Below are the results of my little experiment in advertising an inexpensive Christmas app with Google AdWords. Advertising ended up costing $1.90 for each $0.50 it produced. Basically, I was losing $1.40 for each advertised click. As my dad said with a wink, “Let me tell you about basic business strategy…” Still, this post is not a slam on AdWords, just some observations on why it did not work in my case.
After a hard push, my first app, Santa Snoop (since renamed), made it to the App Store a few weeks before Christmas 2012. I didn’t really expect the app to sell itself. Indeed, without any marketing, it was selling only one or two copies a day. Countless efforts to get coverage from app review blogs would eventually yield one result, and I was pleased to get that. The blog post resulted in about 5-10 new apps sold.
So I was trying to figure out how to get the word out about Santa Snoop. In particular, why don’t you normally see ads for $0.99 apps? That’s when Google, as if on cue, sent me a promo code to try out AdWords, their pay-per-click advertising service. The deal was good enough that I decided to give it a shot. (The deal did not affect the advertising rates — cost per click — reported below.)
How AdWords works…
You create an ad that gets shown on some Google pages and various other sites, depending on keywords that you provide. If someone clicks on your ad, they get directed to the page of your choice, and you pay Google a small fee. You pay nothing if nobody clicks your link. The exact price that you pay for the click depends on various changing factors, such as your choice of keywords and the quality of your ad, with a catchy ads tending to cost less. You can always control the maximum you are willing to pay for a click.
Results and “Basic Business Strategy”
In the end, AdWords did indeed provide lots of clicks for Santa Snoop. The catch — and it’s a big one — was that those clicks ended up costing more than what I was making back in sales. Here is roughly how it broke down…
- In December, AdWords put my ads on 62,568 web pages.
- The ads appeared in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia.
- The ads appeared only on iPhones capable of running Santa Snoop (iPhones 4 and 5).
- Each ad click went directly to the Santa Snoop App Store page
- These ads produced 1,092 clicks.
- Roughly 1 out of 10 clicks produced a purchase of Santa Snoop.
- Each click cost $0.19 on average.
- So it cost about $1.90 to sell a $0.99 app.
- I was actually earning only about $0.50 per sale after Apple’s cut and taxes.
- So I was effectively paying AdWords $1.90 to earn back $0.50…
- or losing $1.40 per sale.
- If you ever wondered why you don’t normally see ads for $0.99 apps, now you know. 🙂
- Advertising might work for higher-priced apps, such as $2.99 and up, but even that could be a stretch.
- AdWords could only get people as far as the App Store page. From there, only 10% made the purchase. Advertising could just work if 50% or more visitors purchased the app once they were in the right place, but that is probably unrealistic.
In my case, the numbers did not “ad” up. But $0.19 does seem like a reasonable price to find someone on a compatible iPhone and get them to my App Store page. It was worth a try, at least with the promo deal from Google. Even though sales were slow, AdWords did get over 1000 people from around the world to actually look at my app, which blew away everything else for getting people to the App Store page. Still, came at an unsustainable cost in my case.
Where in the World is Santa Claus?
Just for the fun of it, I thought I would post some sales figures for my first app, Santa Snoop (since renamed to Where in the World is Santa Claus?). With Christmas behind us and sales unlikely to move during those non-December months, it seems like a good time to reflect.
Usually you see sales figures published for inspiring success stories like this or this. But this post promises something different! This is the other side of the coin. Here are some fun (or not so fun) facts about Santa Snoop for 2012…
- Half of the sales were in the United States.
- The other half was mainly in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.
- The app saw a trickle of sales in non-English-speaking countries, namely France, Spain, and Germany, all of which had localized App Store pages and in-app content, but no marketing.
- The app also sold a little bit in Netherlands, Taiwan, and Uruguay, none of which had localized App Store pages or any marketing to speak of.
- Almost half of the sales were on Christmas Eve, with the rest being spread fairly evenly over December, including a few on or after Christmas.
