The 8 Ways of Promoting an App (Virtually) Free in 2024

A large and rectangular roadside billboard with 3 lights

Yes, there is no free lunch.

But you could always look for inexpensive meals.

The world of app promotions is the same. Though many methods of increasing app users can cost a fortune, knowing where to look for bargains is key.

This article serves a menu of virtually free ways to promote apps. So dig in to get your lion’s share of new knowledge about this topic.

But before we delve deeper, let’s begin with the basics of app promotion.

What is app promotion?

App promotion, also known as mobile app marketing, involves app developers or publishers finding ways to acquire more users for their mobile applications and keeping app users interested in the apps.

Basically, app promotion involves the following activities:

  • Making apps easily discoverable through app store optimization
  • Providing potential and current users guides on how to install, use, or download the apps
  • Reminding users to open their apps through push notifications

These three activities need some financial investment to execute. However, they could cost less when included in an app design and development package. So, if you want to develop an app idea, book a free call to learn about our cost-effective mobile and web app development package.

Now you know the basics of promoting an app, it’s time to learn how you can enjoy free or low-cost ways to do so.

8 Ways of Promoting an App Free (or at Little Cost)

Our product managers have helped many clients promote apps for their businesses or social impact initiatives. Based on their extensive experience, our experts recommend the following app promotion alternatives that don’t break the bank:

  1. Start local, go global
  2. Send out marketing emails
  3. Leverage social media channels
  4. Collaborate with influencers
  5. Let your app function as its own marketing tool
  6. Use referral programs
  7. Monitor user feedback in app stores
  8. Consider app review sites

Let’s dig deeper into each of these app promotion methods.

#1 Start local, go global

One of our product managers, Tovah Otton, has this to say about developing and promoting apps for your local community:

From the people you talked to [during the app development phase], try and find a small group who will be your first users. You could focus on one city, or one industry, or one community (like a local sports league, or students from a certain university).

There is wisdom in starting locally.

For one thing, it’s easier to find new users for your app, especially if you’re on good terms with many of your neighbors. This accelerates the adoption of your mobile app, increasing your app-based income relatively quicker.

Another massive advantage of serving local users is your ability to tap family, work colleagues, and relatives when promoting your app. If you have friends who are into making things like personalized mugs and shirts, you can also persuade them to help market your app in exchange for perks like discounts on in-app subscriptions, etc.

Since people you know intimately tend to do free favors for you, starting locally is a cost-effective way to promote your app.

After getting a stable set of local users, you could gradually conquer the world by tweaking your app to global standards. Many of our clients have done this by enlisting our help in developing apps called minimum viable products (MVPs). Learn more about the MVP way of building apps.

Also, on the theme of local going global, let me share how our client Roamni has succeeded internationally by championing local tourism. You can read our case study here to learn how Roamni’s founders caught the eye of Formula 1.

AP: All X portfolio page screenshot for Roamni

AP: Roamni mobile app screenshots

#2 Send out marketing emails

Email is a great communication channel you can use to promote your app. It’s free or low cost, easy to set up, and can reach large numbers of people instantly.

The average open rate for email marketing across various industries is about 20%. This means if you have 100 potential app users, there’s a good chance 20 of them will read app promotional emails you send them.

And even if you have to spend some cash designing and sending email newsletters, it is still worth it. According to Entrepreneur, every dollar spent on email marketing yields a return of $40.

Vital to any email marketing collateral is a catchy subject line that does not look spammy. An email campaign with the right subject line can help enlarge your pool of potential app users. Email marketing collaterals should also include basic information about the app, such as its features and where people can download it.

You can even send marketing emails even if you only have an app idea. Remember the local groups that I mentioned in Tip #1? Getting their email addresses during the app conceptualization stage will enable you to use email communication to validate your app concept.

#3 Leverage social media channels

In many cases, creating pages on social media networks is free. It is on these pages where you can post information, app screenshots, and even videos of your app without paying a cent.

You could also join social media communities like Facebook groups. Each group often comprises members that share a common line of work, interest, or topic. Look out for any groups whose interest matches your app’s value proposition.

For example, if you promote an app that helps simplify mathematics, look for groups of students or educators that need help with that subject.

Aside from being free, social media has a wide global reach. Statistics show that around 4 to 5 billion people use social media.

However, take note that there are many app-making competitors on social media. Therefore, strategic use of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc., is very important. Each of these social media sites has unique advantages in targeting audiences and effectiveness in showcasing visuals of the app in action.

