7 Ways to Have a Top Grossing App – How 4 Apps did it

On November 7, 2011

With almost half a million apps in the App Store, the Gold Rush is officially over. 90% of the revenue made on the app Store is made by 10% of the apps on the App store. What are the secrets of the 10%? They must be doing something right, after all they are not super-heroes.

I set out to interview 4 developers who are in the Top Grossing Apps in their respective categories to find out how they got the Top Grossing badge. Not some feel good, non-actionable tips but stuff you can apply to your app today and see results.

Here they are.

No one cares about you – Give your customers what they want

The business school speak for this is “Identify a market need”. Your app needs to solve a problem your customer has. Not a problem you think they have but a problem they tell you they have. Yes, there are iFart-equivalent apps that make millions, they are the exception.

You should be running a long-lasting business on the app store, not a hobby project. Here is what Ken Case, CEO of OmniGroup (makers of OmniFocus) had to say.

“We believe OmniFocus maintains high rankings because it solves a specific problem that our customers are trying to address – personal productivity. We have put a lot of work into making sure that it meets that need comprehensively” – Ken Case OmniFocus, Top Grossing in the Productivity category

“The largest factor for my success in the App Store is identifying a huge market that existed outside of the mobile platform and bringing it to every iOS device” – Rob Philips, developer of iHunt Sounds and Calls. Top Grossing in the Sports Category

Never Skimp on Quality

Customers downloading your app have come to expect a certain level of quality. It doesn’t matter if your app costs 99c or it is free. This is evident from the higher number of 1-star ratings for free apps.

Issues such as frequent crashes and a bad UI experience will have your customers reaching for the delete button or worse heading over to the App store to leave a bad review. This is made evident by what Doug, one of two developers of Chat Time told me.

“The biggest factors that have contributed to our high ranking is the quality of the app and our responsive customer support which have led to great reviews on the Appstore and excellent customer loyalty. This has led to increased repeat purchases and higher rankings.” – Doug, one of two developers of ChatTime, Top Grossing in the Productivity Category

Smule, makers of I am T-Pain amongst other apps put a spin on it. They deliver quality in terms of magic. I will let Jodi Ropert, CMO at Smule to put it in his own words.

At Smule, we are inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

We take this to heart every day, and first and foremost we attempt to create unique apps that delight users. We take a lot of time on the details – the fit and finish, the overall aesthetic, the core mechanic, and how the app feels. We ask ourselves everyday, ‘is it magical?’

If we do a great job inventing ‘magical’ apps that our customers love, hopefully they’ll keep coming back. And, importantly, they’ll be more likely to tell their friends about it.
– Jodi Ropert, Smule Top Grossing in the Entertainment Category.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

We have all had our fair share of apps with 200 buttons on the interface. This is mostly evident when a developer is trying to bring a desktop app to the mobile screen. It just doesn’t work.

A great app will ideally not need a user guide. Strive to make your app as intuitive as possible and your users will love you for it. Talking to the guys at Outfit 7, makers of Talking Tom Cat, they had this to say.

“We develop apps that are simple, no directions to read, nothing to “figure out”… simply talk and touch. Understanding how people use the phone, quick snips of play time, we also try to appeal to people of all ages playing alone or often times together.” – Outfit 7 – Developers of Talking Tom Cat, Top Grossing in the Entertainment Category

Give your Users An Addiction To Keep Coming Back To

More than a quarter of apps get used only once. If your app is free and is dependent on the user making an in-app purchase, your app is literally dead on arrival (DOA). They simply will not get to the point of making that purchase, which means not revenue for you.

Make sure to include a reason to come back. If your app satisfies a market need, you are implicitly satisfying the “come back” requirement because users will come back to get their fix.

For the Talking Tom Cat developers, it was a character that people could connect with. For the developers of Chat Time, it was offering free or dirt cheap phone-calls to family and friends.

“Most apps are novelty items that people use once and throw away, think about creating something that people will come back to again and again.

For us it was creating lovable characters that people can interact with, our apps transcend cultural barriers and appeal to a wide global audience. Our product goes everywhere our customers go and delivers easy always deliver instant fun.

This is the key, the app needs to deliver something fun immediately.

