Features are key. But how do you get them?
There are more than 1,600 apps being submitted to the iTunes App Store daily. Yes, you read that right: daily.
It’s not too surprising. App stores are, after all, the malls of the technological world. And if Apple’s App Store is a mall, it’s a huge one: one that is the only mall for the hundreds of millions of iOS users on Earth. Unless your iPhone is jailbreaked, the App Store is the only distribution platform for any app that is going to work on your phone.
So, in order for an app to make it, it needs to stand out. And Apple has a way of making sure apps can stand out: app store features. If an app store is a mall, then the feature is the giant billboard over the mall entrance. Getting your app onto the first page of the App Store, whether in a full visual banner or a mention, is the key to success.
However, with so many other apps jostling for the top spots, that can be difficult. But it’s not impossible, and there are ways to give your app a better shot at those coveted feature spots. In this post, we’ll share 21 ways to get your apps featured on the App Store.
1. Understand how the App Store works
To get your app chosen as a feature, it’s helpful to know how apps get chosen as features. Because it’s not done by some complicated algorithm–they’re actually hand-picked.
Michael Ehrenberg, a former App Store marketing manager, shared how the process works at the Mobile Gaming USA conference. To better serve different countries, Apple actually has 155 app stores, each with a local editorial team. Ehrenberg explained that, each week, the local app store editors determine the best–and most relevant–apps for their specific users. By having humans choose the apps, Apple ensures that the featured apps will be the ones most likely to appeal to local users.
As you start crafting a strategy to get your app featured, keep this process in mind. It doesn’t matter how cool your app is; if the editorial team doesn’t think it will speak to local users, it’s not going to be chosen.
2. Build a high-quality app
This point seems a little obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway: make sure your app is actually good. Remember the mall analogy. Apple has created the App Store so that it can sell things–specifically, great products for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch users. And they don’t want low-quality stuff in their mall. To earn Apple’s trust–and to get their seal of approval–make your app great. If you have some popular product features, figure out how you can make them even better. And make sure you’ve eliminated as many bugs as possible.
3. Design your app like Apple
Apple has distinguished itself for a number of reasons. And one of them is definitely design. Just think about the beautiful minimalism of the Apple Watch, led by Jony Ive, and the tiny bits and pixels of iOS interface.
Apple wants to advertise apps that fit their aesthetic. So, they’re going to favor apps which prioritize smart, clean design.
To make sure your app meets their standards, check out the iOS Human Interface Guidelines.
4. Build for iOS only (or, at least, for iOS first)
If you build your app solely for iOS devices–or, at least, launch the iOS version first–it’s a strong way of showing that you are loyal to Apple. (Take that, Android!) And, when you show some support for Apple, Apple is more likely to support you.
5. Make your app universal
There are other ways to show that you are dedicated to Apple. For one, make sure your app works for all iOS products: iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Universal apps align more closely with Apple’s business model, and are therefore another signal that you’re trying to build a good relationship.
Not sure how to make your app universal? Check out this guide, from AppCoda, to learn how to get started.
6. Use Apple’s latest features
Compatible with Apple’s aesthetics? Check. Compatible with all of Apple’s products? Check. Compatible with Apple’s marketing strategy?
Wait. That’s another area in which you can stand out. Incorporate some of Apple’s latest technology into your app, and you have a better possibility of being featured. When Apple wanted to show off the new Apple Pencil at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, they used an app: Paper, created by FiftyThree.
And, right now, there’s definitely some low-hanging fruit: 3D touch. Integrate that into your app, and you’re upping your chances for a front-page spot.
7. Localize your app
“Wait a second,” you might be thinking. “Why would making my app more niche be what gets me featured to a wider audience?” The secret lies in Apple’s model.
As we mentioned earlier, there are 155 app stores in the world. Sure, getting featured in the US-version of the App Store is pretty huge. But the other iTunes app stores also attract wide audiences. And, since each local app store team is constantly looking for the best apps for their local users, they’re more likely to choose ones in the native language. If your app is localized, it’s going to give you a huge advantage. In fact, a lot of non-English app stores even have a special section dedicated to awesome apps available in their language.
