [downloads] you.” – Notorious B.I.G

I’ve developed relationships with some app people around the country – I’m going to start keeping a list of their info on my posts if anyone is interested in getting some work done.
Hear more on my Facebook Page or Follow me on Twitter.


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