Small Business Brief

Technology & Software

Build and They Will Come: 12 Important Features of Successful Apps

With so many apps on the market, making a popular app must be pretty simple, right? Not quite.

21% of users will abandon an app after just a single use. That goes to show that there’s a huge gulf between your average app and a popular one. Sturgeon’s Law is in full effect. Bad apps are all bad in unique ways, but successful ones have some commonalities.

Let’s take a look below at 12 important features of successful apps.

1. Simple and Clean

In the software world, it’s always tempting to kill with complexity. But going more in-depth won’t always improve your app.

Sometimes it’s better to pick one thing and do it well. As they say: “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

By picking a small suite of interrelated features, you can perfect what you have while at the same time keeping your app simple to use. That’ll save you development time and money down the line and make your app more accessible to users.

Not sure what complexity looks like in software? Cyclomatic complexity can measure the intricacy of an app, and you can read more about it here.

2. Use Before Reading

We’ve all been there. A few minutes after you launch an app or visit a webpage, you close it in frustration. Forget it — it’s too much like hard work.

Welcome to the reality of your user experience, if your app lacks basic usability. That experience will be short and unpleasant, damaging your brand along with your app’s chances of success.

Usability covers a few different considerations, from the simplicity of your interface to your accessibility options, like support for color-blindness. Undertake usability tests to find out where your app falls short.

3. Eye of the Beholder

We all love a pretty picture. It’s a psychological fact.

Your app should be a sort of casual work of art. You don’t need to hire Van Gogh (and good luck with that, anyway) but you do need an app that’s pleasing to the senses.

Your app wouldn’t be the first app to disappear into obscurity through a poor presentation, even if you’ve nailed everything else.

This usually goes hand in hand with usability, as well. An interface free of clutter is both easier to use and easy on the eye. Choosing the right color scheme, graphics, and even marketing images are all vital to getting noticed in a sea of other apps.

4. Feature Creature

What makes a good app? You’ll know it by the feeling of pleasant surprise.

When you’re using a good app, it’ll hit you with little functions and features you didn’t even know you needed. It’s all in the small things. A user trying to achieve something through your app should have it handed to them.

Take a moment to go through the basic idea of your app and come up with the small ways you can make it that much more useful. Don’t get lost in feature creep, but hone what you have into something intuitive and helpful. These small features should reinforce the main solution you’re providing with your app.

5. Made to Measure

From our Netflix account to our YouTube feed, we’ve all grown used to having some control over our online environment. The most successful applications recognize that and offer smart customization options.

Apps should feature UI and notification options that allows users to control their experience. There’s nothing worse than receiving a litany of useless notifications from an app that doesn’t know when to stop.

Customization also improves usability. Your users can tailor an app to work in a way that suits them, which streamlines the whole experience. That makes it more likely your visitors will come back instead of seeking an alternative.

Customers love options. Not everyone will use every customizable feature, but those that do will value your app for the options it provides.

6. The Social Network

The online world is more connected than ever before. In the early days of app development, you may have scraped by without social features, but not now.

You need to think of social as a natural extension of your app, not an optional extra. Developers need to furnish users with ways to share or improve their app experience through social channels.

But it isn’t all about your users. By providing social options, you also boost the range of your app. Your app becomes self-marketing, your users acting as brand advocates. With the kind of marketing boost you can receive from going viral, including social options should be a no-brainer.

7. Notice Me!

The average smartphone has become a rolling boil of notifications. So if your app doesn’t have its notifications on point, it’s going to sink to the bottom.

Offering powerful notification tools serves a few purposes. First, it allows your app to let users know what it’s up to, which can be vital to keeping your app useful. Second, it keeps your app visible among the small crowd of apps, each shouting about what it’s up to.

That second point alone emphasizes how important notifications can be. Apps are a definite case of “out of sight, out of mind”. If you scroll through your phone right now, we bet you’ll find more than a few apps you’ve forgotten about.  

8. Making Friends 

A happy customer base is the holy grail of any business. Apps are no exception.

But if you’ve ever tried to hit up an app’s customer support, you may have walked away disappointed. Too many apps on the market go for the “fire and forget” approach. Even those that roll out updates don’t always engage with their customers.

Think of your customer support as part of your app’s list of features, no different from anything else we’ve outlined so far. It’s no optional extra, but an expected part of the user experience.

Strong customer support helps you out, too. When customers see responsive customer service, they’re more likely to leave positive reviews, and a responsive team will also attract users who are on the fence about downloading.

9. Batten the Hatches

Cybersecurity is huge news right now. It’s on everyone’s lips, from businesses to governments. You may think your app is small fry, but the weakest animals have the scariest predators.

In the likely event you’re handling customer data, security needs to be high in your list of concerns. You need to think about the kind of data you collect, how you store it, and what channels a bad actor could use to get hold of that data.

Security can be expensive, so app developers can sometimes view it as an optional extra. 

But if you skimp on security, it could destroy your app, quite literally. But you could also find your brand damaged forever and even end up facing legal action.

Not worth the risk, is it?

10. Ticking Those Boxes

Four letters: GDPR.

That’s not the only compliance matter you may have to worry about, but it’s a great example of how sensitive apps now need to be about customer data. The Wild West approach to online customer data is dying, and it’s time for some law and order to move in.

You need to stay up to date on any compliance issues your app may face. And with that knowledge, you need to make sure your app can keep up. As with security, a compliance issue could see your app shut down altogether, and even leave you open to a legal nightmare.

11. Analyze This

Finding the right idea, delivering it, and securing an audience isn’t as simple a journey as people think. There’s no straightforward path for app developers to follow.

Enter analytic tools. If app development is a dark tunnel, then data is your flashlight. That’s why the most successful apps are the ones that build analytics into their architecture.

You can use analytics to find out how users engage with your app, which will tell you where you’re going wrong — and what you can build on. That will form part of your app’s overall direction.

12. The Work is Never Done

Like a work of art, no piece of software is ever truly finished — only abandoned.

Successful apps use analytics for more than understanding user habits. They’ll also use them to improve the app, honing it into the best version of itself. They’ll continue to adjust to meet user needs, resolve bugs, and introduce new features.

If you demonstrate that your app is a living entity, you’ll attract a larger user base. Your users will know you’re committed to supporting your app. And the version they have will, in theory, always be the worst version — so they can always look for future updates that will make the app even better.

The Face of Successful Apps

With these points, we’ve covered the essential truths of successful apps. But don’t write your app off if you’re not hitting all these points just yet. Even an app suffering from a rocky launch can bloom into a quality piece of software over time if you keep these 12 points in mind.

Looking for ways to build a connection with your customers? You can find 5 ways to build strong customer relationships here.