There are plenty of success stories. Steven Zhao, CEO and Founder of Blue Tea Games, localized their card strategy game Mavenfall, and released the game globally. Mavenfall immediately got Apple’s featured as Best New Games across 120 countries, with Editorial Feature in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He commented on the success, “Localization is an important step for any game looking to grow beyond its national borders, and reach a global audience. It certainly explains why Apple featured us.”
Want to know more about how to get started on app localization? Check out our Essential Guide to App Localization, available for free!
8. Update frequently
Henry Kang, the founder and CEO of fashion app StyleIt, told Business Insider in a blog post about what it’s like to get an app featured. While he acknowledged that luck is part of the selection process, he also noted that “constantly updating your product to add new features probably helps.” Why? Here are the three main reasons:
- You improve your ratings. Business Insider found that, in 2013-14, apps that earned above-average ratings had a minimum of nine updates per year. And there’s no question that Apple takes into account user ratings when it chooses its features.
- The update itself can earn you a feature. Apple has a “Best New Updates” section, where it features games that have really upped the awesomeness with their latest updates.
9. Have seasonal updates
On gift-giving holidays, people get new devices. And, when people get new devices, they want new apps.
So, it’s no surprise that holiday seasons are a bonanza for app downloads. In fact, Flurry shows that Christmas Day chalks up the highest number of app downloads for a 24-hour period. And app stores get into the festive spirit too: many create new, holiday-specific feature categories. Trying to get onto these lists should be a no-brainer. Produce seasonal content, or dress your game up with a holiday theme. And we don’t just mean Christmas! Remember Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.
10. … for holidays around the world!
In fact, don’t even stick to American holidays. Remember that there are app stores all over the world. A Thanksgiving theme might get you some attention in the United States. But, around the same time, don’t forget that China is celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival with mooncakes. Target specialized markets by incorporating regional festivals–and you just might end with a feature.
Need to brush up your world celebrations? Here’s a quick guide to popular holidays worldwide.
Our research shows that apps in a few categories of apps should be localized in order to stay competitive. Read our data report, Why Localization Matters To Growth, to learn more.
11. Optimize your app store listing
We keep talking about getting your app featured, but that’s really a means to an end. What you–and Apple–really want is for more people to buy apps.
So, let’s say you get featured (nice!). People rush to your app listing, and they find a horrible, disorganized page. They’re not going to click the “get” button, and Apple knows this. In order to earn Apple’s attention–and keep it–you’re going to need to brush up your listing page. Optimize your description, attach some nice screenshots, and use your promo wisely (see next tip). Make your app listing is one that Apple would be happy to promote.
In general, App Store Optimization (ASO) is now a big part of the game. Check out this blog post to learn more.
12. Show an Apple device in your promo
It’s pretty simple. Apple likes people who like Apple. Show your love in the promo video, by featuring your app on an Apple device. This is an especially good tactic if your app can support Apple’s latest technology–and you can show it.
13. Invest in PR
A feature spot could lead to media coverage…or, media coverage could lead to a feature. Try to get your app mentioned in some of the tech blogs that Apple editors follow: TechCrunch, Mashable, or, for non-US editors, regional tech blogs. If they like what they read, they’re more likely to look for your app in the crowd of the submissions.
To learn more about scoring media coverage, here’s a nice guide by Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer.
14. Highlight where your app is made (for non-US developers)
Local people love to support local apps. And we don’t just mean the ones in their native language–people love to hear that a certain app was developed by an area native, or first conceptualized in a nearby city. Apple editors are aware of this tendency, and they often build features around it. For example, the Hong Kong App Store curates a “Made in Hong Kong” section that includes dozens of popular, locally-founded apps, such as GoGoVan, OpenRice, and 9GAG.
So, if you are a non-American developer, don’t hide your origins; highlight them. Reach out to local tech media (see previous tip), and tell them about yourself.
15. Build a relationship with Apple
People are the ones choosing the features. So make friends with them.
Or, at least, with someone at Apple. Every company has an internal system for sharing knowledge, and friends at Apple–even if they’re not the ones directly choosing features–can help you out. If they’re familiar with your company, they may think of your product at the right moment, and give you a shout-out: “Oh, this one is made by my friend. Cool stuff.”
