10 money-making secrets of top apps (part 2)

Do best-selling apps have something in common? The experts on our Marketplace team think so.

In part one, I shared some of the lessons they learned from studying top apps across Marketplace. Here’s the rest of the list:

6. Be quick to market

As my colleague Todd Brix mentioned recently, we’re planning to open new Marketplace storefronts in more than 100 new markets this year. By making your app available in these new stores early, you increase your odds of getting noticed and gaining a toehold on the download charts.

Apps that show up first in newly-opened stores typically have an early advantage because there’s often less competition. Early download momentum can also help propel and keep your app on the charts even after a store gets more crowded.

7. Think global—and local

Being first in a new market is just one way to win over new customers. Another is by tailoring your app to local customs, preferences, and languages—processes often referred to as globalization and localization. As Microsoft’s Kim Cameron notes in her must-read post on the subject, these similar-sounding expressions mean two slightly different things.

Globalizing your app means making sure things like money, dates, and symbols are expressed correctly for a particular market. For example, making sure your financial app expresses money in Chinese yuan instead of U.S. dollars. Localizing an app means translating it into one or more new languages. Typical elements that get localized are the app’s user interface text, Marketplace description, and App list title. (Localizing the title requires building a C++ resource DLL. Check out the handy utility Microsoft MVP Patrick Getzmann created that makes this process much easier.)

Yes, all this can take some work, but it’s usually worth it. Globalizing and localizing your app increases the odds it might be featured and promoted in a local Marketplace, which can drive up downloads. Generally speaking, people also prefer apps that speak to them in a language they’re familiar with. (This can be less critical for games, however.)

Besides Kim’s post, I also highly recommend How to Build a Globalized Application for Windows Phone and How to Build a Localized Application for Windows Phone to help get up to speed.

8. Optimize your app

Windows Phones come in a range of shapes, sizes, and prices. To help increase your downloads and ratings, try to ensure that your app works well on the widest number of devices, including lower-cost ones.

Mike Battista on the Windows Phone engineering team wrote an outstanding blog series that’s packed with advice on optimizing your app for lower-cost devices. It’s another must-read. For more perspective, watch Mike talk about these practices on Channel 9’s Inside Windows Phone.

9. Ask for reviews and ratings

Encouraging customers to tell you what they do and especially don’t love about your app is crucial to long-term success. Our analysis showed that highly-ranked apps have an average rating of 3.5 stars, about double that of other apps. Developers who respond to customer feedback and deliver frequent updates generally see their ratings go up, which in turn encourages more customers to consider downloading the app.

One way to encourage people to share their thoughts is to include an in-app link back to the app review page using the Marketplace Review Task Launcher. Community-powered services like Get Satisfaction and the Windows Phone Suggestion Box can also offer more insights into what customers are thinking.

10. Deliver frequent updates

Here’s a telling statistic: highly-ranked apps are updated, on average, more than twice as often as all other apps. Additionally, the developers behind highly-ranked apps deliver updates every two to three months, compared with four or more months for all other apps.

Besides bug fixes, what’s worth including in an update? User reviews are an important and obvious source of ideas. Customer and app behavior can be another. App Hub provides some of this info, but it’s also worth looking into analytics services to help you gain more insight into what users are doing with your app. Some you can check out include Flurry, Localytics, and Wensus.

As you add new features and fix bugs, make sure to update your app’s description and screenshots (if necessary) to let people know what’s included in your refresh. (But add this info after the basic description, so new customers  just looking for a simple description of your app don’t have to wade through the change log.) Finally, make sure that your app metadata is also up to date and includes any new features you’ve added.

Taptitude is a perfect example of how frequent updates can drive downloads. Check out what co-creator Brandon Furtwangler had to say about the benefits of frequent updates on Inside Windows Phone.

Bonus tip:

11. Get help from others

No software developer stands alone. One of the great things about the Windows Phone developer community is the amount of middleware available to help developers build or improve their apps.

ASP.NET evangelist Scott Hanselman provided a first-hand demonstration of this in his excellent post, “From Concept to Code in 6 Hours: Shipping My First Windows Phone App.” In the post, Scott talks about no fewer than 15 different third-party libraries and utilities he used to save time. The post is also filled with other fantastic tips—so don’t miss it.

Questions or suggestions for future columns on the business of making and selling apps? Make sure to drop us a comment.