Buying your way into the App Store’s Top 25

Is it possible? Yup. Read on!

I’m the lead developer for Fairlady Media, Inc where we’ve developed 10 games (and counting) with over a million downloads. The projections that follow are based on our experiences with advertising games for the iPhone and ipod Touch on Apple’s App Store.

More than 125,000 developers are registered to create apps for the iPhone. That’s a lot of competition. Can only the biggest developers (EA,Gameloft,Freeverse,etc.) make it into the Top 25? Nope, everyone’s welcome!

While its certainly possible to make great money with apps that never get into the Top 25, most developers want very badly to be on that list. Being in the Top 25 during the last week in 2009 meant a profit of between $12,000 and $22,000 a day.

Conventional marketing ideas have evolved as hoards of developers fight for spots in the lucrative Top 25. Outside of getting lucky (defined as getting featured by Apple, getting reviewed by one of the major review sites or getting into the Top 25 through pure chance), most developers end up looking at buying in-app ads for your app to boost sales numbers long enough to raise your rankings.

To get into the Top 25 with a free game, you’ll need to average more than 10,000 downloads per day. A Top 10 free app will average more than 20,000 downloads a day. Less ambitious? To be in the top 100 free games in a gaming category like Family Games, you’ll still need to average more than 2,000 downloads per day.

AdMob is currently the leading in-app advertising company. At AdMob, the minimum cost for a click on your ad is 5 cents. The highest conversion rate (how many people download your app after clicking on your ad) we’ve ever experienced is 20%. Using that as an average, you would have to purchase 50,000 clicks to get 10,000 downloads. That would add up to $2,500 per day. Note that this conversion rate would be optimistic for free games and would be much lower for paid games.

AdMob’s cost structure is based on bidding. That means that by bidding 5 cents per click, you’ll be competing against others who bid as much as 60 cents per click. In our experience, you would need to average at least 20 cents per click to actually get 50,000 clicks in a single day. That means $10,000 per day.

Our experience is that rankings on the App Store are based on a 3 day average. That means that you would need to maintain your ranking for 3 days to achieve the highest ranking possible.

Total cost to be in the Top 25 by advertising with AdMob? At least $30,000.

Too much? How about raising your ranking from 75 to 10 for a free game in a gaming category like Family Games? That would mean going from 1,000 downloads per day to at least 4,000 downloads per day. At least $9,000.

We have now tried this experiment 4 times for 3 different apps. Results have varied and are very hard to quantify. Our best results were for Spazzle, which went from several downloads a day and complete obscurity to 14th overall. Total ad spend: $5,850 (with another $4,600 after we got into the Top 25). This was in February of 2009 so the volume of the App Store was much less at the time. We were also on the front page of CNET, Digg and several other sites during that month.

Let’s say you read this article and decide to take the plunge (we’re not liable!). Let’s further say that you achieve the expected results (don’t blame us if you don’t). Congratulations! You now have a highly ranked app!!! How long will that last? For us, it depends entirely on the quality of the app. A great app with a great icon, name, screen shots and description may retain its position for months or years. Spazzle is still ranked in the top 50 in the Family Games category a year after its release.

Well, that about sums it up! Please let us know if you would like more information about any of this. Why not download Spazzle now! 😉

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6 Responses

  1. thanks! nice article.

    if I get everything right, then it may be not very profitable if you just advertise with AdMob. If you need to spend $30k to be in Top 25 for weekend and then you earn $12-20 + some more while you are still in the Top listings, then it’t not good 🙂

    but anyway AdMob seems to be very useful when you need to boost up your app’s ranking!

    • Thanks for the comment bees! 🙂

      Hopefully, if you have a good app – once you’re in the Top 25, you’ll stay there for awhile. Our research suggests that apps in the Top 25 make enough money per day that even if you’re just there for a few days, you’ll make back what you spend on advertising.

  2. Nice article James

    We tried some admob with Clocks Lite in a very specific region (OZ and NZ) simply to see what difference it made.

    $50 bought us about 150 ranks in free utilities, but only to just outside the top 100, but that did also bring a corresponding spike in the paid version.

    Recently however we’ve been focusing on App Store presentation as you suggested ( screenshots and particulary keyword optimisation) and to be honest that has had a slightly bigger but much more sustained effect.

    I certainly think that’s one of the underlying drivers that help to sustain sales over a longer period, and well worth doing some research for.

    • Yup, great comment Andy! We found with Spazzle free that tweaking the Icon, search terms, name and description could as much as double our average download count for months at a time. I would definitely recommend doing that before running an ad campaign. Thanks!

  3. […] of buying yourt way into the top sellers list. A month or so ago James Bossert sent me a note about buying his way into the top-25 by purchasing AdMob ads. According to James they were able to recoup their ad spend to get into the […]

  4. Thanks for sharing!

    For indie devs creating free games, $5k a day on ad is too high. I might need to spam my way to Top apps *_*

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