9 App Best Practices for a Successful iPhone or Android App

By John Koetsier December 8, 2020

We talk to dozens of mobile app brand leaders every week. Everyone — literally everyone — has questions about what sorts of best practices they should follow to ensure the success of an app. Or, they’re wondering what’s new and exciting: a good opportunity to differentiate themselves.

There are two pieces of good news here:

  1. Even the experts are always still learning
  2. Successful mobile apps do share a number of app best practices

So the goal here? Discuss some of the most important ones.

But let’s be realistic. The bad news is that the competitive environment for Android and iPhone apps is intensely challenging. Recent data show that there are about two million paid and free apps available in the iOS App Store. And there are now over three million apps on Google Play. So the whole world doesn’t jump up and down in excitement just because another new app is launched.

(Yep, even if it’s yours.)

Look, I’m not pointing that out to discourage you from launching your app – far from it. Rather, I’m bringing it up because any company that wants to be successful in the app arena needs to recognize that it takes real, sustained commitment. That commitment needs to extend from initial concepting to ongoing support and feature development. Launching your app might feel like the end of a long process of ideation and development and testing, but it’s really just the start of another integrated long journey of marketing and testing and re-development.

Here, then, are a few best practices that help you launch and monetize a successful iPhone or Android app.

1. Decide what success looks like and identify KPIs

Before you begin app development, before you get app developers involved, before you appoint a product manager, you need to determine what constitutes success for you. Don’t get caught up with what the app developer and app publisher Joneses are doing. For applications outside of the game genres, being number one in the app stores is not only unlikely, it’s also probably meaningless from the point of view of driving your business.

Retail apps, for example, are about driving sales, not being at the top of the heap in downloads. Additionally, companion or utility apps have experiential benefits that are not measurable in install counts. You need to define what success means for YOU, and then use that as your app development compass and barometer.

This will significantly impact what KPIs you choose. It will also have a huge influence on how you bring your app to market, who you market it to, and how you measure success in those efforts.

2. Analyze and understand people’s behavior in your app

Unless you know what people are doing in your app, you can’t adapt it to their needs or be agile in the face of shifting trends. Even more foundationally, you won’t know when you’ve succeeded: achieved product/market fit and delivered something that works.

Successful apps are much more likely than average to have mobile app attribution and analytics platforms in place before they launch. They recognize the need to understand consumer behavior, both to see what is working in their apps and well as to identify and improve what isn’t. This information is absolutely critical business intelligence.

Without the ability to see and understand in-app user behavior for your Android and iPhone app, you’ll have to rely on hunches to assess customer satisfaction and define your optimization plan.

And that’s a recipe for disaster.

At Singular, we take measurement to an entirely different level by actually enabling marketers to understand their marketing ROI all the way down to the user level. (For more information on our unified platform and unique approach to marketing analytics, request a demo.)

3. Shine: maximize your unique utility

Millions of apps means that every niche is taken. Or, that your niche needs to be invented, which can be challenging. Either way, you’ve got to demonstrate that you’re better at what you do than existing solutions.

That’s why the best apps do things that people can’t get done in other places. It is not enough to simply offer up another way to make purchases or find a store. While basic tasks may be elements of your overall app experience, you need to look at your app as a way of creating unique value. That value can come in utility, entertainment, convenience, or a host of other areas. But it needs to be there.

Utility and uniqueness matter in large part because even if people have hundreds of apps on their phones, they focus on 10 to 20 that they use regularly. Others just fade away.

With that kind of dynamic, “good enough” just … isn’t. A big part of delivering on this must-have is ensuring you have outstanding app UI and UE. User interface and user experience are simply table stakes: apps that are difficult to use don’t get used. Games with confusing economies don’t make money. Utilities that don’t function well get deleted.

There is no substitute for great mobile app design. It’s that simple.

4. If appropriate, maximize education or entertainment value

Look, maybe you’re designing a new banking app. In that case, just get the work done quickly, accurately, and maybe even enjoyably.

For most other apps, people are using your app because they’re killing time, needing a break, or looking for a few seconds of fun. Phones play a big role in how most of us spend our personal time.

So give people what they’re looking for: fun if that’s where your app and its promise are. Education if that’s what you’re doing. Value is that’s the goal. Publishers who succeed here win longer and deeper engagement and better monetization, providing big opportunities to drive app adoption and usage.

5. It’s a smartphone — a mobile PC — so leverage the tech

Yes, there are millions of apps. Most of them are cookie-cutter me-too apps built by developers who are lazier than you and lack features that people expect today.

