Hand writing Ethics topic on chalkboard

It happens all too often.

The office phone rings, and on the other end is an app developer with the same story. “I worked with these ‘app marketing experts’ and I have nothing to show for it. They don’t even pick up the phone when I call any more!”

As it becomes harder and harder to succeed in the app space, developers desperate to do anything to promote their apps are all too often fleeced by savvy sales people at agencies that are promising the world and in the end offering very little. As more of these so-called agencies pop up, I feel that as the old guys on the app marketing block it is our obligation to point out some of the red flags and ethical grey areas that we see more and more of our competitors engaging in. With that in mind- here are my tips for spotting a poor quality marketing firm, or one that is simply in it to take your money.

Avoid any agency that has app marketing “packages” listed on their website

Marketing is not one-size-fits-all. You do not market a game in the same way that you market a shopping app or social network. Having a shopping cart of services on your website indicates to me two things – the first is that you have a template of services and you keep trying to do the same thing over and over no matter who the client is, and second that you will take on any client as long as they can pay your fee. Why is that bad? Because the PR side of marketing is built on relationships, and relationships with journalists require a certain level of  quality control. If I pitched Rob LeFebvre at Cult of Mac your Tetris clone… he would laugh in my face, or worst of all for an agency that relies on communication… he would stop paying attention to my emails and miss out on the high quality apps and stories I sent his way.

Beware the ASO “Expert”

This statement may well offend a few people in the app marketing space. Frankly, there are too many people running around the internet calling themselves “ASO Experts”. ASO is nothing like SEO. With SEO there are literally dozens of tweaks and changes that you can adjust and monitor that will affect how your website shows up in search. In iTunes… there are three. (Yes, there are more than three things that determine how your app shows up in search, but there are only three that you as the developer have direct control over). App name, keywords and company name. Other factors like app store reviews and number of downloads you are getting are vastly important – and there are marketing tactics that you can use to help those variables, but most everything you need to know about keywords for app store search you can learn from a couple of hours of research online.

Don’t mistake this for me saying that ASO is not important. It is. Search optimization is a foundational tactic in app marketing that needs to be performed correctly in order for your app to succeed. It will not however, cause your app to succeed. There are tens of thousands of app doing ASO “correctly” – this will only get you onto the playing field. It will not win the game for you.


You get what you pay for

Appency has never been the lowest cost agency out there, and we do not ever plan to be. Our team is made up of professional marketers, the kind with degrees in marketing and years of experience working with apps and brands and have a deep understanding of the variables and tactics that make the difference between success and failure.

The median salary for a publicist in the United States is around $40,000 a year – often more for a marketing generalist that can handle all of the various aspects of marketing for a product. That salary does not take into account all of the overhead that goes into having employees. When you hire an agency, you as essentially hiring a team of people to do the job instead of having to hire that person in house. When you hire Appency, you get access to people with experience in public relations, ASO, social media, advertising, video production, on-boarding tactics, graphic design, and more. You may not get them for 40 hours per week like you would an in-house person, but you are getting access to a team of people that cover a variety of skills you would be hard pressed to find in a single individual.

On top of that, good agencies have access to some expensive tools that it would not make sense for you as a developer to have to purchase on your own because an agency can spread the cost of those tools out over a number of clients. Media contact databases, social media management tools, data extraction tools and more all cost a pretty penny.

All this to say that someone charging you $1,000 a month to solve your app marketing needs is most likely not putting in the time or effort to your account that they need to be, or they are simply ripping you off knowing that you have very little recourse to come after them when they fail and throw up their hands with a “well, we tried”.

App review websites will not make your app successful

In the early days of the app store, there were literally hundreds of app review websites, and interest in this new app world was high enough that these sites received enough traffic to keep them alive with ad dollars. That world is gone.

Over the years, we have watched the majority of these sites fail, to the point where there are less than 10 sites that focus solely on reviewing apps (caveat – not counting gaming sites), that have enough traffic to drive any decent amount of downloads. Not to say that many of those low traffic sites are not still running – many of them now work on a pay-to-play model, happy to take your money to post a review on their site that no one will ever see.

Before paying for a review – do your research. Ask for a sites Google Analytics report. Check their Alexa ranking. Look at other reviews the site has done and see how much conversation is being generated on each article. Look up the last few apps they reviewed in AppAnnie and see how that app is doing. See if the app reviews are praising apps that do not deserve praise. All of this will give you a better picture of if the cost the site is asking is worth it.

The lie of “guaranteed” coverage

Which brings us to the lie of guaranteed coverage. Ethical journalism cannot be bought, and sites that have high quality, high volume traffic do not tend to sell coverage. When someone guarantees you coverage, they are generally saying “if we do not get coverage, we will buy cheap reviews on sites that get no traffic to cover our obligation and not have to give you back your money”. Not to say that all guarantees of coverage do this. Some agencies may be so confidant in their relationships that they will put themselves on the line, but before you fall for the guarantee trap – get an idea of what size of site they are guaranteeing you. To be fair – Appency does offer guaranteed coverage, but only for a very specific type of PR outreach called survey focused PR, and when we guarantee it, we are guaranteeing coverage on a major (top 20 online traffic) site like AOL, MSN, Huffington Post, etc.

Cheap downloads do not create loyal app users

This goes back a bit to the “you get what you pay for” point. I spent some time talking on the phone the other day to a marketer for a brand who was very interested in our expertise and full service approach to app marketing. As we got to advertising – he asked me that dreaded question. “How much will I pay for installs?”.

First of all… let me say this. Unless you are attempting burst marketing, DOWNLOADS DO NOT MATTER. They don’t. Stop thinking about downloads as the end goal.  The end goal of app marketing is USERS. The most successful app business models (freemium and ad driven apps) will not generate any revenue from downloads unless the downloads actually start using your app. Even pay-to-download apps, while they do make money from the download itself, are hurt by poor quality downloads over the long term.

Which brings me back to the question of “How much will I pay for installs”.

My general answer to that question is to start with the industry average cost of Facebook driven installs in the United States, which means the answer is $2-$4 per install. I use Facebook as my point of reference because it has high quality traffic and good targeting options at a cost that tends to be lower that other well targeted ads like Google AdWords for mobile.

I follow up the $2-$4 with the caveat that at the beginning of an ad campaign, costs tend to range on the higher side and start to go down as targets are narrowed down by the data that we receive and Facebook works on its own optimization. I even mention that its possible to go under the $2, but that is mostly for broad stroke apps like games with a very wide audience that does not need a ton of targeting.

These are facts. This is the cost of a decent quality download.

“Well…. so and so told me that they could get me download for a dollar”.

In the end… this person will not receive a proposal from me. It is a battle of lies that I do not want to get into, and a high quality app marketing proposal and plan takes a decent amount of time from the person writing the proposal that I do not want to waste on a client who has made it clear that all that matters to them is the lowest cost per install.

Cheap downloads are available, but in the vast majority of cases, the quality of the download you will get for the dollar range are so poor that none of those downloads will turn into users, and you have just spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on a lie.

This may piss a few people off

I will be the first to say that there is an exception to every rule. There are going to be a couple of agencies that use the “package A, package B, package C” on their website that are trying to do the right thing. There are paid app reviews that are on the higher quality side (especially in the world of Mommy Bloggers). There are people who do ASO that are worth what they are asking you to pay them assuming you simply don’t want to take the time to do it yourself, and there are low cost downloads that can be found on occasion. What we ask is that you as a app developer do your research before you spend a single penny on app marketing. Ask the questions. Know the red flags to look for and when you finally make your decision, do it knowing that you are informed.






No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment