Lessons in App Store Optimization: How We Launched Hubstaff’s Mobile Apps

Lessons in App Store Optimization: How We Launched Hubstaff's Mobile Apps

Everything we create at Hubstaff is driven by one goal: to make it easier for our customers to manage their businesses from wherever they are.

Мany of our customers’ teams are distributed around the world, and a fair share of our users work on-the-go. Because of this, we wanted to make it easy for people to track their time, log their hours, and automate payroll, all on the move: so we created a suite of mobile apps to empower our customers to do just that.

But as you’ll be aware, launching a successful app on iOS and Android is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to do, as the stores become crowded with millions of apps available to download.

The launch of any good app needs a solid marketing framework, and in the spirit of transparency, we’re going to share our strategy for app store optimization with you.

Optimizing for app stores is quickly becoming one of the most wanted marketing skills Click To Tweet

Laying the Foundation for a Successful App Launch

We launched our iOS app at the end of September 2015, and we followed this with the launch of our Android app in the second week of January 2016.

To make our launches as successful as possible, the first move we made was to grab the lowest hanging fruit. We did this by making sure that we leveraged our existing audience to drive traffic to the app stores and launch with a spike of downloads.

To do this we:

  • Added app store icons in the footer of our website
  • Added app store URLs in the form of call-to-action buttons and plain text links in relevant places in our blog posts and web pages
  • Included the app store icons in our product’s interface

This helped to lay a solid foundation for downloads and helped to introduce our existing (and warm) audience to the idea of Hubstaff mobile apps.

App Store Optimization for Search Discovery

Keyword Research

Because there are so many apps that offer time-tracking features in both app stores, it’s nearly impossible for us to rank highly for generic keywords like ‘time tracking’ or ‘time tracker’.

Ranking highly for these search terms is also made especially difficult for us as we are new entrants to the stores.

To get around this ranking problem, we needed to identify various keywords that were being searched for in the app stores and use that research to come up with relevant keywords that are less competitive, but that still relate to our apps’ features.

To do this, we used Mobile Action, a tool that helps marketers draw insights from app store data and help inform the app store optimization process. We’re using Mobile Action’s free version right now, which is helpful for getting things started.

Mobile Action provides competitive intelligence and keyword suggestions based on your app and your competitor’s app. You can also get related keyword suggestions based on a primary keyword you use.

These features are really useful and help to inform a lot of the keyword research we do.

For example:

If we wanted to find keywords that were related to the primary keyword ‘time tracking’, Mobile Action would generate a host of keywords that were relevant to the primary keyword.

App Store Keyword Research

Similarly, if you wanted to look up your competitors’ apps, Mobile Action will list out the keywords related to them. Below you can see some keyword research we did for Hours Time Tracking:

App Store Competitor Keywords

As well as generating keyword data, Mobile Action also suggests ‘recommended actions’ that you take to improve your app’s growth. These can be helpful if you need a bit of inspiration, or just want to check that you are covering all the bases with your campaign.

To monitor and analyze our apps’ performance, we used the iTunes Connect app for iOS and Google Play’s Developer Console app for Android.

These apps let you monitor your app’s rankings for individual keywords so you know what the chances of you getting in the Top 10 results are. Below are the following keywords that we’re currently ranking for:

App Store Keyword Rankings

Referral Tracking

These apps also let you see where your downloads are coming from through the use of URL parameters. Like any web marketing campaign, being able to see where your traffic is coming from (and where to focus your efforts) is absolutely essential.

To do this:

On iOS, log into your iTunes Connect account, navigate to your App’s Analytics section, and look for the ‘Generate Campaign’ link under the Sources > Top Campaigns tab.

hubstaff-itunes-connect

On Android, just use the Google Play URL builder.

App Title, Description, and Images

When you’re coming up with the title and description for your app, it’s incredibly important to use the keywords that you’ve identified in your research. Failing to do this will result if poor rankings and reduced downloads.

But while you need to optimize your title and description for search, your primary goal should be creating a title and description that attracts users, rather than algorithms. Having a keyword-optimized title that says nothing to your users might rank well, but won’t catch anyone’s attention.

To make your title and description attractive, make it relevant, and try to solve the problems that your potential users have.

Key Tips for iOS

  • Title: the character limit for titles on the App Store is 255. For our title, we made sure to have the following keywords: ‘time tracking’, ‘GPS’, and ‘payroll’. These keywords are important for helping the app to rank, but they are also core features of the app itself.
  • Keyword Spot: Apple gives you 100 characters to define the keywords that are relevant to your app. We used this space to map out keywords related to our app’s features. This has the benefit of helping us to rank for combination keywords in search queries.
  • Images: App Store images are incredibly important. We used the opportunity to have multiple images to showcase mockups of our app in use, along with added information about each of our features. The images should be used to catch a user’s attention and entice them to download the app.