However, to make friends, you actually have to meet people. That can be a little tricky, but here are a number of ways you can build a relationship:
- Send a dev to Cupertino. This one is pretty extreme. But if it’s a possibility, it can be worth a shot: the dev can then attend local events organized by Apple, or work near the company’s headquarters. One way or another, they’ll end up meeting a few Apple employees.
- Connect via social media. It’s a lot simpler than cross-country (or international) travel: go to LinkedIn and search “app store manager.” Once you’ve filtered by location, you’ll be able to see the people who are responsible for your target app stores. Connect with them via LinkedIn, or try to get their email addresses through Rapportive or FullContact.
Feeling shy? Read this blog post from CIO to learn how to get the conversation started.
16. Pitch to Apple
Update 14 June 2017: Thanks to a tip from one of our readers, we found out that as of now, Apple has retired the above email addresses. Instead, the company is redirecting pitch emails to a formalized messaging system at AppStore.com/Promote, accessible through your Apple ID. It’s worth firing off a message there some of the tips we’ve outlined below. Don’t be afraid to show some personality. We’re positive if Apple built this page, there’s a real-life person combing through the messages on the other end. Let us know if you’re successful through this method!
Here’re some tips for your pitch email:
- They get a lot of these emails. Keep yours short.
- To stand out, include a great (but brief!) story about your app.
- Or attach a video of your app in action.
- Be sure to highlight any Apple-specific features.
- Ask for any feedback they might have about your app. So you can get a sense of their benchmarks for the future.
17. Release your app on a Tuesday or Wednesday
No, it’s not because of hump day. App stores post new curated lists every Thursday. If you release your app right before then, it won’t have time to get buried in the pile. A Friday release means you have to wait almost a week, and you risk disappearing among the thousands that will come in before they choose again.
18. Keep your ratings & downloads up
Apple considers a lot of performance metrics when choosing apps for features. Unsurprisingly, user rating is one of them. Appbotfound that over half of featured apps have high user ratings–4.5 or higher. So manage your user ratings in a good shape.
We know you want to get featured so that you can get more downloads. But, unfortunately, another metric that Apple looks at is downloads. So, start getting some downloads at the beginning…and then you’ll get even more downloads.
19. Follow Apple to get inspired
Apple is very open about their selections. So, follow Apple on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the latest curation strategies. (The company has a lot of different Twitters, but we recommend @AppStore and @AppStoreGames.)
20. Appeal to a niche audience
Apple often curates for specific topics. So, if you can nail a niche topic beautifully, it’s going to ensure that you are on the top of their list when they’re making a relevant feature.
Erick Garayblas is a game developer from the Philippines who has gotten two games featured. He recommends focusing on paid apps, rather than trying to stand out in the overcrowded world of free apps. And there are a lot of ways to create a profitable app store niche; check out this post for ideas and stories.
21. Avoid getting featured too early
It’s going to sound pretty counterintuitive. Because the best way to get featured in the App Store is not to get featured–at least, not too early.
Why? If you’re featured early on, your product might not actually be mature enough to keep users interested. Your probably starting with an MVP, which is not comprehensive. Bugs are probably hiding inside a number of your features. Rather than trying to attract a large audience from the beginning, it’s a lot better to start with a small group of users–preferably, personal contacts or loyal users. That way, you can get a manageable and directed amount of feedback, which you can use to make your app better and better.
If you get the feature-based fame–and all the downloads–right at the beginning, you’re going to be overwhelmed by user feedback. You’re also going to lose users who aren’t patient enough to stick with your app throughout this growing period. And, once users are gone, they’re not going to come back.
So, don’t start lobbying for a feature right at the beginning. Instead, iterate your product with a small batch of users, and aim for the feature once you’ve created Awesome Game 2.0
Bonus Tip: You got a feature! Wait, now what?
It worked! It worked! You just received an invitation email from Apple–you have a feature!
First, congratulations! Now, get moving. Fill in the form as soon as possible, and provide great visuals for the feature banner. Make it as easy as possible for them to get your app on the main screen. And, internally, prepare for the boost that this feature is sure to bring. Keep track of your download stats, be ready to respond to feedback as quickly as possible. Do everything to make sure you’re focused on retaining the users from the boost.
What are you waiting for?
Now that you know the quickest shortcuts to getting your app featured, go ahead and give it a try!