Incipia blog

Part 2: How to Market an App with Limited Budget

Gabe Kwakyi | November 28, 2016

Continuing on from part 1, here is an overview of the most common marketing channels available, as well as some tips for leveraging each channel:

The Main App Marketing Channels

While there are many, many unique options for app marketing, here are some of the most accessible and popular options:

  • Paid Marketing – this channel most commonly comes to mind when marketing is mentioned: spending money on ads, incentives, sponsorship or other paid placements to spread the word about your app. Paid marketing is where most companies with budget go for scaling their marketing efforts, given paid marketing is easy to set up and expand upon (i.e. raise budget/bids/expand targeting). Some of the most popular paid app marketing channels include:
    1.  Incentivized referrals – giving users a discount or free products is one way to get the word out, by encouraging your users to market on your behalf. If you can set up a system to handle incentivized referrals and if it makes sense for your app, you should do so, as these have the highest return in terms of ROI, but keep in mind that his channel is limited in volume to however large your user base may be.
    2. App Store ads (i.e. Apple search ads & Google Adwords universal ads) – with Apple's recent search ads release, App Store ads are likely to take the number one channel for app marketing, as they are first party, offer great ROI, good volume and are easy-to-use. Keep tenet #5 from part 1 in mind here and know that you'll have to first invest some budget to find your optimal keywords (for Apple) or bid-level (for Google Universal ads) before you will draw a decent ROI from App Store ads. Check out these links for tips on optimizing Google Universal ads and Apple search ads.
    3. Social ads (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) – advertising platforms with a self-service option are most popular given their ease of use, and social ads, in general, provide good ROI and high volume. Again, tenet #5 from part 1 applies, in that 1) Facebook/Twitter/etc. will require 25-50 conversions/day for their ad serving algorithms to be optimized, and 2) you will need to try different targets before you know which produce the best ROI. Check out this link for tips on optimizing Facebook Ads.
    4. Paid PR/Influencer – paying for a quality press release or a PR consultant can provide a decent ROI and high volume, but paid PR/Influencer is typically not a sustainable form of paid marketing. Choose PR/Influencer if you can support an exploration budget or want to get a big boost of traffic (e.g. on first launch).
  • Earned Marketing – earned marketing is free, but must be earned by investing time, building a killer product or sometimes just being lucky. Examples of earned marketing include:
    1. Word of mouth – the best possible way that you can market your app is by getting your users to tell people in their networks about it (hence the appeal of incentivized referral systems). WOM is the highest ROI channel, and volume grows with your app's awareness. 
    2. Social (e.g. Instagram, Reddit, Quora, etc.) – while social ROI is typically low, social has the highest potential for volume. Creating a social page is something that many independent developers do, yet, maintaining and spending time growing their social accounts over time is the neglected next step.
    3. Email – most email providers, like mailchimp offer free service tiers that you can use to email all your followers. While volume is likely to be low (depending on how many emails you can capture), ROI is high because users ask to be contacted by nature of signing up for your list. If you have a decent amount of web/social traffic, email will be a good channel, as you can convert that traffic into an email list and re-market to them to increase your chances of earning an install or social share.
    4. Being featured – being featured by Apple or Google (or PR/Influencers) is high volume and provides good ROI, but relatively few apps are chosen for store features, and again, the vast majority of buzz (whether store-sourced or otherwise) will result in a temporary burst of downloads, rather than sustained visibility.
  • Organic Marketing – organic installs are truly free and come from search indexes. This includes App Store search, Apple spotlight search (though this does require some setup) and Google/Bing search (both for your app's App Store listing and your app's web page). Organic marketing can be optimized for better yield (i.e. ASO or SEO), but all apps will receive some free visibility, without exerting any extra effort beyond launching an app.
    • ASO can produce more immediate results, due to the smaller number of competing apps than websites and is high ROI and high potential volume.
    • SEO produces results more gradually over time and offers a good ROI and high potential volume.

