Researching your App’s Competition

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it. – Walt Disney –

So you believe you’re that one rare person that’s come up with the business idea that has absolutely no direct competitors?
Good for you…but you’re probably wrong.
There are just so many of you out there; entrepreneurs with a great idea who each mistakenly believe you’re the only one that’s ever thought of it. The main problem with that thinking is that you haven’t looked hard enough. And when you have looked hard enough and still think your idea is unique, you’re simply thinking the wrong way.
Allow me to explain.

First of all, indirect competition is competition too. Twitter and Facebook are competitors. Why?
They differ in functionalities and experience, right? Nope, wrong!
They are direct competitors, not because of functionalities but on the basis of attention. They are indirect competitors when it comes to function but they’re direct competitors when it comes to fighting for that crucial minute of user attention inside the crowded space of social media.

To be blunt: All apps demand user attention so, in a very real sense, every app is a direct competitor of every other app in the marketplace (OK, this may seem like an overstatement…but it’s essentially true nonetheless). The real trick is to find those apps that fight for your specific user’s attention within your specific categories.

Method One- Use Your Keyword to Search the App Store

In a previous blog post we defined 10 keywords for our app. We will now use those keywords to check out the potential competition.
Simply do the following:

  • Go to the App Store and type in your keywords, one-by-one.
  • Download all the Top Three apps that pop up with every keyword you use.

As you might’ve chosen very general keywords, you’ll likely find that when you search those general keywords you won’t find any apps that match your own idea.
If this happens you can do two things-

1) Make your keywords more specific
2) Leave the general keyword for what it is and download only those rival apps that display similar characteristics (and sometimes the App Store just doesn’t work for research).

  • After you’ve downloaded the rival apps, carefully review all of them and answer the following five questions-
  1. What do I like about this app?
  2. What do I dislike about this app?
  3. Why would a user use this app again?
  4. What is the competitive advantage of this app?
  5. Would users pay for this app? 

Reminder- Remember to write down those rival apps in a list and collect all your data in a single file. We’ll use this data in a later stage.


Method Two: Use Your Keywords to Search Google

For this method, we’ll use your keywords again but there’s a minor difference doing research with Google- To make your searches more effective, we’ll use your keywords in a sentence.

To get a clear idea how this works, see the following example I used when building the Connectinator app:

App that reminds you about your business contacts.

As you can see, I used three keywords in this sentence: business, contacts, and reminder. That’s a very simple yet effective trick so combine your keywords into sentences then Google your heart out.

Here’s another example:

App that tracks your business contacts

Mix up your sentences. Add the apps you find on that list and then ask the same five questions-

  1. What do I like about this app?
  2. What do I dislike about this app?
  3. Why would a user use this app again?
  4. What is the competitive advantage of this app?
  5. Would users pay for this app? 

Insider information: When I did this step myself for Connectinator, I found the Bond app. This blew my mind since this app has a similar idea as mine. So I tried the app and asked/answered the five questions:

What do I like about this app? 

  1. The app utilizes many different contact forms to keep in touch (this is very distracting however).
  2. You do not have to sign up for any account (which makes the sign-up process  straightforward).

What do I dislike about this app?

  • When syncing my contacts with the app it fails to sync all contacts. Numbers are missing, this literally means I’m unable to use the app as I want to use it.
  • For some reason which is unexplained, I’m unable to sync my LinkedIn contacts.
  • Hasn’t been updated for a long time, which means some features are not working. This is very frustrating.
  • The push messages were visually ugly and did not include any sense of attractive professionalism or of a personal touch in them.
  • The interface is messy and cluttered. Doesn’t seem at all up-to-date.

Why would a user use this app again?

  • The app sends notifications when it’s time to get in touch with a certain contact. Users get pulled in by these push messages.

What is the competitive advantage of this app?

  • Easy to install, easy to understand, does the trick in a just a few clicks.

Would users pay for this app? 

  • Not in its current state.

Method Three: Use Your Keywords to Search Top App Charts 

When you have more than 15 apps in your list, you can skip this third method. If not, give it a shot and see if you can collect some hidden apps out there.

This method works similarly to the app store keyword method; just fill in your keywords and make combinations. Review the Top Apps and download some that are worth your time. Fill in the questions and collect your data.

Now we use the data you collected

Look for similar apps

Go to the App Store and search the apps you found.
On every app page check out the customers also bought section at the bottom. This part of the page is a great tool to find similar apps so use it to your advantage. Download those apps and fill in your five questions. Do this for every app in your list. Try to expand your list by at least 25% using this tactic.

