February 5, 2018 by Thomas Hopkins

What I Learned Launching 1 App per Week for 52 Weeks Straight

Launching a new app can be a stressful time with many unknowns. You need answers for all the different stakeholders involved (brand, product, c-staff, board of directors) let alone for your own sanity to have the confidence that your actions are correct and will bring the most value to the company.

At launch, the task of managing the flood of Slack one-offs, email update requests, drive-by meetings, and stakeholder presentations can feel like a full-time job if you are not prepared. I could do an entire post on “new app launch stakeholder management,” not because I am some genius, but because I have a lot of experience.

At Rocket Speed I had the privilege of working with an extremely lean and talented 35-person team of world-class engineers, rock-star product managers, and rapid-fire artists/animators who had an unprecedented ability to launch a new social casino mobile app every week. We averaged 1 new app launch per week on iOS, Android, and sometimes Facebook canvas for an entire year.

Launching a new app every week for 52 weeks straight allowed us the opportunity to iterate and develop a formula for positive ROI launches. Prior to every launch we followed the basic scientific method of creating a hypothesis, testing, analyzing the results, and repeating the following week on the new app launch. It was an amazing journey that I am truly grateful for. Here are some of the insights we gained (and possible future blog posts):

  1. The importance of ASO (Android)
  2. The importance of ASO (iOS)
  3. How to execute a burst campaign properly for positive ROI
  4. The difference between Android and iOS growth strategies and KPIs
  5. Channels to consider at each stage of a mobile launch
  6. Metrics to follow early-on to determine future spend and product decisions
  7. Stakeholder management when presenting early results

Learn more about Thomas from his Mobile Heroes profile.

Let’s dive in to the top of the funnel with the importance of ASO (Android).

App Store Optimization is a topic that has a lot of literature, however I haven’t seen anyone give clear actionable steps to follow to achieve 10-20x improvements in organic reach and installs. Most of the articles are suggestions for small potential improvements. Over the past year we have perfected the iOS and Android ASO handbook. In this blog post I cover the Android ASO steps we followed that guaranteed organic growth. I don’t go into the reasoning behind the steps, but essentially, with each step you are trying to improve either reach, CTR, CVR, or volume. Here are the steps to Android ASO:

Android ASO Exploration

Start with Android exploration

Spend some time in the Google Play store looking at the other apps in your category. Search the most popular keywords for your genre. What do the top ranked apps do for their icon, feature image, screenshots, and description? What features are they using to differentiate themselves to stand out? Things to look for include text in the icon, color combos, icon content, feature image style and text, screenshot variety, etc. Let your creative juices flow while doing this. Think about how you can use some of the techniques that the competing apps are using to show how your new app is differentiated from the pack. Make sure to do this exercise on an Android phone or tablet to get the full customer experience.

Do the same for iOS exploration

Spend time in the Apple app store. Focus on the search section. Search the main keywords for your category and take a look at the apps that are ranking in the top 20. What are they doing that makes them stand out? Is it the icon, screenshots, title, subtitle? You will start to see trends that the top ranked apps are following.

Android Experiments to Guarantee Organic Growth

1) Use Android experiments
They are free and work great. I don’t recommend using splitmetrics, testnest, or storemaven for Android. Not enough value added, too expensive and require too much work and time to implement.

2) Title is the most important
Make sure to put high value keywords in your Android title. Changes to titles take 30+ days to be accounted for in the Google algo, so you want to make sure that you start out with the most high-value keywords in your title. Don’t change the title for 30+ days so that you can see the results.

3) Developer name
Google’s algo uses the keywords in the developer’s name for search ranking. If you are focused on a certain category, for example games, then it would make sense for you to put the word “game” in your developer name.

4) Upon game launch, start with icon experiments
Spec out 4 icons that have a good variety, incorporating some of the learnings from the exploration phase. Make a hypothesis for each of the icons, e.g. Icon 1 will perform the best because it has the word “CA$H” in it.

5) Adopt the winner and repeat
Create 4 more icons that are improvements on the winning variant. We were amazed how much organic growth we received from doing repeat icon experiments.

6) Feature image tests
After 4-5 icon experiments move on to feature image experiments. Create 3 feature images and run the experiment. Test video and static images. If static images do better than a video that doesn’t mean that videos don’t work well, your video might need some improvements. But don’t be surprised when the static image beats the video. Follow the same process above until you feel that you have maximized performance and future tests will have diminishing returns.

7) Screenshot image tests
After feature image tests are complete follow that up with screenshot experiments. Make sure that you are learning from every iteration and not just testing for testing sake.

8) Short description
This is important for SEO purposes, so make sure that you have high value keywords in the short description. No need to repeat the keywords that you placed in the title in the short description. Changes here effect overall reach and searchability and take 30+ days after the change to see a drop or increase in impressions and reach so don’t change this until you have given the change at least 45 days to see the results.

9) Description
Use bullet points in your description to highlight features of your app. Make sure that the bullet points have more long-tail keywords that you want to rank for. We haven’t seen that description length matters from a ranking perspective. And, only a small percent <10% of people actually look at app descriptions. Description changes also follow the 30+ day lag time rule.

10) Ratings
It is important that your app has an equal rating when compared to the other apps in your category and search results. Work with product to make sure you are equal to or above average.

11) Spend at launch
I will be writing an entire blog about bursting at launch. For now, just know that depending on the category, you want to spend a good amount over the first 48 hours after launching a new app in the play store

Organic install growth is important for every app developer but is often overlooked because of all the chatter around paid acquisition. In my experience, without great ASO and a strong virality component to the app, it is hard to succeed with even the best paid marketing strategy and execution.

Thomas Hopkins is the Director of Marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures (PIV), where he oversees all mobile and web marketing across 50+ apps and 3 acquisition channels: paid, organic and physical property marketing. Penn Interactive Ventures is the igaming subsidiary of Penn National Gaming (NASDAQ: PENN). Prior to PIV, Thomas worked on a 2-person UA team at Rocket Speed (formerly Rocket Games), the fastest growing social casino app of 2015 and H1 of 2016. When PIV acquired Rocket Speed in 2016 Thomas moved over to the parent company to oversee growth across both PIV and Rocket.

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