By Emily Rollwitz – Content Marketing Executive, Global App Testing
Especially for first-time app developers, a soft launch can be immensely valuable. It enables you to trial your app without going all-out straight away, thereby allowing you to test the waters first.
Considering how crowded the app market is and continues to be, standing out amongst the myriads of competition is crucial. And what better way to do it than with a soft launch that will ensure your app is truly ready to enter the App Store?
What Is a Soft Launch?
Soft launching an app is all about optimising your game or application before it is released more widely. Before putting it up on the app store and advertising it through the many available channels, the app is given a limited release, usually limited by region. It allows you to observe how a specific audience reacts to what you have made and importantly, whether they like it.
Usually, soft launches involve an audience of up to 100k people. Allowing a restricted audience to trial the app before its scheduled release is a great way of gaining practical user data feedback and upgrading your product before it is made available to a broader audience.
Why You Should Do a Soft Launch
User acquisition: A soft launch strategy enables you to start getting reviews on your app store page. These reviews are invaluable at such an early stage, as positive reviews act as a highly effective form of endorsement that convinces future users to purchase the app. In other words, they act as proof that your app is worth downloading, increasing user acquisition.
App store optimisation: A soft launch lets you check and ensure your app store pages are optimised correctly. When you soft launch, your app begins to index keywords, thereby highlighting the terms that perform best for your specific app. Making the most of these keywords during your official launch will improve your chances of being recognised by the app store.
User retention: Perhaps one of the main benefits of a soft launch, and a valid reason for doing it, is to increase user retention. How often have you deleted an app within days of downloading it because you lost interest in it quickly? Soft launching enables you to collect valuable data about when people are deleting your application so that you can consider the flaws in design and improve retention accordingly.
A soft launch essentially allows you to determine whether your app is ready for widespread launch to avoid releasing it to low retention rates. At the soft launch stage, you can fix all the bugs and flaws in your app in preparation for its official release. A great way to collect this essential data is through observability software (what is observability software), which will help you see what’s happening across all the different areas of your application.
Feedback: This leads to the other great benefit of a soft launch: feedback. If multiple users give you the same feedback about an aspect of your app, this is a good indicator that a wider audience would feel the same, and thus, that aspect needs working on, whether to improve or optimise it. Technical feedback will also help you improve the app’s functions, especially in terms of how it works on different devices, which can fluctuate.
Not to mention that a soft launch essentially validates you and your app, telling you whether or not it is ready for market and whether or not it will be received positively by a wider audience. Consider setting up a VoIP call center solution to maximise the feedback you might receive from users testing your app.
How to Employ a Soft Launch Strategy
There are a range of questions you should ask yourself if you are looking to soft launch your app:
Having a clear idea of the answers to these questions will ensure that you go into your soft launch with clearly defined parameters for the desired outcomes of the project. Before any soft launch, conduct sufficient market research, as you must be aware of who the competition is and who their target audience is.
As well as this, you might want to consider recruiting some people to help you, outsourcing to experts who might be more qualified than you to analyse your data.
Then, keep in mind some key recommendations to ensure your soft launch is a success (remember, however, that each soft launch is different and unique).
- Your product does NOT need to be completely ready, although it should achieve sufficient functionality. Remember that the closer to completion of the product, the more valuable the feedback and user data will be.
- Don’t get carried away trying to achieve huge volumes of users for the testing phase—although the more data you gain, the better, a smaller test group is easier to manage and will avoid you getting overwhelmed right from the beginning.
- Consider your timeframe. The best soft launches usually last between two and three months. Within this timeframe, you should be able to find your chosen audience, roll out the app, analyse insights and then adjust as necessary.
- Do not forget to analyse the keywords that rank highest, and then actually remember to adjust the app store page accordingly. It is essential and should not be overlooked. AutoML and other tools can help you make the most of the data you collect.
- Ensure that you are inviting relevant users to trial your app during the soft launch so that the data you gather will apply to the results a widespread launch would yield.
- Optimise your onboarding mechanics – this is usually the stage where users drop away if functionality is poor or lacks intuition. A soft launch lets you check how long it takes a user to get to your main page, so make sure you use this insight effectively.
