Consumers currently use more than two times as many retailer apps as they did a year ago.Are you considering launching an app to accompany your business and connect with your customers? If so, you’ve come to the right place. This guide explains everything you need to know about how to make an app, from the pre-development stage to the post-launch maintenance stage.
App development involves a lot of planning, researching, and brainstorming before the first line of code is even written. Here are some steps you should take during the pre-app development stage to set yourself up for success:
Clarify Your App Idea
The first step to making a great app is clarifying the idea. It’s not enough to just say, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make an app that does X?” or “Why hasn’t anyone made an app that can help with Y?”You need to be more specific than that -- a lot more specific. Explain the purpose of your app and what, exactly, it will do.Consider asking yourself these questions as well:
- Why do I want to make a mobile app?
- What purpose will this app serve?
- Who will this app help?
- What problem will this app solve?
The answers will help you get clear on the kind of app you want to make. This clarity will help you stay motivated throughout the development process.
Building off the previous step, your next job is to establish specific goals for your app. Consider how the app’s purpose aligns with your company’s other objectives.Explain, too, what you hope the app will accomplish. For example, are you hoping to increase sales of a specific product or increase the number of monthly subscription sign-ups you get?Do you want to use the app to launch a specific service? If you run a restaurant, perhaps you want to launch an app so people can order food from their mobile phones. When setting goals for your app, make sure they’re specific and measurable. Don’t just say you want to build your business -- clarify how you want your business to grow and how you’ll measure growth.
Get to Know Your Target Audience
How well do you know your target audience -- the people who will hopefully download and use your app?The better you know them, the easier it is to create an app that interests them and that they’ll genuinely want to use.Understanding your audience will also assist with your marketing efforts and help you ensure you achieve your app development goals.Here are some questions you might ask as you begin researching your audience:
- How old is my average customer?
- Where do they live?
- What is their gender?
- What is their average income?
- What are their interests and hobbies?
- Do they use an iPhone or Android?
- What other kinds of apps do they use?
- What are their pain points?
- What solutions are they looking for?
Use the answers to these questions to build detailed customer personas. These are avatars that you can envision and reference when designing your app, creating a marketing plan, etc.
Define Essential Functions and Features
Your next job is to define the specific functions and features of your app. In other words, what will it do? What actions can people take once they’ve downloaded it and logged in?Resist the urge to include every single function and feature you can think of in your app. More is not always better, especially when it comes to app development.If your app is weighed down with dozens of features, people might be confused about what they’re supposed to do after downloading it. They might also get confused about how to use it and decide to delete it altogether.Refer back to the purpose of your app and the people you’re trying to serve. Use this information as your North star to ensure you’re choosing functions and features that are relevant to your target audience.
Learn About Your Competitors
In addition to learning about your audience, you should also get to know your competitors. If they have mobile apps, check out their offerings and get familiar with their key features, their layout and design, etc.As you’re doing competitors research, consider how they’re marketing their apps, too. You can use this information to improve your own app marketing strategy and ensure you’re reaching your target audience in the right places.Remember that the goal of this step is not to copy your competitors. It’s to gain inspiration, identify elements you want to emulate when creating your own app, and determine how you’ll differentiate your app to offer something superior.
Choose an App Development Approach
When developing a mobile app, you can choose from several development approaches:
- Native App Development: Native apps are developed for a specific platform (such as Android or iOS). Because they’re designed for that platform, they can use many of the device’s native features, such as the camera, GPS, etc.
- Cross-Platform App Development: Cross-platform apps can be used on multiple platforms (such as Android and iOS). They have a core codebase layer that works for various platforms, but they also have unique native UI features tailored to each platform’s specific framework.
- Hybrid App Development: Hybrid apps are a combination of mobile and web apps. These apps can be built faster than cross-platform apps and can help creators reach a larger audience more quickly.
- Progress Web App: Progress web apps are accessed and downloaded through a mobile browser instead of the app store.
Getting to know your audience can help you decide which app development approach to take. For example, if the majority of your audience uses iPhones, you might choose native app development and focus on creating an app just for iOS devices.
Consider Monetization Options
There are several ways to make money from a mobile app. The following are some of the most lucrative monetization options to consider:
- In-app advertising: Advertisers pay to show ads to people while they’re using your app
- Pay per download: Users pay a fee to download and start using your app
- In-app purchases: Users pay for additional features while using the app
- Subscription: Users pay a monthly, quarterly, or annual fee to use your app
- Freemium: The app comes with a free version and a paid version with additional features
Again, the more you know about your target audience, the easier it is to choose a monetization option that makes sense for your brand and brings you closer to your goals.
