App store discovery isn’t like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s more like finding a needle in a mountain of other needles.
“It’s a challenge that’s always existed in the mobile space,” said Dave Bell, founder of Gummicube, a mobile analytics company that specializes in app store optimization (ASO). “It’s frustrating for developers, obviously, but it’s also frustrating for consumers because they can’t find the high-quality stuff they’re looking for.”
Some app publishers turn to bursting to stand out from the crowd – spending a lot of cash fast to get to the top of the app store charts in hopes of generating installs – but it’s an expensive process that acts more as a Band-Aid than a solution, and it’s going to become less and less effective as app store volume grows, said Bell, who's been around the mobile block.
Before Gummicube, Bell founded Chasma Publishing, an early publisher of mobile games on carrier networks. After the company sold to Oberon Media in 2005, Bell co-founded and then served as SVP of business development and strategy at mobile content distributor PlayPhone.
“Usually it’s the same apps and publishers that can afford to chart boost. A lot of spend goes into owning those spaces,” he said. “But users are catching on. Rather than downloading what’s being displayed on the chart in a certain category, people are starting to use search for category names, like ‘RPG’ or ‘role play games,’ because the results are more interesting.”
Gummicube, which raised $830,000 in February from F50, Fundable and Golden Seeds and whose several thousand app clients include Tango, GSN (the Game Show Network) and Gemr, a social platform for collectors, examines mobile-specific first-party behavioral search data to help increase an app’s visibility.
The company, which was founded in 2012, gleans that gold from what Bell referred to as a “Nielsen panel-like community” of more than 10,000 real users who search for, interact with, rate and review apps through a platform called Gnome Escape in return for gift cards and virtual currency that can be redeemed for paid apps.
It’s kind of like a smaller, curated version of an app store. Gummicube gathers mobile search data from Gnome Escape, which it feeds back into its optimization algorithms, powering a tool called Datacube, which apps can use to determine the best keywords and categories to target their audience. Gummicube also surveys its panelists on their app experience and uses them in focus groups to test app creative.
“We see hundreds of thousands of queries that show us how users semantically construct their search phrases,” Bell said. “We want to see how people are talking about and searching for apps in a real, first-party way.”
In that sense, Gummicube acts as a sort of facilitator for developers who want to find audience and audience that wants to find apps. Developers use the Datacube tool to analyze and determine keywords, metadata and appropriate categories, track app store trends and check out competitive profiles.
It’s a continuous and delicate calibration rather than a set it and forget it kind of thing. Developers can also use that data to figure out what features to build next.
Take Gemr, for example, an online community for collectors that Norm Archer, Gemr’s VP of marketing, called a “Venn diagram of eBay meets the social fun of Facebook combined with the visual impact of Pinterest and the dynamic of Antique Roadshow” where users can crowdsource appraisals. In other words, a place for like-minded collectors to buy, sell, trade and chat about collectibles.
Gemr launched its beta web app in January, followed a few weeks later by an iOS version. Android came in February.
Although Gemr’s value proposition is pretty simple, app store positioning isn’t. “It’s hard to position yourself in a 40x40-pixel area of space that a potential user is only going to look at for a second or two,” Archer said.
Using Gummicube, Gemr noted that its users seemed to be most interested in the concept of trading and exchanging goods. It was a finding that validated an existing hunch and the Gemr team is now looking into how to facilitate that kind of transaction on its properties.
“We were seeing a lot of traction with the word ‘trade,’ and that tells us that there’s a need to be filled here,” said Brandon Huskie, VP of product development at Gemr. “It’s one of our more highly searched terms. Getting that feedback directly from users and prospective users is valuable and we’re using it to figure out the best way to pull somebody into the Gemr experience.”
Gemr also uses Gummicube’s tech to bubble up unintuitive insights. One word: Funko. For the uninitiated, Funko manufactures 4-inch-tall vinyl pop culture toy bobbleheads. The company licenses its IP out to big brands like Marvel, CBS, Warner Brothers, Disney, HBO and many others, as well as a host of sports teams.
Gemr recently ran some Funko-themed video content on its social channels and its owned and operated platform. The reaction was enormous.
“It turns out that there’s an extremely active community of people who love Funko out there and it became one of our most highly searched terms in the App Store,” Archer said. “It’s not something you’d think to bake into your ASO, but it obviously resonated with our audience.”