Suggested Priority of Marketing Channels

  1. Organic/Earned
    1. WOM
    2. ASO
    3. Social
    4. Email
    5. SEO
    6. Being featured (if you have connections)
  2. Paid
    1. Incentivized referrals
    2. App Store ads
    3. Social ads
    4. Paid PR/Influencer (most useful on initial launch)

Tips for Marketing Your App

  • Don't overwhelm yourself. Start off with only as many channels as you feel comfortable managing, even if that's just an Instagram account and a web page. It's tempting to try to manage a lot at one time, but stretching your time and budget too thin can backfire, by hindering your ability to make a dent in each channel.
  • When you have selected your channel(s), consider these tips for improving your yield:
    1. Social –You won't see results by treating social as a "check the box" activity. Commit to posting daily (1/3 re-posts, 1/3 fun posts and 1/3 posts about your app), include the right hashtags and use pictures/videos/GIFs in your posts. Also, be sure to engage with your followers! Twitter and Instagram are nice for this because you can follow people and comment on/like/repost their content. Here are some strategies for managing content channels, such as Twitter and email.
    2. SEO – write a blog post every 1-2 weeks on a topic that will interest your true target users, using keywords that are relevant to your app. This will help your posts come up in SEO results for your targeted keywords.
    3. ASO – using the right keywords in your app listing is the easiest and most important part of ASO. In addition to keyword optimization, be sure to work on continuous tweaking of your icon, screenshots and description.
    4. Email – set up a mailchimp account and use the URL and/or embedded form to enable users to sign up to your email list. Send a monthly newsletter email describing what you've been up to, ad hoc emails when something exciting happens (e.g. you get featured, you release a big update, etc.) and try other engaging/entertaining email ideas.
    5. Ads – three of the most important parts of advertising involve:
      1. Targeting the right users – try to get as close as possible to your true target users for best ROI (e.g. keywords, geographic, devices, demographic, interests).
      2. Starting off with a low bid/budget and raising your investment as you are more sure that you are indeed targeting your true target users (i.e. when you see good performance).
      3. Testing different ads and targeting to see which performs best. Keep the performing ads/targets, pause the under performers, wash, rinse and repeat.
    6. Word of mouth – two great ways to encourage your users to spread the word are setting up a review prompt and incentivizing your users to refer new users. In sales, the number 1 tactic is to actually ask for the sale. Asking your satisfied users to refer new users (either with a passive option or an active prompt) will increase the number of referrals you see vs doing nothing. And, by giving away in-app goodies to users who bring you new users, you gain more users without losing money (you simply trade new revenues for new users). Here is a link with some tips for optimizing user reviews.
    7. App Store Feature/PR/Influencer – if you can't afford a PR consultant's fees, you can still gain PR by reaching out to editors and writers of publications you want to be featured in. Above all, make sure your pitch and the value of what your app offers is unique, something they haven't seen before. Additionally, ensure that your outreach is genuine and isn't simply copy-pasted with a different name at the start. These people get hundreds or thousands of inquiries daily; throw in a reference to something that person has worked on to catch their attention! Also, try Tweeting in addition to emailing your target PR/influencers. Check out our deconstructing why apps get featured study for advice on being featured in the App Store.
  • Useful tools for marketing:
    1. Hubspot's free lead capture tool – this tool pops up an email capture form on your website and helps grow your email list (we use this – it's great!).
    2. – using Branch will give you links that can track whether clicks turn into installs of your app. While you can use iTunes Connect's app tracker links, Branch offers more data and works for Android, too. Branch can also help create a smart banner for your website, to turn mobile visitors into users. Branch helps with tracking and attributing users with credit for referrals, too.
    3. Google Webmaster Tools – use this SEO tool to see which keywords that people search return your website, to help direct your content topics and keyword strategy.
    4. Google Analytics – this SEO tool will tell you how many people are coming to your site, from where and what they do once on your site. For example, you can use Google Analytics to see which blog posts had the highest time on page, or led to the most App Store link clicks.
    5. AppTweak or Mobile Action – these tools are useful for ASO research, such as identifying which keywords to use, performing competitive research and analyzing your keyword and category ranks.
    6. Buffer – this is a tool that helps you publish content to multiple social channels at once, saving you lots of time!
    7. Google Play Experiments – a free, must-use tool that can help you incrementally improve your ASO yield from the Play Store.

That's all for now, folks! Be sure to bookmark our blog, sign up to our email newsletter for new post updates and reach out if you're interested in working with us.

Incipia is a mobile app development and marketing agency that builds and markets apps for companies, with a specialty in high-quality, stable app development and keyword-based marketing strategy, such as App Store Optimization and Apple Search Ads. For blog/video or speaking requests, business or press inquiries please contact us or send an inquiry to