This article was originally posted on Buzinga.com.au – to help and inspire first timers developing an app.
In July 2011 I had a ‘grand idea’ to develop an app, and share what I knew about finding great places with views around the world.
I’d almost completed a 3 week trip to Europe with my teenagers. We’d enjoyed fast-track entry to many major attractions, as I’d pre-booked tickets so we didn’t have to join any queues.
I suppressed the idea for a year, thinking ‘who am I to develop an app?’ until one day I shared my secret dream with a friend who challenged me to just do it! She was making an app for her business and introduced me to her Virtual PA to help collate the data I’d need.
It was exciting to think I could create something from scratch and also very new for me to work with someone overseas (whom I’ve still not met), but it seemed like I should at least give it a go, so I did.
If I can do it so can you; here are some tips from my experience…
Before you start developing your app
Here are some things you need to know before developing your app, to prepare you for the road ahead:
1. Always Be Learning
Learn from online research and people who’ve developed apps before.
My friend had spent almost a year getting her app developed and I’d often heard her frustration with the time it was taking and issues she was having with simple things like correcting layout and grammar. Several people recommended I engage someone offshore ‘to save money’, but I decided to use an Australian App Developer to minimise my risks.
My friend has recently had to engage someone to totally re-create her app, I’m glad I got it right the first time.
2. Cover Every Detail
Scope your idea really clearly. This way your developer can prepare an outline design of the user experience and creative elements, in ‘wireframes’.
These will show you how each screen will appear and how users will interact with the app.
It’s important that your app developer really understands what you’re trying to achieve and why. At the early stages of designing my app, Buzinga had some very creative ideas that would have been fun but I felt were beyond what I wanted to manage, so we stayed with the original plan.
3. Create An Experience!
Design a beautiful experience so your users love and want to come back to use your app, again and again. It’s the frequency of use that will determine if your app is successful, not the number of downloads.
I sought permission from the Top of The Rock Observation Deck at the Rockefeller Centre to be able to display the core image in my app. It seemed an audacious request at the time and I was thrilled when they agreed; I wouldn’t be surprised if my rights to use this image also helped get the app through Apple’s approval process.
4. Build Robust Systems
Think about any systems or databases you’ll need to support the app and how you’re going to maintain them in the future.
Buzinga had to create a bespoke database to manage the contents for Views On Top. The first couple of months were spent designing that database and getting very clear on what content would be shown in the app and how it would be displayed.
The initial spreadsheet of data for Views On Top was over 600 rows deep and 70 columns wide. With so much data, it was critical for the database to have embedded controls that automatically track changes to any cells in the database. That way I can delegate roles to manage updates to the app to others and still monitor what gets changed.
Views On Top allows users to add comments and upload photos. We’ve also created processes to approve user-generated data that will ensure the app’s ongoing integrity. If a user recommends a location to be added to the app, it must be reviewed and approved before it’s added. User comments and uploaded photos will also be reviewed and approved before they appear on the app.
Some apps don’t have these review processes; if you allow user interaction on your app you’ll need to decide how you want to manage them. Even details like ‘how many characters a comments field can have’, etc.
5. Post Launch Costs
Budget for costs beyond the app developer’s fee.
These may include:
- Legal advice to develop your app’s Terms and Conditions and Privacy provisions,
- Marketing and public relations support including promotion on a website and production of videos for YouTube.
You may also need to set up a separate Virtual Private Network (VPN) or dedicated server to host your app.
6. Speak To Friends
Share outline versions of your app with friends and family to get their input before you start creating it. It’s easy for you to get ‘too close’ to really see it.
People whom you trust may help guide how they’d expect it to work. Changes brought on by their advice may be expensive and time-consuming to implement. So if you’ve finished developing the app by the time they get to see it it’s basically too late. Get them in to see it as early as possible.
With Views On Top, a friend suggested I add an input field for users when recommending places to add to the app. The user can describe what’s special about the place and any tips on how to get there. It was an ‘obvious’ suggestion but one we’d missed in the initial design.
7. Growth First, Revenue Later
Ignore questions from people who seem to think they have a right to ask ‘how are you going to make money from it?’ It’s obviously preferable to have a monetisation strategy in place before you start developing your app, but it may also evolve over time.
Views On Top has joined affiliate programs with online travel booking agencies and will earn commissions from bookings made via the app. With an increasing number of people using mobile devices and in the changing world we live in, I’m confident the app will make money over time. But ‘making money’ wasn’t my initial reason for building Views On Top, and if I’d listened to accountants and doubters along the way I may have given up on my dream.
Trust your intuition.
Once you press ‘go’
After you start building your application there are certain preparations you need to make prior to launch. Here are my tips:
8. Your Developer Account
Open a developer account with Apple – this can take a couple of months if in a company’s name. And read resources on the Apples Developer website, particularly their guidelines for app development and marketing.
9. Picking An App Name
Choose an app name to optimise being found. Your app’s title is a key search tool.
Learn about app store optimisation (ASO) and the importance of key words. I used www.sensortower.com to see what key words my competitors are using and which words may be most efficient to use. All of this is based on user traffic and difficulty of being found. I spent many, many hours playing with the different words I could fit into the ‘100 characters with commas in between’ limit.
I also referred to the Apptamin site for ASO tips.
10. Testing/Debugging, Whatever You Want To Call It…
Dedicate time to do detailed testing of the app as it’s developed, and give constructive feedback to the development team.
I found that emailing screenshots of the app with my comments was the easiest way to provide feedback on changes needed in the final stages of testing, and referencing each email with a sequential number meant we could easily track the fixes.
As part of the testing, do whatever actions are need to make ‘pop-up’ messages appear in your app and carefully check they say what you’d expect them to. And make sure that they’re consistent in appearance.
Re-test everything after final changes are made to the app, just to be sure everything still works as expected.
11. Tools You Can Use
There are a number of tools that you should be aware of that can help you out when marketing your mobile app. Here are a few:
- I’ve already mentioned Sensor Tower, however I’ve found their service to be invaluable for choosing the right keywords.
- MobileDevHQ is an alternative to Sensor Tower for spying on your competitors or similar apps!
- Split-force is another great service you can use for split testing elements/screen designs in the app.
- Google analytics can be integrated into the app to test user engagement.
- Heatmaps will help you identify what buttons are most important to the users.
12. WordPress Website
Use a website and social media to build awareness of your app. You should also capture email addresses so you’ve got an audience to tell when your app’s ready for download.
Prepare a press releases to promote your app and tell as many people as you can about it; word of mouth and your passion for your app will promote it better than online write-ups.
And finally, be patient! Great things can take longer than you expect…