Marketing Your Apple Apps without Spending Money

In my view spending money to market apps is not a way to go for the indie app developer. Large corporations have money to throw away on that, you probably don't, and paying for pay by click ads can lead to serious financial obligations if you're not careful.

That being said, the app store itself provides opportunities to market without spending a dime.

Linking apps together

Don't just put apps out there and hope they sell. If you have 5or 6 apps in the store, you're goign to want to tell your customers about all of them.
One way to do this is to create a "more" or info screen in your app, which is a table displaying your app icons and app names. Create your table to have two lines of text:

  • A bold line with the app title.
  • A second line below it that states what the app does.

Use the image property of the table cell to prominently display the app icon. If the user taps on the entry, have it take them directly to the app store where they can download it.

Leverage Free Apps

Create free apps in your portfolio, with the purpose of driving traffic to your paid apps. This can be utilized in two ways.

Create free, and paid versions of your app. Use the free app to encourage users to buy your paid app to get more features. Keep in mind Apple requires free apps to be fully functional apps in their own right.

Drive traffic to related apps that aren't paid versions of your free app. Example, create a Justin Beiber fan book app that you sell for $2.99. Then create a Justin Beiber fan wallpaper app that's free. The free wallpaper app can be ad supported, but also use it to advertise your own app, the book app that some users will probably want to buy. You already know they are interested in Justin Beiber.

Nag Screens

If you sign up for Revmob, Chartboos or Applovin, you will notice they sell other apps by popping up a screen with good graphics and a prompt to the user to download the app. OK it works for them, it might work for you too. This kind of pop up is called a "nag screen". Create a nag screen to nag the user into downloading your own paid apps. You can have it work like Revmob, have it popup each time the user opens the app. I don't like to pester users of paid apps, but it is appropriate to put this kind of screen in a free app used to drive traffic.

Create multiple app companies to focus on particular types of apps

If a customer likes one of your apps, they are likely to see what other apps you're offering in the store. While you might be developing a wide variety of different app types, consider putting them in different Apple accounts. Suppose for example that you have 3 slot machine apps, a poker app, a photo app, and a font app.

  • Create an Apple account for the slot machine app and the poker app. Then when they look to see what other apps you've developed, they'll immediately see more casino apps they are already interested in.
  • Do the same for the photo app and font app.

This isn't a strict requirement, but can be helpful if you're putting out apps that are of wildly different types.

Use Local or Push Notifications

A local or push notification is a way to have your app send your users a message. Talk to your developer about actually implementing, but consider sending messages to your users when you release a new app, including a link to the app store.

Leverage across stores

Earlier I advised that you create Mac apps as well. Create Mac apps that are related to your iPhone/iPad apps. Then prompt users of your Mac apps to download your iPhone/iPad apps, and vice versa.

App Flipping

In the introduction I indicated I got started using a "lather, rinse, repeat" approach to growing the business. This wasn't the only way I grew my business, but when you see a particular idea working on one niche, chances are it will work on another niche as well.

Early on, I got some decent success selling wallpaper apps. When I first learned how to create an app, it was easy to display a gallery of images and let the user save them as their iPhone background. Being a horse owner I started with a simple horse wallpaper app. Believe it or not the app got 300,000 downloads. Then it occurred to me to simply swipe out the images and call the app something else. The possibilities are endless - surfing, motorcycles, sports cars, anything people want to stare at related to their hobbies. At one point I made an app that had wallpapers for the boy band One Direction that got more than a million downloads. Each app was the same source code, I just swapped out the images used for the wallpapers, changed the app name and icon, and resubmitted to the store.
This type of approach isn't limited to wallpaper apps. In fact the best category for app flipping is games. People can't get enough of games and probably never will. Taking a successful game and creating a new theme for it with new graphics is an easy way to add to your app portfolio by flipping/reskinning. For example, slot machines are very popular in the app store. At the time of writing there are 12 slot machine games in the top grossing list for iPad games. Slot machines are addictive. Apple isn't picky about letting slot machine game after slot machine game into the app store. Moreoever, you can quickly buy a slot machine code ( Once you have the slot machine code, you can reskin it 10, 20 times to get multiple games in the store and make money. You pay once up front to get the code, and after that only have to invest in the graphics.

