You found a merchant problem that got you excited. You spent the next few weeks building an app. Your app made it through the review process and is now listed on the Shopify App Store.
Congratulations! And at the same time, buckle up and get ready. This is where the real part of an app’s journey begins.
Turns out, building an app is getting easier as the ecosystem matures. Shopify is making their documentation better, and there’s more community support than ever. It's gotten much easier to get started as a Shopify app developer.
Now that your app is published, the next step is to get actual users to discover, install, and use your app. In this article, we'll help you do just that, by looking at the top reasons why apps don't get installed, so you can avoid common pitfalls and find success.
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The main reasons apps don’t get installed
To start, let’s apply first-principles thinking to conceive the possible reasons why your app isn’t getting many installs. Logically, the two biggest complications that impact your app’s installs are:
- Your app doesn’t solve a real problem
- Your app has a discovery problem
There are good problems and bad problems. The first one is a bad problem to have, whereas the latter is a good problem to solve. Let’s tackle the bad problem first.
Reason 1: Your app doesn’t solve a real problem
I won’t sugarcoat this. Your app not solving a real problem is the worst problem that a product builder can face. Not having any demand for the app you built never feels good. But let’s move on and focus on what we can do.
If your app has no takers, then you need to go back to the drawing board to validate your app idea and whether you are solving a real problem.
What’s a real problem? It’s one that your target customers are actively putting effort into by spending time or money trying to solve.
People solve real problems by:
- Hiring someone to do the task manually
- Creating makeshift spreadsheets
- Or some other painful or time-intensive method
The fastest way to uncover these insights is to directly reach out to 10 potential users of your app and have one-on-one conversations with them.
The only objective of these one-on-one conversations is to answer these questions:
- Is this a real problem in your business?
- How much are you willing to pay to solve this problem?
You might also like: Research 101: How to Conduct Market Research for Your App.
How to find users to talk to outside of the Shopify App Store
One of the challenges of one-on-one conversations with potential users is actually finding those potential users in the first place. Below are some of the methods we’ve used to connect with people in our target audience.
1. Online communities
You can usually find communities of ecommerce founders in Facebook groups, Slack communities, Reddit, Twitter, the Shopify Community forums, and elsewhere.
There’s a few ways to engage in such communities. One way is to search for existing posts that mention the problem that your app is solving. Find the people who engaged with that post, and try to write them a direct message:
“Hey, I’m building an app that solves X and helps stores like yours achieve Y. I saw your comment on this post. Would you be willing to spare 15 minutes of your time to help me with the research? I’m happy to offer a 45-day free access to my app in return.”
You could also create a new post in these communities that directly calls out the biggest pain point that you’re solving. This way, you invite interested brands to come to you, provided they see your post.
2. Direct outreach
Another way to have customer conversations is to directly reach out to target customers via channels such as LinkedIn or Twitter DMs.
It is important that you comply with all applicable laws, rules, regulations and directives when engaging with customers. Anti-spam laws are different from region to region, and you want to be sure you're reaching out responsibly. In addition, Section 2 of the Partner Program Agreement sets out specific requirements related to marketing activities by partners.
How to conduct effective customer one-on-ones
I wasn’t great at having effective customer conversations until I read Rob Fitzpatrick’s book The Mom Test.
The book comprises some of the most practical advice when it comes to customer development. The best insights I gathered were around avoiding asking leading questions, and instead cutting through the fluff in order to ask tough but relevant questions.
Reading the book would take you about three hours, but you can get a short summary from the YouTube video below, or by reading this bullet-point text summary.
My top three takeaways on how to conduct effective customer interviews are:
- Don’t ask a leading question about your product (such as, “Would this help you,” or, “Do you have this problem?”). Instead, ask hard questions like, “How do you solve this problem in your life today?” or, “What else have you tried to solve this problem?”
- Watch out for fluff responses like, “I’d totally buy that.” Instead, look for real-world behavior. How much time or money are they spending on solving the problem today?
- Avoid pitching your idea, your version of the problem, or your product. Resist that temptation. Instead, keep both your ears open and keep the customer talking. It’s about them, not you.
Through the interviews, you want to discover how severe the problem is for your customers, and how they are solving it today. The more effort they put into solving it, the more important a problem is.
However, if your target customers aren’t doing anything to solve the problem today, that could mean it’s not a big enough problem. There are a lot of problems we “wish” were solved. But the test of a real problem is whether people are already doing something about it.
"If your target customers aren’t doing anything to solve the problem today, that could mean it’s not a big enough problem."
If your target customers talk about a problem but don’t actively do anything to solve it, you might have to conclude that it’s not a real problem and perhaps consider moving on to a different idea.
You might also like: How to Conduct a User Interview That Actually Uncovers Valuable Insights.
Reason 2: Your app has a discovery problem
If your research indicates that your app solves a real problem, and yet you aren’t getting any installs, then your app has a discovery problem.
Simply put, “build it and they will come” doesn’t pan out in real life. People need to discover your solution in order to use it. Thankfully, discovery is a solvable problem and overall a good problem to have.
