O is for Organic

Build a sustainable user acquisition

Making an app visible in the app stores is the biggest challenge in the app business. There are millions of apps, some of them with large advertising budgets.

As an indie app developer, you probably can’t compete in the app stores by relying on advertising dollars. You need to find a way to grow your user base organically (i.e. without constant action on your part). This is something that needs to be integrated into your strategy before you even start building the app.

Start with your idea and imagine what keywords potential users would search in the stores. Search those keywords and check the results: are there keywords or groups of 2 to 3 keywords with few results? Do the apps you find have few downloads? You can use Sensor Tower to get an estimate of the downloads or just check how many ratings the apps have.

If all the results are filled with many heavily downloaded apps, chances are users searching these keywords will never see your app. You’ll need to plan to acquire users outside the app stores or find a different idea. If you do find combinations of keywords with few or no results, it’s a good sign and you might be able to reach some users organically by using those keywords in your app name, developer name or keywords fields (on iOS) and description (on Android).

Using this strategy, I was able to get about ten free downloads and one paid download a day for very niche apps and about a hundred free downloads a day for TextingStory. Surprisingly, these numbers have always been quite stable. It’s not a lot, but it can get your app started.

Another way to grow your user base organically is by finding them outside the app stores. For example, running or participating in an online community with related interests could help you reach your users. The key here is to find a way to constantly bring in new users.

The great French spoken meditation app Petit Bambou was built on top of an existing wellness Facebook page with about a million users. It’s not an indie app but it speaks to the power communities can have in driving an app’s success. If a community relevant to your app idea exists, it might be a good idea to get in touch with whoever is running it.

You can also reach users by asking to be featured in the app store or by getting press, but these opportunities are one-offs and the effect usually doesn’t last long. These are interesting opportunities but they’re probably not sufficient if you don’t combine them with an organic user acquisition method.

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