Technology

Four tools/sites I use to quickly get projects off the ground

I love playing with new ideas and always want to test things out quick. However, new projects always demand more time and energy. Creating the right graphics, finding the correct keywords, gauging user interest are all easier said than done. As I was working on creating resources for a new app , I realized that I use a small sets of tools/websites for pretty most of my projects. These are the resources I share the most when someone is looking to get started on a new project.

Canva

This has clearly been my favorite site/tool in last couple of years. This user friendly and versatile graphic design tool as been my go to place for almost any project. I have created anything from app icon to logo, Facebook ads, presentations, book covers, and flyers. I have an idea or image of something beautiful I want to create, but when I actually sit down to create , it is far from the image I have in my head. However, Canva simplifies this for me with their templates for almost any kind of graphics I need. Most of Canva’s features are free but I pay for the premium service for the ease of being able to resize a graphic to any size I want.

Unsplash and Pixabay

I came across Unsplash couple years ago when I was looking for some stock photos and for a long time I could not believe it was for real. Both Unsplash and Pixabay have amazing quality photos for almost every need that are 100% free to use. Pixabay also has vectors and illustrations that are free to use, with an option to buy some paid ones alongside. Unsplash is definitely my go to place when I am looking for an image. I have struggled at times to medical or scientific images, but other than that the section is phenomenal. In fact, if you look at medium, majority of the blog header images are from Unsplash. Attribution is not necessary but recommended, and I happily do it. I also contribute some of my relevant images to the site so we can continue to grow this amazing site.

Google keyword tool

This is a place I go to check for demand and competition anytime I have a new Idea I want to explore. I like being able to see number of searches for a certain term and competition to gauge market interest. This is also nice when I am working on something of a regional interest as Keyword tool has the option to narrow the search by geography.

Google adwords and Facebook ads

Finally I used both google adwords and Facebook ads to quickly get feedback on a project from an unbiased audience as well as gauge user interest. Additionally, for an app, I run both google and FB ads to quickly get some downloads and use firebase analytics to start collecting data on how users are using the app and optimize. I realize that paid advertising might not be for everyone, but is an amazing way to get quick feedback. For example, If I had an idea for a new subscription business, let’s say spice of the month club. Before I put in a lot of time and money into the business, I could spend $100 worth of ads to drive traffic to a landing page and see if users are willing to pay. This could be anything from taking people to a email list to a survey to an actual checkout cart that has all the steps except the final pay button. For apps, I have noticed that driving traffic early helps the app get listed on new and coming lists and drive further traffic as well as quickly testing what is working and not.

Why futures trading might be bad news for Bitcoin short term

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Unless you are living under the rock, you have seen the increasing popularity of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Whether it is just simple Supply and demand or plain old fear of missing out, cryptocurrencies have seen over 1000% increase just this year. However, I feel like some of the recent mainstream acceptance is likely to send the prices down for a while.

Here is my logic behind why bitcoin might take some short term beating or more accurately a correction. One of the main reasons I see this coming is from the opening of bitcoin futures trading. Both CBOE global markets and CME group launched futures trading recently. Historically, when investors feel like something is overpriced or overvalued, they will bet on it to go down using futures trading. This had not been possible for bitcoin so far.

Now, with the introduction of bitcoin futures trading it would not be least bit surprising if investors started making large bets on bitcoin prices to fall and even starting selling sprees to get the ball rolling. 

Even though the futures trading is only for bitcoin and not other cryptocurrencies, the fall of one will also very likely create a network effect of people starting to sell other cryptocurrencies. Given, that a lot of people who had been buying bitcoin or similar digital currencies were simply jumping on the bandwagon without full understanding, they will likely start selling their holdings of other digital currencies as well when bitcoin starts falling. Like any supply and demand in investment, the more people sell the lower the price could get. 

Good thing about the futures market is, at  certain point the big investors will also decide that the price has dropped enough and start making bets for it increase and slowly sending it back up.

