Tips for iOS app marketing without a budget

App marketing for the poor – things that work for me

“Congratulations! The status for the following app has changed to Processing for App Store.”
Your baby came into the app world – the app store. The app you’ve put your heart and soul into, is now ready for sale!
Excited, after the first day the app is live, you’re expecting the daily report.
Slowly, the report loads.. and here it is – 3 downloads. How disappointing.
You probably thought that you could retire after creating this app… It will probably take a while before you get there..

Basically, it’s all about being out there, on Google, app store searches and top charts. It’s a no brainer, that’s what every app owner/developer wishes for. But how?
If you’re the owner of a large company that has a huge marketing budget – good for you!
Paying for marketing is easy and may prove cost-effective. You can pay for reviews, pay for downloads, pay for companies that will promote your app, pay for ads in other apps etc.
This way, somebody else will do the hard work for you; but what if you’re an indie developer, or a new startup and don’t have a marketing budget?
So the real question isn’t “how can I market my app”, it’s “how can I spread the word about my app without spending a huge amount of money”?
You can Google it as much as you want, you won’t find a definite answer.
One thing I can say for sure – there is no “successful recipe for app marketing” (without tearing your pocket).
Marketing without a budget can be a headache and requires you to work hard.
When marketing without a budget you need to find creative solutions and use as many free resources and platforms as you can.
Listed here are some zero-budget tips that I’ve gathered during the last years as a freelance iOS developer .
I will share some of my insights – things that worked for me.

Drop it like it’s hot -Always plan price drops! Submit your app as paid, even if you’re planning to eventually give it for free. The bloggers and app aggregator websites will be all over it and market the app for you. People just love getting things for free, and they love it even more if it used to be paid. “Apps Gone Free” is one of the psychological tactics that users can’t resist. Price drops are the ultimate method to go up the app store charts.

“Lite” & Pro versions – Create a free version of your app with limited functionality and an option to purchase the full functionality via In-App Purchase.
By creating two versions of the app you gain a few things:
The “Lite” version will be easier to promote, you will expand your user base and some users will upgrade the app, or at least join your Facebook fan page.
The “Pro” version can be used in giveaways or in planned price drops. Once in a while, lower the price of the “Pro” version, to get the users attention (as mentioned above). Make sure that your “Lite” version has enough functionality to make it viable and useful for your users, but add some extra-shiny features to the Pro version to make it worth the upgrade.

Press it! – WordPress ( is a great tool to increase visibility of your app to Google and other search engines. Start with opening a free WordPress blog. Have at least one static page, describing your app, accompanied by screenshots from your app, and one posts page with room for comments from your users. Make sure comments must be moderated before going live!
Use tag words and categories that you would like to be associated with your app. After a few hours, your post will be discoverable via Google searches. There are also people who constantly read new posts, they’re also potential users. You can use any blogging system you know. I personally prefer WordPress because it’s easy and it provides many great tools and widgets. Of course, the most important advantage of WordPress is that “WordPress, straight out of the box, comes ready to embrace search engines“ (WordPress Codex). WordPress has built-in tools and widgets that are easy to embed in your blog, for example: WordPress Facebook Like Box widget and WordPress sharing settings.

WordPress Facebook Like Box widget – Link your WordPress blog with your Facebook fan page in order to expand your fan base. Users that came cross your post and don’t know about the fan-page might become fans after reading your blog. You will find this widget in the WordPress dashboard under Appearance -> Widgets.

WordPress sharing settings – By configuring your sharing settings you automatically allow WordPress to post links with new posts you’ve written in your blog. For example, if you connect to your Facebook fan page, every new post on your blog will be published on your Facebook fan page. Same for : Linked-In, Twitter etc. WordPress sharing settings can be found in the WordPress dashboard under Settings->Sharing.

Cross app marketing – Use your current users to cross-advertise your apps. Use splash pages, links offering more apps or custom ads. You’ve worked so hard to get these users, they’re potential users for other apps you own.
According to my statistics, splash pages conversion are approximately 7-8%. For best exposure, present your splash page every time the user starts the app. If you want your splash page to be presented on app activation even if the app was opened from the background, don’t place the call for splash page in “applicationDidFinishLaunching” method, call it in the “applicationDidBecomeActive” method.

