Why you should consider a soft launch for your mobile app

So you want to launch a mobile app? Well, you’re not alone. But the process is easier said than done, and you shouldn’t hit the ground running without some careful preparation. If you want to get it right and successfully monetize your app, there are some key steps you can take to achieve your desired results. The most effective of these is a soft launch.

A soft launch allows you to isolate success factors and problem areas in your app through a controlled release in a test market. In fact, independent research shows that about three quarters of game publishers use a soft launch before launching new titles, and the technique works for other types of apps, too. If you bypass this step and release your app to a broad market without any testing, you risk jeopardizing your desired results.

Preparing for a soft launch

The basic idea of a soft launch is to release your app in a test market with similar characteristics to your target audience. For apps launching in the US, this usually means testing your app in English-speaking countries like Canada or Australia.

But don’t just dive right in. A soft launch isn’t valuable unless you first consider what you’re trying to measure. A common question is: Does your game or app monetize? I’ve observed that the answer to that question is too often initially “no.” Better to learn that lesson during a soft launch, where you can go back to the drawing board to tweak your monetization strategy, than during a much broader and more costly release.

In addition to monetization, soft launches are great for measuring other engagement metrics like user experience, user retention and virality. Just make sure you understand exactly what you’re trying to test, because you can’t test everything.

Collecting the data to make impactful changes

Of course, in order to gain any valuable insights, you’ll need to make sure you track both user acquisition (UA) and user experience (UX).

  • UA tracking will help you understand where new users come from, how much they cost, and how much revenue they generate.
  • UX tracking, meanwhile, will show you what users do in your app, where churn occurs, what features they use and where they get stuck. UX tracking also gives you information on user flow, session length and social sharing.

The key to making a soft launch worthwhile, though, is tying this data to changes that have a significant positive impact on your app. For example, in one instance, a client found that users weren’t completing their game’s tutorial, which originally was almost five minutes long. After shortening the video to under a minute, their completion rate skyrocketed from 10 percent to 75 percent.

In another instance, a client saw a 28 percent increase in returning users in its US launch compared with initial results from its soft launch, thanks to changes to their UI and gameplay experience.

Not to be overlooked are seemingly small things like your landing page and app icon. Your app store presence has a lot to do with your success, as this is the first impression users get after clicking an ad, and a soft launch is a great time to figure out if you need to make changes. I’ve seen plenty of cases where tweaks to landing pages and icons, following a soft launch, have resulted in increased downloads for an app.

How much to spend and what you can gain

In my experience, clients typically spend about one-fifth as much budget on a soft launch as they do on their full launch. Think about it: if you could spend $20K to learn the same critical lessons as you could learn spending $100K, which option would you choose?

In addition to seeing many great lessons learned during a soft launch, I’ve also observed instances where issues during a major release could have been avoided had there been a soft launch. With a relatively low price tag and time commitment (typically about two to four weeks), it’s hard to argue against the improved results a soft launch can generate.

Craig Palli is chief strategy officer at Fiksu.