Set a Budget
Finally, set an app development budget. Remember that the development cost for most quality apps for Android or iOS devices starts at around $15-20K.Can’t afford to spend that much money upfront? Many development agencies offer financing with low or no interest to make the development process more affordable.
Choosing an App Developer
You don’t have to be a skilled programmer or UI/UX designer to make a quality app for your business. If you partner with the right development agency, you can let them do the heavy lifting to turn your vision of an app into a reality.Outsourcing app development can help you save money (it’s less expensive to hire an agency compared to hiring an in-house developer) and ensure you get a high-quality product. It also gives you peace of mind knowing that a team of professionals (rather than just one or two people) is handling your app and making sure it’s ready to launch.Here are some tips to help you choose the best developer:
Ask About Services and Specialties
When researching different app developers and development agencies, look at their list of services. Do they offer mobile app development? Do they help clients create specific types of apps, such as native apps or cross-platform apps?It may also be helpful to work with an agency that specializes in creating apps for companies like yours (or has at least worked with clients like you previously). This experience can help them understand your goals and your target audience, ensuring they may design choices that align with your brand and needs.
Most reputable app developers and agencies feature a Reviews or Testimonials tab on their websites. Take a look at this page and consider reviews left by previous customers. Don’t stop your research here, though. In addition to reading reviews published directly on the website, consider reviews on third-party sites as well (Yelp, Google Reviews, etc.). These reviews will help you view the agency more objectively and get a more well-rounded idea of its services.Pay attention to how recent reviews are, too. For example, if all the reviews are several years old, that doesn’t tell you much about how good the agency is now.
Another effective way to learn about the quality of the agency’s work is to check references. Ask them if they can put you in touch with previous clients directly. Then, follow up and call or email these clients.During your conversation, ask the references about their experience working with the agency, what kind of app they had developed, and how satisfied they were with the finished product. Take notes and use that information to compare and contrast potential candidates before you make a final decision.
Look at Their Portfolio
In addition to Review or Testimonial tab, the developer or agency’s website should feature a Portfolio or Our Work tab. Look at this page to get a glimpse at some of the apps the agency has worked on previously.Do the apps look well-designed? Do they seem easy to navigate? Have they made apps similar to the kind you’re hoping to create (such as a shopping app or gaming app)? Pay attention to how recent the content on the portfolio page is, too. If everything was shared years ago and they haven’t added any new projects, that might be a red flag.
Ask About the Development Process
Stick with app developers and development agencies that offer an in-depth and transparent process. At a minimum, their strategy should include the following stages:
- Intensive research
- App prototyping
- Custom app development by experienced professionals
- In-depth quality assurance
- Ongoing app maintenance and support
Be wary of developers who don’t clarify their processes or explain how they work. The more you know about the agency’s specific development process, the easier it is to know if you can trust in their work and determine that they’re a good fit for you and your brand.
Consider Security and Maintenance Services
Ideally, the app developer or agency you hire will assist with app security and offer ongoing maintenance services. App security is of the utmost importance, especially these days when data breaches, identity theft, and other security issues are more common than ever before.Talk to the developer about the steps they take to protect your business’s data and your customers’ data. For example, do they continuously update your app to ensure it’s safe against the most well-known and severe threats? Will they alert you to potential security issues right away?
Get an Estimate
Getting an estimate before you agree to work with a specific app development agency is always a good idea. The estimate should explain how much you’re paying for the app and the particular services you’re getting in exchange for that price.Compare the estimates side by side to determine which developer offers the best value. Keep in mind, too, that the lowest price isn’t always the best deal.Sometimes, it’s worth it to pay more for your app development needs to ensure you get a high-quality product that functions well, appeals to your target audience, and helps you achieve your specific goals.
Meet the Entire Team
If possible, arrange to meet with the entire team of people who will be working on your app (or at least the key players).When you work with an app development agency, it’s typical for multiple people to assist with designing, developing, testing, launching, and maintaining your app.Get to know these people and learn about their training and experience before making a final decision. The more you know about everyone who will assist in creating your app, the more confident you can feel that it’s in good hands.
