There are several stages to user acquisition, and if you have an app in the store, you know that the first stage is the hardest. Word of mouth, App Store Optimization, and other techniques are great ways to grow once you have some downloads.
But how do you get those early users? That's what we're going to look at in this guide.
While apps and games are very different, the strategies we'll go over are the same and can apply to both apps and games.
In this guide:
- If You Build it, They Won't Come 😶
- If You Tell Them About it, They Will 📣
- Why 1,000?
- 1,000 Users the "Easy" Way
- 1,000 Users the "Hard" Way
- 1,000 Users the Right Way
- It's All About the Audience
- Going Beyond the First 1,000 Users
- The Tools You Need to Succeed
If You Build it, They Won't Come 😶
You've got a super useful app. A fun game. Everyone's going to love it! Right?
Well... They might, if they try it out.
The App Store has more than 2 million apps available for download. Google Play has 3 million. Yet, in 2021, I still hear developers thinking just getting their app or game into the store is enough to get downloads. 🙈
Great app or not, the stores are just too full to do the selling for you.
The good news—You can do it all on your own. The key is that you have to do it.
Monitor. Optimize. Grow
Get actionable insights in minutes!
If You Tell Them About it, They Will 📣
If the stores are so full how do new apps and games take off? Apps and games that don't have multi-million-dollar ad budgets.
They take off by building momentum.
The more you actively promote your app or game to the right audience, the more likely it is to take off. Sounds pretty straightforward, but without a critical mass, many activities may seem impossible.
That's why it's so important to get those first 1,000 users, then use them to grow beyond.
1,000 users isn't a lot and isn't a little. It's enough to help you spread the word and brag about it if it's brag-worthy, and it's enough to get you noticed by Apple's and Google's search algorithms so you can leverage ASO to add a 0 to that total.
If you're thinking, "how many users can I even get?" it's time to do some competitor intelligence.
1,000 Users the "Easy" Way
A long time ago, someone told me that everything is possible, but I have to decide what I have more of: money or time. That analogy is true for user-acquisition just as much.
The easy way to acquire your first 1,000 users is to advertise inside the store with Apple's Search Ads or Google Ads. That last part is important—The ads have to be in the store and not outside (so, no Facebook ads). I'll explain why below.
The benefits of search ads are:
- They're pretty easy to set up
- They aren't that expensive if you target them correctly
- Setting expectations is pretty easy
- Because they're in the store, you know that most downloads will likely come from relevant users
But they come at a cost:
- You need to spend time finding the right keywords like ASO, but you also have to account for cost
- Targeting is everything, so if you "set it and forget it," you won't see meaningful results and burn through a lot of money
- Not all downloads will be from relevant users, so you need to get more than 1,000 downloads to have 1,000 downloads
Those costs aside, because we're focusing on 1,000 users, they probably won't be too high, which is what makes this "easy" way available to most developers.
A few tips to help you get the most out of your campaign:
- Focus all of your spend on one or a small set of countries.
- Use long-tail keywords that get less visibility but are cheap. Find as many of them as you can.
- Use exact match keywords instead of broad matches. This will ensure you're in control of what you're paying for.
- Don't target competitor names. Unless you have money to burn on branding, this is very likely to not return the kind of results you expect.
- Set targeting rules for your audience's age and gender. Most apps and games aren't for everyone, but even those that are can start small.
This could work with ads outside of the store, but you'll need to spend more to get the same number of users. That has to do with intent. When a user comes to the store, they're ready to get an app or game. When they're browsing Facebook, Instagram, or some other app, they aren't ready. You'll need to be in front of more users to get a download, and when you do, it's less likely to be relevant.
In short, stick to in-store ads to get the most out of your money.
1,000 Users the "Hard" Way
That was the money way. Let's talk about the time way, which is to promote the app or game on your own.
Doing that takes more time, effort, and resilience because it won't be a walk in the park. But many apps and games got their start with elbow-grease. Appfigures is one such service!
The DIY way to promote your app is pretty simple—Find as many places where your target user is and put it in front of them. Unlike ads, when you DIY, you need to do as many things as you can instead of focusing on one, and here are some that are pretty easy to do:
Launch it on ProductHunt - This one's mainly for apps. ProductHunt is a huge community of people who are looking for new things. You can post your app for free for the whole community to see, and as an added benefit, ProductHunt's SEO is strong, so you'll probably get some traffic from Google.
Ask the store to feature it - Millions of potential users visit the App Store and Google Play every day. By having it featured in the store, you'll get exposure to many of those for free.
Answer questions related to it - This one's mainly for apps. Sites like Quora and Stackoverflow are full of questions. Some might be relevant to your industry. Find them by searching for the same keywords that you'd advertise your app in, and answer them. Sign off with a link to your app.
Tell journalists about it - Lots of games get reviewed, and lots of apps get mentioned by journalists every day. Yours can be too, and all you have to do is ask nicely (and persistently).
You can find more information about how to do these and other ways to get downloads here: 13 Free & Easy Ways to Promote Your App or Game
1,000 Users the Right Way
That's a lot of work! It's worth it, but it's still a lot of work.
There is a better way—a mix of everything. Ads are expensive but easy, and DIY promotion is hard but free. What if you do a little bit of both?
The great thing about ads is that you control the budget. Take a budget you can live with for a month and aim at getting a few hundred downloads. Shouldn't be too expensive. Then, pick some of the DIY methods that are most convenient for you and fit into your schedule.
Doing a little bit of both will mean you won't spend too much and won't work too hard, and still get your first batch of users.
How much of each will depend a lot on the type of app or game and how hard it is to find its audience (the DIY method). Remember that you can start small, both ways, and grow your spend and effort as you get more comfortable.
It's All About the Audience
These are all actionable ways that should get results fairly quickly. If they don't, pause and re-evaluate your audience choice.
If you put the app in front of the wrong audience, the downloads won't come, whether you spend money on ads or time promoting it. What's the wrong audience? If you have a business app, you shouldn't promote it to students. If you have a kids game, you shouldn't target it towards non-parents.
If you take the time to do your competitor research, you should know what's the right audience for your app, but if you didn't do that, get ready to experiment.
Going Beyond the First 1,000 Users
Once you reach a critical mass of users, you can start leveraging techniques like App Store Optimization to get even more users.
Start by making sure you use the same keywords we talked about before, and as you gain more downloads, find keywords where your app can fit into the top results (top meaning 5 - 10, not #1). The more downloads you get, the more competitive the keywords you target can be.
Related: All of our ASO guides
As with most of our guides, it's worth reminding that a lot of this is incremental, meaning that the more you do, the more you get. The key is to do.