Before we proceed, this must be said. Not every app gets its customers through the Shopify App Store.
Smaller or mid-sized brands, especially stores run by founders or just a few people, are very actively searching for solutions to their problems on the Shopify App Store.
However, larger brands that are run by dozens of team members aren’t always combing the Shopify App Store looking for new apps. They usually hear about new apps from:
- The community talking about it
- People they trust, such as the agencies they work with
- Through ads on their feeds
- Through direct outreach messages on community forums
This doesn’t mean that large brands don’t discover apps on the Shopify App Store at all; only that their volume is likely to be lower, and there might be more effective ways to reach them than just being present on the Shopify App Store.
Within the context of the Shopify App Store, your app has a discovery problem if the title and description of the app does not match what the target customer is searching for.
"Your app has a discovery problem if the title and description of the app does not match what the target customer is searching for.
How to get discovered on the Shopify App Store
We will cover five key aspects that you need to take care of in order to improve your discoverability on the Shopify App Store.
- The basics of Shopify App Store optimization
- Finding your top and related keywords
- Analyzing keyword difficulty by researching the competition
- Connecting Google Analytics to your Shopify app listing page
- Getting honest customer reviews that improve your ranking
You might also like: How to Optimize Ads in the Shopify App Store.
1. The basics of Shopify App Store optimization
When merchants are browsing the app store, they are on a mission to find the best solution to their problems.
Your job as an app developer is to signal to the right merchants that your solution is the ideal fit for their problems. You also need to stand out from amongst competing apps that offer similar functionality.
Here is a concise, seven-pointer Shopify App Store cheatsheet:
- Keep your top keyword (explained in the next section) that you are optimizing for in the app title, like how Upsell Funnel Engine has done it.
- Try starting the title of your app with the keyword followed by your app name if there’s space, instead of the other way around. For example, name your app Product Recommendations - AppName instead of AppName - Product Recommendations.
- Use the 62-character description text to stand out. Focus on what makes your app unique. Merchants are scanning through a list of results and the words you use will catch the attention of the right customers. Bonus points if you can organically weave in related keywords for your app into the description.
- The app icon or logo is an opportunity to stand out. Instead of dull colours, use bright and vibrant colors. Instead of a logo shape that does not relate to your app, try to use familiar imagery so that if someone sees your logo, they recognize what your app might be about.
- In the app listing page, use the key benefits section to highlight the most important features or outcomes generated by your app. The heading of each section should be filled with related keywords for which you want to rank, like how PushOwl has done it. The headings of these three points also contribute to search result rankings, so use relevant keywords wherever possible.
- Instead of writing lengthy app descriptions, try to write short and concise text that focuses on the problems the merchant is trying to solve, the features they might be looking for, and answering the questions or objections that they might have about an app. Most people won’t read through the complete description. Without expanding the description text, the first paragraph is visible. That’s why you should treat the first paragraph of your app description like the heading of an ad. Write a compelling sentence that captures the attention of the merchant and connects with their biggest problem, like this one we used for our app, DelightChat.
- Use screenshots to showcase your app’s ease-of-use, highlight key features or differentiators, and basically get the merchant to a point where they are eager to try out your app. Above is an example of an excellent app screenshot by LayoutHub. It’s clean, visually appealing, has one phrase explaining to the user what they get, and a screen grab from the app in action.
2. Finding your top and related keywords
The most important part of getting discovered on the app store is to develop a deep understanding of your target customers.
In particular, you want to answer this question:
“When a merchant faces the problem my app is solving, what words or phrases do they type into the search box to discover solutions?”
They discovered that when merchants were looking for appointment-booking functionality, they would usually search the following terms:
- Appointment booking
- Booking app
- Calendar bookings
All these keywords look equally relevant. The top keyword is the one you want to rank for in the long run. It’s the keyword that has the most volume and will drive you the maximum number of customers.
By optimizing their app title, description and listing for those keywords, the SidePanda team makes sure that their app shows up in the search results and gets discovered by merchants.
Finding relevant keywords for your app
You too can find the right set of relevant keywords for your app with a little bit of research. There are two ways to go about this.
- Talk to 10 potential customers. Find them using the same method described in the previous section. During the conversations, ask them what they would type into Google or the Shopify App Store search bar if they were looking for a solution. Note down those words.
- Study the listings of existing apps who are your competitors. Try to identify which keywords they are optimizing for by looking at their title, description, and headings of their key benefits. Type those keywords into the search bar and observe whether the results are relevant to your app.
You can study competitor app listings manually, or use a tool to check the occurrence of words and phrases in a listing, thereby informing you about the keywords that are important to your competitor.
Form a list of all the relevant keywords you find through your research in a spreadsheet.
3. Analyzing keyword difficulty by researching the competition
Now that you have your spreadsheet of relevant keywords, the next step is to analyze keyword difficulty.
Keyword difficulty is a measure of your app’s chances of ranking in the top three results for a particular keyword.