App rating – For most potential users, the rating of your app can be crucial. Although some might ignore the ratings and download the app based on the app description, screenshots or recommendations. App rating might even be a factor in the unknown algorithm used for the “iTunes store” search results. Don’t count on the users to return back to the store and rate your app. Make it simple. Add a button or prompt the user to rate your app with an alert. App rating is considered an act of “sophisticated” users. This will assist the “lazy” or “simple” users to rate your app. Hopefully they’ll have something good to say.
Needless to say that giving the “simple” users access to criticize your app, won’t always generate only good reviews. Take that in consideration when asking for rating.
The question whether to prompt an alert or just show a button on your screen is a question of your taste and how you characterize your users. An alert can be an advantage and a disadvantage. It forces the user to act in order to continue using the app. Some people might see it as an opportunity and some will find it annoying. If you annoy your users they will probably write a bad review, which is the opposite of what you intended to do. I find a button more subtle and yet easy enough for those who have something to say.

Create a fan base –
Enable sharing from your app using several social platforms (Email, Facebook, Twitter, etc) this way your users can promote the app for you.
Promote your Facebook page from within your app. Facebook users are potential users for other apps you own(or might own). Even by joining your page they promote the app to their friends.
Expanding your Facebook fan base can be done in many ways. You can add a link from your app to your Facebook page or use an internal inbox to send a message leading to your page. I’m using Appoxee SDK ( to engage my app users. In Figure1 you can see an internal inbox with a message promoting the app Facebook page.
Use the WordPress Facebook Like Box widget mentioned before.

Push messages – don’t push it! – Push messages can be an extremely powerful tool if they’re used correctly. Very much like the power of splash pages, you can use push messages to cross-promote apps . The problem with push messages is that they’re annoying, and unlike splash pages, the user can unregister from getting them. This is why I recommend to use them wisely. Every irrelevant message you send will cause users to unregister from your app push notifications and they might even uninstal the app. Before sending a push notification, think about the consequences. Is the value of this message equal to the power of holding users as possible push receivers? On the other hand, what’s the worth of the users if you don’t use them! Mastering the art of push notifications isn’t simple, but with some trial and error you will learn what works for your users and you will be able to practice it on your next app.

Be active on your facebook fan page- Make your Facebook pages friendly, comment on posts from users, post interesting photos and links that are relevant to your app and fans.

Giveaways – Giveaways are a great way to keep people active in your Facebook page.
Remember that when users like something on Facebook, their friends see the activity and it’s very likely they will become fans of your page too.
Make your giveaways simple, don’t ask users to upload photos or write anything. Trust me, I’ve tried that, the reach rate will be much lower. A simple “Like” will do the trick, without forcing the user to work hard or share personal details.
Another advantage of giveaways is that they make your page attractive. people who will visit it later will know that there’s a chance to get free apps or other promotions and they might join just for that fact.

SEO 101 – Since we want users to know about our app, we need to promote our website. Post links pointing to your website, WordPress blog and itunes download link wherever you can! In your Facebook fan page, in iOS developers forums, in free review websites, anywhere possible. Google rankings are known to be related to the number of links to a certain website. When linking your blog in other websites and blogs, your website gets priority on Google searches. Another SEO tactic that can be used to promote your website is adding links on your posts to external websites. You can add links to websites that reviewed your app, or other relevant websites. When showing search results, Google algorithms take in consideration both linking to your website and linking from your website outside.
Search for SEO tutorials on Google for more details on promoting your website. Most of the tips are easy to follow (add links, add keywords etc..)

Community – Find your target communities on the web and on Facebook. For example: if your app is targeted for children, become active in parent groups or pages. Giveaways in these kind of groups are a great way to expand your user base. Contact bloggers that write about subjects that might interest your target users. For example: if your app is a game, contact bloggers that are gamers. Offer them a free promocode or a few promocodes to give to their readers. Contact as many bloggers as possible. Not all bloggers will respond, but that’s ok, you only need a few bloggers to get started. Bloggers will gain the added value of sharing promocodes or announcing a new and exciting app.

Let’s review our main objective and how all these tips bring us closer to achieving it.
Our objective was to market the app, which means we want users.
Figure 3 will help us understand how it all connects.
You don’t have to follow all the tips. As you can see there are many ways to reach the users. Still, it’s important to remember that as many systems you use, you will reach more users of different kinds. Some users won’t have a Facebook account, some users don’t look for price drops. Using different methods will help you maximize your efforts.

If you got tired and frustrated just from reading this article, I guess you should start saving some money for advertisement and do it the old fashioned way.
Never forget that nothing will work if you don’t have an excellent app that brings actual value to your users. Good luck everyone!

Inbal Geffen
iOS developer & entrepreneur.