Affective Apps recently interviewed Kyle King, the creator of ZommAppy. ZoomAppy is an extensive app discovery tool for consumers and an information bonanza for developers. With over 1 billion points of data, EVERY app developer can benefit from the useful insights that ZoomAppy delivers about the global iTunes app store ecosystem. We were lucky enough to pick Kyle’s brain the other day and we’re sharing the full interview here. Enjoy!
Hello Kyle and thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. All app developers live and die by the app chart stats. We’re always looking. Always checking. Always hoping. And for most of us, we’re always a bit disappointed. Getting a top-charting app is no easy feat. Especially once you really understand the mechanics behind it all. So before we talk about how ZoomAppy is different than the iTunes charts, lets start off by talking about how Apple calculates their charts. What have you observed and learned since you started ZoomAppy?
Great question! I completely understand the urgency and frustration felt by developers when trying to figure out how to climb the App Store charts. I wish I had insider knowledge of how Apple derives their App Store rankings but unfortunately I can only speculate like most everyone else. The App Store rankings, in my opinion, are mostly going to be derived from two primary components. The first is the actual number of downloads. The second is impressions, which is the number of times an app is viewed either through iTunes directly or on the Internet. The nuance here is that Apple has to account for current (real-time) data as well as historical performance and what’s trending as mentioned in your interview with Richard White. If the App Store only reflected what’s popular right now, we would probably see large fluctuations in the rankings. Apple probably prefers to the keep the App Store rankings a bit more static by giving more weight to apps that remain relevant over time and to those that are trending really well. With respect to historical performance, we can only guess how far back Apple goes but it’s likely a “rolling target” such as ranking over last 60 days or last 30 days, for example. The bottom line is that Apple is attempting to ensure that the most popular and “relevant” apps are at the top of the App Store rankings. By “relevant” I mean what apps are getting the most attention overall. For all the criticism about Apple’s approach, I don’t think the App Store would be successful at all without their ranking system.
OK. That makes a lot of sense. So how is ZoomAppy different?
ZoomAppy is primarily a web-based “discovery” tool for finding apps in the App Store. I created ZoomAppy to address many of the shortcomings of iTunes and the native App Store search capabilities. I did this by taking daily snapshots of the App Store, which consists of the Top 200 apps (Free, Paid, and Grossing) across every category and in every country. We store this information each day and over the last year, we have compiled over 1 billion records! I am able to leverage that information to create a “self-directed” search tool that allows users to filter results on the attributes that are most interesting to them (Price, Category, Rankings, Keywords, etc). This alone makes it different than iTunes because we present the same ranking data in a slightly different way allowing users to see a broader list of popular apps. Since we store ranking data each day, we can provide views into what’s popular right now as well as what’s trending and historically popular apps.
Perhaps the most significant difference between ZoomAppy and iTunes is that we aggregate Top Paid, Top Free, and Top Grossing data, whereas these are distinct lists in the App Store. The primary reason for doing this was simplicity. In the App Store, an app can appear in the Top Paid list and the Top Grossing list. Top Free apps can also appear in the Top Grossing lists…presumably the result of in-app purchases. To further complicate matters, when an app appears on the Top Paid list and suddenly goes free, it switches to the Top Free list. I just think it’s easier and more “holistic” to aggregate the information so that every app is given proper credit regardless of what list (Paid, Free, or Grossing) it appears on.
All that said, ZoomAppy uses the primary ranking data from the iTunes App Store but we perform some additional calculations so that we can present the information in a slightly different way and hopefully make it easier for consumers to see a broader range of popular apps.
In a previous conversation, you had mentioned that the ZoomAppy rankings were more “fair” and “honest.” What do you mean by that?
Come to think of it, “holistic” is probably a better term. The developer rankings were aggregated to look at the overall portfolio regardless of size. This allows small companies with 1 or 2 titles to compete head-to-head with larger publishers with dozens or hundreds of titles. In fact, having a larger portfolio is more likely to dilute or degrade the “portfolio” score if one or more of the apps in that portfolio had very little ranking significance. The goal was to eliminate the complexity by collapsing the “Top Paid”, “Top Free”, and “Top Grossing” apps to come up with a combined portfolio score that looks at the bigger picture. If you were to just focus only on “Top Free” apps, for example, you would be negating the contribution of the “Top Grossing” rankings for a particular app that offered in-app purchases…thereby missing the “big picture”.
