Have an App? The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing It Free

Apps are huge.

But you already knew that. But did you know just how big apps are?

Did you know that as of June 2015, more than 100 billion mobile apps had been downloaded from the Apple App Store alone?

Google Play? 65 billion.

These are pretty insane numbers. And get this: the world’s app obsession shows no signs of slowing down.

These numbers go up. And up. And up. And up.


The world uses mobile devices.

And mobile devices use mobile apps.

Which makes mobile apps big business.

The estimated worldwide app revenue is predicted to hit $77 billion by 2017—more than double the $35 billion it reached in 2014.


What does this mean for you?

If you’ve created your own app, you’ll want to claim your piece of the pie and cash in on it. (And if you haven’t created an app, you may want to give it some thought.)

Apps don’t sell themselves. In fact, app marketing is one of the hottest and most contested marketing battlegrounds of the marketing era.

With millions of apps, how do you stand above the crowd? How do you distinguish yourself in a crowded marketplace in which your innovative idea has already been iterated a thousand times? How do you get your app to the front of the crowd, to the top of the search results?

And harder still, what’s the best way to go about promoting it if you’re on a tight budget?

Most app creators I know are startups—a few smart people with a killer idea but not much cash to show for it yet.

Is it possible to market your app free?

Thankfully, yes—it is.

Notice, however,

  • I didn’t say “easy;”
  • I didn’t say “quick.”

But free? Yep, I’ve got you covered.

Here’s a step-by-step formula I’ve found to be incredibly effective and that can get your app the exposure it needs to get major downloads.

If you’ve created an app, good for you. But that’s only the start. Once the app has been fully developed, you have a new full time job. Your job now is to market your app.

What’s my focus here? I want you to earn more money with your app.

Heck, I want you to create the next Instagram or Pokémon GO!

It’s all about the marketing.

Let’s dive in.

Start with app store optimization

App store optimization (ASO) may be somewhat of an overrated buzzword these days, but it’s an essential first step for promoting your app.

Because 63 percent of apps are found through app store searches, you’ll want to make sure that you’re adhering to some basic ASO principles.


The story becomes even more intriguing when you look at these 2014 stats from MobileDevHQ. They asked survey respondents where they found the last app they downloaded.


Boom. App store wins.

Obviously, when it comes to viral apps such as Pokémon GO, people usually hear about them online or through social networks. I don’t expect very many people to be searching for “virtual monster game” in the app store.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of app downloads happen because people are finding them through app store searches.

How do you “do” app store optimization?

Fortunately, the process is pretty straightforward and similar to standard SEO.

Some elements include:

  • choosing the right keywords
  • using a keyword in the title of the app (“apps with keywords in the title ranked on average 10.3 percent higher than those without a keyword in the title”)
  • creating an awesome description that’s catchy and fully encapsulates what your app is about
  • including a series of detailed screenshots so that potential users fully understand the features.

Optimizely advises you to address these five points:


If you need a little direction, I recommend checking out this guide on ASO from Moz.

App store optimization is the process you should follow for both Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

There are, however, some significant differences between the two:


Whatever you do, start with app store optimization.

It’s free. And it’s effective.

Get reviews

Social proof is the lifeblood of online marketing.

You can use it to enhance the perceived value of your app and to encourage more people to download it.

I know that I personally like to look at the overall rating as well as three or four user reviews before I download a new app.

If I see that it has an overwhelming number of positive reviews, it probably means that it’s worth my time, and I feel much more comfortable clicking “Install.”

If your app has little to no feedback, I suggest you ask for app reviews.

Ratings and reviews are huge factors in the success of your app. Just take a look:


If your app has a one-star rating, only around 10% of consumers would consider downloading it. If, by contrast, your app has a five-star rating, 100% of consumers would consider downloading it.

The brutal fact of app marketing is this: If you have low rankings, you won’t get ranked, and you wont’ get downloads.


