This is a guest post by David Janner, editor of the MAKE APP Magazine. Find out more about him at the end of this post.
Having a “cool app idea” isn’t enough. If you want to succeed in the app business then one thing you really need to do is market research before you launch into any app that you’re doing. Taking the time to really check that people will actually want your app will save you wasted time and money. Let’s examine that aims of market research in relation to app development.
Targeting a broad niche vs. a micro-niche
First of all you need to target and identify a certain group and audience, what people would call a “niche”. Within this niche you need to identify a need, or a “pain point” that they have. Your app will ultimately be designed to fill this pain point.
There are two types of ways that you can target a market. You can either go after a micro-niche market or you can go after a broader market segment. In any case, even if you’re going after a broad market, you’re still targeting a certain niche, although it may be a very wide niche (for example, boys between the ages of 14-16 who like roleplaying games).
Targeting a micro-niche market
If we look at targeting a micro-niche market, this can still be highly profitable. Although you’re not likely to get much traffic, the fact that the traffic is highly targeted to meet a particular need can lead to a high conversion rate and a high price tag. In this case you’re looking for a very well defined market with a very well defined need. This might be an app that caters for professional doctors, dentists or perhaps lawyers, for example. An advantage of having such a well-defined audience is that you can actually pre-validate your idea quite well. There are a couple of experts out there who do a really good job of this, for example Dane Maxwell of “The Foundation”.
I’m a real fan of Dane Maxwell’s methods, because he doesn’t start out with a particular idea or concept, but rather he goes about it in a very smart and entrepreneurial way. First off he speaks to business owners to find out what their pain points are and which of these problems they would be willing to pay money for in order to make that problem go away. Using this method, you’re already identifying your customer from the beginning and developing software which you know answers their needs.
Another way to go about pre-validation is to come up with the concept yourself first. Early on in the process, reach out to opinion leaders and bloggers in the niche and ask them “hey, what do you think about this app idea, would you be interested to test it out?” Using this method, you’ll have people from within the niche who are able to help refine and optimize the idea so that it meets their needs. Beyond that, by reaching out to the opinion leaders within a particular niche, you already have a direct marketing avenue to your potential end users once the app is launched.
So the advantage of targeting a micro-niche market is that you can relatively easily involve your end user in the creation process and have laser-focussed marketing channels.
Targeting a broad niche market
If you’re targeting a broader market then you’re going to be looking more at the overall app ecosystem. People like Chad Mureta are masters of this method of finding market segments that are popular and trending within the App Store. Let’s see more details about this in the following section.
Identify Hot Trends Within The App Store
How do you find out what’s popular on the App Store?
Your first port of call is the App Charts, which you should be glued to in order to see what’s going on. There are two main ways to do this.
You can browse the Charts on your own device or on iTunes. If you use these methods, you should just be aware that both the App Store on your device and in iTunes is locked on to a particular country App Store. Each country’s App Store show different patterns. For example, if your device is associated with the Australian App Store, you will see what apps are popular in Australia, which might be very different to the apps that are popular in France, Germany or South Korea.
It’s important to browse the charts on a regular basis so that you can spot new, rising trends. Trey Smith mentions in a talk that he gave that he looks at the App Charts at least once per hour! While this may be a bit excessive, you do want to monitor the Charts on a regular basis.
The Top Grossing Charts is a good place to look, since this clearly indicates the apps and genres that people are willing to spend money on. This also indicates which apps have the highest engagement, since normally the Top Grossing Chart leaders generate their revenue through in-app purchases.
The Top Paid Charts is also important to look at because this indicates what types of apps people are willing to pay for outright. The Top Free Charts, while not necessarily indicating anything related to monetization, do indicate which apps are getting the most downloads, since free apps get normally at least 10 times the downloads of paid apps.
A tool that I personally like to use is Apptrace. They have developed a global app ranking system. Whereas normally when you’re browsing the App Charts you see the results for a particular country, they’ve developed an algorithm which ranks all the apps (both paid and free), across all the various country App Stores. This is a great way to get a snapshot of what apps are popular world-wide. This is a great, time-saving way, to do research and spot trends. You can use Apptrace to either look at the overall global rankings, or you can niche down into particular categories.
