By the Book: How Swiftkey Perfected Their App Launch

For many a year, the joys of truly brilliant predictive text remained in the hands of Android users alone. Swiftkey, in my book the best third party keyboard in the business, had carved out an impressive paid audience in the Google Play wilderness by building an excellent product that evolved to include multiple languages, that helped users customise the input method to choose their style and that one upped rivals by taking their best features and adapting them.

But until January 2014, they lacked an iOS presence to call their own. As a result of Apple’s negative stance on third party applications playing around with their inbuilt features, Swiftkey had to labour outside of Apple’s walled garden.

That’s all changed with the launch of Swiftkey Note however. Utilising their magical typing tech within a notepad app, the company has managed to generate acres of coverage and the kind of visibility for their app that most developers launching for the first time could only dream of – including a place in the overall top 50 rankings in the US, UK, Germany and Italy on iPhone and iPad without spending a dime of UA money. While I have a long standing admiration for Swiftkey due to the employees I’ve met there and the long hours of usage I’ve gotten from their keyboards, there are some really clear lessons about launching an app successfully that it’d be remiss of me not to talk about it.

So I’ve decided to look in depth at the launch of their app and determine what exactly they did to make things go so swimmingly. A lot of it might seem like common sense but getting these simple things right could easily help you propel your own app into the launch stratosphere.

1) They built a great product

I was speaking to Barry Meade, Commercial Director for Fireproof Studios, about marketing in the mobile gaming business at the Mobile Games Forum and he had one big point about a problem in a lot of the thinking of marketing people for mobile games. They, he claimed, were often too dismissive of how difficult it was to make a good game –  casually saying “well of course you have to make a good game to be successful” with little understanding of what actually makes an engaging experience. As he said, if you make something really good then you can find a market for it rather than worrying solely about marketing it.

photo (4)

In Swiftkey’s case, while they’re obviously not a mobile game, they dealt with the quality problem in the best way possible: by building something great. Sure, Note is pretty minimalistic in terms of functionality and can’t work outside of that note book alone but it is clearly a thing of beauty. The keyboard is clearly streets ahead of what Apple offers, the way you organise notes is ridiculously simple, the tutorial is excellent and the design fits with iOS 7 perfectly. While many will see it as a teaser for the full Swiftkey experience, Note is, in itself, a worthy app to download and capable of replacing the default note app for pretty much every user who writes on an iOS device.

2) It was marketed well

I might have seemed to give marketing a bit of a tough time in the first section but for most apps, particularly free ones, getting that right can be the difference between success and failure. Fortunately for the Swiftkey team, they seemed to have done that pretty well.

Two thing sin particularly stand out as well done to me. The first is the partnership with Evernote, which is a match made in heaven. The hugely successful cloud syncing productivity app is a perfect partner for Swiftkey because a) the Note product fits in perfectly with the Evernote oeuvre and b) it gives it the brand trust that means both the utility users Swiftkey wants to entice and the iOS consumers who may not have heard of their product will want to hear. By prominently putting that partnership up front and centre, both companies have benefited by riding on one another’s exalted coattails.

Lovely screenshot action right there

Lovely screenshot action right there

Speaking of things that were up front and centre, the second reason I was impressed by their marketing was the handle on their App Store assets. The screenshots are well designed and string together a great narrative, the app description is readable and informative and the icon trades sensibly on the Swiftkey brand. While it is tough to make broader statements about the marketing strategy as we’re still very much early on in the launch cycle, from what I can see the Swiftkey marketing pitch appears to be fine tuned for successful user conversion.

3) They nailed the press coverage

When you’re an established brand with a track record of excellence and a new product to talk about, getting press coverage should be expected. Achieving widespread coverage and timing it to perfection to ensure maximum uplift for your product though can be tricky and even the biggest companies get it wrong sometimes.

As photographed in The Verge

That’s what makes Swiftkey’s coverage list so impressive. Timing to a 2pm embargo on the 30th January when the app hit the market across the world properly, they managed to rack up by 2.10pm mentions in The Next Web, Techcrunch, CNET, ZD Net, PocketLint, Business Insider, Mashable, Huffington Post, Engadget and Yahoo News to name just a few. As I write, coverage appears to be rolling in from all over the place as the few major tech publications not deciding to cover it at launch quickly scramble to get in on the Note coverage before they miss out on the interested traffic.

It’s one thing to have a story worth telling but to pitch it to so many publications and get it picked up by pretty much all of them is testament to how a well co-ordinated press effort can give your app real uplift.

4) The social media machine worked

Crucial to supplementing a successful press push nowadays is a concerted social media effort. If you pick up coverage and new users, having your social media sites kick into action to communicate with people who are wanting to talk about your brand and your app is pretty much essential to managing your reputation effectively.

And again, it was apparent that Swiftkey really got that right when the coverage started to roll in. From 2pm-4pm on launch day, I counted the best part of 30 responses from the team to people using the app on all manner of issues – from helpful responses like the tweet below to well natured responses to people who joked about the slightly hipster launch video.

On top of that, they also managed to get a little bit of luck that only social media can deliver you. The decision of comedian Stephen Fry to tweet about the new app to his six million Twitter followers was a clear boon, delivering an absolute shedload of organic coverage that few can dream of. But when you have a well oiled press machine pumping out press coverage every minute and an active social media presence, it is fair to say that you can increase your coverage chances by a considerable degree – so don’t underrate these channels by any means.

5) They got an App Store feature

The cherry on the cake for the company was the App Store feature. While social media and press coverage can help drive app downloads, a feature by Apple remains the premier way to shoot up the charts. Songza managed to get themselves the best part of 500,000 installs off the back of a New and Noteworthy feature last year – the kind of boost that developers can only hope for.

Feature fit

Feature fit

So for Swiftkey to rather predictably round off their spotless launch with a prominent feature on the App Store to call their own. Acting as the final piece in the puzzle, the feature gives the company the luxury of converting users with their excellent marketing assets and the opportunity to mention the long and credible list of press outlets they managed to get Note into. It’s rare to call an App Store feature the icing on the cake due to the importance it can have on an app’s download numbers but in this case it feels like it; a rare example of a launch gone perfectly.

And that’s that for this rather complimentary round up. While it may seem like I’m raving, it’s for the good reason that this appeared to be about as good as a launch can get for an app. If you’re Swiftkey and are reading this, then kudos to you guys as you nailed it. And if you’re someone else in the industry reading this then I think the main lesson you should take from this is that getting a whole team performing to their best of abilities in conjunction with one another to achieve a common goal is the route to success. Every step along the way, each member of the Swiftkey team seems to have done their job properly, aimed for excellence and ensured it is ready in time for the deadline and it shows with the way that it all has come together. By planning your launch carefully, having clear goals and motivating your employees (or yourself) properly, you too could see the kind of success Swiftkey have.

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