This is a transcription of my interview with Stefan Bielau, in one my early podcast. The content is so good, I had to transcribe it.
Gabriel: Hey, guys. Gabriel Machuret here today for another new ASO podcast. Today I’m sitting here at my living room table with my son, Sebastian. He’s very excited because he asked me, “Can I please sit down and watch you record?” I said to him, “Yes, you have to be quiet.” He is six years old.
Gabriel: Oh, sorry, sorry. He’s seven years old. He’s not six years old. He’s doing faces to me right now. Today for the show we have Stefan Bielau. He is one of the top ASO guys out there. When I started to learn about app store optimization the first guy that I went to was Stefan. I literally went through all his material, and I actually read all the information on his blog. This is one of these guys that is always aware of what’s going on in the app store. It’s a pretty cool interview, and he is full of information.
The guy comes from a great marketing background. Even more important, I want you to pay attention to what he mentions about the relationship between apps and cookies. Here I have Sebastian, my son, he’s laughing because I mentioned the word “cookies”. If it’s funny for Sebastian, my six-year-old, hopefully it’s going to be…
Gabriel: Seven, again. I’m making mistakes. Seven. Hopefully it’s going to be exciting for you guys. Enjoy the show. Bye.
Speaker 1: You’re listening to the app store optimization podcast. Like the show? Head to asopodcast.com, and please leave us a review in iTunes.
Gabriel: Hey, guys. I’m here with Stefan Bielau. Stefan is one of those guys … like I have a photo of him in my office because he’s like the Jedi Master of app store optimization. Stefan, it’s great to have you here. Thank you so much, man.
Stefan: Thank you for having me, Gabriel. Thank you very much.
Gabriel: Stefan, if people have been living under a rock and have never been on Twitter — because you are a celebrity regarding app store optimization on Twitter — tell us who you are, what you do, and how you got started in this whole world of app store optimization.
Stefan: I’m actually a child of the old media industry. I started my career back in the days in private radio; I did several jobs within. I ended up in Poland (where I actually am right now) due to the fact that I was running a Polish radio station with German investors (I’m German by origin). We sold the station back in 2007, which gives you an understanding of what was going on at this point in time with the valuation of old media businesses like radio.
I had to sell the station and I was thinking to myself, “Okay, what’s next?” I didn’t want to continue in old media. Everyone knows how hard it is nowadays to run a newspaper, run a magazine, run a tight little radio station. Whereas on the other side you see all those promising and evolving businesses in the digital field.
More or less by coincidence I met two developers in Berlin who had the idea and technology sketched out to deliver video to mobile devices. I saw the idea, we spoke, we met a lot, and they were looking for someone who had a sales and marketing background. I joined them and together we built what’s now the application called [inaudible 0:05:03], which is the leading video application service in the German speaking area. That’s how I got into mobile; more or less out of curiosity, and it went well since 2007.
Gabriel: Wow, 2007. You get involved in the mobile world and obviously you started marketing apps. How did you start to realize there was an issue with the way people discover apps?
Stefan: Basically when we started [inaudible 0:05:02], there was no iPhone available, there was no Android OS available to developers. It was late 2007, early 2008, so we had to deliver our application through stores of Nokia, Samsung — we’re talking Symbian and Java apps. We were dealing with the REM platform, we were dealing with the Windows mobile platform at this time, and there were already quite some choices and opportunities out there in the app stores. We’re talking [inaudible 0:05:44], we’re talking [inaudible 0:05:44] apps, we’re talking OV — all these kinds of things.
It was quite a challenge, and very complex to handle our app in all of those stories. I thought to myself how to improve, how to streamline, and how to optimize this kind of process of updating the apps there, and presenting and marketing the apps there. This gave me an early start in that whole thing of discovery, due to the fact that at this time the major stores as we know them right now, aren’t existing. You had to really focus on where are the users, where are the good opportunities for getting downloads, for drive engagement, the quality of traffic you wanted to get, and so on and so forth. This was at a stage where there were also only limited resources.
Within a really rough and challenging environment, we were dealing with app distribution, when there was no real app store out there. By that time [inaudible 0:06:58] came around, and later on Google Play or Android Market was available, and that made it pretty easy for us to really know the triggers, and know the little details of what’s important in the environment of an app store.
