10 tips on getting your magazine discovered

Everyone who creates a website or launches an app secretly believes the old Field of Dreams quote: “If you build it they will come.” As the digital magazine industry has learned over the past four years, this is not the case.

1. Take responsibility for your product

Apple may have ‘saved’ the music business, but it won’t do the same for magazines. It’s best to see Apple, Google and Amazon as multi-product retailers who will promote the products that make them the most money. At the moment, games, music, box sets, movies and books are all ahead of digital magazine apps. It is the publisher’s job to do all the marketing, so regard the appstore’s cut as a fee that a retailer would charge to have you on their shelves.

2. Start marketing before you launch

A common mistake is to assume that the initial burst of interest generated by the launch of your app will give you the momentum to begin a long and profitable journey on an upward curve. The most common experience is that most apps take a sharp dive after a period of initial interest. Many successful digital and print magazines start creating social media communities months before they launch. If your app is in an appstore there is plenty of useful work to be done, such as testing out keywords using Appstore Optimisation (ASO) tools. And you don’t need to have launched your own app as you can use the data from your close competitors and learn from their mistakes.

3. Do the search engine optimisation basics

As an app, rather than a website, you may think you do not need search engine optimisation (SEO). At least 20 per cent of current digital subscribers discovered apps via a search engine and unless you promote your digital magazine via a website, blog, video or social media campaign your appstore link will not rank highly in search engines. SEO has moved on from the days when it was all about keywords, links and meta tags. Google will reward you for contributing original content and helping answer questions. They will give you extra points for using their products such as YouTube and Google+. If you don’t have an in-house SEO specialist then you may want to consult one to make sure you have carried out the obvious tasks.

4. Learn about Appstore Optimistion (ASO)

ASO is far less sophisticated than SEO – even in Google’s own appstore, Google Play. With Apple it’s all about using 100 characters to identify the most effective keywords used by tablet and smartphone users to find apps like yours. Businesses such as MobileDevHQ have created sophisticated tools to help apps, particularly in the gaming world, to constantly optimise their keywords. Avoid high-traffic keywords used by popular apps as you won’t rank highly and check the terms that readers use in their communication with you and online to make sure your keywords match their language.

Many magazines spend little time on their main iTunes description as they know it is not used in the Apple appstore search (although in Google Play it is). You may think that apps that use long titles look clumsy, as in ‘Best Movie Mag: Reviews and trailers of the best new releases in action, drama and comedy’. In reality they have worked out that Apple allows you 155 extra characters to explain your product in the title and these keywords rank higher than your 100 characters. It may look ugly but you will get discovered more easily.

Appstores also allow you to choose the category within which your app appears. ‘Newsstand’ is already a category in Apple’s appstore, but you get to choose a subcategory to help users find you. App Publisher magazine chose ‘Computers and Internet’ over ‘Business and Investing’ as there were far fewer magazines in that category and less ‘junk’. This approach has helped them stay in Apple’s category top 20 since launch, despite being a digital-only title with a tiny marketing budget.

5. Create landing pages and use inbound marketing techniques

Over 90 per cent of those who download a magazine app leave the appstore without buying or trialling an issue according to the PPA. A ‘landing page’ (a web page dedicated to a particular campaign), can help to improve conversion by demonstrating the magazine and explaining the offer before asking a user to begin the download process. 

Every app needs at least one landing page on the web that can be used to explain what the digital magazine is about, what it looks like, how it works, what is in the latest issue and where and how to download it. This landing page should be used as the target for SEO and social media activity. Here’s an example.

It is estimated that 70 per cent of those who download a ‘free’ container or ‘shell’ app believe that they have just downloaded a free magazine. These represent hard won prospective buyers who are now annoyed because they feel duped. Using inbound marketing techniques on your landing page can help identify these users before they get to the appstore, ensure they understand the magazine is not free and retain their details for future marketing.

6. Promote digital magazines better in print titles 

The most successful marketers of digital publications are probably the national newspapers, such as The Times and The Wall St Journal. These publications dedicate significant print space to promoting their digital offer and create constantly changing packages to encourage trial and sign up using dedicated phone lines to explain and convert prospects into sales. Conversely, most print magazines run a single page ad, which often points to a long URL that needs to be entered into a web browser.

7. Make a video of your magazine app

It is far easier to understand the appeal of a digital magazine by watching a short video than it is to go to the appstore, download the app and then download an issue. In iOS 8 Apple enables you to record a video of an app using the latest Yosemite software on a Mac connected to either an iPhone or iPad. The video is added as the first ‘screenshot’ in the magazine store listing in the appstore. Google Play also supports app video previews.

Videos of magazine apps should also be uploaded and promoted on video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo as part of the social media and SEO marketing process. In Magvault we include YouTube videos of all magazine apps and see it as a key part of driving traffic to the appstores.

8. Update, check and test

Once you’ve worked out your keywords, written your descriptions, made your video and curated your landing page be prepared to test and update them based on the results. Don’t convince yourself that you have finished marketing your website (although you will have done more than most) because in the online world everything is constantly evolving and you need to adapt in order to thrive.

9. Use social media in an organised way

Social media is highly effective way of reaching groups of people who are interested in subjects covered by magazines. Creating a buzz online is far more likely to generate the sort of searches that your discoverability techniques will be able to convert into downloads and purchases.

Although Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr all have highly targeted and cost-effective paid-for promotional tools most social media activity is free. As magazine apps you have a wealth of original content, illustrated with images and possibly video, that will make you stand out from the average post.

As much social media activity is rightfully carried out by editorial staff, rather than a central marketing resource, their experience, techniques and effectiveness vary significantly. Creating a standardised target like an appstore URL or a landing page and using a shortened URL, such as Bitly, will allow you to track the effectiveness of your campaigns. Magvault recently ran a three hour Guardian Masterclass solely on social media techniques for digital publishers.

10. Use companies like Magvault to help you

Magvault is a search engine for digital magazine apps. It’s a free service that offers promotion and links to appstores. Magvault is an active user of social media and it constantly promotes magazines with links to pages containing dedicated appstore links. We write reviews of digital magazines that stand out from the crowd and we have over 6,000 digital magazines from UK, US, Canada and Australia in our database. But we are not alone. There are other third party sites where magazines can submit their details and become discoverable to the millions with tablets and the billions with smartphones who have never experienced a digital magazine.

Neil Morgan is the co-founder of Magvault. He tweets from @BestMagApps and @Magvault. Magvault is a Digital Magazine portal and consults to publishers on digital magazines.

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