Essential Designs’ Guide to Making a Profitable App
The potential to strike it big with one popular app has led to a proliferation of entrepreneurs chasing the app dream. One thing is for certain – there is a lot of money in apps; in fact, billions of dollars, and this amount is continuing to expand quickly. According to Statista, global mobile app revenues amounted to 69.7 billion US dollars in 2015 and is projected to grow to $188.9 billion in 2020.
“I have an idea for a killer app, but where do I start?”
With such an attractive app economy, you may have come up with a brilliant idea for an app. But like many before you, you have absolutely no idea how to turn your vision into a reality – and earn money from it. To help you, we’ve come up with a guide to walk you through the steps of how to build a profitable app from scratch.
How Do Apps Make Money?
First and foremost we need to understand how apps make money. There are three basic ways to monetize your app:
- App downloads
- In-app purchases
- In-app advertising
Obviously, if you want the most downloads, you should make your app free. However, the safest option is to make both paid and free versions and experiment to see which makes you the most money and go from there. Choosing which of these monetization options to use depends on the type of app you plan on launching and your target audience. Ultimately a successful monetization strategy should look and feel like a normal part of the app experience and you want to grow a large, active user base to improve your chances of generating revenue.
In-app purchases are optional, additional paid features within an app. This is commonly seen in gaming apps where users are encouraged to buy new items or unlock new levels. This often encourages repeat purchases because they are consumable, such as buying extra lives in a game. In-app purchases could also apply to non-consumable items such as subscriptions. These subscriptions allow an app to provide content or features over a set amount of time. This option is useful for apps that have ongoing costs associated, like maintaining services or ongoing content creation. “Freemium” apps that are free to download but use in-app purchases and in-app advertising to bring in revenue have become increasingly popular, since they avoid the initial cost that can discourage users from downloading the app.
In-app advertising generates revenue from user clicks and impressions. In-app advertising varies greatly in sizes, positions and placements in mobile apps. Payment models vary from cost-per-click, cost-per-mile (cost per 1000 impressions), cost-per-install, cost-per-action to cost-per-view (videos only). Some of the biggest advertising networks you could add to your app include Google’s AdMob, Chartboost and Millenial Media (but there are many, many more). If possible, offer a variety of models and formats within the in-app advertising strategy as well as metrics to keep track of how the ads are performing.
How to Create a Profitable App in 10 Steps
Now that we understand the basics of monetizing your app, it’s time to learn how to actually create your app. Regardless of whether you want to hire a developer or learn how to make the app yourself, having basic knowledge of the tasks and effort involved in creating an app will save you a lot of time and money.
1. Conceptualize Your Idea
The first step of creating an app is to define what the ultimate purpose of the app is, and what you want to accomplish with it. Some questions to think about:
- What do you want your app to do?
- What problem is it going to solve?
- How is it going to meet a specific need?
- Who is the target audience for your app?
- How are you going to make it appeal to users?
- How are you going to make money with you app?
- What platform are you going to build on?
You may want to sketch out your ideas in order to better visualize your thoughts. By formulating your idea into words and pictures, you can better communicate your vision to others for buy-in and if you are going to hire people to help make your app a reality.
2. Research the Market
While the app economy may be attractive, beware that most of the money is earned by certain types of apps, and many apps don’t make any money at all. As with any business, you will need to research and gain an understanding of the marketplace in order to increase your odds of succeeding. Get a feel of the market by visiting the app stores. Is there a trend around the apps that frequent the top-paid, top-free and top-grossing lists? Are apps like the one you want to create listed in these lists? Ultimately you want to determine whether the market shows an appetite for your app. Many people are stuck with their initial idea despite odds being against it – this could be one of the costliest errors you could make. Next, research the competition. You may think you have a one-of-a-kind idea but chances are someone has already beat you to it. Check out the competition of your app idea to see if you can make your app better than theirs. Read their reviews – what did people like and dislike? Are there missed monetization opportunities? How can you use this information to your advantage? Take your research and revisit the first step above to modify your idea. Keep doing this until you have a feasible idea that you can stick with.