A lower portfolio score doesn’t imply a developer makes bad apps. Higher scores simply reflect more global exposure.
That makes sense. So how can small developers gain in rankings and get more global exposure?
When it comes to the vast amount of apps now available, the ability to get noticed and remain relevant over time is a huge undertaking for small development companies. It takes having a good strategy that includes an honest assessment of your competition in the App Store and knowing how your app compares. Having access to App Store data and applying what you learn in your development and marketing strategy will help increase your chances for success. Aside from that, my recommendation to small development companies and startups is to build a strong social network with other development companies and customers.
What are some other steps that will help small developers climb the charts? How important are the app store user reviews for determining rankings?
I do believe that user reviews have an impact on purchasing decisions especially if the most negative reviews are at the top of the user review list. At the very least, you want to be sure that the most recent reviews are positive. I am willing to bet that negative reviews have more of an impact on Paid apps because there is really no risk in downloading a Free app even if the reviews are bad. I also tend to believe that negative user reviews have less impact when it’s a franchise app or has brand recognition.
What about app review sites and what about paying for reviews?
First and foremost, I am opposed to review sites charging developers a fee to post reviews. Having said that, popular review sites can reach thousands of people every day and they can easily influence people’s decision-making and thereby affecting your position in the App Store. If your goal is to reach a lot of people very quickly, you may want or need to consider spending the money to have your app reviewed. You can simply consider that part of your advertising costs. I would highly recommend, however, doing your research first to determine if that review site or blog reaches enough people daily to justify the cost. Shop around and consider all the options before you blow through your entire advertising budget.
What about all the other fee-based promotion services? How about paying users to download your apps?
I believe that any service that drives people to download or just view the App in iTunes can have a dramatic impact on rankings. Their goal is to increase visibility and if they succeed, you should expect to see results in the App Store. Paying for these services isn’t necessarily bad. You have to remember that you are paying for the opportunity to get noticed much faster and by more people than what you could otherwise achieve on your own. It’s obviously hard for small development companies and startups to get recognized. In reality, it takes having a good strategy that includes: (1) using social media; (2) having a good internet presence that is optimized for Search Engines (SEO); (3) creating relationships with other developers that can help extend your networking capability; (4) developing relationships with review sites and bloggers to extend your networking capabilities. All these things take time to evolve, however, and sometimes spending the money is worthwhile if you can’t invest enough of your own time to properly market your product.
Alright. Let’s take a bit of a different direction. ZoomAppy tracks developers, not just apps. And this is pretty amazing. I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere else. We all keep on reading about all of the revenue that is being generated from the app store. But how is this revenue being distributed? Do your charts give you any insight into this question? Where is the cut off point of being a profitable development firm?
Unfortunately, I don’t capture actual sales data from iTunes. Having said that, I do think that small companies can be very successful but being profitable is going to depend on how much overhead costs are required. For startups, the key is to minimize the upfront costs and having a good marketing plan to maximize your exposure globally or in whatever regions you are targeting. The “build it and they will come” mentality may work out for a few developers but it’s not the recommended way to build a business. The majority of developers have to rely on grassroots efforts to build a solid network that can help promote their apps in the absence of huge advertising budgets.
Based on a review of your datasets, how do you see the future of app development trending?
What I’ve noticed is that most mass marketed apps and games perform better at the lower end of the price spectrum. Only niche or licensed IP (intellectual property) apps tend to do well at the higher price points. It’s hard to predict how the App Store will evolve given that device sales may start to slow down in a slumping U.S. and global economy. This may lead to a slight slow-down in new release activity in the App Store in the coming months. I think the App Store is still a lucrative business but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if developers aren’t considering what opportunities exist on the other major platforms (Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry). Overall, those that already own an iOS device will continue to look for great values in the App Store because it’s easily accessible entertainment and much cheaper than movies or console games.
What fascinates me most about your data is that there are many examples of single app development companies in your top 100 developer list. Are the any other interesting trends or nuances that have you found by collecting and analyzing your data in such as fashion?
