Five Solutions for Common App Development Challenges
|Stefano Sassu in Programming Friday, June 6, 2014|
Mobile use among consumers is growing exponentially. Hardware and operating systems aside, new applications are hitting the market every day for everything from commerce and gaming, to utilities and health and fitness.
The playing field is wide open for developers of all shapes and sizes, but with it, comes steep competition and common pitfalls that can mean the difference between a huge hit or a flop. The pitfalls are particularly challenging, as they often occur during the actual app development process itself, and are typically discovered too late to correct. Additionally, app development problems can vary depending on the mobile platform at hand, and often include monetary restrictions, timing limitations and lack of support.
Here are five common problems that app developers face, along with solutions to avoid and/or overcome them.
Prioritizing UX and UI First
The golden rule of app development is: user experience comes first. Developers often build apps without any input from end users, whether it is feedback on what users need, how they prefer to navigate or when/where they prefer to see information presented. This lack of end user input often happens because budgets are restricted, resources are tight and time is limited, so consumer testing is neglected.
However, since consumer adoption is the key indicator of success, app developers should first perform thorough research to determine who they want to target, what this audience is expecting and what their preferences are. This can be achieved by studying the competition and speaking on an informal basis with small groups of your target audience, whether they are family, friends or co-workers. Developers can then build the app with these expectations in mind. User testing is an important step because developers often think differently than consumers. For example, what may be intuitive to a developer may be completely foreign or a hindrance to the user.
Similarly, when thinking of a monetization strategy such as advertising, developers must also cater to user experience first. When deciding where to place ads in the mobile app, developers must consider components such as screen size, screen orientation and ad relevance. The goal should be to place relevant ads in areas that are less intrusive to the overall user-experience, yet noticeable and enticing enough to engage the user. It is always a good idea to experiment with different ad types to see what works best with the app and audience. Once the right balance is achieved, the app’s chance of success increases.
Meager Adoption and Lack of Downloads
The app store is a crowded place and competition for users is fierce. From the start, app developers must have a sound business plan and marketing strategy to survive. Marketing plans vary depending on the size of budget, staff availability, “stickiness” of the app, launch logistics and other factors.
While these factors all play a role in the success of an app, and it may seem that independent developers are at an inherent disadvantage, there are a few initiatives all developers can take to push for high adoption rates.
Start with app store optimization: This includes creating a descriptive name for the app and a corresponding description that will match the user’s search terms. For example, a sports score-monitoring app might have a better chance of being located if “sports” and “score” are in the title and in the description. By understanding key terms that users search for, and using them, the developer can then increase the chances of the app being found.
Visuals are important: Users want to understand what the app does in writing but also want to see the user interface to make sure it is in line with their expectations. When uploading the app to the app store, be sure to include several screenshots of key functionality points in the app.
List in multiple app stores: Based on the targeted user group, it could be beneficial to list the app in multiple app stores at once to maximize your exposure. This strategy can be useful as user adoption can vary by network, app stores may offer unique promotions, and some app stores may have fewer apps directly competing with yours, making it easier for users to find your app.
Broaden the range of the app: If a developer has the necessary resources, it is worth exploring whether the app will perform well in different markets, including international markets. Just remember that when expanding distribution, it is imperative to customize each app to the local language.
Create a webpage: A webpage gives the app authenticity and provides a “home base” for users to find information. Website SEO can also help with promotion of the app. Developers should make sure that this webpage is optimized for both desktop and mobile use.
Engage on social media: Social media channels are a must-have promotional tool. A social media strategy can be more cost-effective than a traditional PR or marketing campaign, and will enable the company to achieve broad awareness and engagement among users.
Other low cost methods of promotion include exchanging inventory and cross-promotion of apps with other developers as a way to build a mutually beneficial relationship, especially if the apps complement each other. If the developer has a larger budget, a public relations program can also be a valuable asset because it can help promote the app in magazines, websites and blogs that have a broader reach to target audiences. App developers can also purchase advertising from ad networks to put their applications directly in front of users.
