The first step in creating a hit mobile app is creating a great mobile app – but it’s only the first step. The top downloads in the various app stores don’t get there through quality alone, as nice and fair as that would be. Top earners have an average $30,000 marketing budget, according to marketing company App Promo.

Before sticker shock takes hold, be aware that there are ways to promote your app that don’t involve trading cash for downloads. There are two main phases to marketing your app, and the first one starts before you ever release it.

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A great app will have features that users want and need, but it also needs to be findable and compelling enough to download.

1. Make the icon simple and representative. An attractive icon can help people make the emotional decision to try your app ahead of some other app that came up in their search. Take a look at the icons for Zco’s Customer Apps to see examples of attention-grabbing illustrations.

2. Jason Devitt, CEO of Mr. Number, recommends that you “build for search.” That means distilling the functionality of your app down to the few words of its name. How will people look for your app? If you’ll be spending a lot on traditional advertising, you can have a unique name, but if you’ll be relying on app store users stumbling across your app, Devitt says, “give it a literal name.” Describe exactly what the app does. As Healy Jones of Mashable writes, “Survey customers to find out how they’d search for your app.”


Once your app is out in the world, there’s plenty you can do to build awareness, both for free and with an advertising budget.

1. Tim Cascio runs a blog on marketing and published “50 Ways to Promote Your iPhone App” way back in the dark ages of 2009, but his advice applies now to Android and other platforms as well. Among his tips: “Submit to app review sites.” He gives examples, but search for current ones too. App review sites love fresh new material, and you’ll gain links and, hopefully, positive reviews.

2. A column suggests that four-digit spending on ads can make you number one in any app category. That 2010 column might be a bit out of date, but spending money to attract users can be a solid strategy, as long as you’re monetizing those users. Jason Devitt notes, “Say it costs you 50c to acquire a user this way. If the average user spends $2 on virtual widgets in your Widgetville game, you can write a big check to Admob or Millennial Media every month and be sure to come out ahead.”

3. Priya Viswanathan of devotes much of her advice about mobile app marketing to Internet and social media marketing. Build a website with information about your app. Blog about uses for your app. Maintain a presence on Twitter and Facebook so users can ask questions and get help.

4. “Launch big,” Viswanathan writes. Press releases are picked up not just by old-school paper media but online media outlets as well, notes Tim Cascio. Launch parties, whether held online or in a real-world location, give reporters an event to latch onto and write about.

5. Learn how people are using your app by consulting a mobile app analytics program. As Zco’s own marketing director Katie Meurin writes, knowing more about your current customers can tell you what kind of person might be interested in becoming your next customer.

6. Keep updating your app with new functionality. Every major update is an opportunity to market your app all over again. Instagram was already a hit on iPhones when it was ported to Android, and the tech press was all over it.

To make sure your app is downloaded, you need to commit to promoting it. If you own an app, let us know in the comments what you’ve done to get downloads!

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