App research: what is it and how to do it

Mobile development is risky. Just because you think your app idea will change the world doesn’t mean users will think the same. You always face the risk of losing money because of negative reviews and low sales. This is why app development companies pay attention to market research — to decrease the risk of building an app that no one will use.

In this article we’ll talk about app research, why it is important, and how to conduct it.

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app research
Table of contents

Why do I need to know this?

Imagine that you’re a farmer and you cultivated the new breed of blue apples. You’re unique on the local fruit market, and those apples attracted some buyers because of novelty and extravagant looks. But as the initial excitement was waning, your sales were falling, and you ended up with $2000 in the hole. 

This happened because you didn’t ask people what they wanted. If you did, you would have found out that people didn’t need blue apples — they needed a new breed of baking apples that would be as sturdy as Granny Smith but sweet enough to eat raw. The same principle applies to app research. App development companies do more complex mobile app research than just asking people what they want. But the initial goal is similar: to find out which need you can satisfy with your app. Even if you outsource your software project to app development services, market research is still important. Identifying your place on the app market is crucial for profitability.

You convinced me, what is app market research?

App research is the market assessment you need to do before app development. It gives you knowledge to simplify further decisions on your unique value proposition (or USP), UX design, features, and monetization models — or reject your idea and think of something more profitable. 

App research includes gaining and analyzing information about your competitors and target audience, and performing a keyword analysis for app store optimization (ASO) to find your place on the app market and optimize your future product page. Let’s talk about each step.

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How to conduct app research?

Imagine that you want to build a mood tracker app but there are many similar apps and you know nothing about this market segment. To adjust your product to users’ needs and build a business plan, you conduct mobile app research

Define your target audience

Why do we need this? Creating a profile of your typical user speeds up your app development decisions such as UI/UX, features, and monetization. The more you know about your future clients, the more likely you are to come up with app functions and interface patterns that would work on this specific group of people. If you want to gain revenue, you need to sell something useful, after all.

What do we want to know? When it comes to defining your target audience, be as specific as possible. For example, ‘anyone who wants to track their mood’ is not a good definition for a mood tracker app. Not only is this group of people too large but also the variability within it is drastic. A young college student with anxiety and a middle-aged mother with postpartum depression are both included but they don’t share values, interests, habits, and other characteristics. Most importantly, these two people want different things from a mood tracker — and you can’t please everyone. That’s why you should define a narrow niche of people and listen to their needs before getting to app development.

How can we do it? One of the ways to do it is creating a persona. A user persona is a description of a fictional character that represents your most important user group. This profile includes:

  • name;
  • demographic data (age, marital status, occupation, etc.);
  • goals and motivations;
  • pain points (that your product will resolve);
  • lifestyle and behavior.

Let’s make a persona for our imaginary mood tracker.

Name Lindsey Smith
Demographic data 24, single woman, English native, lives in a rented studio apartment in a big city
Occupation App development
Income Below $12000 a year
Lifestyle Lindsey is at the beginning of her career in app development services, which is why she’s overworked and underpaid. She has borderline personality disorder and suffers from severe mood swings. She’s not good at keeping routines because of her workload. Her apartment is always messy and she orders food online at least 3 times a week. She has trouble sleeping at night. She’s lonely because she works too much and doesn’t have time to socialize. 
Goals and motivation
  • improving her mental state to be more productive and live a happier life
  • finding a cheaper replacement to therapy and a self-help tool
  • maintaining a self-check routine to become more aware of her emotions and what triggers them
  • improving her sleep quality because her insomnia interferes with her professional and personal life
Pain points and frustrations
  • tried using mood trackers but kept forgetting to record her mood because of her problem with routines and business
  • other mood trackers don’t react to her input and don’t replace therapy
  • other mood trackers don’t show daily mood swing statistics

Unless you make a micro-niche app, you need more than one persona per project — the ideal number is 2–3. 

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Analyze your competitors

Why do we need this? If you know who your competitors are, it will be easier for you to stand out. You can look for other app development companies’ drawbacks and fix them in your product. You can find out which features users want from your competitors and add them to your app. Finally, you can learn from your competitors’ mistakes and successes, use their strategies that work and avoid their failures. 

What do we want to know? During app research you don’t need to analyze every similar app on Google Play to find your place in the market segment — identifying big players and newcomers is enough. For example, if you want to launch a mood tracker, some of your competitors are Daylio, Bearable, and Pixels. Some things you might want to know about them are:

  • app store rankings;
  • ratings and user reviews — what they like and hate about these apps;
  • daily and monthly active users;
  • keywords;
  • unique value propositions — what exactly is sold with these apps;
  • the location of their audience.

