The Small Business Mobile App Marketing Guide

If you’ve made the decision to start building a mobile app, the time is right to start developing your mobile marketing plan. With all of the activity surrounding development and testing the app, marketing winds up an afterthought for many small business owners. And that’s a big mistake.

There are over 1.5 million apps each in Apple’s App Store and Google Play, and developers submit about 1,000 new apps every single day. Competition is stiff, no matter your market niche; in fact, about one quarter of all apps are only opened once after download. No one wants to see all their hard work end up in the land of forgotten apps.

So how do you make sure your app pays off? A solid mobile marketing plan is essential, and ideally, follows your mobile app development every step of the way, from brainstorming features and functions to post launch engagement.

If you’re a small business owner taking the plunge into mobile app development, this guide will help your marketing efforts align with your goals and get your app off to a great start.

Identify Your Target Audience and App Objectives

Before you begin, flesh out who your customers really are; your buyer personas will shape your design elements and functionality. A business designing a mobile app for a target audience that is predominantly women between the ages of 18 and 29 will have an entirely different look, feel, and set of features than an app designed for men over age 50.

The next step is identifying what you want your app to achieve. This isn’t as obvious as it seems at first glance; some of the best branded apps have features that complement the company’s main function. North Face, the outdoor apparel brand, includes a hiking and bike trail finder, real-time progress tracking, and social integration that lets users share their accomplishments with their friends, boosting engagement and brand awareness.

Thermos is another brand with value-added features: The Oasis Places points users to the nearest public fountains to fill their water bottles and provides user-generated ratings for cleanliness, convenience, and coldness of the water.

Of course, if you’re an eCommerce business or a restaurant, you’ll want functionality that lets users accomplish important tasks related to your business—placing an order and viewing products or menus, for example. But this is a good time to get creative and think of value-added extras you might include to differentiate your app from similar offerings in your market and help you achieve your marketing goals.

Do Your Keyword Research

Finding the right keywords is an extremely important part of app store optimization (ASO) and SEO for mobile app discoverability. Your app stands a better chance of being found and downloaded by your target audience if you know the language they are using to search for your product—about 63 percent of all apps are discovered with organic search.

You’ll want to put in time upfront to get the right keywords for your app; ASO best practices recommend careful keyword placement in your app’s title and description in the mobile app marketplaces, as well as on your app’s landing page or website. Google indexes app content that exists on the web in its search results; the right keywords and content can help your app float to the top in organic SERP as well as in app store searches.

Build Your App’s Online Presence

Start by designing an icon and overall branding theme for your app and collateral materials such as articles, banner ads, announcements, etc. As you get further along in the app development process, you’ll also want to acquire some great screenshots to complement your marketing materials.

At a minimum, you’ll need a landing page. For small businesses on a budget, online tools like Unbounce offer freemium and low-cost plans and customizable templates to help you create a well-designed landing page to announce your app, collect addresses, and provide links for download once your app is released. This is also where your app content will reside for SEO purposes.

It’s a good idea to begin working social media, as well. Some experts advocate a broad approach, blanketing all the social media platforms. Many, however, recommend choosing one or two platforms where your target audience hangs out and concentrating on a more focused social campaign. This lets you maintain a higher level of engagement and actually reach the people most likely to download your app.

You may also want to consider a paid social ad to test your landing page and ensure you are targeting the right people for your launch efforts. If you’re converting about 3 to 4 percent, you’re on the right platform and targeting the right customers.

If you have a company blog and an email subscriber list, take advantage of those channels to promote your mobile app launch, as well. Do you have a good relationship with a journalist at your local paper or in a journal in your business niche? Reach out about a week before release to see if he or she will test-drive your app and write an article or blog post.

Launch Day

It seems like a no-brainer, but sending an e-blast to your subscriber list is an important launch day first step. Depending on your target audience, Facebook app install ads are a good way to get downloads and build some momentum. If your target audience is into Instagram, consider reaching out to some influencers in your niche and asking if they’ll do a sponsored post promoting your app.

Make sure your app is listed in the app marketplaces and update all your online pages with live links to the app stores. Include signage in your brick-and-mortar stores announcing your app, as well; ask customers to text in to get an SMS message with link to your app to keep it simple.

Promoting Your App

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There are two main paths to app promotion post launch: Paid and organic. Depending on your budget, your market niche, and your marketing objectives, you’ll probably engage in a combination of activities from each side.