Leverage what you can about this mobile PC in a pocket that is a smartphone. Use biometrics like TouchID or FaceID. Work with Google Pay or Apple Pay. Provide AR capabilities and barcode scanners and other technology that is there waiting to be implemented — even via low-code development environments — by developers who are willing to go the extra mile to make their apps simpler, better, more powerful, and easier to use.

It’s hyper-portable: use location features where it makes sense.

It’s got a great camera attached: use photography where it makes sense.

6. Leverage personalization and personalized experiences

Presenting the same message, the same interface, and the same options to different people who want different things and need different data is not just annoying, it’s costly for you in terms of conversion and retention rates.

Consumers expect to be able to customize information and experiences on mobile, especially in purpose-built applications. This raises the bar for you and your development team when it comes to creating a successful app, but it also provides the opportunity to create uniquely personal iPhone and Android app experiences that drive brand engagement and conversion.

This app marketing principle is important in both the experience you provide in your app and in the messages you use to drive people back to your app over time. Leverage insights about in-app user behavior to segment your users and develop targeted marketing programs personalized to these segments.

For example, our Singular Audiences for Facebook offering enables you to define segments of users and export the device advertising IDs (such as Android Advertising ID) of those segments directly into Facebook Ads Manager as Custom Audiences.

After all, driving an install from an app store is only the beginning of the marketing challenge for most mobile applications.

7. Keep it fresh with frequent content and experience updates

Mobile users forget about you easily if you’re not updating and changing and adapting.

Succeeding with an application is definitely NOT a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. You need to constantly freshen-up your content, experience, or interface to give people reasons to keep using your app. In addition, you need to ensure that you incorporate new features and capabilities to keep the utility fresh as well. Apps that adopt a strategy of continuous improvement of their user experience are apps that get better and better for both new and existing users.

8. Get social, but use owned channels too

Social media and social media networks are important ways to spread the word about your app and drive re-engagements/relaunches. Because so much mobile time is spent in social media apps like those for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, integrating your app into social conversations can yield both immediate and prolonged benefits for your business.

But don’t forget about owned channels too. In-app messaging and push notifications can be huge. Email — yes, old-fashioned 30-something email — can be a big piece of user acquisition and engagement/retention programs. Use all the tools at your disposal.

9. Keep supporting your app with marketing

Establishing and sustaining an app costs money. Growing an app costs money.

Unless you’re the new Pokemon Go and hundreds of millions of app installs fall into your lap for free because you managed to hit the mobile trend jackpot, you need significant marketing support to drive installs and re-engagements. Take those sentences seriously. Most mobile app businesses really cannot propel themselves without advertising.

You need to create a real marketing plan that focuses on strategies and tactics to deliver on your KPIs over the long haul.

Remember, your app is competing with millions of apps in each app store, and hundreds that people already have on their Android or iOS phone. Staying top-of-mind and becoming a regular/ubiquitous part of their lives is essential. That doesn’t mean you should pursue those standard tricks and questionable games that some companies rely on to boost their success and show up on the top of the App Store or Google Play. Being on the App Store top 10 is highly unlikely for your app. You need a strategy that doesn’t rely on hitting a top installs list.

Fortunately, top 10 status is unnecessary and in all probability doesn’t help you deliver on your true goals.

So what does matter?

Since many non-game apps are designed to drive sales through in-app purchases, here are a few examples of how targeted mobile app marketing and precision messaging give you amazing tools with which to build your business. The key is effectively managing your data and creating rich and informative user profiles.

Lapsed customers

We all have mobile customers that for whatever reason stop using an app. Often, it’s not driven by dissatisfaction but rather that the Android or iOS app has left their top of mind. By identifying your lapsed customers and being able to send ads, emails and push notifications to them, you can make your app top of mind again.

Cart abandons

Lots of people start the buying process but exit the app before they finish it. Identify these individuals and communicate with them. Use your marketing automation platform so you can encourage them to return and buy.

Brand buyers and loyalists

If you know through past purchases that someone buys a lot of merchandise for a particular brand or in a particular category within your mobile application, you can use push notifications and other marketing tactics to sell them additional brand items, or related items, or capture more share of their category wallet.

In conclusion …

A final thought: it may not be necessary to deliver on all these areas for your app. Certainly, there may be unique circumstances or characteristics that make one or more of these points irrelevant.

But this list of app success factors offers a strong starting point on which to build your success. The most important thing to remember is that like any other worthwhile thing, app marketing success requires strategy, insight, and ongoing dedication to make happen.


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