7 Steps for Marketing Your App to China

Chinese App Stores

There are hundreds of app stores in China, choosing which ones to submit the Chinese version of your app can be dizzying.

Looking into the Chinese app market is definitely a challenge for foreign developers and companies. In a place where there are more than 200 Android stores (and only one AppStore) and Google play is a minor player, you need to know your way around.

But even after you’ve decided that the Chinese app market is right for you, you need to prepare your app to be delivered the right way for this market. We are talking big numbers here, so it should be done right!

Here are 7 guidelines to keep in mind when preparing your app to enter the biggest app market in the world:

1. Ni Hao

When you aim for the Chinese market, use the Chinese language. Chinese people are language sensitive, so having a successful App in English only is nearly impossible.

You should consider not only translation of marketing material such as the App name & description, but also translation of the App interface itself and audio if needed.

2. Don’t forget the screenshots! 

Your screenshots should address local preferences and at the very least be in Chinese. Don’t forget these critical pre-download marketing assets, to leave them in the original language would be a huge wasted opportunity.

3. Go local 

There are very few Apps these days that are not connected to external services or social networks of some sort. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are all used in the West, but China has its own unique set of social networks and services, such as Renren, Weibo and WeChat.

If you want to use the power of those social networks and services, you need to research which of these would be the right ones for you, and then connect your Chinese App to them. If your app is fairly independent, you’ve saved yourself lots of time!

4. Track app downloads from the various channels

When you deal with downloads from 200+ Android stores you need to track which ones work best with your app, so you can see which store is generating the most downloads for your app and then double down in terms of time or financial investment to get the most out of that channel.

In order to distinguish between downloads from the various stores, a different APK file is needed to be created with a different ID for each store to be used.

5. Consider the local economics of promotion and discovery

How will Chinese consumers find your App? While the AppStore or Google Play requires many downloads to be featured (and considerable marketing efforts), things are somewhat different for the Chinese Android markets.

Many of the stores have packages of pay per download (PPD) or payment for being featured in the store for a certain time. It all costs money but the nice thing is that you can boost your downloads in a relatively short amount of time and quickly generate a user base. Take advantage of this option only if needed, but make sure you leave some marketing budget for it as it may be necessary.

6. Establish your credibility with the App stores

Chinese Android stores are interested to see who are the developers or companies behind the publisher name.

There are two main ways the Android stores check the developer’s identity:

a. Business license, Chinese ID or Passport (sometimes)

b. Additional APK signature – Some of the Android stores require you to sign an APK file they send out with the same key as your own App.

7. Explore alternative business models

Give some serious thought to your App’s business model, as people in China are very reluctant to pay for Apps. It’s a fact. Paid Apps are therefore not as common on the market (and for those apps that are paid, free pirated versions on the hundreds of independent app stores are quick to crop up).

Instead, what works best are Apps which drive revenue through In-App-Purchases or Advertising, as these are forms of paying for games and content that the China market has already built a tolerance for over the web and offline. So if you haven’t already, give IAPs or some of the local ad networks a spin.

Written by Shlomo Freund, founder of AppInChina, a service helping foreign developers and companies distribute and promote their Android Apps on the Chinese market.

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App Language Localization: Chinese Market is the Most Sensitive

As China unseats the US as the largest smartphone market in the world, the proportion of app revenues and free downloads originating from non-English language apps has increased significantly. Of course, other high-growth non-English countries have had an impact on this trend, but Chinese smartphone users remain the most sensitive to app language.

In a Distimo report from September 2012, 73% of free downloads in the top 200 most downloaded free applications in China were those supported by the Chinese language, far outstripping the other language-sensitive markets of Korea and Japan. In fact, China is the only country where local language apps generate more downloads than English apps.

