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Strategies for Indie Developers to Promote Mobile Apps and Games for Free (or really cheap)

Nolan Clemmons | January 11, 2017


You've labored for countless hours building your dream mobile app, and are ready to launch. Now you're thinking it's time to think about marketing, right? Wrong! You should start marketing your game 6-12 months before launch. Do not procrastinate on basic tasks.

Some argue that the minimum marketing budget threshold to prove that a game will be profitable is $100,000. This is usually a bit more than most independent game studios or small development teams have on hand to spend on mobile user acquisition (without 3rd-party financing). Indies must then look at organic, or free, unpaid methods for acquiring new users for their games. There are three types of media: owned, earned, and paid. So we'll want to focus on owned and earned channels. Let's look at some common examples of owned and earned media channels:

  1. Press/PR (Earned) - When a media outlet covers your app or game, there may be a substantial amount of free traffic to be gained.
  2. Your own Website & Mailing List (Owned) -  There are a plethora of ways to promote websites these days - ideally, you will have already built up an audience prior to launching your app - including an opt-in list of email addresses that can be messaged on launch and throughout your app's lifecycle. Remember that email can be 40 times as effective than Facebook and Twitter combined, so put some effort into building it, and please don't abuse it.
  3. Influencers (Earned/Paid) - Influencer marketing has become popular due to the relatively lost cost per install compared to traditional advertising channels. Some times they will be willing to promote your game for free, in that case we'll refer to them as "Ambassadors".
  4. Cross-Promotion (Earned/Paid) - There are several marketplaces where developers can arrange direct deals with fellow developers, like Chartboost or Tapdaq. You can choose between pure barter deals, or negotiate a price with the hosting developer directly. Cross-promoting is quite useful if your games share a common audience segment.
  5. Social Media (Earned/Owned) - Your app's social presence can be invaluable, not just for acquisition, but also branding and community management.  The Indie community is quite strong on social media channels. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr are some of the primary networks that you should look at. Streaming sites like Twitch & Mobcrush can be fruitful channels as well.


You should prepare the following types of marketing content for your app:

  1. Images - Screenshots, Promotional Materials - These are both for store listings, as well as for social channels.
  2. GIF’s - Gameplay Footage - GIF's have become so common that it's hard to find a social media feed without at least one of them. They can express what a game is like to potential players quicker than virtually any other media form.
  3. Videos - Game Trailers & Footage, Livestreams - A short explainer video or trailer can be useful for assuring potential users.
  4. Text - Game Pitch, Press Releases, ASO (App Store Optimization), Website, Blogs - Also referred to as "copy", you should have various descriptions of what your app does in tweet, paragraph, and page lengths. Keep in mind that this is not only for humans to read, but also for search engines.


Here's an outline of the process that you should follow:

1. Make Great Content (and a great game!) - See above for what marketing content materials you should have prepared. Visual content is the most effective way to show prospective users what your game is like. Screenshots within the app and videos of someone using the app (either with phone in-hand or a direct screen views) will be your bread and butter for marketing collateral. People like seeing... people - so make sure that your creatives reflect the human element in some way.

2. Build Relationships with Humans

  • Attend Offline Events: In-person networking won't come natural to every mobile app developer, but there are a few benefits to be from offline events like meetups, conferences, or trade shows. One is authentic feedback from potential users. The other is a chance to connect with fellow developers, community influencers/ambassadors, and possibly members of the press.  Most of the work on the front-end of these is just showing up. The hard work is following-up.
  • Engage on Social Media: We'll cover some fundamentals below, but the key point here is to spark real conversations online with fellow humans. There's a lot of noise and automation in social media today, so at times it will feel as though you're not getting anywhere, but you will eventually notice a return on this effort. Many of you already do this to some extent.
  • Personalize Reporter/Influencer Outreach: do not mass-email reporters or influencers - instead, personalize each email; at least use their first name and mention their channel or company name - and a sentence or two on why you find them relevant. Pitch emails should include links, images, and have a short description paragraph. Less is more.

3. Share Content - Some web portals and social networks can be an effective source of free traffic when used effectively (which isn't always the case ). Use tools to automate actions and tasks, like TweetDeck or MassPlanner, to save time. Some tools do cost money, but that cost is fixed and consistent; and usually much less than most advertising campaigns. You should measure your ROI by the amount of time saved for producing clicks (and installs, but conversion ratios will depend on other factors).

4. Measure - Optimize - Repeat

Analytics: There are free analytics tools that you can use to measure 1) How your social media channels are performing 2) How shared links are performing 3) Your website's traffic and 4) Your game or app's own performance. Use the data that you are provided with to make decisions. Listen to player feedback, but be wary of the silent majority - at times those that are in vocal opposition may be outnumbered by the rest of your users without them expressing their views. A/B (or split) testing is the current norm - just be sure that you only test 1 variable at a time - don't try to simultaneously experiment with both your app icon and title at once, for example. Any improvements that you make should be geared towards improving retention, and any other usage KPIs specific to your app.


There are many ways for Indie developers to obtain free installs for their mobile applications. We're gradually shifting to an industry that relies just as much on marketing and promotion as it does on production. Without 3rd-party financing, it can be quite tough to get the word out. Remember that the market (users) decides your app's success, so don't try to fight it. Instead, listen to any signals that it tells you and use those to your advantage. And above all else, collect emails. Best of luck!


noah clemmons

About the author: 


Nolan Clemmons is a games entrepreneur and growth marketer. He is the Founder of Wufasta, a game discovery and retention platform, and director of business development for The Knights of Unity, a virtual reality development studio. You can read more of his articles on