More and more we see app developers claiming They got millions of downloads in just a few days or weeks. That’s great. But really this is meaningless.
Download number mean nothing in the app world. Especially if you are a Free app. The only meaningful parameters is usage and stickiness. There is nothing wrong to brag about downloads and even rankings but that only matters if you are able to associate it with some context
- Did you get featured by Apple? That usually has some impact. It can generate hundreds of thousands of downloads in a few days and will place you in the top 100 rank regardless of what your app does
- Did you buy a media campaign? There are endless options to buy incentivized and non incentivized downloads.
- Did you leverage some kind of existing user base? If you have a previous popular app or website (e.g. Facebook) which promoted your new app (look at Rovio when they launch a new Angry birds edition or Disney when they launch a new game)
All those questions are critical because they bring context to the numbers. For example Songza, which is a wonderful music app, brags about over 1 million downloads in a few days. That’s great. But here is the context: they got featured by Apple big time (new and noteworthy, top left, which is one of the best spot). This was not mentioned in their coverage. And it is critical.
The app is not featured in the same spot, but it is still showing up in what’s hot: a less favorable spot. Songza used to be #2 Free app and is already down to #16. Expect a fall soon.
The same app without being featured would have not gotten 30% of those numbers. What really matters would be to know whether they have an active user base: how many opened the app, use it, what is the average time spent, cumulated number of hours of music listened? pattern for recurring number of visits, fermium revenue is any?
So why don’t developers do that? Because there is still a strong belief that ranking and download numbers are a factor for success. This is just wrong. What matters is usage.
But this is not the only reason why developer should care.
The key reason is consistency: when whatever got you this volume stop, your numbers will not follow and then further data will look pale in comparison. If your app has been featured by Apple or Google that means your app is worth attention: but that does not mean you will keep being featured. The growth will stop. Brutally. There is no shortage of examples. You will then stop believing your growth will be free forever and you may even doubt about your product.
This does not mean in any way your app is not good. Actually Songza and most featured apps are really great (Songza app score is 90 which is great). This is just not enough.
But what if your app is not free?
If your app is paid, that’s a different story because there is a clear friction point due to the fact people pay for it. and if people pay it means something usually.
Well even in the case of paid apps download numbers can be skewed because there are still promotional services that will pay back users or reward users to download a paid app (some of them are even in the app store!), although usually download numbers are in general for paid apps a good indicator of the quality of the app.
Bottom line: providing context for free apps to the cumulated number of downloads, specially over a short period of time is critical. Not only for those who cover them, but also for the developers who need to be aware of what matter most.
update: another case of a Developer bragging about Download numbers. Let’s not forget Snapseed is a wonderful but that was recurrently featured by Apple including in the recent Free app of the Week operation. Context matters…