My approach to running an app business is to avoid "putting all your eggs in one basket", so I tend to have multple approaches going at once. Reskinning slot machine games shouldn't be your only way to try and make money in the app store, but should be one part of an overall strategy.

Developing your own apps

Most app business owners are going to hire developers on oDesk. Even if you're a programmer, you're probably going to want to do that as well. Why spend your days and nights toiling with c language at your computer and getting headaches? Let someone else do it, I say.

But if you love developing or want to save money at least at first, you might develop your own apps. I confess I did that and still do some of the time.

To develop your own apps you will need:

  • A Mac computer
  • Xcode
  • To know how to code using c,c++ and more specifically, objective-c
  • There are other options, like Game Salad, but you're best off sticking to the tools Apple provides

Xcode is Apple's IDE/Development platform. The language its setup to primarily use is objective-c. You can get Xcode for free here:

Xcode will come with "simulators" for the iPhone and iPad you can use while testing your apps.

Developing your own apps is very time consuming and can be frustrating, so I don't really recommend it. But if you insist on forging ahead, you can look at these resources:

Objective-c programming
iOS 7 Programming Fundamentals
iOS 7 App Development Essentials
And of course my own book

Persistence Pays Off

Your life in the app store is probably not going to be all roses and cashing checks.
You're going to have setbacks.
You're going to post apps that get no downloads. You're going to have app rejections.

So here just a quick note - don't give up so easily. Many developers think they have that great app idea, post it, and it doesn't sell. So they chalk up their app store experience to failure and move on.

To be successful in the app store, chances are you're not going to make it on a single app. So if you post an app that doesn't sell try again. Just don't give into instanity, i.e. doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Make adjustments. Study to see why your app may have failed to gain traction. After you make changes, release a new app.

If you have a paid app that bombed, release a free version that points to the paid app, or put out improved but related apps that encourage users to download the original app. It is possible to revive app sales.

The bottom line though, is one or two failures don't mean you should give up. You might release 20 apps and make 80% of your revenue from just 4-5 of them (the famous 80/20 rule).

Selling an App Business

One thing that's constant about the mobile space is change. Things that take 5 years in other businesses will happen in 12 months in the app sphere. The technology is evolving fast - and Apple's management of the app store is always subject to change. Its going to be hard to start an app business and stay on top of it for the long term and have it keep making money.

That being said one of the best things about app businesses is well, its all virtual. You can create a money making business with 20 apps and then start an entirely new app business wth 20 new apps.

One way to maximize your profitability is to sell off your older app business when you're ready. The best place to do this is They are a professional outfit that has experience selling mobile app businesses and websites, and they have many contacts so can hook you up with a buyer ready to take over your app business.

Like everything else associated with the app store, selling app businesses began with a frantic frenzy reminiscent of the California gold rush. People were willing to come in and drop major money, paying up to 24 times annual revenue to grab hold of a profitable app business. Unfortunately for us things have slowed down and matured since then, and people are more cautious. Even so you can cash out selling your app business. At this time you can probably expect to sell it at about 2 times your annual revenue.

So the first key is to get your business on a track to success, so that its actually worth something.

The app business is a lot more casual than other types of businesses, so you're not going to need a whole lot to sell the business. Teams of accountants are not going to show up at your office to go over your records. However you still need to show what you've got, and you'll need to have the following:

A record of your previous app sales. AppFigures is perfect for this, so you can produce graphs of total sales and individual apps for the buyer.

6-12 months of bank statements, showing Apple actually making deposits to your account.

A simple but accurate profit and loss statement, showing the previous 12 months of expenses and profit.
It's also possible to sell off individual apps. If you need to raise money for more app development, feel you've gotten all you're going to out of a given app or want to cash out on an asset but not the entire business, consider listing individual apps on

Regardless of which path you take, selling at the top of performance is the best time to sell. You don't want to be trying to get someone to take over your app business if it shows income declining every month, so if you're going to list it for sale take some steps to get revenue up when buyers will be looking at it (release new apps etc.).