- Make sure your app has the power to manage a large audience, as overloaded servers will lead to your application glitching, which in turn will skew your data.
- Make the most of reviews and what people are saying about your application—this is what soft launching is really for, and you want to exploit this aspect as much as possible. Using test completion software is a great place to offset some of the more laborious work during the testing phase.
- Analyse how effective your monetisation model is: an app has to have the right balance between monetization and retention, and the soft launch stage is where you find this balance.
- Always keep user retention at the heart of the endeavour; when are people giving up on the game? What aspects of the game are they not engaging with?
You need to stay on top of all these things and more if you want to have a successful soft launch for your app. That’s why productivity is key and a lot of organisation.
What Else Should You Measure During a Soft Launch?
You can’t analyse data if nobody has downloaded the app in the first place. It is where organic traction comes in. To analyse it, consider the data on the volumes of people visiting your app store page and how many of those downloaded the app once on there.
To get people to make the leap from visitor to downloader, your app store page needs to be highly optimised and aesthetically pleasing. If they can’t find your page in searches, they will never be able to download it, and if they don’t like how it looks, or if it doesn’t look professionally made, they won’t be convinced to buy it.
That’s why demand testing is so valuable, as it allows you to gain test results whenever you need them and at any stage during the soft launch, so that you can continuously monitor organic traction levels.
Understanding the ‘lifetime value’ of your app is incredibly important. Lifetime value is about how much worth each player has, and this is crucial as you will need to determine this, then compare it to your cost-per-install to comprehend how much profit you are likely to make with every new user you gain.
Without this, you won’t know whether rolling out your app is worth it from a financial perspective. If the numbers don’t quite add up during the soft launch, you know you have some work to do to improve your CPI to lifetime value rates.
During the soft launch, it is very likely that a range of bugs, glitches, and flaws in your app will surface as users interact with the different elements of your application. This broad range of technical feedback, where users reflect on where things didn’t work quite as smoothly as they would have liked, will give you the ‘map’ that will guide you to improving your app as much as possible.
These bugs, such as whether or not hybrid cloud integration is working properly, need to be fixed before you officially launch the app. Otherwise, you will receive an overwhelming amount of ‘this app glitches a lot’ reviews that will turn people away from downloading.
Also, keep in mind that cybercrimes are constantly on the rise, so protecting your business data should always remain a priority, regardless of how big or small your professional endeavours are.
Create a viral loop
A viral loop will enable you to gain more users, as your current users recommend your app to friends and family and in their broader network.
An example of an effective viral loop, for instance, is offering additional features to those who invite friends to download the app or even recommending that users post their high scores on Facebook. With email verification, you can secure addresses that can be later used in your marketing strategy to further promote your app.
This word-of-mouth advertisement has an impact, so ensure you offer social sharing functionality in your app. Ensure you keep track of how many people use it during the soft launch stage, as low engagement might lead you to implement a different kind of viral loop elsewhere. Not all viral loops will be effective for the app you produce, so experimentation during the soft launch stage is critical.
In terms of numbers, you also need a varied marketing strategy, with ecommerce growth strategies that go beyond the soft launch and that will ensure as many people as possible hear about your app and engage with it as you can. Viral loops won’t be enough if you’re serious about making money with your application.
You also want to pick a region that is fairly similar to your target audience. If your target market is America, other English-speaking countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK are good places to soft launch.
The type of app you are producing also impacts where you should target. Multiplayer games lend well to densely populated regions like the Philippines so that large numbers of players can interact and test the strengths of the application.
Costs are also a factor. Popular regions like Canada have a rising CPI, and places like Australia which are developed countries, English speaking, and with such a large population size are going to be more expensive.
In this post-Covid world, think about how you might integrate remote and virtual events as part of your marketing strategy as well.
Whatever decisions you make, stick to a predetermined plan and make sure you have a clear idea of your target audience and your competition.
Work to improve the areas of your app that are flagged by users as problematic, while optimising and developing further all the areas that are most beloved and appreciated by your audience.
Most of all, make the most of the data. It will help you smooth out any wrinkles and improve your app as much as possible before you eventually launch it properly.