Check latest updated

This is an overlooked gem which is hiding in plain sight inside the App Store.

Take a look at the updated section of the app. Here lies a crucial bit of information about the app and the success of the app. In this piece of info may hide three signals:

Signal One: last update within three months.
This means there’s a high likelihood that the developers are still actively focusing on their idea. So what now?
Find out how successful the idea is. Find out if the market is big enough for sharing. If not, find out how big their budget is. How?
Check out and type in the name. Most companies that get funded have it mentioned on Crunchbase. But I do warn you, once a company has ample funding, you should watch out. I’ve been on this rollercoaster myself, where I was the little guy so beware! Most of the time it does not end pretty…

Signal Two: Last update was longer than six months ago.
This is a tricky one. I know developers that only bring two versions of their app out every year, so using this metric to gauge success is pretty hit-and-miss. But for my extended experience I would say that when an app hasn’t been updated for longer than six months, it means the developer’s quit the app and moved on.
So what now?
There’s a greater likelihood that the Devs dropped their project. This could mean two things-
1) They could not generate enough traction for their product and just ran out of cash.
2) The idea just sucks and nobody wanted to use it.

On the basis of your research you should decide which one of the two is most likely the correct one (I’ve never ended a project on the basis of these two reasons above).Signal Three: Last update was longer than a year ago.
The Devs have quit their project for sure.
Some reasons why they quit?

  • Ran out of cash
  • Idea sucked
  • Bad timing.

If I were you I’d just start with bad timing.
Research the abandoned app like crazy. Try to dig into it and find out why the app died.
Once you know why, you can try to avoid similar mistakes and do a better job on the execution part of being an app entrepreneur.

Read AppStore reviews, and learn from them.

Go through your list of apps and read all the reviews on all the apps you’ve collected inside your competitive space. Regard the reviews as customer feedback before you even have any customers. Using and learning from competitor reviews is a powerful tool you should always keep in your app entrepreneur toolbox.

People that tend to write reviews have strong opinions. They feel the need to share their thoughts or experience. By reading those reviews you’ll get a free glance straight into the brains of your potential users.

Write down all the positive reviews and write down all the negative reviews in your documentation. Take good care in learning those negatives by heart.

Bonus Setup for your continued market research-

Set up some keyword related Google trends
You want to stay on top of the market. Do this by adding some related keywords to your Google trend account. Try to think of as many combinations as possible using the keywords for your app. Add the word app to it. The more specific keyword combinations you’re tracking the better you’ll be in owning the market. You need to know everything that happens inside your competitive space. A good CEO knows the direction his/her market is heading so put this powerful tool to work for you.

Use Google to ask problem-specific questions
This is something you should be doing on a monthly basis. Every month you should type in the problem statements that come with your app idea. Memorize the first 10 pages of Google by heart.

Start with 5 problem statements that are fairly simple to your apps own problem statement. Collect the links from the first 10 Google search pages. Do this to see what articles pop up every month. I do this for some of my companies every month. This method lets me stay on top of trending articles, blogs and news about the competitive markets I swim in.

Ask this question about the problem on Quora- How are users solving it right now?
This is a method I learned from a very skilled and wise entrepreneur. He told me this: “Ask it on Quora, I’m dead serious about it”.
First I was kind of a skeptic regarding this. I read a lot of great articles and answers on Quora but never really considered asking any questions, until I took his advice and did. And…Oh Brother…did I learn a lot about the problems I was solving with my app ideas.

You may want to ask the Quora crowd this simple questions- What tools, tips or tricks are you using at this moment to solve problem “fill in the blank”? You’ll very quickly discover that forum guests will go out of there way to assist you in providing quality answers. and from this pool of active brainpower, you’ll learn a lot.

Use Reddit like Quora
Once you know what categories your app belongs to find a subreddit that fits the category and ask questions similar to those of your Quora Q’s. Trust me, this stuff works.

You’ve done your homework

Now you know exactly what works and- just as importantly– what doesn’t.
You have a clear overview of the market space you will be operating in. You understand the market and know which apps succeed and which fail. This information is extraordinarily valuable. Both consciously and unconsciously you’ve absorbed a great deal of key data and we’ll use this data in later steps while building your app.
Now head over to the next post where we’ll finally start some serious app brainstorming!