App findability is a major problem for new app releases. The Holy Grail is to get into the top 25 list on the app store.

Unfortunately, to get into that listing, you need to be downloaded 40,000 times a day! It’s time for a new approach.

Since the arrival of the Apple App Store in 2008 the gold rush has been on. Releasing an app is a license to print money. Angry Birds, Draw Something and Instagram have all made their creators millionaires several times over.

These success stories have driven a gold rush. It is a simple formula: put an app in the App Store and then go home to count your money. The only problem with this plan is that it’s nonsense. If ever there was proof to dispel the myth that making an app equates to making money then this is it. 

Distimo is a mobile apps analytics business that provides App Store market data to developers. It recently published some numbers that highlight the folly behind this kind of ‘Business Plan’.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Apple are the only people who really know the download volume of the App Store. The numbers that were published by Distimo are estimates extrapolated from the number of downloads from a selection of apps.

They also only consider what it takes to enter the top 25 list, not hit the number one spot. Even so, they serve to highlight the mountain that publishers have to climb.

40,000 daily downloads!

Due to the findability problems for new apps entering the App Store the top 25 lists are very important if you are going to be successful. To make matters worse apps need to hit this list very quickly.

The standard download pattern of any app is for a large release spike followed by a cople of weeks of sharp decline unitil it hits a steady download rate which tends to hold firm.

A vast majority of users rely on the top 25 lists for app discovery. If you do not get onto these lists then your dreams of printing money are not going to get started. The numbers are obviously very different for the free and paid lists.

To enter the top 25 paid apps list you need in the region of 3,500 downloads per day. To enter the top 25 of free apps you need in the region of 40,000 downloads, per day!

Number of free downloads needed to hit the top 25 list

When you factor in that there are now over 500,000 different apps in the App Store you start to gain an understanding of the task that is before you.

Many many apps never seen the light of a users home screen. It’s not that the apps are not any good. The main reason that apps do not reach the masses is because nobody knows that they exist. Yes, the market is huge.

After all, there have now been over 25bn individual downloads from the App Store but a majority of these have come from a relatively small collection of apps. Even with a large marketing budget there are a no guarantees and generous portion of luck is still required to hit the app stores heights.

The numbers provided by Distimo do show that there is a big difference in download numbers between the different categories.

As you might expect, games have by far the largest download volume. You will need to hit approximately 25,000 daily downloads to hit the top 25 in the games category while only needing about 7,000 in entertainment.

If you are thinking of a new weather app, because we always need a new weather app, then your target is a measly 500 daily downloads. These insights should clear up, once and for all, that building and publishing an app to generate revenue, in and of itself, does not amount to a business plan.

A mature approach

That’s not to say that apps are not a useful tool to add your business. We are increasingly seeing apps that augment the activity of a business. Apps with clearly thought through business objectives, that add real value to your customers, can prove to be very valuable indeed. 

Business objectives might be things like; attract new customers, increase online customer engagement, reduce the number of support calls that you have to deal with, sell more products, improve employee efficiency, etc. These business objectives are your justification for the app project.

It is, of course, important to be able to measure the success, or otherwise of these objectives. By converting your business objectives to measurable goals you can do just that.

In most cases defining measurable goals is simply an exercise in adding some numbers to your business objectives. i.e. reduce the number of support calls becomes reduce the number of support calls by 25%.

Obviously you can’t just pull these numbers out of the air. Some considerable research needs to go into this exercise. Once you have a firm idea of what numbers you need to achieve you are then in a position to decide if you can justify the potentially extensive development cost of your app and you will be able to see if a return on investment is actually feasible. 

A return on investment

Armed with your business objectives and your measurable goals you will be able set a timeline for your return on investment to be achieved. This information will give you some clear criteria as well as a focus for judging your success.

Make sure that you put mechanisms in place to enable you to measure the things that you need. This might be analytics packages such as Google Analytics or it could be a  specific phone number to call which is only advertised within the app or discount codes that are only made available through the app.

If your app is for enterprise / internal use then measure the time that employees spend on tasks and having the means in place to measure subtle things such as employee satisfaction or frustration levels are very important. Measurable goals are only useful if you have the means by which to measure them. This requires some thought.

By carefully considering what you are tying to achieve for your organisation by developing and publishing an app it is possible to release something that adds real value to both your users and your organisation.

It is time to set aside dreams of striking App Store gold. It’s time to mature in our approach to mobile strategy as a whole.