For now, all we can do is wait and see when and how everything will unfold. Historically, investors like to sell equity and hold cash before the holidays. Given that, bitcoin futures trading opened up right before the holidays, we could very likely see a major correction right before. 

Of course, these are just my opinions from the outside. 

Google play store optimization learnings

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Google play store optimization seems like a black box of unknowns but google is actually very open about what are the key factors that affect google play store rankings. After enjoying top ranking and sustained high downloads for a long time for a lot of our keywords, we took some hit this year. I spent a lot of time doing research on how we can increase downloads and get back on the same growth trajectory we were in about a year ago.

This was not an easy task as we have a lot of small apps focusing on niche markets rather than few large/popular apps. We also have apps in both android and iOS store. So, we had to find a strategy that would work in both app stores.

I wanted to write a quick post on google play store optimization and the strategies we tried to regain google play store ranking. Google play store optimization for us was not just about keyword research and optimization. Even though my primary focus was to find ways to improve play store ranking in order to get more downloads, after some research I decided to expand that focus.

Whenever possible, we used google play store's experiment feature to try the changes we were implementing. This way we could get concrete data about how the changes affected downloads and ranking.

Google play store optimization factors:

We decided to focus our experiments around the following items in order to increase retention and improve ranking.

Icon

Screenshots

Featured graphics

Usage frequency

Keywords

Title

App Update Frequency

Key learnings from our Google play store optimization experiments:

  • We had underestimated the power and importance of user retention. Not only that we had to go get more users if retention was low, it seemed like the keyword ranking for apps with low retention tend to drop in the google play store
  • It was important to have an icon that stood as icon and title were the first to things that a user saw. This was our first opportunity to convince the user to click on the app to look at description, screenshots and reviews.
  • Once we had convinced users to click on the details, we now needed convincing description and screenshots to get the user to download the app. Our Key learning here was, while we needed to provide the best description and screenshots, it is critical to be accurate. User satisfaction depends on what expectation we set for the app compared to what they get. If we over promised on a feature that did not deliver,
  • Reviews and ratings were key. This ties in to the above point about managing expectations. If we managed expectations properly and over delivered, we ended up with higher overall ratings.
  • Keywords and title were important to get a higher ranking but other factors discussed above were more important in getting higher download and retain rate.
  • Apps that had a higher usage frequency were better at maintaining higher ranking
  • It was important to update app frequently. This helped keep the app bug free and showed that app is recent and relevant.

We used Google play feature to conduct experiments. Google analytics was used to measure app retention rate and usage frequency. Push notifications and routine updates were used to increase usage frequency.

We used App Annie to monitor ranking and do keyword research.

Hope you found something helpful about google play store optimization from this post. Let us know if there is anything else you have found useful.

7 tools in my toolbox

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In this post I am going over few tools in my toolbox I use everyday.

1. Canva

I recently stumbled upon this amazing site. Even though i love good designs, my personal design skills are lackluster. I have been looking for simple and affordable design tools for a very long time. I was ecstatic when I found Canva. Their tagline of Amazingly simple graphic design is spot on. With a large collection of design templates and elements, this site makes design accesible to everyone for free or a very low cost

2. Trello

It took me a while to get used to Trello but has been a tool I use everyday now. I use Trello for project planning, to-do lists, and overall project management . With simple cards that can be moved from one bucket to another, it gives me an ability to visually manage projects I am working on school, work, or business.

3. Hootsuite/ Buffer

I try to keep my social profiles active but often struggle with posting regularly. I use both hootsuite and buffer to schedule tweets/ Facebook posts for up to a week. I will still post throughout the week that is time sensitive or new information but these tools let me schedule posts as I am reading and have articles I am interested in sharing.

4. Spotify

Music feeds the brain and soul and Spotify gives me an unlimited option for every mood. I subscribe to Spotify premium, so I can enjoy uninterrupted music and have the ability to forward songs.

