The Android App Discovery Conundrum

However less-than-pristine the reality is, Apple, through its iTunes store, has created and fostered the image of a highly curated marketplace filled with apps that are pre-screened and have met any number of quality-control standards. Whether they are justified in feeling this way or not, consumers believe that when they download apps from the iTunes store, those apps are safe and virus-free.

But the same cannot be said of the Wild, Wild West that is the Android market, a space that is (barely) self-policing and virtually without restriction. Until late last year, you couldn’t even visit the Android store online — the only way to find and install apps on your Android handset was through that handset itself. And there is still no good way to provide a demo or review version. App developers that want to provide reviewers with working copies have to send them packaged in an email and hope it can be opened and installed.

“Apple created a model that projects exclusivity,” said Todd McMurtrey, marketing coordinator for app developer Amadeus. “Android has more of an underground, open-source vibe. People are more about sharing things freely with less exclusivity.”

Even though there are now better options — Amazon’s Appstore for Android has taken a lot of what is most popular at iTunes and applied it to Android — questions remain: What is the best way to get your Android app noticed? Are there secrets to or best practices for successful marketing Android apps?

“People find apps through one of two ways,” said McMurtrey. “Recommendations or keyword searches.” The company has built apps and mobile websites for Urban Gym, Happy State Bank, Trek and others.

Scott Kveton, CEO of app developer and marketer Urban Airship, said that getting Android apps noticed is challenging. He suggested that marketing efforts should be concentrated. “Set a date and coordinate all of your efforts around a target date,” he said. “If you can get a lot of downloads fast, you can get into the rankings.”

Social recommendations have become very important to the success of apps across platforms. “Following the bloggers in your vertical,” can be helpful, said Kveton although the difficulty of providing review copies in the Android universe can hinder those efforts.

Kveton said that marketers should establish a Twitter account for the app. He suggested that developers “create a conversation” with users, asking for reviews, and feedback.

Kveton said that even after a user has downloaded an app, he or she can become a part of the continuing marketing effort. He says that Urban Airship embeds a push notification in apps that can be triggered, for example, once a user has opened the app five times or reaches level three within a game.

“If they’ve opened it five times, the chances are they like it,” he said. “You can ask them to ‘click here’ to review the app in the Android marketplace.” Push notifications can re-engage users, Kveton said. And “the more users are engaged, the more they talk about it, tweet about it, Facebook about it.”

Ironically, McMurtrey suggests that another good way to market an Android app is to develop the version for the iPhone first and get the app noticed in the iTunes store. “We advise clients to build their apps for iPhone first,” said McMurtrey. “People are willing to pay more. They download more apps per month. There is more opportunity for success and once they have built that success, they can build the Android app.”

“What we haven’t found effective is advertising for apps,” McMurtrey said. “It just doesn’t pay back. Pay per click and display ads, the conversion rates don’t convert enough to make it profitable. You’d be spending $12 for every $10 you sold.”

What makes an app catch fire, especially in the unmoderated Android form? Not surprisingly McMurtrey says that the app itself must be “simple, focused, accessible to a broad audience.”

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