Going Free – Our launch results and market observations

It’s been over a month now since our initial launch in late September and we wanted to deliver our first results report and observations on this blog.

A Brief Summary

During our initial launch in September, we featured and tracked 12 different apps (volunteered by developers) that switched from paid to free. Each of these developers shared their download/revenue data with us within a 28 day period of the feature (1 week prior and 3 weeks following). Averaging the results, the apps we tracked have seen little long term change in downloads or revenue despite a short term spike in downloads. Our best performing app earned 36,500 downloads on it’s best day and reached 58th place in the Top iPad Overall section with no investment made, although there was at least one spontaneous feature on App Advice which helped to boost traffic.

Looking at the publicly available bit.ly stats of Free App A Day’s links we saw that across their website, Facebook page and iOS apps, they were tracking anywhere from 3,000 – 21,000 clicks for an app. The correlation between their clicks and best rank seems unclear and it appears that some of the best performing FAAD apps probably had additional marketing budget running simultaneously. Over 30% of the apps featured on FAAD didn’t reach the Top 200 Overall (iPad or iOS). Comparatively, one of the apps we personally tracked on AppRewardsClub.com actually managed to surpass the results of 30% of FAAD’s main featured apps that we examined with no marketing budget.

Given what we know so far, our advice would be to first and foremost question costs. There are tons of marketers out there offering PR, review, and advertising services with price tags that might seem affordable based on their sales pitch, but then deliver absolutely no value. Choose carefully and plan ahead. Make sure that you do everything you can to promote your own free app as well, because it can all help and a spontaneous feature  somewhere could be a big free bonus.

Our service will continue to be free as long as developers are willing to share their sales data. We will be updating our app with new surprises in the coming months and doing everything we can to grow the user base.

Sales Data

During our initial launch in September, we featured and tracked a total of 15 different apps volunteered by developers. Each of these developers shared their download/revenue data with us within a 28 day period of the feature (1 week prior and 3 weeks following). Three of these apps were always free so we have omitted them for the purpose of analysis on price changes only. The graphs below depict all the apps’ 28 day periods in a scatter plot and the line represents the calculated average. Day 7 (red marker) was the feature date and we announced apps at 3PM PST. Some developers chose to switch their apps to/from free earlier/later than others. Going into launch, our expectations were pretty modest in terms of what we could deliver and we knew there would be work ahead to build our user base before we could consistently deliver strong results.

Average Downloads

Looking at our downloads graph we can see that the average app earned about 16,000 downloads while staying free for approx. 48 hours. Some apps stayed free for more or less time which affected their total downloads. One app also chose to switch back to free again about a week later. The average peak day earned 8,100 downloads. The most downloads earned in a single day by one app was 36,500 and over 70,000 total.

Average Revenue

Looking at our revenue graph we can see that the average revenue dropped (obviously) during the free period and then had a peak sales day right after switching back. The switch from paid to free temporarily had a very minor affect on average daily revenue thereafter, just a minor increase on average.

While we would love to take credit for the 10s of thousands some of our featured apps received that just wouldn’t be realistic. Rather, what this shows is some apps have a natural propensity to get attention and move downloads without getting a big marketer involved. The developer of our top achieving app has been gracious enough to inform us that their app was also featured on App Advice spontaneously (possibly other sources too), but no advertising money was spent.

Ranks Data

At the end of the day, we know the bottom line is about ranks. We often get emails asking what sort of guarantee we offer on getting apps into the top 50 overall. While I’m not sure that anyone is guaranteeing that anymore, it is certainly what people expect when they invest decent money into a free app promotion. While none of our apps quite made the top 50, our most downloaded app did reach 58th overall on iPad and 209th overall on iOS. That’s not bad for no marketing spend.

Let’s compare with the sort of success rate Free App A Day is getting these days with their promoted apps…

Free App A Day

Free App A Day (FAAD) is the currently most successful and well known daily free app promoter. The last time we checked, FAAD boasted a push notification to 7.5M users across their 5 (identical) apps, as well as email and Facebook subscribers. They were charging $2,500 – $3,000 for their “Daily Double” features which they pick a few of every day as well a one main feature. We aren’t sure of a main feature’s current cost (any insight would be much appreciated/updated here).

FAAD happens to track all of their download clicks through bit.ly which most of us are familiar with. Perhaps a lesser known fact is that using “+” at the end of the URL shows you a page with all the click stats for that URL. So after confirming that the website, facebook page and all 5 apps used the same bit.ly URLs we concluded that these stats give at least a decent idea of how many “download” clicks FAAD is driving themselves directly. Obviously clicks don’t translate directly to downloads, but this provides an upper bound. It is also possible that FAAD has other partners and third party observers that relay the message and assist in pushing driving download, but we wouldn’t necessarily count that as direct FAAD traffic either way.