Chinese App Downloads

73% of free downloads in the top 200 most downloaded free applications in China were those supported by the Chinese language

The true case to be made for app localization, however, rests on the fact that revenues from Chinese-language apps far outstrip those from English-language apps in China. Developers can grow their revenues and realize positive returns on investing in translating their app into Chinese language, and optimizing the product feature set for Chinese consumers. China is not the only country where the proportion of app revenues generated from local-language apps are higher than those from English apps; the Korean and Japanese are similar in this respect—though to a lesser degree than China.

china app monetization

The Chinese market is the most sensitive to app language localization

The Distimo report only accounts for iOS apps running on relatively expensive devices; the iPhone and iPad.  The data reflects a market segment of Chinese consumers characterized by a high level of discretionary spending on consumer goods. This segment is also more likely to have some knowledge of English language, more likely to have exposure to foreign products, and thus less likely to have a strong preference for Chinese-language apps.

In contrast, Android users in China generally represent a market segment which is less likely to have a working knowledge of English or exposure to foreign products, and so more likely to have a strong preference for Chinese language apps. For these reasons, we can expect that the proportion of downloads and revenues generated from Chinese language Android apps in China to be even greater than for iOS apps.

China App Store Optimization: A Local Developer’s Experience

This week, Chinese app developer Yiwen Kang shared his experience and opinions on app store optimization for the Chinese Apple App Store. Kang is an experienced SEO and blogger who started testing different Chinese-language ASO strategies last year. His apps, which provide wireless printing management, currently rank #1 and #11 for keyword ‘打印’—Chinese for ‘print’—in the China app store. Here’s an overview of how he got there:

App Name: 打印管家 (Print Manager)

Overview: The app was uploaded to the China Apple App Store in July, 2011. Kang started playing around with various ASO elements on October 3rd, 2012. Before optimization, the app ranked #5 for keyword ‘print’. By January, 2013 it ranked #1 for keywords ‘print’ and ‘wireless printing’

App Name: 打印管家FREE (Free Print Manager)

Overview: Since Kang’s previous app had already been in the app store for a while before he started ASO, it’s rankings were being affected by more than just keyword data. In order to isolate these factors, Kang recently uploaded a new free version of his app. After one week of submission to the China Apple App Store, Kang’s new app had not broken into the Top 100 for the keyword ‘print’. After ASO, the app now ranks #11.

Kang’s test factors included:

  1. App name
  2. Copyright information
  3. Keyword density in keyword listings
  4. Keyword density in app description
  5. Grammar and description structure

Kang had the following comments on the relation between his selected test factors and Chinese app results page rankings:

  1. Similar to SEO, ASO requires 2-3 months before having a noticeable affect on rankings
  2. Copyright information has no weight on rankings, do not both to include keywords
  3. Keyword density in keyword listings had little weight on rankings
  4. Keyword density in app description had moderate weight on rankings
  5. Grammar and description structure had significant weight on rankings, specifically:
    1. The Subject – Verb – Object logic must be simple and clear (ex.: Print Manager app supports wireless printing)
    2. Apple’s App Store has a poor understanding and interpretation of more complex Chinese sentence structure
    3. The first few words of the app description have significant weight

Thanks to Mr. Kang for sharing, you can read more about his full experience (in Chinese) here.

5 Chinese App Stores You Cannot Afford to Ignore

Think of the Android app market in China as similar to the Roman Empire after the death of Julius Caesar: a vicious power struggle where the winner will (eventually) take all. But until the Augustus of the China Android Empire comes into clearer focus, app developers seeking to boost downloads and installs from Chinese smartphoners will need to consider the full range of platforms. Let’s look at some stats, here’s a query I ran today on Alexa:

China App Stores Traffic

3-Month Trailing Traffic for China’s 5 Most Popular Android App Markets (www.alexa.com)

GFan.com emerges as the highest-ranking of the top 5 for traffic (3 months trailing). Closely following GFan are HiAPK.com and Mumayi.com. Anzhi.com follows after that, with game specialist D.cn ranking lowest of the top five. The five all share similar audience demographics—single, young adult Chinese males with a college education browsing from school or work—and are all driving traffic primarily from Baidu, Google, QQ and Weibo. More importantly, all five have very active discussion groups and app user communities, serving as invaluable marketing channels to launch word-of-mouth campaigns and drive installs.

