What Does It Take To Be A Category Hit In The App Store?

Iphone-Apps-BAs the end-of-year mad marketing rush in the Apple App Store demonstrates each holiday, getting an app into the ranks of the most popular is a fundamental mobile marketing tactic that has birthed an entire cottage industry of app promotion. As everyone who can recall high school social dynamics well knows, popularity feeds upon itself. But what does it take to be among the beautiful people of the Apple App Store? What download volume should a developer be shooting to reach? Well, it depends…on the company you keep -- which category you are looking to dominate.

According to some new stats from app metrics firm Distimo, it takes a bit more than 38,000 daily downloads of an app to make it into the top 25 of overall free apps in the iPhone app store. They based these figures on analysis of April 2012 traffic, so no doubt volumes will vary seasonally. In the most-trafficked area of the store -- games -- it takes 25,300 downloads a day to make the cut, but then the necessary volumes fall off sharply. Entertainment is the next-hardest ranking to crack, requiring 6,700 downloads, followed closely by Social Networking (5,800), Lifestyle (3,900), Music (3,900), Photography (3,100), Utilities (2900), Productivity (2,300).

Healthcare & Fitness, Travel, Education, Reference, News and Sports all require between 1,000 and 2,000 downloads a day to get into the first 25, which is the number of apps generally loaded at once by the App Store in a given area.

For Weather, which has a handful of major players and perhaps a shallower pool of offering, it only takes 300 downloads a day to get into the top 25. 

When it comes to free versus paid, Distimo says that the most popular free apps require 13 times the volume to break into the most popular ranks than do paid apps.

Of course, Distimo is just estimating what it takes to get into the top 25. In any given category, the distance between the top ten titles and the next 15 can be enormous.

These metrics all demonstrate why some developers try to game the categories and slip some apps into areas that are marginally relevant. They think they have a better chance of visibility and a popularity pop in a weaker category -- big fish, small pond and all that. Of course, this might be counteracted by the fact that many of your core users won’t naturally be looking for you in an unfamiliar category.

As we have already seen in Apple’s policing of UDID captures and incentivized downloads, the shopkeep here has become the new Google. Just as every tweak of a search algorithm can have disastrous effects on businesses that built themselves on search visibility, Apple’s shifts in App Store dynamics and policies can thwart a host of existing models and assumptions about gaming the system.

Apple’s acquisition of app search engine Chomp earlier this year could change the calculations yet again when we see if and how Apple integrates Chomp with the App Store. Chomp itself has recently stopped searching and tracking Android apps as it comes under the Apple tent.    

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