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You’ve read everyone else’s top-ranked guide on how to promote your app and heard all of the usual suspects: Use social media, run paid ads, tell your friends, find influencers - blah blah blah.

That’s great, but you’re new to marketing apps so chances are your social media posts are getting 1 like and 0 comments, your paid ads are costing an arm and a leg without any downloads and it won’t be long before you’ve pulled every last hair out of your head.

Thankfully, we’ve written what seems to be the Internet’s first ever real, actionable guide on promoting your app. We’ll assume no marketing knowledge, no technical knowledge and no $200,000 advertising budget.

In this article, we’re going to give you strategies and tactics that actually work in 2023, aren’t saturated by everyone else doing it and don’t require prior marketing experience to execute. We’ll work on the assumption that you have 0 users so far and give you strategies you can use to build your app from the ground up.

And if you haven’t got an app yet, that’s okay too - Try building one with our no-code app builder, then use our strategies below to turn it into a thriving business!

Start With App Store Optimization and Marketing

First things first - Let’s start with the easiest, low-hanging fruit - app stores. Apple’s iOS App Store and Google’s Play Store aren’t going to give you 10,000 users overnight, but they’re teaming with would-be app downloaders, making them a relatively low-effort, high-return place to spend your time.

The two main ways that someone can find your app in a store is if they search for a term that relates to your app and it appears, or if it’s selected by the app store’s team to be featured on the homepage or in a special category.

The latter one is hard to achieve but can be done if your app has already achieved some traction outside of the app store, and especially if it’s well-presented with beautiful screenshots and branding. For now, let’s focus on what you’ll need to do to help your app appear on more searches:

  • Conduct a little keyword research: Maybe you call it a “cooking app” but your searchers are calling it a “recipe app”. Look at the keywords your closest competitors use to describe their app and shamelessly copy it.
  • Use Beautiful Screenshots: Your images should showcase your product in the best possible light. The best screenshots include the product’s branding in the background and use text in the image to point out the features and use cases shown.
  • Localize: You can change your title, description and other metadata to better suit other countries and languages where your app might be relevant. Do a little research here, if your competitors are doing direct translations then they may be missing an opportunity to use a phrase or wording which is more relevant in a different language.
  • Nail Your Icon: It might seem like an afterthought, but creating a great, memorable and on-brand icon is important for catching searchers’ eyes on the app store. If you’re not artistically inclined, use an AI-powered design tool like Looka.
  • Unleash your inner David Ogilvy: He’s the father of modern copywriting. What does that have to do with your app? Don’t just treat your app/short description field as a throwaway task - Invest the time in describing your app and how it solves a user’s problem. Iterate on this over time to make it really hook your potential users in.

It can take some time for traction to start coming in, but the more that users download and review your app, the more you’ll be rewarded by being shown higher up in the search results and appearing for more queries.

If you’re feeling impatient and want to skip straight to the top of the search results, consider running App Store Ads. Through Apple’s Search Ads interface or Google’s Mobile Campaigns site, you’ll be able to specify which types of users and queries you want to target. 

Paid Ads can be a risky place to start, but App Store Ads stand out not just because they’re cheaper and a little easier than more mainstream products like Facebook and Google Ads, but also because your potential customers are already on the app store, in the mindset to download an app and looking for a solution right now.

Allocating some daily budget to capture potential users right as they need your app can be a lucrative way to drive traction.

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Use Launch Sites and Directories

If you’re just starting out, you’ll be glad to hear there are more than a few “daily launch” websites which list new apps, websites and software.

One such example is Product Hunt. You list your product on the site, schedule the day you’d like it to be “launched” and then sit back and watch the downloads flow in.

Well, maybe. You’ll likely get some eyeballs on your app with a basic launch, but if you’re serious about getting “upvotes” (people recommending your product) and appearing at the top of the list of daily products then you’ll want to put in a little effort.

Products which reach the top of Product Hunt regularly see thousands of visits in one day, leading to app downloads and often paying customers. 

You can make your chances of getting upvotes more likely by asking your friends to show their support on your launch day with comments and reviews on Product Hunt, as well as by going out to other products launching alongside yours, leaving a positive comment and encouraging them to check out your product launch too.
The catch? You can only launch once every 6 months. And Product Hunt’s audience might not be a fit for your app. Thankfully, there are quite a few sites like this:

  • ‍BetaList: A tech-focused website which showcases apps looking for testers and early users.
  • ‍AppsThunder: A website which reviews newly launched apps of all shapes and sizes.
  • ‍StarterStory: This is a little different. This website wants to interview you to hear about your story building and growing your app business. It's a unique and fun way to get noticed!

And if you can’t be bothered to list your product on all of them (we don’t blame you!), then consider a service like SubmitJuice to outsource the job to someone else instead.