#1 – GFan.com claims more than 90,000 apps and 15 million registered users. In 2012, the platform entered into a partnership with US-based Tapjoy, an app cross-promotion platform that was previously slammed by Apple for degrading the usability of apps running on iOS. The path to monetization offered by the GFan/Tapjoy “incentivized freemium zone” is a strong example of a product feature that might irk US smartphone users to the point of abandonment, but that Chinese users will tolerate in exchange for not having to register a credit card number. Look out for more GFan partnerships with developers and monetization platforms in the future.

#2 – HiAPK.com although there have been rumors of unorthodox user acquisition methods, namely through paying grey-market hardware vendors to pre-install their software onto devices imported into China, the platform has impressive traffic that cannot be overlooked. Although the URL is pretty cryptic to the layman, the the platform is branded as 安卓网, best translated as AndroidNet, so it does pretty well targeting new users looking to get some info and app suggestions for their Android device, namely through Baidu and Google’s Chinese search engine results.

#3 – Mumayi.com is up there with GFan and HiAPK in terms of absolute traffic. What makes this platform a bit of a hidden gem is its’ level of user engagement. Drilling down a bit deeper into the Alexa report, we can see that Mumayi is a leader for key user engagement metrics like average time spent on site, pageviews per user and bounce rate:

China App Stores Time on Site

Mumayi is a long-shot leader among China app stores for user engagement metrics like time on site. (www.alexa.com)

China App Stores Pageviews per User

Mumayi also leads China app stores in pageviews per user. (www.alexa.com)

China App Stores Bounce Rate

Mumayi’s bounce rate is the lowest among China app stores. (www.alexa.com)

Mumayi’s ability to engage visitor’s for longer and to view more pages is in large part due to a superior UX: the portal has an excellent layout for app reviews and solid app suggestion tools which are based on the app review a visitor is currently viewing. App marketers seeking to get the most downloads out of Mumayi’s traffic would be wise to research Mumayi’s app categories and relationships so that their app appears more frequently in front of targeted users.

#4 – AnZhi.com (formerly GoAPK.com) is one of the oldest Android markets, launched in 2008 with backing from Chinese gaming giant Shanda. Interestingly, it seems as though AnZhi is losing market share, which probably explains the new URL and site design. Six month trailing traffic stats show a downward trend:

Anzhi China App Store Traffic Trend

Shanda-backed Anzhi has seen a downward trend in traffic over the past 6 months.

Nevertheless, as the 4th most trafficked China app market for Android, Anzhi cannot be overlooked.

#5 – D.cn offers a range of apps, but mostly focuses on games. In 2011, they won the right as China’s exclusive distributor for Rovio’s Angry Birds. After a quick scan over some search query data, my rough estimate is that DangLe generates about 25% of it’s search engine traffic from game-related keywords like ‘temple run’, ‘android games’, ‘angry birds’ and their Chinese-language equivalents. To sum up DangLe, it’s a must for game-focused app developers, and a worthy consideration for ‘foreign-branded’ apps that offer game-like content.

Up-and-Comer – AppChina.com has financial and operational support from Google’s former China Chief Lee Kai-Fu’s Innovation Works and the kind of volatile traffic trend that suggests a potential to explode:

AppChina Android App Store Traffic Trend

AppChina’s traffic is relatively volatile, can it break through the ceiling? (www.alexa.com)

Most importantly, AppChina has an advantage in the emerging mobile ecosystem by way of close relationships with Innovation Work’s other ventures such as WanDouJia, an app portal that offers a very popular (claims of 10 million registered users) cloud-to-desktop syncing app. Together, AppChina and WanDouJia have managed to secure first-mover rights for the new Chinese version of Flipboard.