After careful consideration and a little bit of inspiration, you've come up with some quality mobile app ideas that you're interested in developing further. So, what comes next? If you'd like to save yourself significant time and effort further down the line (and make a more profitable app), you should pause before jumping head-first into development so you can validate and refine your ideas using market research.
Market research is where you investigate the business feasibility and potential marketing strategy of your mobile app by studying the existing business landscape. The data you collect during this process will help you validate your app idea, and take it from a rough sketch to a fact-checked plan for your app. By learning more about your target customers' needs, you can even decide which features to prioritize to make the best possible market impact on launch.
To that end, we've collected a list of some important tips and best practices for conducting mobile app market research across multiple online platforms.
- Ask the right questions Track market trends Gain market insights Learn from competitor reviews Practice social listening
Ask the right questions at the start
When you're just getting started, it's a good idea to consider which questions you're looking to answer with your research. On the internet, the sheer volume of information you can dig through is virtually endless. And without a clear goal in mind, you can end up lost down rabbit holes, chasing disconnected data points that don't ultimately help you make any concrete decisions. Taking the time to zero in on your goals will help you plan the scope and direction of your research process.
Here are a few good examples of questions you could try to answer in the market research phase:
- What niche would your mobile app fill in the existing market? Will you target a specific audience, offer features that your competitors don't have, or use a different strategy to fill a unique niche?
- What would you need to change about your app to target that niche? You may want to add features to be competitive, trim features down to be laser-focused, make changes in the app microcopy to speak directly to the user, etc.
- What kind of revenue models are possible with the type of app you want to build?
- What are the most effective strategies for promoting your app?
- What audience are you targeting for your users? Where and how do they spend their time on the internet? Where/how do they spend their non-internet time?
- How could you reach that audience without using the internet? What in-person events do they go to?
- Does your audience tend to belong to any organizations—for example, clubs, nonprofits, or trade associations? That can give you a springboard when you start research, as most organizations publish demographics on their members.
As you move forward with your research, maintain a spreadsheet to keep your data organized and track your progress towards these goals.
Track market trends on Google
Google Trends is a free tool which allows you to analyze and compare the relative popularity of different Google search terms over time. This is a great place to start your mobile app market research, because it can give you a broad strokes assessment of how much potential demand there is for your mobile app.
For instance, if you find that searches related to your niche have remained steadily popular, or have even increased in popularity over time, it's a good sign that you're headed in the right direction with your idea, and that you're likely coming into the market at the right moment.
If you want to dig deeper, you can compare the relative popularity of multiple search terms, which could be used to evaluate different features that you're considering implementing in your app. You may have a pet feature idea that you want to spend a lot of time building out, but then you discover that it's dead last in popularity when matched against your other planned features. It's much better to recognize that in the planning phase before you've invested a bunch of time and energy working on them.
Gain market insights from the app store
Where better to do market research for your mobile app than an actual app marketplace?
One of your first priorities when scouting out any app store should be getting the lay of the land within your product niche. Pretend that you're someone in your target demographic who is trying to find your app. Try different searches, and take note of what you find. Are you getting a lot of hits? If you find an app similar to yours, how far down are they in the search results? How many reviews do they have, and what's their rating?
If there are a lot of popular, highly reviewed search results, you know that you'll have competition within your niche—but you also have confirmation that there's significant demand within the userbase. On the other hand, if there are only a few results, with low customer engagement, it's a sign that there's not a lot of demand, and you may want to re-evaluate your idea.
Once you've located your potential competitors on the app store, you should note down which categories they're listed under. Categories are important in making your app discoverable. For one, because broadly speaking, different groups of people might browse different categories on the app store. You want to pick the category that most closely aligns with your target demographic. If you find that your most successful competitors are all listed under the same category, you've got a pretty strong indicator of which one you should pick.
Learn from competitor reviews
Competitor reviews are a great resource for learning about your target customers, as well as opportunities to stand out within your niche. Businesses in some industries spend tons of money just to get insight into what their target customers want. On the app store, they've written it down for free—often in exhaustive detail!
When you're reading through reviews of your competition (also known as "review mining" among mobile app market researchers), almost every piece of information is valuable. However, for a good place to start, you should look into the most successful mobile apps, which also tend to have the highest volume of reviews. While you may be tempted to focus on the extremes—the five star and one star reviews—your time may be better spent looking in between, in the two-to-four star range. Extremely positive and extremely negative reviews are often diluted by hyperbolic praise or criticism. This means you'll have to wade through lots of low-quality, knee-jerk feedback, written by users for whom a single annoying bug or useful feature was enough to lose them or win them over completely. These reviewers can be classified as "rabid fans" or "inflammatory critics".
While these reactions are insightful in aggregate, and shouldn't be ignored entirely, you'll likely get a lot more bang for your buck from more moderate opinions. These reviewers can be classified as "discerning voices", and their reviews tend to be a lot more even-handed, with a mix of both positive and negative feedback that's less influenced by strong emotion. Even hugely successful apps will have suggestions for new features that these users would like to see in the future. If you're dealing with a crowded market, these suggestions can give you ideas for ways to give yourself a competitive edge, and put yourself ahead of the pack.
Practice social listening
When it comes to social media, you can replicate many of the same essential techniques for monitoring your competition on the app store. What sets social media market research apart is the ability to follow conversations from a wide variety of sources conveniently and simultaneously. This practice of monitoring social media for data on customers, competitors, and products is known as "social listening", and it can be one of the most efficient and cost-effective methods you have for performing mobile app market research—if you have the right tools.
While following market leaders and industry-relevant hashtags to learn about new trends is certainly valuable, unless you take the time to sort through all the posts on each page individually, they will be filtered through Facebook or Twitter's mysterious algorithms and sorted into your feed. This isn't the best way to parse data if you're trying to do research. Fortunately, there are social listening tools that you can use to filter and analyze social data yourself to match the needs of your research. For example, you could set a tool up to look for the most frequently used words or phrases across comments on all of your competitors' posts, and alert you if new trends emerge. That way, you can spot the most common complaints or feature requests within your niche, and modify your mobile app to take advantage of the gap in the market.
Indie dev = indie mobile app market researcher
To be a successful indie mobile app developer, you have to wear a lot of different hats. After all, until you get your idea off the ground you're the CTO, CFO, and CMO all rolled into one. While that may sound scary, once you start breaking things down, you'll see that each of those intimidating job descriptions is made up of a bunch of small, simple practices. Mobile app market research is no different.
If you set aside enough time to execute a clear, consistent, and disciplined research plan, you can build a tremendous wealth of knowledge about your customers and your market. With that knowledge in hand, you'll be able to make smarter, more confident decisions at every stage of your business growth. Conducting your own market research is the best way to become the foremost expert on everything having to do with your app. Just take it one step at a time, and before you know it, you'll have the experience and background to make your vision a success.