We looked at the clicks and best accomplished ranks of the last 29 FAAD features and here are the results:

Link to FAAD Data Spreadsheet

Looking at the publicly available bit.ly stats we saw apps that earned anywhere from 3,100 to 21,000 clicks –  that’s a pretty big gap. Furthermore, it seems hard to draw a correlation between the number of clicks and position in the rankings. We saw that approximately 30% of the apps made it into the top 50 (iPad or iOS) while 30% didn’t even make a Top 200 of anything. Looking at the 9 apps we found that made it high into the charts, it was even hard at times when looking at the day to day ranks (not shown here) to demonstrate that FAAD alone had pushed them to the top. We suspect that most if not all of the Top 50 apps had additional marketing budget helping them hit the very top.

So what does this all mean? FAAD is undoubtedly capable of moving apps into the higher ranks, but just how high is uncertain. Whether FAAD alone can regularly drive something to the very top is also questionable.  What’s really interesting is that, when making a comparison, the highest ranking app we featured, which had no budget, actually surpassed many of the apps that paid to be featured on FAAD.

We’re not here to give the final verdict on FAAD today, but we wanted to give some food for thought on the gap between what FAAD does and what some great apps can do for themselves. The true cost of what brings an app with potential into the top 50 is what we are all about helping the community at large learn.

Social Media

Our social media engagement so far has been ho-hum. Facebook Page growth seems to be hard to attain and the effectiveness of their advertising is questionable. During our launch we tried to run daily contests with $10 iTunes Gift Card prizes, but despite the generous offering, response seemed to dwindle in time. We are not very happy with Facebook Pages as a means of promotion right now, partially because they don’t let you reach all followers without paying, which stunts its effectiveness. Money spent on advertising our app or a featured app inside of Facebook has also been generally fruitless. While these mediums are still important enough to maintain a presence, they will not likely be an immediate priority.

Social is also an important part of our program. Users are rewarded with coins when sharing their opinion on Twitter or Facebook which, in turn, helps them earn more rewards. So far we are seeing that the incentive works. Better yet, some users choose to carefully craft a message or opinion before sharing the post out and we’re that some of these messages do lead to additional clicks. The numbers aren’t super high, but it’s great to see some effect.

Rewards Partners

On the rewards side of our program, things have been generally positive. While we can only show numbers from our partner Kiip today and not Rewards Den, we wanted to share a portion of the picture nonetheless.

We’re a little under half way into November right now, but we anticipate a slightly lower revenue than October near the beginning of the launch. All in all, we see Kiip revenue as pretty strong considering the size of our existing user base. On an average day, we’re earning $2 – $2.50 in revenue, which is better than some of our own apps clear daily. Now we’d like to increase our user base by 20X and see the results. This is 1 of 2 rewards systems we currently have in place as well.

We’ve also been getting a lot of feedback on the rewards aspects of our program.  It is clear that rewards are essential to keeping users happy and returning regularly to our app.  In addition, the rewards drive new users to download our app and socially share our featured apps every day.

Lessons Learned & Recommendations

We still have a lot to learn and don’t consider ourselves experts on the topic but given what we know so far, our advice would be to first and foremost question costs. There are tons of marketers out there offering PR, review, and advertising services with price tags that might seem affordable based on their sales pitch, but then deliver absolutely no value.

Choose carefully and plan ahead. Make sure that you do everything you can to promote your own free app day as well. Additional features on app news sites can be an unexpected, but a welcome free boost. We haven’t seen much revenue change for apps with IAP, but this, as well as advertising and cross promotion, seem like smart things to have ready.

Questions we want to answer this coming year

At the bottom of this all, our goal is to help developers answer one question:

How can I get the best result at the most affordable price?

Uncovering this is going to take a lot of investigation work and experimentation our part. We’ll be looking to test and evaluate different marketing tactics as well as talking with other market players about their own learnings and opportunities for collaboration and bulk discounting (i.e. A single fair price to feature across multiple app sites).

In addition, over the next year we want to start developing averages for categories, app characteristics and strategies as we collect data and have enough sample size to deliver averaged results. This should help us deliver insight into questions such as:

How do apps listed in category “X” perform on average when switching to free?
How do apps that are iPhone only perform vs. Universal when switching to free?
What does the 28 day downloads/revenue graph look like for apps that all featured with FAAD and us simultaneously?

Let us know what questions you have that we might be able to help answer. We hope that you will stay tuned and perhaps even contribute an app feature to the collective knowledge.

Conclusion

All in all, it has been a decent launch and an exciting ride so far, but in the next year Ken and I have our work set out for us. At the moment we are discussing next steps and preparing to grow our user base during the Christmas season and in to the new year. We will be updating our app with many new surprises in the coming months and will strive to find ways to keep it fresh. Our service will continue to be free as long as developers are willing to share their sales data. We look forward to delivering tons of new insights in the next year and helping make sure that developers are as informed as ever about the marketplace.

Thanks for reading.