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The million download question - quantity versus quality

Sumit Kumar
Sumit Kumar
5 min read
Posted on May 27, 2013
The million download question - quantity versus quality

Rovio Angry Birds crossed the 100-million download milestone in no time; Temple Run has registered over 100 million downloads and OMG POP Draw Something acquired 15 million users in two weeks, before Zynga bought them. The rapid and huge success of these games has led to the launch of new or extended titles that have changed the fortunes of many studios overnight. From serious developers to brand and media companies - new and established, everyone is dreaming of making it big in the world of mobile apps. Many, or perhaps most of them may not have a very clear idea of what the product is or would be, but all of them aspire for a large number of users acquired at a very low cost that will bring in enormous rewards. The big question is whether all app developers need to have millions of users to be profitable and successful? And can those millions of users be acquired at a very low cost? If the number of users alone could determine success, then only large players with hefty marketing budgets would thrive in the mobile ecosystem. There would be a few lucky developers as well but they would be the exceptions that prove the rule. Organic growth of user base is ideally the way to go. While not the easiest approach, it involves getting a few basic things right.

1. App description

Discoverability is key to organic growth. Using unique and relevant key words for product description improves discoverability of the app. A high-resolution screenshot of the app that lets users visualize the app boosts chances of a download.

2. User reviews

Word-of-mouth and user reviews are critical for floating up an app in searches while positive reviews increase the likelihood of downloads both organic and inorganic. Apps designed to encourage or simplify user review submissions are likely to see more success when it comes to leveraging user reviews for driving downloads.

3. App title One cannot overemphasize the importance of choosing the app title wisely.

This is the identity of an app and if done right can help the app stand out from the crowd. All that's required is some research and creativity to arrive at a unique name that will help bolster the apps visibility in searches.

Regardless of the method deployed for user acquisition organic or inorganic, what really matters is the lifetime value of the users. Fortunately, in real life, even a few hundred thousand downloads at a 3-4 times higher than normal user acquisition cost could prove to be a profitable proposition for an app developer. Take a look at a case study pulled together by Fiksu in terms of numbers and values to explain the phenomenon:

This is a somewhat conservative scenario where the loyal acquisition model conversion rate is pegged at 35%. PopCap Games mobile gaming research finds this number to be 51% in case of gaming apps. The lesson in this example is that we need to strike a balance between scale of acquisition and per user acquisition cost. So how does one go about striking the balance? A practical approach to this problem is to start the user acquisition campaign with a small marketing budget, say 5%-10% of the total budget. By studying the behavior of the acquired users with a lifetime value (LTV) analytics tool, it is possible to identify the best performing category of users. The rest of the marketing budget can then be invested to acquire additional users with a realistic expectation on both the number of users to be acquired and the cost of such acquisition. As with all things in life, one cannot underestimate the importance of luck in driving user acquisitions. In summary, there are multiple factors at play in driving user acquisition and ROI. By taking care of the basics, spending the marketing budget wisely and riding on a bit of luck, an app developer can realize his or her goal of user acquisitions and moment of glory with regard to number of downloads.

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