- Any other “spikes” were due to marketing experiments or blog posts.
Why Didn’t It Sell?
In the end, Santa Snoop probably did not sell well for at least a few reasons
- It does not fit into a category. It is for kids, but it is not a game or a story. So what is it?
- Young kids like the app, but young kids don’t buy apps. Parents buy apps. When I explain the app to a parent, they often seem underwhelmed, as if to wonder what else the app does. When I put it in the hands of a kid, they tend to get excited and amazed. What matters for sales, anyways, is what parents think when they see it in the App Store.
- It is primarily an audial experience. It is not primarily a visual experience. The screenshots on the App Store do not sell the main feature, which is listening to Santa over a fuzzy radio connection to the North Pole. This does not come across on the screenshots.
- It’s other main feature is tactile. This is an augmented reality app which provides a special view of the world based on how you move the phone around. That also does not come across in the App Store.
- It does not have a lot of features. The app is very simple. Underneath, the app is actually pretty complex. It uses almost every sensor on the iPhone plus some interesting linear algebra and animation software. But (by design) the app seems simple, probably too simple. What does it do again?
- It did not work on all Apple devices. It only ran on the later iPhones, and also on some iPads (as an iPhone app). It did not work on any iPod Touches. This is all mostly for lack of a compass on those unsupported devices.
- It is not particularly useful. It does not solve a problem, and it is not educational. Nobody is really looking for this app.
Even though sales were soft, it was still quite exciting to know that the app made some kids really happy. My own kids’ giggling and excitement over the app was thrilling. And hearing about other kids was amazing too. Also, it was kind of neat to reach out (if only in a limited way) to distant, exotic lands like Taiwan and Uruguay. And I learned a lot about developing and marketing iOS apps, both of which were areas of great mystery to me before.
Santa Snoop developed from the core of a previous augmented reality app that got too big and complex to finish any time soon (say, this decade) on my limited time budget. So I am also glad that other AR app saw the light of day, at least in a scaled-down form.
Now its time to get back to my next app, which was in development when I started Santa Snoop. This next one just happens to be useful for parents, feature-rich, should run on pretty much any iOS device, and should look good in the App Store. More on that in the next few months…
Fun Educational Apps is the first to review Santa Snoop.
Their review noticed some things about that app that I, as developer, had not really thought about. First, they observed that the app is “a really cute way of turning the tables for kids to be the ones checking in on Santa.” I had not actually thought of it that way, but that is a great point!
They also noted that, “This app is really simple to use. There are literally no buttons to push.” Another interesting point. That was not a conscious decision. The idea was just to keep it as simple and focused as possible, and in the end, the app just didn’t need any buttons (except for the little “info” button).
The review did observe one key design goal of the app, which was to add a bit of mystery to Santa’s activities. The app gives you little clues about what Santa is doing, but the rest is up to your imagination. “I liked that it wasn’t a blatant announcement of his (Santa’s) activities. It was a realistic peek into his life. Users will have to listen and infer what he’s doing as he prepares for his trip.”
Santa Snoop is probably more audial than visual, sort of like eavesdropping on a phone call from the North Pole. Once you find Santa, it might even work best with your eyes closed.
Santa Scan is now Santa Snoop. Why the change?
The name “Santa Scan” was so generic and overused that it was hard to find it in the App Store even with an exact name search. It was buried in the middle of a several dozen other apps. Being listed behind the “Santa Cruz Police” app is what really drove it home for me (no grudge with the actual Santa Cruz Police, mind you!). The point is: The app needed a new name.
Mainly, I needed to be able to tell people, “Hey, I have a new app out called XYZ!”, and they could simply search the App Store for “XYZ” and find it right away. (Note: the literal name “XYZ” would have been a poor choice for this app.)
The name Santa Snoop seems to fit the bill. It is more unique and memorable, and you can actually find it right away in the App Store. BTW, my original first choice “Santa Spy” had long since been taken.
Now that’s more like it!