One of the speakers at AnDevCon II who left an impression on me was Nathan Mellor. Nathan is the owner of CritterMap Software, and besides running a successful mobile software company and writing code, he also speaks to other developers about how to market apps more effectively. I've read a number of books on marketing mobile apps, but none of them gave the sort of practical advice Nathan shared. Recently I contacted Nathan, and he graciously agreed to contribute some of his thoughts on marketing mobile apps with TechRepublic readers.
The interviewFrancis: Before we get into the specifics of marketing and your app, would you mind sharing how you ended up as the owner of your own mobile software shop after spending 12 years working as a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard? Mellor: In 2009, I was caught up in a major downsizing at Hewlett Packard. There were many options at that point, the most obvious being to get another "real" job. Even before leaving, though, I recognized that my true passion was as an internet entrepreneur. I enrolled in a program in Internet Marketing at the University of San Francisco while at the same time I began developing an app for an up and coming operating system called Android. The app was first released in June 2010 and today there are close to 40,000 paid users. Francis: Tell us a little bit about your app. Mellor: BackCountry Navigator PRO allows people to use their Android Phone or tablet as an outdoor GPS by loading topographical and aerial maps in advance (thereby making them available offline). BackCountry Navigator is currently second in the travel and local section on the web version of Android Market. It was listed as the top app in this section in January of 2011, and has consistently been in the top five. In July, BackCountry Navigator was featured on the homepage of the Android Market. Francis: No one will argue that having a great app is crucial for success on the Android platform, but I'd contend that just having a great app isn't enough. Many developers I know complain how hard it is to get their apps noticed in the market. BackCountry Navigator seems to be doing just that. What's your secret? Mellor: Inside your Android Market listing, have a focused description that uses important keywords in a natural way. Work to have a larger number of comments from people who do appreciate your app by building a community through a weekly newsletter. Include promotional graphics that are nicer than you think you need.
I would avoid keyword stuffing and/or lists of keywords within a listing. They won't help, and are against Market policy. Outside the market, I would suggest a few other activities to get noticed. Build webpages that are optimized for focus keywords. Work to get relevant links to those pages. Spend some time on video marketing to accomplish those same goals.Francis: If you follow developer blogs, you frequently read complaints that owners of Android phones don't buy apps. BackCountry Navigator lists for $9.99 and has done very well. Would you mind speaking to your personal experiences with price point and user purchases? Mellor: There are people who are not willing to buy apps. It's all about your target market. People who are not willing to pay for apps are not part of my target market. Those who are part of my target market recognize that my software is an alternative to a $400 dedicated handheld GPS, so while there are people who think that my app is expensive, there are others that realize it's a bargain. Francis: What are your thoughts on other revenue models, such as in-app advertising and the freemium model? Mellor: For my market, people are using the app mostly offline, and not frequently enough to make advertising revenue worthwhile. For most and maybe all revenue models, having something free for people to start with tends to be important. For my app, having a fully functional but time limited demo combined with a paid version is a good match. People can get some practice and experience with the product and find out what it can do for them.
A promising model that was not available when I started is the freemium model, where a free version can unlock features or content through in app purchases. People are often willing to pay for content, and I have found several add-ons that people are willing to buy to get more value out of their navigation experience.Francis: Before we wrap up, do you have any words of wisdom for TechRepublic readers who've been toying with the idea of putting on the hat of an independent software developer and making a run at the Android platform? Mellor: Think beyond yourself and your own abilities. As counterintuitive as this sounds, you may make more money by doing less of the work. As a one-person company who works out of his home office, the ability to hire people who are also working over the internet has proved extremely valuable.
As someone who loves to write code and is a big fan of the Android platform, I like nothing more than to hear success stories like that of Nathan Mellor and CritterMap Software. I really appreciate Nathan taking time out to talk to me and TechRepublic readers. In my opinion there is no advice more valuable than that which comes from the trenches. Nathan is in the Android Market every day building software that people want, purchase, and use.
If you're writing Android apps or considering it, take Nathan's remarks to heart. If you get the opportunity, go hear him speak. Oh and if you're an outdoorsman, go to the market and take BackCountry Navigator DEMO for a spin.
William J Francis began programming computers at age eleven. Specializing in embedded and mobile platforms, he has more than 20 years of professional software engineering under his belt, including a four year stint in the US Army's Military Intelligence Corps. Throughout his career William has published numerous technical articles, as well as the occasional short story.