We have two apps that are feeding us. One (Mac) is $29.99, the other one (iOS) is $9.99. Both are one-off purchases. It's rather an old-school business model nowadays – to sell apps upfront without subscription – but it works the best for us at this point. We have a ritual of making one of them free for exactly one day, once per year. And, I'll tell you why.
It won't be lies if I say that our Mac app, Mate, is the #1 translator app on the Mac App Store, so the last time we made it free was long 3 years ago. However, its iOS counterpart is very far from reigning the translation segment of the iOS App Store. So, we have to find new, unexplored, ways to hit the top charts.
The thing is that the App Store rating heavily affects a whole bunch of metrics: from search rankings to product page view → sales conversion rates. So, it's vital to have it high. Say, if you get 1,000 new 5-star reviews it will most likely catapult your app a dozen positions up the search results. Similarly, if people see that 2,000 other people rated your app with 5 stars, they are more likely to shell out money for it than for an app that's rated with 2.5 and has rants in reviews. It's especially relevant if you heavily rely on organic search rather than word of mouth.
Changing pricing in the App Store Connect isn't enough. If you really want a positive outcome, you must do some prep work.
What I did is pitched a few tech guys who often report about app promotions and gave a heads up on Reddit and Twitter. With such support, you'll get a lot of new users in a very protracted period of time, without creating an impression you're a permanently free app (not what you want, again).
BGR posts Apps Gone Free daily. AppAdvice curates one of the biggest Apps Gone Free compilations, updated daily, as well. The golden rule of working with journalists is that there should be a nice story or a milestone. Anything that will help them drive traffic to their sites. People love free stuff, so if a cool, coveted app is on sale, it normally gets a lot of eyeballs.
Reddit is another source of traffic you can turn to when prepping a promo. Subreddits I'd recommend (relevant and traffic-heavy):
- /r/AppHookup (100K+ people). That's what it's for, tracking discounts and promos.
- /r/Apple (1.3M+ people). You're allowed to promote yourself only on Saturdays, on so-called Self-Promo Saturdays, here. We kept that in mind and made Mate free on Saturday.
Reddit's community is often skeptical and sometimes even downright hostile but they have a weakness for good free stuff. Often, you can also get a lot of useful feedback there. If people start leaving comments, actively participate, try to be friendly, open, and steer the discussion in the desired direction. We once had to take our post down from /r/Apple because the discussion went out of our control.
You didn't come for my rattle here, so let's speak numbers. A one-day promotion gave us around 120K downloads. We leveraged them to get a lot of backlinks (good for your SEO), get 700 new ratings (mostly 5 stars), which ramped up our App Store rating to a whopping 4.67 average worldwide, and up to 4.9+ in some of our key markets. If your product is cross-platform like ours, you can also leverage a new audience to upsell (please be ethical, though) your other product. Going free also kickstarted a momentum, so we ended up being #1 free app in some countries. It also affected our sales on a few next days. In a positive way, of course.
Don't do it often. Otherwise, people will get used to it and instead of buying your app they'll just wait 'till the next time you make it free. And you don't want that. You want people to happily spend their money on your app, because it's the only way you can build a sustainable business out of it. For example, we did it only twice in the last 2 years. It's very unlikely we'll ever do it again. We've got what we wanted from free promos, an initial growth momentum.
You'll get some 1-star reviews, it's unavoidable. One of the reasons why we still stick to old-school paid apps is that it makes our customers more conscious about purchasing our apps. In other words, only those who really see value in our apps buy them. It helps us avoid bad reviews almost entirely (our apps are rated 4.6+, in many stores even 4.9+). When you make it free, many people who 'just want to check it out' end up being your users, too. My humble observation shows that if a person doesn't pay for something out of their pocket, they tend to value it less. So, if a free user isn't satisfied with something, they'll be more likely to write a furious rant in App Store reviews and remove the app. A paid user will be more likely to drop you a message, more open to communication. At the end of the day, it's in their own interest that you improve what they paid the money for.
Your current users may be confused. Imagine you shelled out 30 bucks on an app and the next day you see it free. Your first reaction is WTF, followed by a bitter feeling of being ripped off shortly after. I think transparency and clear communication is the key here. We didn't hide we were going free for a day. We tried to explain the most transparent way possible that it's a temporary marketing trick and thanked all customers for supporting us one more time. We also gave out our Mac app for free to those who purchased the iOS app shortly before it went on promotion. As a little thank you for loyalty, you know.
Thanks for reading. You can also follow me on Twitter for more thoughts like this. And, buy our apps to support us, a humble yet promising indie developer from Berlin, Germany. By the way, we're hiring.