Missed Part 1? Catch up here.
Choosing a name
Genre matters: what kind of app are you building? If it’s a utility app you’re going to want something functional and descriptive. For a game or social app you might tend towards something memorable and quirky.
Why? Well, a utility app sells on the basis of what it does to make the user’s life easier in some way. When you create a game, the originality of the concept is much of what you’re selling.
There are a few possible exceptions. Say you’re building a Tower Defence game… Given that it’s an established genre, you may want to attract attention just by including the description in the name. Even then, though, weigh up the (dis-)advantages of looking like ‘Yet Another x‘.
Case in point? Plants vrs. Zombies. It doesn’t tell you it’s a tower defence style game, but throws a quirky concept at you. Evaluate whether your aim is to sell based on the execution of an established idea or a unique approach and creativity.
Looking again at utility apps, the simply named stock Android Flashlight and FM Radio apps are excellent examples. There’s no point trying to rebrand a flashlight or FM radio. They’re simple, functional utilities with clear, intuitive names. People will automatically go to them when they know that they want a flashlight or FM radio.
A final note: make sure the name doesn’t get truncated! If it’s too long, shorten it. What can you lose whilst still pushing your message? Unfortunately there isn’t a character limit because the font used isn’t fixed width, so prepare for some trial and error.
Create a good icon
Your icon will promote your app in some of the most important marketing spaces available to you: the app store and the home screen.
Far more apps are downloaded directly from Apple’s App Store and Google Play than through any number of other avenues, such as app websites, reviews, PPC ad campaigns, Facebook, etc.
This makes ensuring that your app stands out and represents your brand effectively on the App Store grid and Google Play libraries really important to guaranteeing your app is as successful as it can be.
Your icon has added value in that – if done well – it promotes repeated use of our app. This is particularly true of apps that don’t have obvious utility, such as games and content providers. A great icon can draw the attention necessary to make sure you’re on your user’s mind when they’re looking for a distraction.
Simplicity is King
Overly complex icons lose definition and become unnoticeable on the app store grid. Some key tips can help you keep from saturating your icon with unnecessary details that can make it look messy or non-descript.
Make your design bold. Focus on a basic concept and try to ensure it really jumps out at you. Take the Angry Birds icon as inspiration: it’s original, stands out even at small sizes and really grabs your attention. Like in any branding exercise, choose a colour palette in advance and work out how to use them in a complimentary layout before worrying about the details.
Text can really detract from icons, breaking up striking shapes with unncesssary details that often dilute the overall impact. Some sites advise against use of text entirely; I wouldn’t go that far, it can sometimes work, but bear in mind that if you do use it, it has to be large and a part of the design – not simply pasted over it. A couple of icons that do text well are the BBC News app (which is solely made up of text and a classic BBC red background) and the ESPN app (where the highly recognisable brand name is bold, clear and central to the design).
These great uses of text are to be considered the exception rather than the rule, however. Instead, try to visually represent the concept or functionality of your app. Think of it as an illustrative slogan: it should demonstrate functionality, content or concept at the most basic possible level.
You need three versions of your icon, in the following sizes: 512x512px, 72x72px and 57x57px. The large 512x512px icon is for iTunes, the 72x72px is used by both iPad and Adroid and the 57x57px version is for iPhone.
An obvious first step: begin with the 512x512px version. Your icon will inevitably look terrible on iTunes if you try to scale an iPad/Android or (worse) iPhone icon.
It’s easy to get carried away with your (relatively) gigantic 512x512px canvas, however. The best way to avoid building a great graphic that looks horrific at 57x57px is to periodically save quick iterations at smaller sizes and view it on a mockup of the App Store grid. Ask yourself questions based on what we talked about in terms of simplicity: how does your icon fare in situ? Is it noticeable, or is it one of those apps that sort of fades into the background?
On the note of shrinking your icon, however, be careful about how you go about it. Resizing your icon as a whole in photoshop or similar is great for quickly checking how you’re doing whilst in the design stages, but shouldn’t be used to produce the smaller 72x72px and 57x57px versions.
When you shrink an icon using tools like Photoshop’s transform, you’re going to lose a lot of definition unless you resize each element individually. Ensure that you (or your graphics designer) takes the time to properly resize each element to maintain definition and contrast between elements. A blurry, non-descript icon will rarely attract much attention.
Writing a press release has two main purposes: it takes some of the work out of reporting on the release of your app (which news sites will love, because it makes their lives easier) and allows you to control the initial perception of your app. The aim here is to create awareness amongst your target audience and gain some interest on blogs/news sites.
If you get blogs and news sites talking about your app, you’ll naturally increase awareness with your target audience – but you also want to make sure that it’s the right kind of awareness. Bloggers usually share the interests of their readers, but they may be more technically interested or have greater expertise than their audience. News sites are typically less of a problem, since they are less about personal opinion and more about audience-focused reporting.
So, as well as intriguing bloggers, a good press release will steer them towards helping to sell your app to the intended audience rather than a select few hardcore enthusiasts.
Some other points to consider:
- Timing: when you decide to put out your press release is important. There will be optimum times of the week in terms of blog readership levels. Find out what they are and really push to get your app talked about on those days.
- SEO: just as you want to ensure your website hits the right keywords, make sure your press release shows up prominently in search results. Publishers will love this because it will drive traffic to their sites (making them more likely to publish it) and it will increase the likelihood that your audience will actually find it if they don’t subscribe to the blog it’s posted on.
- Avoid feature lists: the purpose of a press release is to generate some excitement or enthusiasm around your app. Don’t list every feature, focus on what makes your app distinctive when compared with your competitors: what’s unique about what you offer and why should your target audience be excited about that? If it’s something every app does, you can probably skip mentioning it.
- Link to the App Store: don’t just link to your website. Make sure you also provide direct links to the App Store or Google Play. If a press release has been really successful your target audience may just want to go try it out. Don’t force them to jump through the unnecessary hoop of visiting your website first.
I’d also recommend wikiHow’s (more general) article on writing press releases. It doesn’t deal with app-specific stuff, but you’ll get a good idea of how to structure a release, how long it should be, what you should focus on, etc.
Social sharing is important in ensuring that when your app gets on top, it stays there. After launch, the main driving factors in ongoing success are going to be app store positioning and social media. A good ranking will ensure regular, targeted exposure whilst social sharing will give users a regular reason to raise awareness of your app.
If you’ve created a game, for instance, establishing some competition between a user and their Facebook friends by allowing them to share their high scores can really help spread the word (as well as keeping people playing). Think about those apps that track running routes, distances and times: the reason they’re great at promoting exercise is because people are competing with their friends. Don’t ignore the drive of aspiration and competition, even when the carrot people are chasing isn’t ‘real’.
Take some time to think about how best to integrate social sharing into your app. Leaving the option lying around isn’t going to drive users to actually do it: try to integrate sharing that has some clear psychological benefit. Appeal to how people want to present themselves socially. Think about how sharing particular things will make users look to their friends, family and colleagues; do you think that’s how someone will want to present themselves?
Some examples of successful social sharing, based on psychological effect:
- MapMyRUN - competition with friends, aspirational, allows users to demonstrate personal achievement and health
- The Guardian - sharing common interests/political leanings, demonstrating political awareness and intelligence
- IMDb – sharing common interests, can make the user look more cultured, competition (see screenshot)