By the time you have an app out there you start thinking, “Okay, it’s more or less like the shop where you sell your stuff.” What I learned from the retail business is that you want to position yourself where the eyeballs are, right? You put your juice, or your crackers, or your cookies as high as possible so you’re on the level of the eyeballs when a customer walks through a supermarket.
Gabriel: Exactly. Yep.
Stefan: That’s the picture I always have in mind when you face the app store. It’s a marketplace like the supermarket, and your app is your product. You want to position yourself on the top shelf near the eyeballs of the potential customers, and you want to shine when you are on the shelf. Put yourself in a nice wrapping. Put yourself in a nice position; good colors. Get the attention and deliver a great product. That’s my allegory with app store optimization.
Gabriel: Obviously you come from a marketing background, so the idea of the cookies — I absolutely love it, and I’m going to use it. You have the cookies in the supermarket makes sense. One of the things we see all the time is all these app developers that literally don’t understand that there’s a marketplace. They just want to build apps. How do you see the whole dilemma of app developers working very hard to develop an app, but then they do nothing to market the app?
Stefan: If they get an understanding to think “marketing” early on — even before they start coding, that would be great. Because that makes it much easier later on to distribute, and the app then becomes successful to a certain extent. You think about, “Okay, what kind of SDKs will I use later on in order to push my app out there? What kind of SDKs do I want to build in early on in order to measure myself?” We’re talking analytics here.
If I have a chance to talk to a developer before he actually starts to develop his app, that’s great. Because then you can sit down with him and discuss his expectations, his goals, what he wants to achieve with the app, how many users, what kind of engagement, what kind of money at the end of the day. That gives him an understanding how he already can influence that kind of process of marketing the app later on while coding and developing the app.
If you’re a developer, start thinking early on about your expectations and your plan that will influence your coding and developing process for the better.
Gabriel: That’s amazing, Stefan — the whole idea of starting to think about marketing before even starting to code. I think they can save themselves so much money and so much headache.
What has been your understanding of how this whole app store optimization world has been going, and where do you see it going? Obviously every day there are more apps. It’s not getting any easier to find an app. How do you see 2013 handling the world’s app store optimization? Let’s talk first about IOS, and then potentially Android.
Stefan: Well Gabriel, the whole category of app store optimization more or less exists in what — 12, 16 months? It’s really new and it’s really early. There are no standards. There are certain rules you can apply, but there aren’t any guidelines like we see in the classical SEO world when it comes to the web and online businesses.
As a recommendation for anyone interested in it, be open, try to get the right people. Talk to them directly; most of them are really open to share their insights. Read some blogs, go to conferences, listen to podcasts like yours to gather that kind of knowledge. It’s not something I’d say that you need a lot of time to teach yourself, it’s just something you should consider every time you launch an app, or you come up with an update. It just adds the last piece of the puzzle to your whole marketing and app distribution strategy. That’s why it’s important. Otherwise you miss out on some basic stuff, which can actually give you some uplift in your marketing strategy for your application. That’s the first thing.
About app store optimization and discovery in general, I’m expecting this year to see more verticals for applications. Let’s say some independent platforms or portals for promoting apps for kids, promoting apps for travel, so on and so forth. I think verticals are quite a hot topic at the moment. Recommending certain apps for certain target groups and interests.
On the other hand, I would see both major players: Android or Google and Apple coming out with a more enhanced and sophisticated tool for getting more data out of the app stores for the developer. We’re talking mobile analytics of the app stores provided by the two who own this data. For everyone else it’s a hard game to crack that closed environment. That would enhance the whole understanding of how my app is doing, and automatically leads to a better marketing and positioning approach within your store. Those are two things I expect to happen or accelerate this year.
When it comes to app store optimization, I think more and more people realize — and there are some indications out there — that backlinks become more and more important, and the social signal of an app is something you should consider and try to measure yourself.
Together with my partners we are running this consulting business for various kinds of clients, and we have insights in up to 120 [inaudible 0:13:56] apps on all major platforms. What we usually do is pick out one or two clients who currently have an app out there, then play a little bit with the application, which we of course do, you know. Can 50 more backlinks add some extra juice to their ranking position?