Transparent Privacy Policies and Codes of Conduct
Privacy matters are a top concern for consumers. As a result, app developers must understand how their apps are tracking information – from personally identifiable information to daily user activity, download history and more. This can be challenging because app developers must often partner with third party platforms and services that have their own privacy policies. Developers must take the time to read and understand how these third parties are collecting and using information.
Additionally, in the current app ecosystem, different mobile ad networks operate on different parameters. Android operates on an open source platform, which allows flexibility and experimentation. This has enabled both developers and ad networks to come up with inventive ways of delivering marketing messages, including ads in push notifications, device browser resets and icon drops. As a best practice, if changes or installations are made to a user’s phone, make sure all changes and updates are accepted before implementing on the device. In general, the opt-in method will resonate better with users.
Low Ad Click-Rates and Conversions
The type of advertisements for a specific app will depend on the audience, the focus of the app content and the desired user flow. Since there are so many options available, it is often challenging for app developers to get the optimal advertising format correct from launch, and even as an app evolves.
To overcome this challenge, it’s important for developers to experiment and try different methods to see which will resonate best with its users. For example, apps that are heavy in content, such as a news app may benefit from using native, in-stream advertising where the ads are cohesive with the page content. Since the ads are less interruptive to the overall experience, users may be more inclined to click and take action.
On the other hand, a game app, where the user is highly engaged, might best benefit from an exit screen or interstitial ad that appears between game levels. This way, game play isn’t interrupted and the user can focus their full attention on the ad when it is presented to him or her.
It is also important to know your audience to target ads towards their specific preferences. For example, males using a sports app would most likely be more receptive to a shaving cream ad than to an ad for household products or childcare items, which would more likely resonate better with a different targeted demographic.
That said, there is no guarantee of 100 percent ad match 100 percent of the time, so it’s important to experiment with different types of ads and ad networks to ensure a successful advertising program.
Massive Growth Leading to Buy-Out or IPO
It is often every app developer’s dream to go “viral;” however, there are challenges with growing too quickly. The main challenge of “going viral” is to build and sustain an extremely large user-base in a short period of time. Other challenges include poor app infrastructure, inability to support high volumes of users, and limitations with troubleshooting or customer support. There have been countless success stories and failed attempts from which best practices on approaching rapid growth have emerged.
Zynga, producer of the wildly popular “Words with Friends” and “Farmville” games, launched its IPO back in 2011. Currently, the stock is performing less than favorably due to its drop-off in active user base during the IPO process. On the contrary, King Digital, producer behind the equally popular “Candy Crush,” was able to maintain its user base and share profitability during and post-IPO.
Zynga’s pitfalls during the IPO process are lessons learned for all developers. The company lacked sound leadership at its onset and prioritized games for Facebook over mobile as a business strategy. Later, the rise in mobile adoption and a controversial Facebook IPO both took a toll on Zynga’s share price, as investors were hesitant about Facebook’s advertising monetization strategy. Zynga is currently trying to revamp its games for mobile, but is already trailing behind the competition.
King Digital’s strategy was different than Zynga’s, primarily because King Digital was profitable before it went public, meaning that its current revenue model and user engagement methods were already working. King Digital implemented a freeminum model on its apps so users did not receive advertisements, but were encouraged to make in-app purchases. To achieve enough revenue from in-app purchases, King Digital needed a massive user base. They also set up Candy Crush so users had options every time they failed to complete a level: they either had to wait a period of time before playing again or make an in-app purchase to continue. Finding the optimum amount of time for a user to wait without losing them permanently is an imperative step.
To build a strong mobile audience, King Digital heavily advertised Candy Crush on several mobile ad networks as well as through traditional print and television channels. The company was able to keep the cost per acquired user under the revenue per user, which showed true understanding of the economics of its game and lifetime value of its customers. In addition, the Facebook version of the game and the subsequent social aspect of Candy Crush contributed to its popularity and likely its overall success.
Application development in today’s mobile world is no easy feat. In an increasingly saturated marketplace, developers commonly face issues with user experience, lack of downloads, ethics, low ad engagement and sudden growth. However, those that identify and mitigate these challenges early in the development process will be at a significant advantage against others and will be better positioned for long-term adoption, growth and profitability in the future.
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