Hi – I’m Chris. I do a bit of indie iPhone app development in my spare time. So… i’ve got 10 apps on the app store now – impressive, right? Well, not so much: sales are dismal! In the range of less than 10 per day.

Update: Marketing part 2 is here.

So here we are: I’ve written as much Obj-C as a man could possibly handle – it’s time to try something else. Marketing! I’m going to write a series of blog posts as a ‘tell-all’ as I try a few things to promote a few of my apps. Hopefully the results will give people in a similar situation a hint of what to try, and maybe (probably?) what not to try.

Experiment 1: Landing page + Facebook ads

My first experiment is this: make a website to promote my app, and use Facebook ads to drive people to my site for a week. So here’s what I did:

Designing the site

I planned on making a single-page website which links straight to the App Store. After a bit of reading on hacker news, I came to the conclusion that my landing page needed to include the following:

  • A nice design
  • Social proof (eg reviews)
  • A 30second video
  • Screenshots
  • A nice big call to action
  • Key features under the fold
  • Trustmarks

After looking at lots of apps' websites, I found a couple of designs I liked, and proceeded to imitate my favourite elements from each one until the following site was born: www.servicehistoryapp.com. If you want to use my html/css as a basis to make your own site, you’re welcome! A link back would be appreciated, is all.

Some details: I’m hosting the site through S3’s website hosting, so that my costs are nothing if nobody visits. All I had to pay is $9 for the domain. I’ve put google analytics on the site, so i can track visitors / traffic sources etc.

I skipped making a video for the site – this seemed like too much like hard work. Maybe i’ll do a video later, if the promotion shows promise. Also, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what ‘trustmarks’ are, so skipped those also. And since the app had no reviews of its own, I put some reviews from other of my apps (labelled as such, of course), to give people a feel for the quality of my work.

Facebook ads

What can I say: Facebook ads are awesome. It took me about 5 minutes to set up ads on Facebook, and you can target them by age group, sex, and even what interests people have. It puts google ads to shame, in my opinion.

So, I created an ad like the following: Male only, age 18-35, for people who are interested in ‘cars’ or ‘motorcycles’. It is very targeted, and i’ve got high hopes for a good click through rate.

I set the budget to $4 a day, and since i’m going for a week’s trial, i’ve set the spend limit to $30. The only tricky part of this was setting the spend limit: To do this, go into the ‘manage ads’ part of facebook, click on ‘Billing’ in the left, and click the ‘edit’ button next to ‘Account Spend’.

Results

First day (26th Jan)

  • Ad impressions: 407
  • Click-through-rate: 0
  • Spend: $0
  • Site traffic: 8 visitors
  • Sales: 1
  • Conversion rate: 0% :(

I looked at the facebook campaign and noted that I wasn’t spending anywhere near the $4/day that i had budgeted. Oops! So I opted to open up the ads to a wider audience, by removing the age group and male-only filters. Hopefully this’ll make a difference tomorrow.

Second day (27th Jan)

  • Money spent: $2.31
  • Impressions: 17851 (wow, facebook is cheap)
  • Ad clicks: 4
  • Click rate: .022% (maybe i need to re-word my ad, seems very low?)
  • Site traffic: 6 visitors (awful)
  • Average time on site: 2m29s (awesome!)
  • Sales: 1

I’m blown away that people are spending average 2 and a half minutes reading my sales drivel on the servicehistoryapp.com site. Lets hope that means i can get a good conversion rate (once i can figure out how to get people to visit).

It also looks like I should re-write the ad copy so that i get more people’s interest. Only 1 click for ~5000 impressions seems pretty lousy to me. So i’ve rewritten it to be the hopefully-catchier: “Are you OCD about your car’s services? Keep organised with this iPhone app, with photos and notes of all your services.”

Third day (28th Jan)

  • Impressions: 1157 (why has this dropped?
  • Ad clicks: 0
  • Click rate: 0
  • Site traffic: 0
  • Sales: 1

I changed my copy yesterday, and it looks like the ad didn’t run this day whilst it was in review.