5. App Annie

I have been using App Annie since its Infancy, and have always been impressed with the product. Annie lets me quickly see key statistics like downloads, revenue, percentage change, and many other key aspects of my apps in a snapshot. They make it super easy to connect all my accounts.

6. Launch Kit

Launchkit's Screenshot builder lets me create screenshots for all iOS devices at once from one image. This is a huge time saving as I am getting ready to submit new app to the app store.

7. Momentum extension for chrome

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This simple extension has made a huge impact in my productivity. Momentum is a simple plugin that will display a beautiful image any time you open a new tab. The tab will show time and what my focus is for the day along with my task list. This helps by hiding the recently visited site and reminding me to get back to work.

6 Mobile App Builders you can use to build Apps without Programming

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When my girlfriend got me an iPod touch for my birthday in 2009 , I was fascinated with the device. Being a native of Nepal, the first thing I looked for was apps about Nepal and was disappointed to find none. I was looking for a simple application that was tailored to Nepal. Since, I had always been a technology enthusiast, I started looking at what developing an app for iPhone/iPod touch entailed( The iPad was not in the market yet). However, there was one small problem. As you can see from my background and education, I am a Chemist with no formal knowledge of Programming or mobile app development. I looked around to learn how to code but while working a demanding full time job, I could never find the time or motivation to learn. So, I started looking for options on how I could use mobile app builders to create mobile  apps without programming. I get a lot of questions from people regarding how I build mobile apps without programming  and how I got into this area to start with. In this post, I intend to provide a brief overview of how I started on mobile app development and go into some detail of how I have been successfully building iOS and android apps without programming for years now. Over the years, I have over hundred applications in my portfolio between iOS and Android. I have been focussing mostly on creating simple applications for underrepresented countries and educational apps in Chemistry and Biology, where I can leverage my formal education to provide some value.

The first simple solution I came across was a DIY mobile app builder called Appmakr. Appmakr(Now part of infinite monkey) is a simple drag and drop solution for apps and I could build an app in minutes with RSS feeds.( It also used to be completely free back then). SO, I went out and looked for RSS feeds for different sources for Nepal, put it all together , made an icon and splash screen and by the end of the day I had myself a functioning iPhone app running on my iPod touch. That feeling of creating something was just amazing. Even though this was very simple and had not been polished, I decided to go ahead an get an apple developer license and submit the app to the app store.

After few back and forth with the app reviewer about missing icons and copyrighted materials, etc everything was straightened out and I had  successfully published my first app without programming. Boy oh boy, that was an amazing feeling and the feeling got even better when I started getting hundreds of downloads and emails from people thanking for the app. This gave me the motivation to start building more and this is how the whole process started. Enough of my history, now onto the good stuff.

Over the years, I have tried nearly every single app building tools out there that requires to little to no programming and are free or economically viable.

Tools to build apps without programming

1. Andromo for Android

Andromo is my absolute favorite mobile app builder tool when it comes to creating android apps without programming. You can use their quick and easy tool to create a gamut of apps ranging from music, photo-based, location based to HTML5 apps if you want to build something in html5 or Phonegap and bring it to Andromo. There are few things I really like about them.

  •  Price: They are very affordable with prices ranging from $25 per month to 119/year for unlimited publishing
  • Easy UI/UX setup with pre-built menu types
  • Easy Monetization with good choices of banner and interstitial ads
  • They are constantly improving the product

Andromo promotes their service saying:

With Andromo, anyone can make a pro quality Android app.There's no programming required, plus Andromo generates 100% pure native code apps. Use your app to promote your business, share events and news, or launch your million dollar idea. It's quick, easy and your first app is free!

The one thing I do not like about them is that there is no option to sign the package file with your own signing certificate, which makes it impossible to replace the app with a one that you custom create or with  different service in future of any reason.

Here is an example of Android app I built using Andromo.

