App User Lifecycle

Listen and learn: Why it's important to understand mobile user behavior

Most app developers adore writing code: they love the process of starting out with an idea, figuring out what needs to be done to turn it into a working app and solving all the problems they encounter along the way. They get a buzz from the process that they don’t get from other things – like research and marketing.

But understanding mobile user behaviour is key to successful app development. As with many things in life, the 80/20 rule applies, where 20% of the effort gets you 80% of the results. For developers, that 20% has nothing to do with coding and everything to do with finding out what type of apps people want to buy, and how best to make your pitch once development is complete.

Start with the need, not the idea

The single biggest difference between a successful app developer and an unsuccessful one is this: unsuccessful developers have an idea for an app, and then start coding. Only once they have a finished app do they start worrying about how to market it.

Successful developers start by doing their homework – they find out what type of apps people are already buying, and which types are gaining in popularity. Only then do they figure out their angle and come up with a plan for implementing it in app form.
In other words, unsuccessful developers start with an idea; successful ones begin with a need.

Research the market

If you want to develop a successful app, step one is finding out which apps are already selling. Use app stores to see what are the best-selling paid apps and the most-downloaded free or freemium ones. For iOS, hit the iTunes charts; for Android, the Google Play top apps.

The aim here is not to replicate a successful app, but rather to study the charts for patterns. If you want to write a game, what type of games are popular at present? Arcade-style? Puzzle? Gambling? Games aimed at adults? Ones aimed at kids? If kids, what age range? What price points are selling?

All this may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many developers do little more than flick half-heartedly through the app charts dreaming that one day their app might make the top ten. Doing a proper analysis will pay real dividends.

Figure out the trends

An app type that is wildly popular today may have displaced by a different one a month or two down the line. If you can figure out not just current hits, but get some feel for trends, you’ll be one step ahead.

Check out the tech blogs to see which apps they are covering, both in news and reviews: apps the blogs care about today are one’s users are likely to care about tomorrow. Again, your aim here is to spot commonalities.

Use app analytics to guide marketing & future development

Fast-forward to the completed app. Don’t sigh with relief and think your research is complete. This is the time when you get to find out how your customers use the app. Understanding mobile user behaviour is essential not just to future updates, but also to successfully marketing your app.

Use app store analytics (for example, like that provided by Apple) to determine out everything from which links generate the most sales through to which platforms and OS versions are experiencing crashes.

When analysing which sources generate the greatest return, remember that you’re chasing dollars, not downloads. It’s one thing to know which sources generate most downloads, but more valuable still to know which generate the highest revenue through things like in-app purchases.

Usage analytics are hugely important. For example, if your app offers a dozen functions but you find that 95% of your customers use only one of them, it’s pretty obvious what your sales pitch needs to be in ads, on your website and in other marketing materials.

Don’t neglect beta users

Don’t wait until your app hits the app store: start collecting analytics from your very first beta users. TestFlight can be a useful source of data on which features are of greatest importance to mobile users. When seeking feedback from beta users, don’t just ask them about bugs or niggles, also, ask them things like whether they have told friends and colleagues about the app. If they have, how did they describe it and what did they tell them about it? As with feature usage, this can be helpful in identifying key marketing messages.

Iterate, iterate, iterate

Finally, app development has one key advantage over most other products on the market: you can improve the product even after you have sold it to a customer. Again, let analytics data – not your personal preferences – drive the improvements you make, and keep analysing trends to add new features. This approach can turn a halfway popular app into a hit.

Start with mobile user needs. Research the market. Identify trends. Use analytics. Learn from beta users. And iterate, iterate, iterate your way to success.

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