Be sure to provide notifications to app users, encouraging them to review the app as they use it.

There are numerous websites where you can obtain legitimate reviews, many of which are free. Check out this list for an overview.

Create an app landing page

Once you’ve got the nuts and bolts taken care of, I suggest building a landing page specifically for your app to add to your site.

This might include a few screen shots, some positive reviews, or even a brief video tutorial of how it works. It doesn’t need to be anything over the top. Quite frankly, it’s best to keep it simple.

Below are some examples of app landing pages.

This landing page showcases the functionality of the app while conveying the mood and sense of the app through colors and images:


Vonage’s app download page allows you to “learn more” but also gives you an easy way to download the app for your specific country.


Foursquare’s app provides that simple interface with the same SMS download option that Vonage provides.


Some of the best mobile apps usually display a picture of a phone with a screenshot of the app in use. This kind of imagery sends a message. It says “this is an app” and “this is what the app looks like.”

If you create a landing page for your app, I suggest you follow that example—a phone with a screenshot of the app in use.

Here’s the landing page for Everest:


I like the simplicity and functionality of this weather app:


If you’re already generating a considerable amount of traffic, you can turn casual visitors into app users without going to a whole lot of trouble.

Place download links on your website

You can capitalize on your site’s traffic by simply creating download links to your app and placing them on your site.

A logical location would be right next to your social media links. Above the fold is ideal.

With hardly any effort, you can bring some considerable attention to your app by leveraging the existing traffic you’re generating.

Make sure you use the standard download images. Most users have been conditioned to recognize these icons. When they glance at your website, they’ll instantly notice these buttons and click and convert.


Reach out to tech publications

In my opinion, positive press is one of the best ways to jumpstart a company or, in this case, an app.

Imagine if your app could get a positive mention on a place such as Mashable!


If you want to take your app from relative obscurity to a global audience, tech publications are just the ticket.

But to be totally honest, this is by no means a cakewalk, especially if you are targeting big name publications. But it’s definitely feasible with a little persistence.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Research tech publications and any other media outlets relevant to your niche. This post has some examples.
  2. Develop a pitch for an article that will feature your app while providing value for a publication’s target audience.
  3. Contact editors.

I will say that most editors are incredibly busy, so it may take some time to get a response (a week or more isn’t uncommon).

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get an instant response. Just keep at it until you break through.

Keep sending emails, and keep following up.

If you can get your app featured on a site such as TechCrunch or Mashable, the effort you put in can pay handsome dividends.


For starters, I suggest you use this list from Spacechimp as a source of places to get reviews and mentions.

This method is totally free. But it does take some serious time.

Reach out to influencers

While guest blogging may not have quite the same impact as a write-up in a tech publication, this route tends to be easier and can still get significant results.

The key here is to perform some research and find a handful of blogs that are related to the niche your app is in and that have an audience that would be interested in it.

For instance, a productivity app might reach out to Lifehacker to see whether they can get featured in the annual Lifehacker Pack.


You’ll want to follow the same basic formula that you would for reaching out to a tech publication and develop a quality pitch that a blogger can’t say no to.

Just make sure you fully familiarize yourself with their style and tone first.

Promote on social media

If you’ve already got a sizable audience that’s dialed in, you should be able to gain some decent exposure.

In this case, simply promote your app directly, or post links to articles featuring your app.

If your audience isn’t large enough to help you promote the app, I recommend contacting relevant influencers to see if they’d be willing to share your app with their followers.

Sometimes, this is all it takes to crank up your exposure exponentially.

However, I’ve found that this is usually a numbers game, so you’ll want to reach out to at least five influencers.


With “smartphone users spending 89 percent of their mobile media time using mobile apps,” there’s plenty of opportunity.

Even if you’re on an extremely limited marketing budget, you can still promote your app and bring it to the mainstream.

By following these steps, you can successfully reach your demographic and maximize your number of downloads.

Can you think of any other effective ways to promote an app on a shoestring budget?