Let’s take the example of the keyword “upsell.” Notice the high number of reviews on each of the top six apps that show up for this search result. It indicates that “upsell” is a keyword with high demand.
One way to estimate how many installs these apps might be getting is to look at the number of new reviews each of the apps received in the past 30 days. If we were to assume that five percent of people installing an app write a review, then you can guess the number of installs in the past 30 days by multiplying (new reviews) by 20.
An easy way to find review volumes is by looking at the app analytics page by SASI, which stands for Shopify App Store Index. For example, by looking at the ReConvert app page, we can see that they gained roughly (2,353-2,216) = 137 new reviews over a 30-day period. Using our estimation formula, we can conclude that ReConvert got between ~2,740 installs during that time period.
This formula is obviously not 100 percent accurate, that’s why it’s an estimate. But by using this approach, one can conclude that ReConvert gets between 2,000-3,000 installs per month, which is great directional data.
Looking at the top five apps and their review volumes, we can safely conclude that “upsell” is a worthy candidate to be your app’s top keyword.
But those same numbers, namely the average rating of the top three to six apps and their number of reviews, are also telling you that it will be very difficult for a new app to make a dent.
In a case like this, you need to research other relevant keywords for your app and focus on one that has lower difficulty. You can also read a deeper analysis of how Honeycomb (the app in the above screenshot) climbed to the second rank for their top keyword by focusing on relevant keywords.
By typing in “upsell” into the Shopify App Store search bar, I discovered three keyword variations:
- “upsell bundles”
- “upsell hero”
- “upsell system”
Out of these keywords, “upsell system” gives you a decent chance at ranking in the top three, even as a new app. The way to determine this is by looking at the average rating and the number of reviews for the top and second ranked app.
As you can see, the top ranked app only has one five-star review, whereas the second ranked app has 29 reviews with an average rating of 4.3 only. You could potentially become the top or second ranked with just 10 or 15 reviews and an average rating of 4.8 or above.
The difficulty of this related keyword is low enough to give you an entry point. And while it won’t drive the same number of installs as the top keyword “upsell,” it gives your app a way to enter the market.
Use these keywords in your app title and description, wait a week, and observe the results. As your app’s popularity grows, optimize for more relevant keywords that have higher difficulties and volume.
4. Connecting Google Analytics to your Shopify app listing page
Since you’ll be experimenting with different keywords and trying to learn where installs are coming from, connecting Google Analytics to your app listing page is the easiest way to get good analytics data.
Shopify has an official guide to set up tracking of traffic to your app listing page. Once that is set up, you will start seeing URLs like these in your Google Analytics account:
Using a free add-on that fetches Google Analytics data to a Google Sheet, you will easily be able to generate clean reports like the one you see above. This data answers the following questions:
- Where is the traffic coming from? Category page, search results.
- Search phrase or category name.
- At which position did your app show up for that search phrase or category.
Lots of useful data to dig into!
5. Getting honest customer reviews that improve your ranking
Reviews are the most organic indicator of how good or trustworthy an app is. Merchants jump to reviews to see if your app has any glaring issues and to learn about your quality and attitude to providing customer support.
The number of reviews and your average rating strongly dictate your rank and position for various keywords on the Shopify app platform. But this does not mean you go out and try to gather reviews through any means possible.
In fact, Shopify is strictly against incentivizing reviews. Worse, you could get a temporary suspension to a complete ban if you’re found paying for fake reviews. So, just don’t do it.
You can use the same energy to drive genuine reviews for your app instead. Here are a few avenues where you can generate positive reviews:
- When your app users reach out to you asking for help or guidance, be polite and courteous and offer them the assistance they need. If they are happy with the service, politely nudge them to write a review if they liked your service (but do not outright ask for a positive review, as this is also prohibited—see below).
- When customers report issues or bugs in your app, be extra fast in fixing them and getting back to the customer quickly with a resolution. Many times, your customer will be wowed with your speed of service. This is again a great time to nudge for a review.
Below is an example of a glowing review left by a merchant after receiving help and having a positive experience using ReConvert.
When nudging for reviews, don’t ask customers to “Leave us a five-star review.” That is also against Shopify’s policies. Instead, just ask them to “Write a review if you’re happy with our service,” which is a neutral and fair request.
Reviews take time to grow. Don’t try to optimize for review growth. Instead, optimize for great service and customer experience, and the reviews will follow.
You might also like: How to Get More App Downloads in the Shopify App Store.
Improving installs for your Shopify app is a solvable problem
Most problems are solvable. You only need to identify the right problem so that you can begin solving it.
Throughout the article, we have gone through the various problems that you may encounter, from not building the right app to not being well-optimized for discovery and everything in between.
We have broken down each problem into its constituent parts and come up with a plan to tackle each point. Ultimately, this is a blueprint of best practices that you can start off with.
If you solve enough problems and answer enough questions, your Shopify app can taste success and grow to thousands, if not tens of thousands of installs from merchants across the world.