The Three Most Common Mistakes New App Developers Make (and How to Avoid Them)


by Aykut Karaalioglu
An estimated 60,000 apps are added to the App Store each month, and that rate is increasing, fueled by countless developers who are drawn to the prospect of achieving fame and fortune with a blockbuster app.

However, the millions of apps out there make it extremely difficult, and extremely rare, to get noticed. Visibility is not as simple as coming up with a great concept, building it, and hitting submit. The reality is that building a successful app requires data, marketing, and keyword optimization. It requires a nuanced understanding of your category and your competitors, and the careful fine-tuning of factors such as timing, location, and titles.

App developers who are new to this intense environment tend to make mistakes that hurt their chances of rising up the ranks. Let’s take a look at the three most common mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Over-Focusing on the Product and Idea

If there is a Silicon Valley myth, it is of a talented group of coders with a brilliant idea who come together to build a product that takes off overnight. New entrepreneurs tend to get swept up in the excitement of their vision, which is natural and good. Passion is what keeps you going when times get tough. Moreover, the idea and the product are important: Your app will never get anywhere if the idea is not sound and if there is not product-market fit.

But—and this is a big “but”—one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to focus too heavily inward. When you get swept up in your vision, you neglect to consider the many, many external variables and influences that contribute to your app’s success. You become convinced that your idea is spot on, and that conviction overwhelms everything else; it clouds your judgment and shuts your eyes to what is really happening in the market.

To succeed in the App Store, you have to reflect current market trends and adapt to actual customers’ wants and needs, not the theoretical demands of theoretical customers. It is important to solicit and respond to customer feedback, even if it turns out not to be in line with your original vision. You might have to sacrifice your initial idea, which is hard, but often necessary.

2. Ignoring the Competitive Landscape

There are millions of “great” apps in the App Store, which makes it extremely competitive. Breaking through the noise requires staying on top of who your competitors are and what they are doing. That, in turn, requires taking the time to do research and digging beneath the surface:

  • What are the best-practices you can learn from them?
  • What seems to be working? What is not working?
  • Why are users choosing competitors instead of you?
  • What is the competitive edge you have on your competition?

It is a good idea to check your competitors’ reviews and keyword performance periodically. Doing so will also give you clues as to how to stay ahead.

3. Failing to Measure

For most of the App Store’s history, cost per install (CPI) was the metric to live and die by. Focusing on that metric prioritizes quantity over quantity, and we now know that’s no way to build a sustainable mobile business. A VentureBeat study that covered 230 developers, 9,000 apps, and 397 million monthly active users found that “CPI is the worst mobile user acquisition method.” Those users have a very low lifetime value.

Furthermore, most apps lose 85% of the people they acquire within the first 30 days after the install. Oh, and let’s not forget that the cost of acquiring mobile users continues to rise, which means that to stay above water you really need your users to take meaningful actions in your app.

New app developers commonly fall short on tracking retention and engagement numbers, and those are missed opportunities. Every single user interaction with your app is a chance to learn, grow, and improve.

So, instead of dwelling on CPI, track user activity data: How are people engaging with your app in a way that drives real value? For example, are they making a purchase, booking a hotel, or writing a review? Cost per action and usage are the more important things to measure. Based on those metrics, you can optimize your app to drive results.

One good strategy is to work backward from the desired event and understand what needs to happen at every step leading up to that event. Look for bottlenecks and drop-off points. Also look for what your most valuable users look like, and target your marketing accordingly.