Another thing I noticed with today’s results is that i’m getting ~250 visitors to my apps.splinter.com.au site. This is the site that appears when people tap the ‘more apps’ tab in any of my apps. It’s a cross-promotional tool that i’ve largely forgotten about, and only in the last couple days have I bothered to install a google analytics tracking code on it. This is quite a good result, and leads me to believe that i probably should put more effort into sprucing that site up.

Day 4 (29th Jan)

  • Money spent: $4.00
  • Impressions: 12870
  • Ad clicks: 7
  • Click rate: .054% (looks like the re-wording doubled this!)
  • Site traffic: 8 visitors
  • Sales: 2

Well, the new copy certainly worked. My click-through-rate has gone from roughly 0.02% to 0.05%. So, for every thousand times the ad shows up on a page, twice as many people are clicking on it. Copywriting for the win! So, as a net result of this, I got 7 clicks today. But only 2 sales – and it’s impossible to know if these sales came through my site or via people browsing the app store.

Day 5 (30th Jan)

  • Money spent: $4.00
  • Impressions: 25304
  • Ad clicks: 7
  • Click rate: .028% (went right back down again, oddly)
  • Site traffic: 6 visitors
  • Sales: 0

Somehow, today the ad showed twice as much, but people only clicked half as frequently. No idea why. Maybe because it was a monday? Nobody clicks ads when they’re grumpy at work?

Day 6 (31st Jan)

  • Money spent: $2.00
  • Impressions: 29432
  • Ad clicks: 3
  • Click rate: .010% (halved again!)
  • Site traffic: 3
  • Sales: 1

At this point, my only guess is that everyone in my target market who would be interested in clicking my ad, has clicked the ad already. That’s my best guess as to why my CTR has halved for two days in a row.

Day 7 (1st Feb)

  • Money spent: $0.00
  • Impressions: 3328
  • Ad clicks: 0
  • Click rate: 0
  • Site traffic: 2
  • Sales: 0

I’m guessing that since my click rate has dropped right off that facebook isn’t bothering to show my ads any more. If i was continuing this experiment, i’d thus delete this ad and re-word another one. But since I only wanted to run this for a week, this seems like a funny way to finish: my ads are doing so badly, that facebook isn’t even showing them.

I made a small change to the landing page today: I changed the background photo to a nicer photo I found earlier, but had been awaiting permission to use it from the photographer. Thanks, Chris Farmlett!

Summary for the week

  • Impressions: 90k
  • Clicks: 21
  • Click rate (CTR): 0.023%
  • Facebook spend: $12
  • Cost to display the ad to 1000 people (CPM): $0.14
  • Cost per click: $0.59
  • Sales: 6

If everyone who clicked on the ad bought a copy of the app, i’d be making 4 cents each time ($.59 to get a customer, $.63 revenue per sale). But I know that’d be more like 1-10%. Well, looks like this was a total failure. At least i’ve got a sweet looking landing page which’ll be useful for other marketing efforts.

Timezone

Just a quick note about time zones: The facebook and adsense reports are in the sydney timezone, however the app store sales reports are odd: sales reports for any given date consist of american sales made between 12am-11:59pm LA time, and australian sales made between 12am-11:59 perth time. So, given that I anticipate most sales to be in america, I’ll go with: e.g. the 31st in the australian timezone will be the 30th in the US timezone.

Experiment 2: Next steps

So where to from here? In short: cross-marketing.

Since i’ve got ~250 visitors on my ‘other apps by me’ site, i think i’ll spruce it up and use it to promote my a different app each week, and see how i go. I also plan on setting a different one of my apps to be free each week, as all those ‘apps that are now free’ sites and apps will promote my apps for me. Hope you found this interesting.

Update: Marketing part 2 is here.

Thanks for reading! If you found this article helpful, do me a favour and check out my upcoming web-app: ScrumFox agile team management. And if you want to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you: chris.hulbert at gmail.