App promotion with no promotion

I wrote an Android app for creating nice word clouds and published it on Google Play.

Then I sat back and watched the installs flow in.

That’s it.

No, of course, that’s not how it was :).

I wrote an app. I called it Word Sprinkle, like sprinkles on a donut, because the words are being shuffled around just like sprinkles. On a donut. You know what I mean? Mmm, donuts. Catchy name, and very cute :).

Word Sprinkle early screenshot
Word Sprinkle – words are sprinkled like sprinkles on a donut

It took me lots of time to publish it, despite everyone saying “you should publish as soon as possible, even if it’s still raw”. But eventually I did it. I collected my best screenshots, carefully put together the most brilliant and witty description, and I drew the best icon I could. And I finally put it on Google Play.

I was happy as never before! I tweeted about it, I posted on Facebook, and on LinkedIn, and sent the link to a couple of my friends personally. Then I prepared to dit back and watch the installs flow in.

How many friends with Android phones do I have?

The flow stopped at 49 installs, which meant that the app was marked as “10-50 installs”. It’s a pretty low number. And no matter how many more tweets and facebook posts (and also LinkedIn posts) I published, no one else installed my precious app. I’m pretty sure all my friends started to avoid me, especially the ones with iPhones. But no matter what, I couldn’t get even one pesky 50th install to get into “50-100 installs” category.


I was disappointed, and I felt down. How come some apps get installs, but mine doesn’t? How do I promote it more?

When I just published it, I got emails in bad English, offering me installs for a reasonable price. But it didn’t seem like an honest way. It seemed like cheating. Also there was no challenge.

So I started to google. A popular advice was: “tell about your app to your friends” – that’s done. “Tell about it to your colleagues” – done, they’re all on Facebook. Also I bugged them a lot at lunch and on coffee breaks. You know, the water cooler talk. “Post about it in your blog”. I didn’t have a blog, and if I did, then I’d have to promote the blog first. (Now I do, so I need to promote it somehow…).

Then there was: “create a paid campaign”. Aha, thought I, maybe that’s how it all works. You pay at first to gain some popularity, and then it goes smoothly by itself.

My app is all free, no ads, no in-app purchases, but I was willing to spend some money just for fun. And to understand how the system works.

I created a paid AdWords campaign in the Play Store. I set it to run in English and Dutch, I prepared nice Christmas-ey pictures, and I thought very carefully about promotional phrases which Google displays along with the ad. It looked like this. It was perfect.

Ad campaign setup

I was a bit lost on what my budget should be and how much I should bid. At first I set €5 per day as a budget and €0.2 per bid for install.

I got 0 displays and 0 installations.

I increased my budget to €0.8 per bid.

With 53 clicks on the ad, it brought me 3 installs in 4 days, and then quite suddenly it was shut down by Google with the reason “Unclear content”, which is related to the promotional phrases, I believe.

Ad campaign "Unclear Content" message

Since then, whatever I changed in my promotional texts, this warning never disappeared. It’s like Google doesn’t review them again after any change at all. So I couldn’t restart my campaign. But it was of such a low efficiency, that I didn’t want to.

Overall I spent €5.78 on my campaign, and even for that price it was pretty much a disaster.

It was almost two months since I first published my app, and I still had just 52 installs! I felt hopeless. But while I reviewed the dashboards again and again, a thought struck me. No one was installing my app through a search in Google Store.

I tried the search and established that my app was showing up only on “Word Sprinkle” search. After “Microsoft Word” and “Google Docs”. No other search terms worked, even if I used words from my description.

What if people don’t search for “Word Sprinkle”? Would I search for “Word Sprinkle” in Play Store? The answer was painfully obvious. Never! Of course, I would never search for a nonsense like that.

So, apparently, the search in Play Store uses the app name first, and barely looks at the description, if looks at all. It’s a shame, because my description is, naturally, the best description ever made :).


You, probably, have already guessed what happened next. I renamed the app.

I called it Word Cloud, because it’s just like tag cloud, but with words, and… well, maybe this name is not that catchy and unique, but it was searchable.

Since then my installs have been growing very steadily! It started as small as 4 users per day, which already made me immensely happy, because people were installing! They were actually finding and using my app!

December 7, day of rename: 4 installs. December 31: 143 installs.
Installs are growing since the rename

This is the graph of the number of installs for three months. In a month after the rename I got more than 2000 installs, and there were 120+ installs a day. On December 30, just before the New Year, there was quite a high peak, there were 143 people looking for greeting cards and funny social network pictures.

Today, a week after that graph, there’re already 3000 downloads and 270+ installs per day, so I’ve overgrown that peak already.

Here’s the point where high school math is useful. Remember integrals? If installs per day are growing linearly, it means that if we integrate them, we’ll get the overall install count, which is growing quadratically ;). (I messed up previously and wrote exponentially, which is totally wrong. Wanted to look smart, and what happens?)

And now my app is the first on the “Word Cloud” search.

"Word Cloud" search in Google Play returns my app first!


3000 downloads is still a small number. But it’s growing “organically”, without me paying someone, without cheating, no campaigns, no efforts. Just because I picked the better name. I hope this article can help someone struggling with their first app too! Good luck!

4 thoughts on “App promotion with no promotion”

  1. Hiya is this available on a website at all or just on an android phone? I think this looks amazing

    1. Thanks, Amanda! I’m really flattered :). For now only it’s only an app for Android phones, but maybe later I’ll port it elsewhere.

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