Read the Contract Thoroughly
Always read the developers’ contracts thoroughly before agreeing to work with them (and definitely before signing anything).Pay attention to the terms of the agreement and ensure you’re comfortable with them. Take note of any fee-related information in the contract, too, such as when payments are due, penalties for late payments, etc.
Trust Your Gut
If you’re stuck choosing between two developers or agencies, go with your gut. If one seems great on paper but gives you a bad feeling, believe in that instinct.As a business owner, you’ve had to make a lot of decisions throughout your career -- trust that you can make a good one once you’ve done your research and collected all the relevant information.
Launching Your App
Before you launch your app on the app store, your development team should go through multiple rounds of quality assurance and testing to ensure everything functions correctly. They should also get final approval to you to ensure you’re satisfied with the look, layout, and functionality of the app.After you’ve given the green light, your app can be published and made available for your customers to download. Here are some tips that can help you maximize the number of downloads you receive once you launch the app:
Develop a Detailed Marketing Plan
It doesn’t matter if you have the coolest, most professionally designed app in the world. If nobody knows that it exists, you won’t see the kinds of results you’re hoping for. That’s why app marketing is so important.When creating marketing materials for your app, make sure you’re answering essential questions. Help people understand what your app is, how it works, the specific features it offers, and why they should use it.Promote the app on multiple platforms -- social media, your website, YouTube ads, etc. Consider the platforms that your target audience members use most often, and focus on those first.
Include a Media Outreach Strategy
Along with advertising on your website, social media, etc., make a plan to promote your app with the help of other media outlets.Reach out to reporters and bloggers and ask them to write about your app and your business. This approach helps grow your audience, add credibility to your app (and your brand), and generate more interest leading up to the release. If you aren’t familiar with any journalists or bloggers, search Google News and look up the reporters who have written about apps similar to yours (maybe even apps launched by your competitors). You can also search social media and connect with tech journalists on apps like LinkedIn and Twitter.
Prioritize App Store Optimization
You’ve heard of search engine optimization (or SEO), but what about app store optimization (or ASO)? The following are some techniques you can use to optimize your app description and ensure people can find it when they search for similar apps:
- Include relevant keywords in the name and description for easy searchability
- Choose clear and relevant screenshots that showcase your app’s offerings
- Include positive reviews
- Include information about recent updates
You can use A/B testing to experiment with different tweaks to your app store listing. These tests can help you see which images get the most attention, which keyword is easier to rank for, etc.
Get Testimonials Early
The sooner you get positive reviews and testimonials for your app, the sooner you can A) add them to your app store listing to increase visibility and B) start gaining credibility and get more people interested in trying out your app.When you announce the launch of your app, encourage your target audience (especially those who follow you on social media or subscribe to your email list) to download the app, try it out, and leave a positive review if they like it. Your loyal followers will likely be eager to support your brand and share their feedback.
Establish a Web Presence
Add a page to your website specifically dedicated to your app. Include essential information about what the app does, why people should download it, and when it will launch. At a minimum, your app’s web page should include the following elements:
- A place for visitors to leave their email addresses (i.e., sign up for your email list)
- A clear value statement explaining the app’s primary benefits
- A link to your customer support line in case people have questions, concerns, or issues downloading the app
Make sure that page’s layout and design match other pages on your site, too.
Encourage and Enable Sharing
If you make it easy for your audience to share the news about your app, they’ll be more likely to do so. As more people begin talking about your app and spreading the word about it online, others will follow suit and start checking it out.When you share a blog post or social media post about the app, encourage people to share it and invite their friends or family to try out the app. You can also include a link to the app store listing in your bio to make it easier for people to find and download it.
Maintaining and Updating Your App
The hard work doesn’t end just because your app has launched. You and your development team will need to do ongoing labor to keep it functioning correctly and ensure your customers are satisfied.The following are some essential maintenance tasks to focus on at this stage of the process:
Collect Relevant Data
Data collection is a critical part of building a successful business. Don’t forget to gather relevant data after launching your app.Here are some of the most important metrics to monitor:
- Number of app downloads and installs
- Number of new users
- New user acquisition sources
- Engagement rates
- Retention rates
- Most-used features
- Least-used features
- Churn rate (the number of people who stop using your app)
- Reports of glitches/bugs
Analyze this data regularly to get a clear idea of what works about your app and what needs fine-tuning.
