Succeeding in the Play Store

One of my favourite things to do is start new side projects. Three years ago, my roommate Adrian and I decided to build a mobile app to keep track of the books we wanted to read. So we put together some designs and started building.

We came up with the name To Read. The plan was to build functional apps for iOS and Android and submit both before the weekend ended. At the expense of a bit of sleep, we made our deadline. Adrian built the iOS app and I wrote and Android app.

To Read – Reading List

Three years has passed since then and I’ve learned a lot. This wasn’t the first Android app I’d built but it was the first to be geared towards the global market. The other apps I’d made had either been local-specific or small one-off experiments with no real attempt to grow a user base.

I wanted to get a lot of users on To Read so I spent a lot of time trying different things to see if they worked. I’m going to talk about a few of the main things I tried, but there are quite a few that won’t make it in to this post. If you’re curious, I’m always up for chatting. You can find my contact info somewhere on this page. Anyway, here’s what I did.

1. Description and Screenshots

This is key. Every app is required to have a description and screenshots, and for good reason. I don’t actually have any data on how well this works since it was the first thing I did, but I do know how much I appreciate quality screenshots when looking for new apps to try.

Don’t hesitate on this one, just do it. Also be sure to upload screenshots for all device sizes you support because, depending on what device is viewing the Play Store, different screenshots will be shown to based on the characteristics of the device.

2. Social Media

I don’t have much to say here. I put up a Google Plus page but never really had enough time to engage with community and build an audience. This is the something I would like to do if I had the time to spend on it.

3. Advertising

After the first month of waiting, To Read wasn’t gaining any traction. I was determined to get users, but I didn’t have much spare time to spend on doing something creative – so I tried throwing money at it. I put up some adds on AdMob and my bank account balance started going down.

AdMob didn’t bring in a lot of users. About fifty per day at most. I couldn’t even really notice a bump from advertising in the active users graph. It also turned out that the users that came in through advertising were not very active. I had implemented some behavior tracking using Flurry, which turned out to be super useful for monitoring user activity. It helped me and noticed that the users that came from ads basically didn’t even use the app. So, after spending about $200, I moved on.

3. Waiting

One of the strang things I noticed after submitting To Read to Google Play was how long it took before it started appearing in search results. I expected my wait time to be measure in days. However, this was not the case. I kept waiting…

I expected To Read’s invisibility in search to have an impact on install numbers. I wasn’t doing any marketing so the only way to get users organically was through Google Play search. The worst part about it was that I had no control.

I kept waiting, and eventually gave up. A few months later I took another shot at advertising, spending another few hundred dollars. Nothing.

All development on To Read had stopped for almost a year. I checked the stats once in a while but nothing really changed. Last November, however, brought a bit of surprise. Numbers suddenly started going up.

They kept going up. Exponentially. What the fuck!? Two weeks later and they were still increasing. I had to find out why. I forget how I came across it, but I searched for reading list on Google Play and found To Read at the top.

To Read – Reading List

It’s still there today. I was happy. Below shows the install graph for To Read. The graph was much more impressive at the time. When looking at the graph around February 2014 it created the ideal hockey stick shape that everyone dreams of.

I still don’t know how or why it happened, but I’m very curious. Why did it take so long to become searchable? Does it always take that long? Were the key words too generic? I’ll never know.

Closing Thoughts

The main thing I learned from this experience was that the mobile app world mostly luck. Sure, there are things you can do to increase your odds, but in the end it all comes down to luck.

You probably noticed installs have started to trail off lately. Again, I have no idea why. Nothing has changed that I’ve noticed. I plan on doing a few more updates but as I said before, I’m pretty busy. Maybe I’ll get lucky again and have another growth spurt.

Thanks for reading.

android experience