3. Create a Wireframe
Give your idea more clarity and functionality by creating a wireframe or a storyboard for your app. You can do it by simply drawing it on a piece of paper, or digitally using one of the many available wireframing tools:
The idea is to outline what the app will look like, where everything will be placed and what happens when certain buttons are selected. User experience is an important part of the process, as it facilities the ease of use of your app. Take your time with this step since the wireframe will serve as the foundation for your app development process. If you are hiring an app developer, they can help you with this. To make the design process easier, you can use existing apps as references to show them exactly what you are looking for.
4. Design the Look
Once the wireframing has been completed, it’s time to create the user interface of your app with graphic design. This phase will make the layout of the application come to life with the colour, images and links all being built. If you’ve hired a graphic designer for your app, you should expect to get high resolution skins and screens based on your wireframe.
5. Back End Coding
This is the largest phase of the application development. At this stage of the project, your servers, databases and APIs need to be set up, and all items in the app should be made functional based on your application design. If you are working with a developer, you should work closely with them to scope out the project in detail and establish milestones and timelines up front. It may be a good idea to work with a software developer that codes in “sprints” which breaks up the app into several parts or milestones, with integrated testing throughout the development process. You should also decide on a check-in schedule that you’re both comfortable with so that you can review the work constantly to avoid surprises down the road. This is also a good time for you to register for a develop account with Google Play and/or Apple App Store so that you can sell your app through their platforms. Don’t wait on this, as it could take a few days to go through.
6. Test Your App
Testing your app again at this stage is imperative because you should now have a functioning app to examine. All the screens of your app should work properly at this point and your app should be aesthetically appealing as well. Take the time to go through every feature. Never assume that something works because it worked during the development process. And don’t be the only tester either. Enlist the help of your friends, family and colleagues to provide their feedback. You may be surprised; they could have questions that didn’t occur to you since you designed the app. Take this information to help you move forward.
7. Modify and Adjust
After giving your prototype a thorough testing, there may be a few more tweaks that you need to make. Go back to your development team and designer and ask them to make any changes that you feel would improve your app further.
8. Beta Testing
You may have spent a lot of time developing your app and building out its features, and even your entire team has weighed in with feedback. But how will your app fare in a live environment? Beta testing offers yet another lens through which you can view your app – perhaps the most important one: your target audience. Focus on recruiting the right beta testers (i.e. your early adopters) through Twitter, Reddit, and a host of other websites that serve this specific purpose. Next, distribute your app through platforms such as Apple’sTestFlight and Google Play Beta Testing. Engage your beta testers and aim for getting as much qualitative feedback as possible. To motivate them you can offer incentives such as gift cards for in-app purchases or even the app itself for free.
9. Release Your App
With all the final changes wrapped up, it’s time to distribute your app! For Android, you can simply add your app and start selling your app in Google Play. For Apple, your app will be reviewed before it goes live. The time it takes for the Apple team to review varies; expect it to take anywhere between 3 to 10 days.
10. Market Your App
Just because your app is now posted in the store, it doesn’t mean you are going to make money right away. Marketing is a must! Do your research on mobile app marketing and try different strategies to ensure your app is successful in the long run. Don’t neglect the basic elements of your app (title, description, icon, and screenshots) as marketing opportunities to facilitate users from viewing the app to downloading it. Try different keywords and even switch categories if it makes sense to. Just as your app will need constant tweaking due to changing consumer demand and competition, so will your marketing. No matter which strategy you use, we recommend that you connect your app to an apps store analytic program to measure and optimize your results.
This article was written by Essential Designs, a software development company with a team of senior web and mobile app developers based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Whether you are rebuilding an existing app or creating a new application entirely, we have the experience to build it right the first time. Get a free quote today.