’Tis that time of year again when app developers are in a year-end push to move as many copies of their apps as they can. The holidays, after all, can be incredibly financially lucrative for developers. Tens of millions of people across the world will be opening up brand-new iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches on Christmas day and they’ll be hungry to fill them with apps. So how can you, as a developer, take advantage of this holiday gold rush?
This applies to developers selling on Apple’s App Store. In years past developers could game the App Store Top Charts system by drastically lowering the prices of their apps in the week before Christmas. This would result in higher sales, which would see the apps rise in the Top Charts rankings. What developers would lose in the initial lower prices they charged they would gain in volume sold over the period of the App Store freeze because their apps would be stuck in a high ranking position in the Top Charts for almost a week.
EA was one of the first to use this tactic to great success in 2010. However, as VentureBeat points out, trying to game Apple’s App Store freeze, which is down to about an 8-hour window, is now irrelevant—and could actually hurt you:
Just in case you’re still thinking about trying to time it just right, there’s yet another reason not to gamble. This reason hinges on the difference between the app ranking calculations on the backend and what’s displayed in the App Store.
The freeze is technically only a front-end freeze: the Top Charts visible to users browsing the App Store stop moving. Behind the scenes, though, the algorithms that calculate exactly where each app ranks continue to update throughout the freeze.
The net impact is that pausing app marketing campaigns during the freeze will drop you further behind your competition as the algorithms notice fewer downloads of your app. When the front end is once again updated, your app could suddenly drop—at exactly the time you don’t want it to.
Simply put, many developers still think the freeze will solidify their spot in the Top Charts for as long as it did in the days the App Store was like the Wild West. Now that it no longer does, dropping the price of your app to as low as you can go could cost you a great deal of revenue, which you won’t necessarily make up through volume sales if your app can’t stand on its own in the Top Charts rankings over the holidays.
Forgetting about the App Store freeze? Good. Forgetting about the iTunes Connect shutdown? Bad. Very, very bad. Each year Apple shuts down iTunes Connect for a period of five to six days over Christmas so Apple’s engineers can have some quality time with the family. This means that during that time developers can’t submit new apps, app updates, or make any kind of pricing changes to existing apps.
This year the shutdown runs from Saturday, December 21 to Friday December 27th. This means that you’ll want to be sure you’ve submitted the latest stable release of your apps, polished off the text in your apps’ descriptions, and added the best looking screenshots you can for your apps—all before iTunes Connect goes dark on December 21st.
Last year, I knew a developer who had spent the fall working on a killer version 2.0 of his app. He forgot about the shutdown and was forced to wait almost a week to submit it, missing holiday sales entirely.
3. Treat Your App’s Description As If You Were Handing In A Term Paper Whose Grade Would Decide If You Graduated Or Not
I know plenty of developers who use this period before the shutdown to really look at their app’s listings. This is an excellent thing to do and one that developers should do more often.
So often devs are concerned about code, they forget about clarity of text and how their app’s descriptions actually look on the pages of the iTunes Store on the Mac and PC and in the App Store on the iPhone and iPad.
While many end-users decide to buy an app or game based primarily on screenshots, the icon, and reviews, it’s still important for developers to review the prose of their listings with a fine-tooth comb. Content is, of course, important: Is the description precise? It should tell just enough. No one wants to read a book-length tome of what an app does. Two paragraphs is good. Three is probably the max.
But just as important as the context is the way your description looks to the eye. Keep things tidy and easy to navigate. Bulleted lists are fine, but be consistent. And while it's helpful to add pull quotes from good reviews from major tech sites, place them after the first paragraph of your app’s description. People who are thinking about buying your app between courses of turkey and stuffing want to get to the meat and bones of what your app does. They don’t want to have to read through 30 pull quotes first.
The holidays are the time of year when even the Scroogiest of us are feeling festive. Studies have shown that when you dress a product (no matter if it's a cheeseburger or a lawnmower) up in holiday-themed swag, people are more likely to buy it in the month of December.
For apps, this is very easy to do. Consider changing your app’s icon for a period of time to give it a festive look. This is something game developers do very well. You’ll frequently see holly-trimmed icons for games or even a menacing alien wearing a Santa hat. Does it look silly? Sure. But people are in the holiday spirit and doing something as simple as dressing up your app’s icon shows you went the extra step. Holiday icons aren’t only for games either. Have a productivity app? Consider replacing the pencil in its icon with a candy cane. A travel app? Spice the icon up with Santa’s sleigh. You can do the same thing for your app’s screenshots by adding a simple holiday-themed border around their edges.
These are small, temporary changes that don’t affect the code of the app at all. What is does do is show the end user that you are a real, live person taking the time to put the human touch on your app to make their festive season more bright.
Just because iTunes Connect is shut down the week of Christmas doesn’t mean you can’t use other tools to push your apps. This is where an active presence on Facebook and Twitter come in.
At the holidays many of us will spend quite a lot of time on our mobile devices after we’ve stuffed our faces and spent time with the family. We’ll play games, browse the web, and check Twitter and Facebook—a lot.
If you can spare an hour or so each day over the holiday to bump up your social network presence, do so. Be active on Twitter, offering tips about your app and how to use it. Reply to people who take the time to tweet you asking for help or telling you about a problem. If they tweet something nice, retweet it and publicly thank them.
Besides Twitter, make sure you’ve got a Facebook page dedicated to your app already set up and be active on it. On Facebook you have more room to engage with users because you aren’t limited to 144-character messages. Post cool screenshots from your app or game. Dole out hints throughout the day. Reply personally to anyone who bothers to write something on your timeline.
Engage with your users and they will tell others about your app—I guarantee it.
Technology journalists are always looking for cool apps to tell their readers about. And just because it’s Christmas, things are no different. As a developer, you should try to create and maintain good relationships with tech journalists throughout the year. If you’ve done this, don’t be afraid to contact them over the holidays and tell them about something you’ve done new with your app (Did you add new levels to a game? Did you drop the price for the holidays?) or just ask them if they’d be interested in letting their readers know about it.
A tech journalist might not drop everything and write an article about your app over Christmas, but it doesn’t take any time at all for one to tweet news of your app’s holiday sale price to their followers.
[Image: Flickr user Maria Morri]