Gabriel: Wow, this is crazy. Okay.
Stefan: If they’re doing any extra marketing at this time. Or do 200 Google Plus (pluses) add more to their visibility in the Google Play stores?
Gabriel: This is crazy what you’re saying. I love it. Keep going.
Stefan: Those are the things I would see become more and more important. That leads back to the whole marketing planning. What does it mean to add some social campaign to your app distribution and marketing approach? On the other hand, read your data in a way that you get an understanding of what are the sources bringing you most of the traffic — so we’re talking backlinking here.
Usually a good thing is, if you combine your app with an app landing page — which means basically you set up a website and promote your app. Then this outline also gives you an indication of what kind of search terms and what kind of backlinks are relevant to your app, or lead back to your app.
Gabriel: We’re talking about combining convention SEO with an app landing page, and also the ASO part?
Stefan: Absolutely, absolutely. Just to get it right and reach the whole approach that should be considered.
Gabriel: It’s actually amazing. I’ve done some research where we actually contact app companies, and so many times it’s actually impossible to find information about the app itself. It’s impossible to find contact details, or even a domain name for the app that you’re trying to look for. It’s interesting how many apps don’t have a website in 2013. It’s kind of crazy.
Stefan: Yep, that’s really something. It just makes you stronger. You know, competition is already fierce. If you don’t build-up some strength with regard to various outlets, various touch-points for potential customers, alternative app stores if you have an Android app, you’re just losing power in that kind of fight for the best downloads and the best users.
Gabriel: Exactly. The app developers need to empower themselves to try to be everywhere, every single place. If they don’t have a website they’re going to lose organic traffic from Google, and potentially they have less backlinks, so in Google Play they will also lose ranking.
I’ve been studying and analyzing your blog like an eagle. You have an artistic eye. Tell us a little about the importance of icons and screen shots. You do a lot of work and you find amazing, remarkable icons. Tell us about the whole artistic and visual part. How important is that in app store optimization?
Stefan: Well, as I said before, consider the app store as a supermarket. If you have a row of cookies all wrapped in blue, and you put in your cookies wrapped in red, the attention rate is probably much higher for the one, single cookie wrapped in red than all the other similar ones.
I’m a very visual person. Whenever I sit down and talk about app concepts or mobile websites — potential layout — I like to scribble. I cannot paint very well, and I’m not good in designing, but I know some people who can help with that. Whenever something like that comes up I ask them if they can visualize the idea or concept so I get a better feeling about it.
That’s the same with all of the designs for an application. Of course the product itself is taking the lead when it comes to design, but you should not forget about all the other things which are relevant and part of the application. We’re talking about icons, we’re talking about screen shots, we’re talking about the promotional banners, the video even in Amazon Apps 4 in Google Play. That should be one thing. There should be a red line going through all those kinds of marketing materials, and you shall not jump short when you have designed a great, great app, and then you lose on icon design or space shot design. Those are the touch-points users see before they download your app, and later they see that it’s actually great design. If you miss-out early on when they look for your app, that’s something that can hurt you very much.
Gabriel: I know you’re busy, Stefan, so I’m going to go straight to the point. What do you see is the whole balance between developing a great app or marketing a great app? If you’re amazing in marketing you’re going to get the downloads, you’re going to get the purchase. Potentially you get more income, and you can keep improving the app. Obviously if your app is great and there’s no marketing, then there’s not going to be downloads, users, and revenue. Where do you think is the balance, and where should developers, with all this crazy competition, put more effort at the moment?
Stefan: Well Gabriel, honestly I don’t like to put percentages on that kind of approach, saying 60% is marketing and 40% is development. It usually depends on the nature of the application, the whole set-up of the company, and the skills of the developer and the whole team behind.
I just read a recent study saying that on average the revenue per month of a mobile developer is about $3,500 to $4,000. That’s already a number which requires a lot of marketing to achieve. If you take into consideration the average development cost of an app, it takes half a year (taking this average) to get a return in development costs.
