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7 Secrets of the Most Downloaded Apps

What do the most downloaded apps have over the rest?

There’s often a lot at stake when you build a new mobile app. You’ve invested a lot of time and money, yet up to two-thirds of apps won’t reach 1000 downloads in their first year and 23% of users will abandon the app after just one use.

All you can really do is make sure you’ve done your homework, identified a core user need your app can resolve, and observe what the top mobile apps are doing that makes them so popular.

Here’s what the the most downloaded apps are doing well, that others often aren’t:

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#1. They know “less is more”

So, you’ve looked around at the apps that are available and have pulled out a list of the features they have which make them top-notch. If you’re now tempted to try and incorporate a laundry list of those features into your app, step away right now.

This is a common mistake when people start coming up with their app requirements and can lead to a couple of major problems:

  • The more feature-rich the app, the more expensive it is to build.
  • There is a point of “too many features.” This will confuse app users or lead to a less than optimum user experience.

When it comes to building an app, the most popular apps out there know to adopt the “less is more” mantra. This means knowing what your key purpose is, which main features users will want to use and ensuring that those features are built well.

Generally, it’s the apps that are actually quite simple that tend to do better, as long as those key functions are looked after well. Keep your end user in mind and aim for a focused approach, designed for their key needs.

The old “80/20” rule tends to be applicable here too. In the case of apps, this means that designers should build for the 80% of users who meet those key functional needs. If you start trying to build for that 20% of outside cases too, you’ll find yourself with a headache of features.

less is more

#2. They hone in on their audience

This quite naturally follows on from the last point; you must understand your target audience and build your app with them in mind. Can you name an app that pleases everyone? Probably not, but you can name several apps which are popular with certain types of people.

The most popular apps have done the research on who it is they are targeting. They create customer personas of “their” people and use them to inform their user experience, features and marketing activities.

Apps that are unclear on who their audience is tend to miss the mark as far as attracting users. Their messaging becomes confusing and it’s difficult for people to see specifically how the app could benefit them.

#3. They focus on incredible UX

Your user experience should be the next priority after determining audience and key features. Why? Because users won’t stick around and tolerate poor UX when there are other options available for them out there.

Some best practices in UX include:

  • Following the design guidelines of the platform you are building for.
  • Keeping content clear and focused on those things which are most important to the user.
  • Simple navigation.
  • Designing for the gestures and touches that people are used to.
  • Designing for interruptions – can people pick up where they left off?
  • Keeping any less-used features in the background. This helps to keep content focused.

The fact is, you can pack your app with great features, but if the UX makes it awkward or fails to meet the core needs of the user, your app will be left out in the cold.

#4. They keep testing and improving

Creating an app isn’t a “set it and forget it” activity. In fact, if you look through app store reviews, a common frustration of app users is that the app hasn’t been updated or bugs are slow to be fixed.

Top apps keep striving to improve the experience of their users by testing, even when it has already been released. You should continue to use analytics, customer feedback and A/B testing to optimize once launched.

This also fits with the idea of an MVP (minimum viable product). The idea is that you release an app with the minimum features which make it useful and appealing to the user, but work to add new features over time.

At the same time, keep up with any tweaks that are needed due to operating system updates and fix bugs as quickly as possible. Remember to also consider new devices as they come out. Devices are released with different screen sizes or new hardware and you will quickly date your app if you’re not working to adapt it.

#5. They provide support

At the very basic level, someone should be available to respond to queries via the app store. For apps with more complexity or perhaps more expectation due to the price the user pays (or expectation due to the company the app represents), it’s good practice to have “support” or “contact” available in the app.

If users have questions they can’t get answered, you will lose them. Provide the support option but also hold yourself to some minimum standards for that support. For example, people should hear back within a certain period of time and they should also be told how quickly to expect a response.

Bots can also be a good choice here. There are several examples of apps which use chatbots to support users as far as possible, but will refer to a human operator if the request goes beyond the basic.

#6. They onboard well

The most popular apps know that the onboarding experience sets the scene for whether or not the user will stay around. They create logical flows and simple instructions so that the user knows exactly what they need to do.

Complicated tutorials will be skipped over, or completely misunderstood anyway so the best apps are as clear and concise as possible. They highlight key benefits and instruct the user on the main features first.

If it is an app that begins with an “empty state” (Slack is an example of this), they will use prompts that suggest to the user what they might like to use first. (Slack uses “Slackbot” to provide some instructions and basic support).

#7. They follow effective marketing plans

Unless you’re one of the lucky few apps which enjoy virality through user sharing, you’ve got work to do to get your app found, a fact known and used by the best apps. Some of the aspects of an effective marketing plan include:

  • Pre-launch activities, such as getting press for your app and inviting beta users.
  • Using analytics to monitor app activity and user preferences, then taking these insights and informing marketing messages with them.
  • Paid advertising in the app store, on social media, in-app ads or with PPC ads.
  • Seeking out influencers to review and endorse the app.
  • Encourage users to review the app and respond to any customer feedback.

There are a lot of great apps which let themselves down by not doing the work on marketing that they should.

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Will you join the popular apps?

The most popular apps tend to have done the foundational work first which ensures their success. They are clear about the key things their app solves and hone in on their target audience.

They keep features, UX, and onboarding simple, update regularly and follow an effective marketing plan. Importantly, it’s about keeping your users at the center of what you do. Create the right experiences for them and you’ll get them to stick with you too. No one wants to be “most downloaded” but have high churn!

Lorena Bernal Data Driven Marketing Manager

Passionate about how technology is changing marketing. She is a yoga addict & Nature lover that loves data with personality.

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