2.Red Foundry

Red Foundry started out with drag and drop template based mobile app builder like many others but has transitioned into a blocks based engine called fusion builder based on XML style markup language. According to their site

Red Foundry is a complete solution for building and managing mobile apps. Without coding, our unified platform enables everything from stunning content based mobile apps to powerful enterprise solutions, while reducing the mobile app development cycle from months to days.

Here is what I like about them:

  • Price: Free for both Android and iOS; cant beat that price
  • One design/setup , build for iOS and Android
  • Extensive customization and design capability

It does take a little longer than a simple drag and drop services to get used to but if you are looking to build customizable high quality applications, Red foundry is definitely a premium mobile app builder. You do not have to deal with xcode or Eclipse but still have the opportunity to sign your android application with your own signing certification so if you decide to natively build it or build using other services in future you can easily update the existing application with the new improved one. iOS applications are always signed with the certificate created using the publishing account so its not an issue.

Here is an example of an app I built with Red foundry.

3. Buzztouch

Buzztouch is one of the mobile app builders I have been using and keeping an eye for a long time. It has evolved very well over time and  buzztouch community has grown over time as well. This powerful tool lets you create iPhone and Android apps without programming.

Here are somethings I really like about Buzztouch:

  • Free to start playing around with and publish up to three apps
  • You actually receive the code after the app is compiled so you can make any changes/additions
  • One build for both android and iOS
  • Very active developers community
  • Plugin market for additional features and hopefully leads to rapid addition of features

However, if you are looking  to not want to do anything in Xcode or Eclipse, this might not be your cup of tea. You will get the raw code and will have to sign and package the app for submission. The bright side is you have an opportunity learn more about native development environments plus the android app will be signed with your own signing certificate which gives you the freedom to update it any way you want in future.

Buzztouch site advertises their service as:

Build iOS and Android apps like the Pros
An open source project + an amazing community helping people make better apps

Here is an example of an application I built using Buzztouch.

4. Goodbarber

Beautiful design, packed with features but little more expensive than the others

Of Course, there are a ton more mobile app builders out there. You will have to look at each one to see what fits your interest the most. Some other that I have tried and liked are:

  • Game salad  (perfect for simple to complex games, one build for multiple platform, iOS Free, premium for rest, supports multiple ad networks)
  • Conduit app builder( great designs but pricing might not be ideal for all, limited monetization options
  • Seattle Clouds( Cheap, easy, many customization options, good choice of ad networks, not the most bug free system though)
  • Appsmoment( Reseller of Seattle cloud, so same features for fraction of cost, limitation is that apps ahve to be manually approved by them before publishing)
  • iBuildapp( Good builder, steep pricing if you are interested in creating multiple free apps)

If there are other tools to build apps without programming, that you have found particularly useful, please share in the comments section.

By- Bikul Koirala

How to improve your mobile ad revenue by 10 times.

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  Monetizing free applications is a critical but confusing topic for many developers. Over the years of developing free applications, I have been experimenting with various factors to see how I can maximize my revenue. In this article, I am sharing some of my key findings and hope you can use some of what I learned to optimize your mobile ad networks.

Colors- Color combination on text ads

Colors play a huge role in everything we do, and it obviously plays a large role in ad colors when it comes to click through rates.

I could go on and on about color but there are already lots of interesting information about role of colors in marketing and our life in general out there. One of my all time favorite article about role of color in marketing is one by Leo Widrich at the Buffer blog.  Leo does an amazing job going in depth about effect color has in our life and how it relates to marketing. I actually have this article bookmarked and refer to it often as I am working on new things.

Flow of colors is key in increasing user experience. Pay special attention to how the colors in your ads fit in with your application color theme.

Interstitial ads 

I was vary wary of interstitial ads until couple years ago. I thought it ruined user experience and portrayed a cheap feeling. I thought they were too much on your face and made you look like a push over. I still have mixed feelings about them, but I feel like at moderation and proper placement they are justified and are extremely productive. This is true either you are using house ads or displaying ads for networks like Google’s AdmobRevmob, etc.

