How to make a kick-ass content app

Karla Courtney writes that a content app is not for everyone – but, if it is for you, this is how you do it.

This article originally appeared in The Content Issue, the August/September issue of Marketing mag.

Content issue theme badgeWith the ability to create fully responsive websites that work beautifully on all screens, a common question for publishers and brands is ‘why an app?’

Responsive websites are critical for SEO goals, as you will be invisible on mobile search if your site isn’t optimised. But not all content types and business goals are best hosted on or facilitated by a responsive site alone.

It’s true, we download apps by the billions each year and data from many reputable research bodies like Forrester suggests we spend up to 85% of our time on our smartphones in native apps. But, frankly, it’s best to put the stats to the side when considering the app question.

Most time spent in apps is on social, games and messaging with the big players – not in what we consider to be ‘content’ apps. Engagement is not a given and there must be other reasoning for an app apart from distribution.

Here are some reasons why an app may work for your business:

  • Perceived value: apps almost feel like a product or a gift. They have a higher perceived value than websites, as people are accustomed to paying for many of them.
  • Offline access: if your customers are on the go, an app allows them to store your content locally to their phones.
  • Connection with customers: an app puts you on their home screens at all times and allows you to send notifications to their devices, such as when new content is available.
  • Maintenance and volume of content: while apps should be updated regularly, volume needs are often much less demanding than a website, which must be updated more frequently to meet high traffic goals and user expectations. So if you do not anticipate having high, frequent volumes of content, an app may be a better route.

If you’re considering producing a content app for your business, here are some tips on how to make it kick ass:

Spell out the use case clearly

Nowadays, really good content sometimes isn’t enough of a selling point to get someone to actually download your app. Your brand’s super-fans who are seeking you out may already be excited, but you’re going to have to sell your app a little harder for the rest of the potential users.

Your app’s use-case can be more about how you position your content to make it clear to users why they would benefit from having it saved on their phone. For example, when Medium Rare relaunched the Qantas magazine app, we created a number of city guides in addition to regular content from the magazine issues, and on the App Store spelled out clearly at the top of the description that, “The app will be updated regularly with new content, including city guides you can save and have on your device while travelling.”

Let users feel like they are actually finishing something

Great content apps offer a curated environment where users can go for highlights – they don’t feel like another digital chore with which users cannot keep up. Quartz does an excellent job of both selling the purpose of its messaging-style news app and making users understand how it can fit into their lives. “Quartz’s new app puts the entire global economy in your pocket… It’s an ongoing conversation about the news, sort of like texting. We’ll send you messages, photos, GIFs and links, and you can decide when you’re interested in reading more. Each session lasts just a few minutes, so it’s perfect for the train, elevator, grocery store line or wherever you have a spare moment,” says the description on the App Store.

Don’t bury content

Burying content in folios isn’t the best mobile publishing approach. People want content quickly and they don’t want to have to save a whole whack of content just to read one article. Vogue US has launched a new article-based mobile app that feels like a hybrid between a magazine and a mobile news site. When users first enter the app they are presented with a scrollable, curated list of the top articles selected ‘For You’. After flipping through these suggested articles, users can view articles by category or just scan through the latest in the feed.

Categorise your app with real people in mind

Once a user has downloaded your app, the first screen of content they see must assume almost no knowledge about your brand or any related industry jargon. You have this one chance for users to scan your content and find something they connect with – any titles or categories that are too idiosyncratic will likely isolate a lot of users and possibly prevent them from engaging any further. Medium Rare collaborated with VisitCanberra to produce an interactive guide to the city. While the print guide used cleverer headlines that work well in print, the app’s home screen had very literal categories: ‘Great Food’, ‘Best Wineries’, ‘Summer Events’, ‘Nature and Outdoors’ and so on.

Making a great app only gets you halfway there. Once your app is out, the truly hard part is getting people to find it and download it. To drive downloads initially you can spend on ads, but there are a few other ways you can drive downloads and increase engagement by maximising your owned media channels, and getting a little creative.

Get the basics right

Your app title and screenshots are very important for discovery and driving downloads. The App Store only considers your title and keyword content when determining relevance – not your description. So, you need to be very strategic and include as many descriptive words as possible while also being enticing. Smart apps use their brand title followed by a dash and then a keyword-rich description. For example, Evernote’s full name on the App Store is: ‘Evernote – capture notes and sync across all devices. Stay organised.’

If you really want to be strategic in this area, you should consider hiring an app optimisation specialist who can do a full competitive keyword analysis for Google Play and the App Store and advise on the best relevant keywords your app can try and rank for.

Try smart banners and ads on your mobile site

Apple has a simple Smart Banners code for including in your site’s header code, so that a banner shows at the top of your site when users visit from a compatible mobile device to notify them that you have an app.

Run a clever competition

If your brand has access to a great prize, consider doing a giveaway that requires downloads. While it is true that some users will only be downloading for the prize and may not be engaged ongoing, the initial peak in downloads will help improve your app’s position in the charts and potentially give your app better visibility ongoing.

UK department store Harrods ran a clever competition to drive downloads – it created a simple luxury shoe matching game within its app called Stiletto Wars, and anyone who downloaded and played the game was entered into a draw to win a £500 gift card.

Be different

Above all, for both your content and your marketing, the most rewarding thing you can do is be different. When Medium Rare relaunched the Qantas magazine app on the then brand new Adobe AEM, simply being the first app in the world to go live on the platform attracted significant attention.

Being the first or different can be risky, but having a unique approach with excellent, engaging content and a clear purpose will always result in a great app that makes anyone who downloads it happy.

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Karla Courtney is digital director at Medium Rare Content Agency.

This article was originally published in The Content Issue and made possible thanks to Issue Partner Medium Rare Content Agency.