Identify Worldwide Trends To Import Into The App Store
A third way to do market research is to identify popular topics and trends in general, outside of the App Store. There are a couple of really good tools for this. One is Google Trends, where you can see what are the most popular search terms overall and also the rising search terms. There is often a good correlation between what is popular on Google and the App Store.
When using Google Trends, there are lots of different parameters that you can set. You should normally set the timeframe to look at trends over the last 12 months (or more recently) and you can also either choose to look at the trends for a particular country or globally. As a helpful hint, normally when you’re browsing Google Trends, you can only see the top 10 results. If you download the CSV file you can get access to a larger list. Another good way to browse Google Trends is to select particular categories and this tool will automatically generate the most popular search terms related to this category.
The next awesome tool is the Google Keyword Tool (GKT). Usually this will be the next stage after you’ve identified interesting topics within Google Trends. When you plug in a search term into the GKT it will give you the exact volume of searches per month as well as suggest a list of related searches, which might give you some further ideas. As another advanced tip, under “Advanced Options and Filters”, you should set the GKT to bring up results related to “mobile devices with full internet browsers” and set the match type to “exact match”. These settings will help bring up the most accurate results as they relate to mobile based search patterns.
The sky is the limit when it comes to finding popular topics upon which to base apps. Another interesting idea is to browse the Amazon Bestseller lists in order to find topics that many people are interested in.
Once you’ve identified a potential topic, you still want to validate whether there is demands for it on the App Store. A nice place to start is TopAppCharts.com. For example, if you found that “blue widgets” is a popular and trending topic, you can type this into TopAppCharts.com. It will spit out a list of all the apps containing “blue widgets” in the app name and it will rank them according to where they are ranked within the US App Store. Continuing on the “blue widgets” example, if on TopAppCharts.com there are lots of results but none of them are actually ranked on the App Store, this probably means that it is not an organically popular topic.
Another important tool to validate demands is Xyologic, since it can actually estimate how many downloads an app is getting on both a monthly basis and overall. You can search the App Store for “blue widgets” to come up with a number of related apps and then plug the top few results into Xyologic. If these apps are getting lots of downloads it strengthens your hypothesis that it is a good market to focus on.
Lastly, AppAnnie is useful to see where existing apps are ranked and if they are featured in the App Store. You can see the rankings for particular apps both on a daily basis and as a historical chart. These are all tools that can help give an indication as to demand, although none of these methods are fool proof. Whenever possible, you want to validate your app ideas to the greatest extent possible before you actually start working on it.
Predict The Future
An alternate method of doing market research is to plan your apps ahead of time in relation to topics that are likely to become popular on the App Store. We know that world-wide trends are definitely reflected in the App Store. For example, if you look at the Chomp monthly reports, which they had put out in the past until they were acquired by Apple, you can see in the November 2011 report that around Thanksgiving and Black Friday the terms “shopping” and “discount” had massive spikes in search volume. This pattern occurs around other events as well.
You might try to take advantage of these seasonal trends. For example, around Black Friday you might put out a shopping related app and around Halloween you might put out a horror-related app. Other avenues to look at include planning apps around upcoming sporting events and movies. Just imagine that you would have put out an Olympic themed app prior to the Summer Games – this could have generated massive downloads, as some savvy app developers experienced. TopEndSports.com is a good site for browsing upcoming sporting events. In relation to movies, IMDB.com and movieinsider.com list upcoming movie releases, although you should always take care not to infringe any existing copyrights or trademarks.
That’s your basic workflow for researching apps and pre-validating your ideas as much as possible. The next phase would be to plan which category your app should be placed in. Distimo has put out a very useful report showing how many downloads you need in order to rank in the 25th spot for various categories. You can use this information to estimate how easy it will be to rank within a particular category. Of course, you should also take into consideration the fit of your app for that category.
Lastly, you should create a plan for your App Store SEO in order to maximize the traffic you will get from search. This is beyond the scope of this article since it’s a very expansive topic. Be sure to read Issue 4 of MAKE APP Magazine to learn about App Store Optimization from the leading experts in the field.
David Janner is the Editor of MAKE APP Magazine, the premium iPad-only digital magazine for indie app developers. MAKE APP Magazine cuts through the fluff to bring you accurate information from the leaders in the app industry. You can also follow David on Twitter and Facebook.