I have seen unto 4x the CTR and 10x eCPM. Of course, you have to use this sparingly, and ensure that the ads are relevant. I like to make it very easy for users to exit out of these ads, and make sure not to show interstitial ads very frequently. The rule I like to focus is, not more than 1 impression per user every 45 minutes. Of course, you have to find out what works best for your application type and audience.

Timing and placement of these ads are also critical. For example, if you have a full screen/interstitial ad pop up as soon as the application opens or on the first action, you might get a good click through rate but user retention is sure to hurt. You have to make sure the timing of the ad display is not too intrusive. For example, if it is an application that has average use time of 10 minutes/session, a full screen ad 4-6 minutes is more justified. By this time the user has felt like he has got something out of the application and is more accepting to an advertisement. They key is providing value first, before throwing something at your users.

Video/interactive interstitial/full screen ads perform amazing when used properly. If the above technique is used to decide the placement of these ads, a satisfied user who has interacted with the application for a good five minutes, a user who feels like he/she has got something of value out of the application, is 25x more likely to listen to the video or perform the action asked in the application versus a user who is presented with a video ad/interactive ad immediately after the app opens up.

Ad network optimization

Almost every ad network provides optimization tools these days. This makes it easy to optimize your ad allocation by network and also helps ensure the highest fill rate, both helping in increasing your ad revenue. Take advantage of the ad mediation features available through your ad network or use tools like burstly(skyrocket app) or Mobclix to set up tiers of ads.

Based on the tools, you might have an option to optimizie manually or let the ad networks do the job for you. You can take advantage of features like eCPM floor on Admob combined with tiered ad network setup to ensure maximum revenue and maximum fill rate.

Refresh Rates

Yes, refresh rates matter. Well, at least if you are interested in optimizing your ad earning for your application and since you are still reading this application I am guessing that is of interest to you. I have spent months experimenting  with refresh ads in a number of my ads. One ad refresh rates do not work for all applications/placements. Most ad networks  suggest ad refresh rates of 30-180 seconds, or no refresh. That is a huge range. You need to find out what works for your application or you could be losing a significant portion of your ad revenue.

If you are thinking, I will just refresh the ad as often as I can, and that will bring in additional revenue, it might actually have a negative effect. When you refresh your ad too often, your users might not even get a chance to see the ad before its refreshed or it might be refreshed by the time they get over to clicking the ad. Leave your ad on too long, and people are tired of seeing the same ad. Especially if you have an application that has users staying in a same page for extended periods of time. There is no one magic number that works for everyone or every application. You have to experiment to find out what works

Experiment, Experiment

The overall message is experiment, and experiment with everything that you can including but not limited to things mentioned in this article. There are however few things you have to keep in mind while experimenting. Being a scientist, I try to follow my teachings of traditional science even when I am experimenting with applications or ad networks.

Here are my 5 principles of ad network experimentation.

 

  1. Change one thing at a time

  2. Have a hypothesis you’d like to test, for example a lower refresh rate will increase my CTR and thus the revenue.

  3. Keep a good note of the changes or effects. Use freely available analytics tools to weed out noise from the actual effect.

  4. Don't change too often, give your change enough time so you can collect quality information.

  5. What is true for one ad network or one application is not always true for another, so test again and again.

 

Bonus:

Categories/filters

 

Most ad networks will let you choose the categories that you want to allow the advertisers display ads for or filters that allow you to block certain categories or keywords. If your users see ads that is similar to or relevant to the application then they re more likely to click on those ads. I know this sounds plain and simple, but it does have a strong influence on the user experience . For example if I am using an application that provides financial tips, I am more likely to click on an ad for a savings account or ho to start an IRA instead of an ad that is annoyingly flashing "Meet hot singles in your are". Context matters, and since there are tools that help you decide what kind of ads that your users see, why not take advantage of that and give your users a better app experience while increasing your revenue at the same time?

If there is something else that has worked wonders for you and would like to share it with the rest of the community, please let us know in the comments section.

By- Bikul Koirala