Finally, try to find a way that using the features of the app not only deliver fun every time but they also serve as a marketing too every time. For us the use of video was the solution to this objective. With the ideas above we’ve been able to build a worldwide network full of loyal users at a quick rate due to these factors. “
– Outfit 7 – Developers of Talking Tom Cat, Top Grossing in the Entertainment Category

“Our revenue model is based on users purchasing: pre-paid calling credits in $9.99, $24.99 or $99.99 increments OR subscribing to an unlimited calling plan for a monthly fee from $4.99 to $14.99. Our revenue is growing at an average of 42% month to month since January 2011 and we hit the Top 10 Grossing Rank in the USA in April of this year in Social Networking and have maintained it ever since. We are typically in the Top 10 Grossing in at least 5 other major countries outside of the USA”
– Doug, one of two developers of ChatTime, Top Grossing in the Productivity Category

Shock and Awe by Over-delivering

The App Store is getting crowded and one way to make your app stand out is to offer so much value, your competition is blown out of the water. A lot of traditional Web apps use this tactic effectively by either offering a 1 year money-back guarantee instead of 30-days or offering features that the competition cannot match.

Here is Rob Phillips again showing how it can be done

“For instance, all other hunting apps before me had really poor quality hunting calls and only offered around 10 to 20 animal calls for $2.99. With iHunt Sounds & Calls, you now get an app with 32 animals, over 500 high quality animal calls, and the ability to create your own custom hunting playlists to generate hunting calls that no animal has ever heard before. No one else in the iTunes Store can match that.”
-Rob Philips, developer of iHunt Sounds and Calls. Top Grossing in the Sports Category

Offer a test drive with In-App purchases

This revenue model has now solved the chicken and egg problem of letting your users try out your app for free and then you have the opportunity to convert them into buyers. App developers are now cashing in by making effective use of this not-so-secret weapon.

A good example of this is Chat Time. They have uniquely positioned their app to make use of this strategy.

“Our revenue model is based on users purchasing, pre-paid calling credits in $9.99, $24.99 or $99.99 increments OR subscribing to an unlimited calling plan for a monthly fee from $4.99 to $14.99.”

“The app is free to download and the first call is free so it’s a try before buy model.
We launched on October of 2010 when the app was a paid download (we got very few downloads) and we made the app free in mid-December which started the growth. So free download with the app being free to try (includes $1 of free calling credit) with the option for users to buy credit after trying it was definitely a key part of the success.”
– Doug, from Chat Time

Keep your users happy and they will reward you for it

If they are happy, they will tell their friends about your app and buy other apps you offer. Period. The best and most effective way to keep your users happy is to offer great support.

You will not succeed by throwing your app on the App store and waiting for the money to roll. Set-it and forget it is not a long term business model with Apps.

“We back up our app with a robust standard of one-on-one technical support via phone and email. Along with prompt software updates that respond both to user feedback and new technology from Apple, we feel we have a winning formula for customer loyalty and satisfaction.”
-Ken Case, CEO Of OmniGroup, makers of OmniFocus

“Customer support with frequent updates has been key to maintaining customer loyalty and earning referrals.”
– Doug, Chat Time

Bonus Tip: Plan Around Events

Yes, I know I promised 7 tips but here is an 8th one as a bonus. The launch of a new device, new features on iOS or any Apple marketing event is an opportunity for new sales. If you implement one of the new features on iOS for example, all of a sudden you have a reason to issue another press release, contact your customers to upgrade and tell their friends etc. The Health and Fitness App used this strategy by preparing the app to feature in Newsstand.

“We had our app ready for a big Apple feature launch – Newsstand was a new icon, given space on the iPhone and iPad homescreen, which is priceless. As a developer, you need to be aware of what Apple is planning, and make sure you’re ready at launch. I think it also helps to have your app be available for both iPhone and iPad, too”
– Dennis Watson, Head of App Development, Health and Fitness App

Will your app be a success?

We have now gone through all the 7 ways to get your app on that coveted Top Grossing list. Success in the App store comes at a price and only developers that see app publishing as a business not a hobby will succeed. This is because the economics of the app store is now mature and is no more the wild-west that is once was where you could throw any app on it and profit.

The good news is these are tips that others have used and had success with. The only thing standing in your way is your ability to take action and implement them also.

+Tope Abayomi is Chief Vault Custodian at App Design Vault where you get great iPhone App Design that will help make your app a Top-seller without hiring expensive designers.