Make sure you focus. After having developed a great, great app, continue to focus on the overall goal. The overall goal is not only to build the best app. The overall goal is: (a) to make money, (b) build reach, and (c) achieve a certain goal of engaging with people. That will lead to the ultimate answers to what comes after the development. If you just have in mind developing a great, great app, then you’re going to [inaudible 0:21:40] the day you uploaded that app.
I’m bringing it to a harsh point, but if the developer’s just devoted to developing the app, and he’s by himself, it requires a lot of luck and coincidence to really have a successful app. Instead, if he’s focused on, “Hey, I want to build an app for at least 100,000 people out there.” After uploading the app, he will ask himself, “How do I get to another 100,000?” Then he starts thinking marketing, which is great.
Early on think what you want to achieve. It’s like everything else in life. It’s not just to “do” something, but to do it with a certain purpose or goal in mind. That’s the best way you can roll with it.
Gabriel: So have the goal beforehand. I like that. Have a proper plan, like a business plan — your marketing, your coding, your costs.
Stefan: Yeah, and you don’t need anything really sophisticated. If you have the opportunity, talk to people. There’s so much data available out there for free on the net, where Indian developers especially talk honestly and humbly about what they achieved, where they failed, what kind of numbers they generated. That’s the benchmark, right?
Stefan: If you can find out what your goal is using this kind of knowledge and data out there, then it’s something you should go for. It makes it easier by the end of the day. Also make it a goal to stop what you’re doing if you see that you cannot achieve this goal. Otherwise you waste time; you waste your time and you waste others’ time.
Focus is something really important. Everyone misses that, including me. Sometimes we get tangled up with some stuff and we lose a little bit of focus. Overall, focus on something in particular, then be honest with your whether you can achieve it or not, and make it all the way up there.
Gabriel: I like that thing you said at the end: Learn when to quit. It’s funny how we are obsessed to continue, even if we’re losing money and wasting time and energy. Learn if you’re going to achieve it. If you’re not going to achieve it, maybe it’s better to quit.
Stefan, I know you’re dead busy, so I’m going to ask you a very quick question before I ask you where people can contact you for more information. Where do you see the battle between Apple and Android; where would you put your money if it was a horserace? Where would you put your money regarding where is the best investment for developers to go?
Stefan: Still IOS when it comes to monetization. Have an open eye on the Windows Phone platform. It’s really interesting. It’s not so crowded yet; competition is lower. If you have a good application, consider maybe podding it if you can afford it. Pricing is there; the payment system is integrated and works great.
Windows is not doing any major mistake. I expect them to become the second biggest platform for Android. Nothing this year, but probably in 2014. If they roll us this whole office strategy to bring those Windows phones to the business and enterprises, that’s one thing. If they go for it the way they went out and sold the Xbox 360 — high quality titles, premium content, exclusive partnerships. If they can add something like this to the Windows phone marketing strategy, that would be something really powerful. Of course we can’t forget they have a lot of money, so they can push devices within the next two, three, four — I don’t know how many years — and get this thing right. If they’re really committed, it seems like they will do good on that platform with the new phone — Windows 8 — that’s a combination of it.
Gabriel: There you go, guys. As you hear from Stefan, pay attention to Windows, because this guy knows what he’s talking about.
Stefan, how can people actually find you? Give us your whole information. I’m going to put your blog on the notes of this show. Tell us how people can contact you if they need to. This guy is a true Jedi Master of optimization — Yoda of the Universe.
Stefan: The best thing is probably my website. It is: stefanbielau.com. That’s S-T-E-F-A-N-B-I-E-L-A-U dot com. There’s everything on it: Twitter, LinkedIn, blog, and so on.
Gabriel: Very important. Check his blog; it’s pretty sensational the information he puts there. Nobody sees it coming before him. Also check him on Twitter. It’s very interesting to be following you.
Stefan, I know you’re dead busy. Last week you were sick, and I’m glad that you’re feeling better. Thank you so much for being on the show. I’m pretty sure our listeners will like it, and I hope that they contact you very soon if they need some help.
Stefan: I appreciate that, Gabriel. Thanks for having me, and take good care.
Gabriel: Thank you, man.
Stefan: Cheers to Australia, mate. Bye-bye.