Paid Organic
App-Install Campaigns (CPI ads) App Store Optimization & SEO
Paid Social Media Ads Social Media Shares
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising Company/brand website/blog
Email campaigns Earned media


Here’s an overview of each weapon in your app promotion arsenal:

App-Install Campaigns

There’s no doubt that paid install ads on the major social sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) offer an excellent opportunity to get your app in front of a huge target audience. They also have the advantage of simplifying the ROI tracking process—it’s easy to see when an ad leads an app install.

For small businesses, the question is whether the app users these ads generate have a higher lifetime customer value than the cost of the ad; are they ROI positive? There is some evidence that users who convert from a paid install campaign have higher engagement and retention rates than users who find an app organically, so marketers should weigh these factors when deciding whether the CPI model is cost-effective for them on the platforms they prefer.

Paid Social Media

Depending on your target audience and your overall mobile marketing plans, paid social is a comparatively inexpensive way to get exposure for your app. Don’t overlook the smaller niche platforms if they fit with your target demographic; promoted pins on Pinterest and images on Instagram, sponsored updates on LinkedIn, and placed ads on Reddit or StumbleUpon are great options for some SMEs.

Pay Per Click

Search engine marketing is an option worth considering, especially since app stores do not offer paid search this point. If you’re handy with AdWords and Google Analytics, you can get decent results. One note, however: The new iOS 9 update released in September 2015 allows users to block ads, including Google AdWords, in their mobile web browser. In-app ads, however, will not be affected, so you should take this into consideration in your overall app marketing strategy.

Email and SMS Text Campaigns

Depending on your target audience demographics, text campaigns offer a higher ROI over other electronic blast methods. Be sure your landing page is optimized for mobile if you choose this approach. Email blasts to your subscriber lists are a good way to drive downloads, but be wary of purchasing lists, since these traditionally have poor performance metrics and are less cost effective. 

Organic Mobile App Promotion

For many SMEs, organic promotion, through SEO, ASO, social media hooks, and other inbound marketing tactics is the most cost effective option for building momentum and driving downloads.

Give special attention to your brand website; remember that people will land on different pages depending on search terms and outside links. Prominently feature your app and download links throughout your website, especially on those pages that contain content appealing to your app’s target audience.

In addition to your own company blog, reach out to other sites your target audience visits and ask if you can submit a guest post. While most won’t allow you to overtly advertise your app, many will allow you to link to it in your article or post, as long as the content provides value to their readers.

Don’t overlook the huge power of social media for building awareness and engagement; the trick is to give your followers a hook, or reason to share your app. Nike’s app, for example, lets users share information about their runs—their route, the distance, and time. Think about the features in your app you could use to encourage social sharing. Some social media tips:

  • Monitor your social accounts and respond promptly to comments and feedback.
  • Create a promotional video of your app; video is one of the most popular types of content on social media.
  • Give followers an incentive like extra loyalty points, for example, to promote or “like” your app.
  • Don’t forget to ask your followers to rate your app to help your ASO efforts.

A Word About App Store Optimization (ASO)

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ASO is your best shot at organic discoverability; over 60 percent of all apps are found through organic search in the app store. Here are a few tips to make the most of your ASO efforts:

  • Put effort into identifying the right keywords and make sure they are properly placed into your app store descriptions; feature one in the title and the first 25 characters of the description.
  • Create the most eye-catching icon you can that fits your brand image and use it consistently on all your app promotion efforts.
  • Add compelling screenshots of your app’s best features—for many users, these are often the deciding factor for downloading or not downloading an app.
  • Factors such as number of downloads and ratings and reviews are out of your direct control, but they do figure in ASO. Be sure you offer an in-app channel for feedback so you can address any issues with your app to minimize the potential for negative ratings and reviews.

Keeping Your Users Engaged

It’s not enough to meet your download goals; you need to keep users engaged with your app and prevent uninstalls. A recent survey showed the top reasons people uninstall apps:

  • The app wasn’t useful/didn’t provide value.
  • They got too many ads or alerts.
  • There were too many technical glitches.
  • The app was difficult to use.

Push notifications are a great way to re-engage users, but they should be used judiciously. A generic “You haven’t opened your app lately” is not going to be as effective as a notification that is contextualized to where the customer is and what he is doing, as well as what the app can do to help him. Consider a location-based message giving the user a special discount at a nearby store, for example.

Ultimately, marketing your app is an ongoing process that starts with—and builds upon—an effective online presence, including appropriate social channels and a branded blog. Remember to choose the right mobile app analytics tools to measure your progress and build on the efforts that return the best results. And don’t forget to keep the momentum and engagement going with well-timed push notifications and re-engagement campaigns.