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Embark on some Community Marketing

If you wouldn’t call yourself a “marketer”, then trying to do marketing activities can feel very uncomfortable. Community marketing is a little more fun and enjoyable than other ideas on this list.

In a nutshell, community marketing is when you go out to small communities focused on a relevant niche to your app. For example, if your app is about calorie-counting then you would go and look for fitness enthusiast communities.‍

Here are some of the places you can look for communities to participate in:

  • ‍Facebook Groups: Facebook Groups exist for almost every niche, hobby or interest you can imagine - even for professional or business niches. Find them by searching directory on Facebook.‍
  • Niche Forums: Like Facebook Groups on steroids, forums exist for everything from car enthusiasts, parents of newborns or even dedicated sweater knitters. Find them by searching e.g. “car forum”, or “Toyota fan forum” on Google.‍
  • Reddit: Reddit has a massive audience of people, organized into dedicated “subreddits” which cover the extreme end of niches. Search a topic followed by “Reddit” on Google to surface these communities, e.g. “candle making Reddit”.

You can use an audience research platform called SparkToro to find more of these communities.

‍Once you’ve found your people, don’t just go in all-guns-blazing! If you’ve built an app that serves a niche, chances are you have interesting and valuable knowledge and experience to share with that community. Post interesting information (that has nothing to do with your app), reply to others frequently and build up your community.

When you do eventually market your app, keep it subtle. Become known as “that helpful person who also has the cool app” and not “that person who spams their app all over the place”. It’s a subtle balance, but focus on creating mini relationships and natural promotion opportunities will appear. There are compounding returns here if you play the long game, so our recommendation is to make this part of your daily working routine - Wake up, grab a coffee and post 5-10 comments every day.

Pro-Tip: Chances are your community might want to hear the “behind-the-scenes” of your journey to create and promote an app for their hobby or niche. 

Share your journey openly, take on suggestions and feedback, and be candid with the community about the good, the bad and the ugly details of growing an app from scratch.

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Advertise in an Alternative Way

Pay-per-click ads aren’t the only way to pay your way to your audience. Did you know that you can find cheap advertising slots on newsletters, podcasts and niche websites?

Instead of directly engaging niche communities from the ground up, often you’ll be able to find forms of independent media that have a strong relationship with their audience and frequently recommend products. These are a little like influencers, but more niche and are usually more of a brand than a person.

Here’s the best bit - It’s (generally) much cheaper to advertise with these companies than it is to run paid ads on Google/Facebook or to work with influencers.
For example, it’s not uncommon to pay only a couple hundred dollars to advertise to 10,000+ recipients of a newsletter. If that newsletter has a high (10%+) CTR, or “click-through rate”, then it means the audience is likely to click on ads that are run in the newsletter. 

Here’s where you can find newsletters, podcasts and niche sites to advertise in:

  • Newsletters: Use sites like Paved, SponsorGap and SponsorLeads to find newsletters which are looking for “sponsorship” (a euphemism for advertising!)
  • Podcasts: Search platforms like YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music for podcasts. Try e.g. “Construction podcast”, or “Knitting Podcast”. Once you find the podcast, look for a website or contact details where you can get in touch for ad pricing.
  • Niche Sites: These sites can be blogs or directories which cover a particular topic or niche. They can be a little trickier to find, but thankfully GrowTraffic.com pulled together a list of over 50 of them! You can also find more by googling questions related to your topic and looking for independent sites which come up time and time again with an answer.

If you have a particularly interesting story, you may also be able to find relevant blogs and industry sites which are willing to interview you. This is especially true if your app is in a sector which is behind the technology adoption curve and isn’t used to seeing apps built to solve their problems. 

Pro-Tip: Instead of just winging your own “ad copy” (i.e what your ad actually says), ask the media brand to either write this for you, or give you some insights into their audience and what’s performed well in the past.

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Social Media (But done right)

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about social media. No, we’re not just talking about posting on every social media platform, we’re talking about how to do it right.

The problem with social media is that, unlike 10 years ago, everyone is doing it now. That means tactics that worked even just one year ago are already overused and boring your audience to sleep. Instead, here’s some ideas to consider:

  • ‍Build in Public: Over the last few years, creators of apps and tech businesses have started to “build in public” - In other words, they’re on social media (particularly Twitter, now known as X”) sharing candid, intimate details about their business - even down to the revenue and profit numbers they’re generating.This is useful not only as an audience you can learn from - they’re actively sharing their strategies and results - but as a community, you can easily create useful content by sharing progress on what you’re building and “thinking out loud” about the problems you’re encountering and the solutions you’re employing in return.