Address User Feedback
Of course, anyone who launches an app wants to experience a deluge of positive reviews. At some point, though, you will encounter some negative feedback.Resist the urge to get defensive when these reviews show up. Instead, try to read between the lines and identify specific areas in which your app can improve.Even if the user hasn’t expressed it in the nicest way, they likely have some valuable feedback that could make your app better.It’s best to respond to negative reviews promptly, too. Express your regret that the reviewer isn’t happy with the app, and encourage them to contact your customer support line to discuss the issue further.
Monitor Feature Usage
Monitor app usage to see which features get the most and least attention.The more you know about people’s in-app behavior, the easier it is to make informed decisions about how to update your app moving forward.For example, suppose you find that after a few months, hardly anyone uses a particular feature. In that case, you may decide to get rid of it altogether and dedicate more resources to a different element of the app.
Continue Optimizing UI
These days, app users expect every app they download to have a sleek, modern, and easily navigable user interface (UI). If your app isn’t well-designed and easy to use, you’ll likely see your churn rate start to rise.How do you know if people are satisfied with your app UI?Pay attention to user reviews and take note of reviews that are critical of the design, layout, etc. If many people express the same complaint, that’s a sign that you and your team should go back to the drawing board.
Another critical aspect of a successful app is a robust security protocol. In addition to continually evaluating and optimizing your app’s UI, focus on security.Work with your developers to ensure you have a clear plan in place to protect valuable data and keep the app working properly. Include information about your security plan in the app store listing, too, so people know that you are actively engaged in keeping their data safe.
Frequently Asked Mobile App Development Questions
Do you still need clarification about how to make an app? If you have any lingering concerns, look at the frequently asked mobile app development questions below for additional information:
How Much Does It Cost to Develop an App?
The cost of developing an app varies based on several factors, including the following:
- App type
- App platform (iOS, Android, or both?)
- App complexity and the number of features it includes
- Security and maintenance plans (more in-depth plans cost more)
At a minimum, you can expect to pay between $15-20K for an app. More complex options can cost over $60K, though.Remember that financing can help to make app development more cost-effective and simplify budgeting for you and your team.
How Long Does It Take to Develop an App?
The app development timeline also varies based on app type, complexity, etc. At a minimum, it takes a team of developers around 3-4 months to complete an app and get it ready for launch. However, more complicated apps may take 6-12 months to complete.It may be tempting to rush your development team or work with a developer who promises they can have your app done in a month. Remember, though, that rushing will often lead to a low-quality product -- which may also lead to unhappy users and difficulty achieving your goals.
Why Should I Outsource Instead of Building an App Internally?
You can hire an internal developer or team of developers to build your app in-house. However, this process is expensive. After all, you have to deal with the cost of advertising a job, interviewing candidates, onboarding new hires, and paying for their salaries, benefits, and office overhead.When you outsource app development to an agency, you pay a flat fee for the entire app development process. It’s often a fraction of a developer’s annual salary, too.In addition to saving you money, outsourcing can also give you access to more skilled and experienced developers. You’ll rest easy knowing your app is handled by a team of professionals who are dedicated to it alone and aren’t juggling other tasks simultaneously.
How Long Does It Take to Publish an App?
In most cases, it takes about two weeks to publish an app on the app store and make it available for people to download.The specific platform on which you’re publishing (such as the App Store or Google Play Store) will have unique submission requirements you must meet before they accept and publish your app. These requirements typically include the following:
- Company and contact information
- App screenshots
- Detailed app description
- Store display and home screen icons
- Video or photo demonstrations of the app
Your development team should help you compile this information and submit the app to the appropriate platform.
How Often Do I Need to Update My App?
There’s no one correct answer to this question. However, keep in mind that many apps with high traffic volumes get updated around four times per month.These updates are usually minor and meant to improve the user experience by fixing bugs or updating the UI. More extensive updates (like adding new features) typically take several months to plan and introduce.
Start Developing Your App Today
Now that you know more about how to develop an app, do you feel more confident in your ability to make one that appeals to your audience and helps you achieve your goals?Follow the guidelines discussed above so you can create an app that works for you, your business, and your customers.Do you want to work with an award-winning app development agency that offers custom app-building services for iOS and Android devices? If so, Alpha Bravo Development is the firm for you. Contact us today to get a free quote and arrange a complimentary meeting with a project manager.