You’re absolutely right! Many of the top developers in the portfolio rankings only have a single app. This is the result of having major success with that one app. Take Chair Entertainment, for example. Their one game, “Infinity Blade” has been strong in the Top Paid and Top Grossing ranking data in iTunes and has done well globally. This is the reason for their success and many of those that you see in the Top 500 list. What I find personally interesting is how successful companies have been with their “freemium” apps that offer a “try-before-you-buy” approach as well those that charge for additional content via in-app purchases. Given the controversy over in-app purchases, I was never sure if those apps really did well or not but it seems to work well for many developers.
And lastly, after looking and talking about all of this, what do you think it takes to make a great app? How can this data help drive real-world development processes?
I honestly believe that it takes a lot of passion to make it in this competitive business. Having a game plan…a strategy for how you are going to develop and market your app is just as essential. I think we can all agree there are lots of great apps in the App Store that go virtually unnoticed. This is probably a more of a symptom of not having the right exposure either by lack of an Internet presence and/or an inadequate social network. The real lesson here is that you have to raise awareness of your product if you expect to have any success in the App Store.
How can data drive real-world development? This is a great question and one that is probably overlooked by many. It’s essential to use whatever information that is available to understand the environment you’re competing in. Analyzing trends and looking for new opportunities is an ongoing process. You should always be asking the questions: What apps are doing well? Why? After that, it’s figuring out how to use this information to tweak your development and marketing strategy to give you the best chance for success.
Here are some things I think are essential to having success in the App Store based on my own observations and experiences:
(1) Once you have an idea for app, find all similar apps in the App Store. Look for those that are really successful as well as those that are not. What are the differences and similarities between them?
(2) Do Internet researches about these apps to find out as much information as you can. Assess their use of social media and exposure on blog sites, review sites, etc. What steps might be needed to achieve that same level of exposure?
(3) Read user reviews for feedback and make sure you don’t duplicate their mistakes. Think of how your app is going to be similar and how it’s going to be different.
(4) Beta test your ideas throughout the development process to get feedback. These are people that can later help create “buzz” and promote your app using social media
(5) Have a good website that is search engine friendly. Make it easy for people to find your app using keywords that are relevant to your product.
(6) Continuously grow your social network. Build honest and meaningful relationships with people. Get their feedback and maintain a continuous dialogue to keep those relationships going.
(7) When submitting your app to the App Store, make sure you place your app in the categories that are relevant and give you the best chance for success.
(8) Make sure your App Store information (description) provides adequate details about what your app does. Try to use similar keywords in your description as your competitors or those that people would most likely associate with your app.
(9) Set a price for your app based on research you’ve done of similar apps in the App Store. Watch for price drops by your competitors and the impact on their rankings. You may need to adjust accordingly.
(10) Be a student of the App Store. Use whatever data you can about your own sales data from iTunes Connect and third-party tools like ZoomAppy. AppViz or AppLists.net. Being well-informed is the key to making effective decisions.
Kyle – thank you so much for your expertise and insights. I hope that I didn’t ask too many questions. But I’m speaking for all developers when I tell you that we’ve only broken the surface and that if we all could, we’d keep asking questions all day and night. Maybe you’d be keen for another interview later on? And in the meantime, maybe readers can contact you directly with any additional questions.
It was my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to share a little information about ZoomAppy. It has always been my goal to create relationships with developers to help promote all their hard work and offer our services to help them better understand the App Store ecosystem. That said, we’d love to hear any feedback or questions about how we can help. Contact us anytime at ZoomAppy@gmail.com. Best wishes in your success with Affective Apps.
Kyle King is the creator and editor for ZoomAppy.com. With over 12 years of experience in Information Technology, Kyle has developed dozens of business applications within financial services. His latest project, ZoomAppy, was officially launched in October 2010 and has been capturing snapshots of the App Store rankings ever since. The goal is to create free and easy-to-use services that can help developers get access to vital App Store metrics that can be used to make informed decisions to grow their business. Kyle is 36 years old and lives in South Carolina.
About Affective Apps
Affective Apps is a small independent design studio with one huge goal: to offer individuals and families creative outlets and experiences. Their newest release, Mad Lips, helps people connect through laughter. Previous apps, such as Art Bellies Pocket, showed non-artists how to create digital masterpieces that are inspired by loved ones.