The number of mobile applications on the market has been steadily on the rise for the past decade, with growth expected to continue. More businesses are recognizing the value of mobile applications for both profitability and user reach; in fact, 91 percent of top brands now have apps. Individual entrepreneurs are also developing their own mobile apps as a way to tap into this booming market. But how can companies be sure that the app they launch will be successful? It comes down to understanding what popular apps do well and leveraging those same elements to develop winning strategies of your own.

What Makes an App Successful

It’s no secret that the number of apps hitting the market keeps going up. In fact, Entrepreneur points out that there are now more than a million apps available across app stores. Companies have to work harder to stand out among the competition.

Some of the traits successful apps share:

  • They solve a problem. The most popular products, regardless of specific industry, solve problems that many consumers encounter. Your app should resolve a universal issue (Entrepreneur points to Apple’s decision to include a flashlight app on its device, for example) or take a unique approach to addressing a problem by either streamlining a process (i.e. online banking) or improving on existing solutions (creating an app with a much better user interface than competitors). It doesn’t matter which approach you choose, as long as it meets consumer needs.
  • They are intuitive. User patience has grown notoriously short, so you need to make sure your app is intuitive. Take steps to make life easier for your user. Design an app that is easy to navigate and learn without guidance. “Coupling a great concept with fantastic usability” is one of the best ways to ensure success, Entrepreneur contributor Rahul Varshneya points out. Make sure your app is bug- and crash-free as well.
  • They market before and after launch. Of course, it is important to have a solid marketing plan in place once your app launches. But there is much work to do before your app hits stores. To ensure your app has the best chance of success, begin promoting your product ahead of time by using keywords that target your audience and choosing the best screenshots to include in your promotional materials.
  • They make the most of distribution. There are a wide variety of distribution channels available for apps, so you should choose the ones that will help you reach the right audience. You can get media coverage by contacting relevant journalists before your launch and inviting them to do late-stage beta testing. Once your app has launched, you can check retention and engagement numbers to see users’ activity. Find out which features are used the most and why. According to The Next Web, this ensures that future iterations of your app are giving users more of what they want.
  • They have great customer service. As with any successful business, customer service is key. Make sure your app has a fully developed FAQ section. You should respond quickly when users reach out with a problem and try to put them in contact with a human. After the issue has been resolved, you can follow up to ensure their needs are being met or even provide a discount of some kind. Open lines of communication are a good way to be sure your customers stay happy — and keep using your app!
  • They build retention. According to Inc., retention is one of the single most important app metrics today and is directly tied to your success or failure on the market. You should aim to build a business model that is sustainable and allows you to gain customers for less than the revenue they generate. Just getting customers is not enough: The most successful apps excel because they are able to keep them.

Most Successful Apps

The following companies are responsible for some of the most popular apps on the market today. By employing the strategies discussed above, they were able to rise to the top and even boast repeat successes.

  • Facebook: The Facebook app was the most popular app in the United States during 2015, with more than 126 million average unique users. The company also owns other apps like YouTube and Instagram, bringing even more success. The Facebook-owned messenger app had the most year-over-year growth, according to Time, with a 31 percent increase in average unique users from 2014. As the company continues to roll out features like in-app payment, this growth is expected to continue.
  • Electronic Arts (EA): This company specializes in games and offers options across platforms, so its mobile success isn’t surprising. In fact, EA has published more than 1,000 apps to date. Some famous ones include Battleship, Boggle and GameFace. During the first quarter of 2014, EA reported earnings of almost $915 million.
  • GungHo Online: This publisher is based in Japan and has created a number of successful apps including Divine Gate, Puzzle & Dragons, Summons Board and more. During 2013, Business Insider reports that GungHo earned more than $1 billion on Puzzle & Dragons alone. Around $650 million of that revenue came from Apple’s App Store alone.
  • Supercell: Supercell is a Finnish game publishing company worth around $3 billion. It is most famous for Clash of Clans but also created Boom Beach and Hay Day, which are on Business Insider’s list of highest-grossing games in the App Store. Supercell games usually involve creating virtual worlds through strategy.

Developing an app is a savvy business strategy, as 90 percent of mobile phone usage time is devoted to using an app. In order to launch an app profitably, it is important to understand how top app companies have achieved success. By following the strategies we’ve outlined and paying close attention to what your target audience is seeking, businesses like yours can make the most of the app creation process.

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