    What’s most useful about Build in Public is that it takes little effort to create content - just start posting about what you’re doing. It might seem trivial for you, but others enjoy hearing every last detail of what you’re working on!
  • ‍Micro-influencers: Everyone wants Taylor Swift to smile next to their product, but one underappreciated idea is to work with micro-influencers instead. Think of people with just a few thousand followers more than you, or perhaps someone who is well-respected within a tiny niche or sub-niche relevant to your app.

    Not only can you find and engage with their following directly (see community marketing above), but you can also close easy partnerships (paid or otherwise) with these folks to get them talking about your app to their audience.

    But here’s a better idea - Why not ask them to come and create content with you? For example, you could record a podcast, film a video or create an interview-style article with a micro-influencer which gives them a chance to share their knowledge with enthusiasts you know.

    The trick here is that they’re small enough to be open to doing this kind of thing (and as your app gets bigger, your choice of influences does too), but also big enough that showing the content to their audience can give your social profiles a boost and drive promotion of your app.‍
  • Giveaways: Does your app have a paid version that people might like for free? Consider running a semi-frequent giveaway of your product. This is a cheap and quick way to garner some interest on social media, especially if you can combine it with other tactics to get some

    For visibility, the giveaway should require entrants to like, repost/share and even comment on the post before their entry counts. This is the key to the method - it gives you a list of people who may be interested in downloading and paying anyway, exposes you to entrants’ own followings and shows the algorithm that your content gets engagement and that future content should be favorably promoted by the platform.

Be careful not to overdo that last tactic - everything you do on social media should add value to users. 

Like with community marketing, you should focus on building relationships, adding value to your audience with your unique insights and otherwise engaging with the social media community before you. 

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Exponential Growth From Your New Users

Bookmark this one for later - once you’ve had some success with the above strategies, you’ll want to exponentially increase your app download rate by employing some in-app tactics. Here are three options to consider:

Referrals

One of the famous referral tactics came from Uber, which gave $10 in credit to every person who successfully referred a friend. Most importantly, the friend also got $10 credit. This wasn’t just useful because it was “free money”, it was useful because it removed any excuse for the friend not to take an Uber and experience the “magic” of the app.

Your referral bonus should be something that helps a user get the core “value” of your app - In other words, give the referred user something which helps them see the value of your app rather than just downloading it and never signing up.

If you deliver food, give them free delivery. If you’re a social media app, boost their engagement for a week. If you’re a fitness app, give them a free, default workout plan.

The most successful apps of all time create a growth loop where one user signing up brings more than one extra user to the app. This type of growth is hard to achieve but can take an app from a tiny user base to a thriving juggernaut in a matter of weeks.

Reviews

Let’s go back full circle with the app store optimization tips at the start of this article. One of the most powerful actions you can encourage your users to do is leave a review on the app store. 

Doing so not only makes your app look more trustworthy and appealing to people looking at it on the app store, it also makes it much more likely that Apple/Google will rank it higher in searchers and feature it on their Today or Home pages.

The trick is to choose your timing well. For example, Uber requests users leave a review during one of their first 10 rides. You’re bored in the back of the car so you’ve got time to leave a review, and you’re currently getting value, so you’re in the mindset to write a positive review.

Think about where the key “aha!” moment of your app is where a user is going to be maximally excited, happy or satisfied while using your app. This is the ideal time to prompt them for a review, and don’t be afraid to use a space in your app to mention your own background story and show that you’re independent and not a giant, blood-sucking megacorporation (unless you are, in which case…no hard feelings?)

Push Notifications

Push Notifications allow you to send written, branded messages directly to your users’ phones whenever you like. You’ll need their permission to do this, but a good time to ask is just after they’ve gotten value from your app just like with reviews. 

While not a direct way to promote your app on its own, push notifications are ideal for nudging users to do something at a particular time and reinforcing what your app can do. 

If you want to grow via word of mouth or make sure your users are squeezing every ounce of value out of your app, then push notifications are the way to do it. Your app should be programmed to note which users haven’t used key features and nudge them to do it at appropriate times.

You can also use push notifications to remind users of your referral bonuses - They’re more likely to be with their friends at 9 pm on a Friday night than 8 am on a Monday morning. 

Alternatively, if you have a fitness app for example then you might want to time your push notifications to go out when they’re using your app to log their workout (getting the value). Chances are they’re already in the gym with their workout-app-loving gym buddies!

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Build your next app with Adalo

Are you working with a development agency or don’t know how to implement some of the features above like push notifications and referral bonuses? 

Adalo is a no-code mobile app builder which allows you to build native mobile and web apps without any coding knowledge. Features like push notifications and geolocation come straight out of the box, while more custom options like Referrals can be dragged and dropped together with ease.

If you’re serious about growing your app, you need to respond to users’ changing needs fast and implement the features they want - before they leave for your competitors. Adalo’s straightforward approach lets you throw together new features and changes in minutes and hours, not days and weeks.

Try Adalo for free.

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