We’re going to further optimize our app title and description with our next update. As with any other campaign, it’s important to constantly iterate and improve.

hs-app-store

Take a look at our app store page.

Note: Unlike Google Play Store, you can’t update your app’s title or description whenever you like. They can only be changed when you push a newer version of your app to the App Store.

Key Tips for Android

  • Title: the character limit for the app title in the Android App Store is just 30. We filled this space with our primary keywords: Time Tracking & GPS, and left out the keyword ‘payroll’.
  • Short Description: You can have up to 80 characters for a short description explaining what your app does. We added feature-related keywords here: ‘time tracking with GPS’, ‘Employee Timesheets’, and ‘Payroll’.

hs-play-store

Take a look at our Google Play Store page

Utilizing SEO for App Discovery

As well as creating landing pages on our main website that are specific to the iOS and Android apps, we created different content topics that cover users’ search intent.

SEO for App Discovery

To discover what keywords to target, we conducted research into the keywords and topics that users are looking for using Google Keyword Planner, Uber Suggest, Google Trends, keywordtool.io, BuzzSumo, and Google Search.

As our app has a GPS location tracking feature, we also wanted to target potential customers from different industries who could benefit from this feature. For one of our industry posts, we ran an outreach campaign and spoke to cleaning business experts. We then used the insights gained to make a roundup post on ‘How to Manage a Cleaning Business’.

We also created infographics to provide information about the benefits of GPS location tracking and the ways it can be applied to various industries.

With all of the content we create, we aim to serve our target audience by providing them with useful information that can help them in their buying journey. We also try to produce content in a range of formats, so that we have content that’s attractive to everyone.

The added benefit of creating written and visual content is that we have a range of marketing material that’s perfect for all distribution channels.

Boosting App Downloads with Directories, Forums, and Listings

As part of our marketing strategy, we wanted to reach out to users who are involved in the discussions that are happening around the topics and problems our app is solving.

Even though this approach isn’t scalable, it is essential in the beginning as it establishes us as an authority in this space, and helps us to reach targeted communities, and seed our app within a relevant context. All of these things will help in the long run, and the value they create in the long-term is far greater than the upfront expenditure.

To do this properly, we created a comprehensive strategy that involved multiple channels.

Quora and Reddit

We searched for questions on Quora and Reddit that are relevant to our app. One of those was ‘What are the Best iPhone Apps for Tracking Working Hours?’.

Once we found these questions, we would carefully insert ourselves into the discussion and provide value to readers, while at the same time linking to our app.

Quora and Reddit are both tight-knit communities that are incredibly sensitive to blatant self-promotion, so it’s really important to make sure that the answers you give provide value first and foremost.

When we added links to our app, we made sure that we set them up properly so that we could track referral traffic and downloads to measure effectiveness.

Directories and Forums

There are a ton of directories and forums that are dedicated to iOS and Android. These sites are usually places where you can submit your apps to be listed in the directory, or where you can take part in discussions that are happening around different topics.

Similar to Quora and Reddit, these sites usually have close communities, and can be hostile to newcomers (especially ones promoting their own products), so make sure to go over and above in providing value.

Here’s a list of iOS app review sites.

And here’s a list of Android review sites.

We also listed our apps in reputed app directories like G2Crowd, GetApp, and Capterra.

Where We’re At Right Now

Since the launch of our iOS app last September, the app has been downloaded 3,049 times.

Hubstaff App Downloads

The majority of the app’s downloads came from the USA, which is where most of our customer base is situated.

Hubstaff App Territory Downloads

The monthly active users (MAU) stands at around 874.

Our Android app has had 840 installs in total since the launch in January. 570 of these downloads are still installed.

Hubstaff Android App Installs

Around 40% of the app’s downloads came from the USA, which makes sense.

The total number of monthly active users (MAU) for the app is around 524.

Going Forward

We have a redesign of our app in the pipeline. Once that’s rolled out, we’ll start collecting genuine reviews/guest posts for our app from known bloggers and app reviewers by reaching out to them.

We have not spent any budget on paid app installs (where you advertise your app on platforms like Facebook or Twitter and where the advert features an ‘install’ button to encourage downloads) as of now, but we’re definitely going to try this out once we have the redesigned version in both of the app stores.

Retention is the key to growing any app or product, and we’re testing a new onboarding process to help increase our retention rate.

We’re also looking to collect user feedback so that we can continue to iterate and improve on our app going forward.

As I mentioned earlier, the process of creating, launching, and marketing apps is like any other campaign: it requires constant iteration and refinement. We’ve already learned a lot based on the things we’ve done so far, and we’re going to take this with us as we continue to refine and progress.

Have you launched or grown an iOS or Android app? Share your experiences with us in the comments.