Shark Infested App Store: A Step by Step Guide to Analyzing your Mobile App Competition
Posted by: Lizzie Healy
My idea is killer. Why do I need this?
With over 2 million apps available in the Apple App Store, every week is Shark Week for mobile apps. A high level of competition in the app industry makes testing the waters before you jump in a requirement. Your idea for an app is probably great, amazing in fact! So amazing, that it may already exist. Or a variation of it exists. The only way to determine if your app is a unique, innovative idea in a saturated industry is to evaluate the available apps out there today. Completing a competitive analysis in the idea validation stage of building your mobile app accomplishes two things: it identifies a gap or need in the marketplace, and it serves as a chance to learn from those 2 billion other apps. Competitors are a resource, offering you a chance to learn from their wins and losses, and provide you with information to build an even more successful product. Determining your competitor's strengths and weaknesses can help your app compete on a larger scale. In this blog post, we will walk through the steps of completing a competitive analysis to help you determine whether your app idea will sink or swim in the mobile app market.
Step 1: Analyze Your Market
What category does your idea for a mobile app fall into? Begin your competitive analysis with some broad research about your app's category to determine if there is a need there. Is this an idea that people will find invaluable and not be able to live without? A key factor to look at during this step is the growth of the category or industry you are seeking to enter. A growing industry presents opportunities, but often comes with a higher level of competition. For example, say I was interested in creating a dating app. More and more people are using dating apps, but with this comes a greater number of apps popping up to provide this service. While not all apps will fall into a specific industry (some of the most successful mobile apps are creating their own industry), knowing whether it is a red ocean or a blue ocean will aid in determining your strategies for success. A red ocean means that your app is competing in an existing market space, with a high level of completion (bloody red market, appropriate given that it's Shark Week this week). A blue ocean means you are creating a product in an uncontested market space. You are not competing for users, but you also have to prove value in your concept. Knowing the market space that you will be competing in will shape the rest of our competitive analysis.
Step 2: Identify Your Competitors
Step 2 consists of identifying your direct competitors so that you can review what they are doing well and what they are doing poorly. This means taking a closer look at the current landscape of the marketplace to find anyone who provides a similar service or product to what you are creating. This will be an ever evolving list, as you should constantly be updating it with new competitors and monitoring features they are offering. Like most other things in life, identifying key competitors begins with a quick Google search. For our example of a dating app, I would search terms like "dating apps" and "most popular dating apps 2016." Make sure that results returned from your search are current so that you have an accurate representation of the current players in your field. My searches result in a quick return of articles summarizing and reviewing the best apps in this category. Success! Browsing through the search results, I can quickly narrow down the ones that world serve as a direct competitor to my app idea. You should also search the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for your search terms to find what apps appear. When you find a similar app, it may also benefit to look at the related field in the app store to find additional competitors.
Step 3: Track Competitors
Now that you know who your competitors are, you can begin to evaluate them. Because I am a data nerd of Liz Lemon levels, I prefer to organize and track this information using using an Excel Spreadsheet. You may find that the best way to track your information is through a simple Word Doc. The important thing is to create a comprehensive overview of the features and elements that make your competitors apps successful (or not successful). Below is just one example of how to organize this data, listing all competitors across the top and our elements for analysis on the left.
Step 4: Analyze Competitors
Once you've determined which mobile apps you will be competing with and how best to track this information, you can begin to break down the elements of your competitor's apps that will be relevant for your analysis. These elements may vary from case to case, but specific data such as downloads, ranking, and average session length should always be included in reviewing a mobile app. These factors give us a greater level of insight into how people are using the current mobile apps so that we can draw conclusions.
For our hypothetical dating app, I would begin by taking a broad overview of each competitor's concept. This includes how it works, what makes it unique, the costs associated with it, and the locations that it is offered in. This step helps formulate the concept of my mobile app, and ensure that there is something offered by my app that differentiates it from what is already out there.
Second, I review the technical elements of the app including which operating systems each app works on and what integrations it uses. While I may not adjust my version one based on these factors, it will help me shape the future of the app and determine estimated growth.
Digging deeper into the data behind each app, I can also look at the number of downloads, the average length of each session, the number of daily users and the number of installs. This will provide information on how people are using apps currently and what trends we can expect out of potential users. This information may be harder to track down, and take a little more of a search effort to discover.
When you are testing your competitor's apps, take special note of the design elements that you like and don't like. Taking note of this will be useful when designing your own app, because you will already know what colors, text, and designs you want to use.
What are users saying about these apps? You have an incredible resource within the app store with user reviews. Reading reviews that users have left about your competitor's app gives you insight into what users want and don't want within an app. Pay special attention to trends, and don't get too bogged down in the details of this. You can easily get lost reading thousands of contradicting reviews, but seeking out obvious trends that appear in multiple reviews will be the best indication of what they have done successfully.
How did your competitor market their app? This is another category that may take some digging to unearth information on, but can prove invaluable when determining your marketing strategy. The best way to go about finding this information is to simply Google and read articles about their efforts.
Lastly, your competitive analysis should track what features your competitors offer. If every app that you look at has a message feature, you probably will require a message feature within your own app. Make note of what each competitor chose to include and what they did not choose to include.
Step 5: Draw Conclusions and Pivot
At this point, you have a wealth of knowledge about the other apps in your category. You know what features they include, what they look like, what makes them unique, and what users like and dislike about them. Now it's time to look at how you stack up. Does your app have growth potential? Does your app have profit potential? Based on your analysis, you can determine whether to pivot or move forward with the app the way it is. You can learn from your analysis, and continue to update it as you build your app and after launch. After completing your competitive analysis, you are now better equipped to navigate the shark infested waters of the app store. Good luck!