#4 Collaborate with influencers

Another great way to get the word out while incurring minimal cost is to reach out to influencers. These social media celebrities can effectively spread the word about your app, especially if their content matches your app’s functionality and target audience. But, of course, these influencers must also have a respectable reputation.

One major example of an influencer-driven app-promoting campaign is that of Dunkin’ Donuts. The food industry giant increased its app download stats by around 60% due to an influencer named Charli D’Amelio.

AP: Charli D'Amelio promoting Dunkin' Donut product


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AP: Charli D'Amelio in Dunkin' Donut mobile app


Influencers also tend to cost less than legacy advertising companies. Many of these online stars are willing to receive gifts instead of fees for promoting apps. It also doesn’t hurt that each influencer can have a thousand to a million followers, greatly increasing the chances of a successful app marketing campaign.

#5 Turn your app into a marketing tool

Your app should be its own salesperson.

What do I mean by this? Two things: social share buttons and app icon design.

If your app has a social share button, it will enable your users to quickly share your app to online services like Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Given that Facebook alone has around 3 billion users, including the button in your custom-made app would be a great idea.

AP: Social share buttons screenshot


On the other hand, app icon design is about more than just good looks. There is a way to design icons to increase app downloads. You can read our in-depth guide on how to design an app icon to learn more about this technique. This guide explains how the right app icon design can make your app stand out from millions of others in app stores.

#6 Take advantage of referral programs

Word-of-mouth has been a marketing tool for thousands of years. And it has not shown signs of slowing down.

But word-of-mouth has undergone a digital reinvention. Companies big and small are using so-called referral programs to reward people who spread the word about their apps.

For example, as you can see from the screenshots below, both Airbnb and Uber Eats provide discounts in exchange for promoting their apps.

AP: Airbnb app referral program screenshot


AP: Uber Eats app referral program screenshot


In effect, these two companies are promoting their apps for free. Granted, Uber Eats and Airbnb have to sacrifice slight decreases in their revenue due to promos. However, this amount is still much less than the fees charged by most advertising companies. And the beauty about promos is they can be stopped at will, unlike your typical advertising contract.

#7 Watch out for user feedback on app stores

Remember, beating bad publicity is good marketing.

Marketing or promoting an app is not just about getting new users onboard. It also involves ensuring current app users are happy or satisfied.

That is why watching out for any bad reviews your app gets from Google Play Store, the Apple App Store, etc., is important. If too many people post negative feedback about your app on these stores, they may discourage new users from coming in.

One thing I learned as a customer relations specialist back in the day is that whenever a customer complains, you have to give them something, even if it’s not what they actually want. So, for instance, when I couldn’t cancel a customer’s hotel booking due to policy restrictions, I provided him with a much cheaper hotel alternative of similar quality to what he booked.

Similarly, it would help if you didn’t leave any negative app feedback unanswered.

Of course, do what you can to fix what problem your app has. But remember to first reply to the negative feedback about your app. A good reply could include a formal apology and an assurance that the issue will be fixed. You could also have troubleshooting suggestions like phone reboots or app restarts.

Provide your disgruntled user with any useful information. Chances are, your app’s negative reputation will at least be reduced.

#8 Have your app evaluated on app review sites

You can also have your app featured on review sites. These websites assess and rate how good (or bad) apps are. Therefore, you must ensure your app performs well and reliably before submitting any relevant information to these sites. Otherwise, you could get a bad review.

Also, make sure that your app category matches the review site in question. For instance, if your app helps customers buy stuff online, don’t submit to a website that dishes out game app reviews.

App review sites are a good marketing complement to publishing on app stores. There are millions of apps competing for space in these online stores. Hence, an app store optimization strategy is necessary to improve your app’s visibility to those searching for mobile apps. But this visibility costs money.

If you think your funds are better used elsewhere other than app store optimization, you can improve the chances of your app getting attention through app review sites. Many such websites don’t charge money for publishing reviews about your app.

App promotion that frees up cash

Wise use of marketing funds is crucial for any business. I hope that with this article, you have learned how to promote apps without spending excessively.

App-promoting activities don’t have a monopoly on cost-effectiveness. Techniques for getting the most out of every dollar spent are also possible in marketing businesses. In particular, apps are excellent tools for promoting businesses nowadays.

For instance, the app we helped develop for MyDeal was so good at marketing the e-commerce business, its gross sales increased by around 100% a year after app development.

AP: MyDeal mobile app screenshot

Whether you’re just starting as an entrepreneur or are already an app business veteran, book us a free consultation to learn how you can promote apps or use them for marketing your business.

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