Every source related to app research has a different list of characteristics you should look for. The truth is, the more you know about your competitors, the better, but it doesn’t mean you should drown yourself in data. Think of why you analyze your competitors, and choose the characteristics according to your objectives.

How can we do it? Gaining so much data only seems scary. There are many tools for quantitative analysis like SimilarWeb, Ahrefs, AppFollow or MobileAction. Most of these tools are monetized but they have a free trial period or a demo version with limited functionality. However, you can get some insights about your competitors manually. For example, you can read negative app store reviews to identify their weaknesses. 

Let’s get back to our mood tracking app. For example, you need to find out the pain points of Daylio users. To do that, you check out Google Play reviews. Despite high ratings, 1-star and 2-star reviews clearly show that users are dissatisfied with:

  • subscription prices and monetization model;
  • lagging push notifications;
  • the lack of widgets that would remind them to use the app.

app research

It means that to resolve these pain points, your product should have:

  • widgets for the main menu screen;
  • thoroughly tested push notifications that appear several times a day;
  • a different monetization policy — in-app ads or one-time purchase instead of subscription.

And if you have a hard time choosing between ads and subscription, check out our article about monetization models.

See also  How to monetize an iOS app and go crazy (rich)

Perform an ASO keyword research

Why do we need this? ASO is not that different from SEO. You optimize the website’s content so it would appear on the first page of Google search results. The same goes for apps — you adjust the content of the app store page so it would rank higher in search results. This is how you can get more users without paid ads. 

But organic traffic is not the only reason why keyword research is important for app development. ASO keywords give you insights about users’ needs. This implies that not only can you adjust the idea of your product to what people are actually looking for in app stores but also identify your place on the app market.

What do we want to know? The objective of ASO research is finding keywords that will increase the app store visibility of your product. And they aren’t necessarily as simple as “game” or “to do list”. There are 5 types of keywords based on what they describe:

  • Problem keywords describe users’ needs and issues they hope to resolve with an app. For our mood tracker example possible problem keywords might be “bipolar disorder” or “mood swings”.
  • Feature keywords describe the app’s features and mechanics. For example, “with lock”, “simple”, “mood statistics” or “mood tracker widget”.
  • User keywords describe users’ gender, occupation, age, or interests. This is where your previously created user persona can help — you can use words like “for women” or “for busy people”.
  • Location keywords describe users’ location from countries’ names to abstract definitions like “street” or “cafe”.
  • Action keywords describe what users do before, during and after using the app. Possible words for our example are “write mood journal” or “track mood”.

Keep in mind that not all these categories will be relevant for your app. We didn’t name an example for location keywords because mood trackers can be used in any context. This information is not that important for our imaginary project — but it can be crucial for yours.

How can we do it? Since your product doesn’t exist yet, you do two things: create a list of keywords and validate it with data.

The first step is brainstorming 50–100 keyword ideas. To make this draft list you can use a thesaurus, have fun with app store auto-complete for long-tail keywords, or check out product pages of your competitors and similar apps. For example, this is what Daylio’s product page looks like.

app research

This app has a wordy description — you can take such keywords as “happiness tracker”, “mental health coach”, “stress relief”, “self-improvement”, and “self-care”.

After making a list you need to filter out bad ideas by:

  • relevance — does this keyword really describe your app? 
  • competition — is this keyword so popular that you’ll have a hard time making it to top search results?
  • search volume — do people really make search requests that contain this keyword?

You don’t have to do this manually — there are instruments for mobile app research such as AppsFlyer or TheTool that gather data for you. For example, this is what we found out using App Radar:

app research

As you can see, the first three keywords are too popular and they describe a broad app category. “Journal” is too abstract — it includes mood journal apps, food journals, and even to-do lists. “Bipolar disorder” is not popular enough — people don’t really use it to search apps. Pay attention to “mood swings” and “bipolar disorder apps” — these keywords describe your market niche.

Keep in mind that this is just an example. We described the process of mobile app research in its most basic form. The information you need to gather and the instruments and methods you will use depend on your project. But the baseline is always the same — target audience, competitors, and ASO keywords.

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But what happens next?

Even the most detailed mobile app research doesn’t guarantee success — your idea needs further testing. After you identified the niche and the market need for your product, you can’t go straight to the final release. Using the market research data, you build a prototype and gather user feedback for further adjustments. Testing a prototype gives you valuable insights about user experience but it’s only a demo — you still don’t know how your product will be perceived on the app market. To find it out, you build an MVP — and our app development services team is here to help.

Testing your app ideas after app research can be long and frustrating. Purrweb uses React Native to build MVPs so you could go to market in just 3 months. We take care of every project from idea to App Store. And yes, you still can choose between round and rectangular buttons.

We’ll be happy to work on your project — tell us about your future app in the contact form below.

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