The 7 reasons we made our translator app free

Translator With Speech for Windows Phone is a voice and text translator for Windows Phone (and soon for Windows 8), that we launched a few months ago.  It does a great job of translating to 54 languages (both ways) and has many great features, as described here:

Although we’re currently only on version 2 and the app is a few months old, we’re proud of how it has fared thus far.  We were ranked in the top 5 of all paid translator apps in the WP marketplace and often flirted with the top position.  However, this simply isn’t good enough for us and we’re striving to continually improve the app until it’s by far the best translator in the Windows Phone marketplace.

We are about to release version 2.1, which will have many cool new features, including (offline) translations of hundreds of popular phrases without requiring an internet connection.  This feature will be extremely useful when travelling abroad, to avoid paying expensive roaming charges!  There are also other exciting features, including social integration, but we don’t want to give too much away now…

As part of our launch strategy for version 2.1 of Translator With Speech for Windows Phone, we decided to make the app free for a couple of weeks before version 2.1 and for a week or two after it hits the marketplace.  We didn’t do this because we’ve gone crazy and no longer enjoy making money from our apps!  Quite the contrary: we know that doing this will make us more money (and we’re not talking about making the app ad-supported, which is a subject for another post).

As mentioned in the title of this post, there are at least 7 reasons (some related) that we believe will make the app more successful, largely as a result of making it free for a while:

Reason 1 – Valuable Feedback: As every software developer knows, no matter how much you test your apps, some bugs or user experience issues will slip through the cracks.  Only by having real consumers use the app extensively can you discover these issues.  Since we are releasing a new version of the app, with many new features, it makes sense for us to put the app in the hands of as many consumers as possible (making it free increases downloads), so that we can find out what they like and don’t like about the app quickly. If there are issues that need fixing, we’ll fix them right away and only start selling the app again when we’re satisfied that Translator With Speech for Windows Phone, version 2.1, is of the high quality that we demand of our products.

Reason 2 – Word of Mouth: Our best salespeople are our satisfied customers.  The more people use our app and are thrilled with it, the more people they will tell.  Natural word of mouth is the ultimate viral marketing tool!  By making the app free and dramatically increasing downloads, we’re essentially recruiting an army of salespeople to promote Translator With Speech for Windows Phone!  That said, this strategy only works if these users love the app.  By fixing reported issues quickly and thrilling our customers, they will more likely tell others about the app and many of those people will pay for the app when it’s no longer free.

Reason 3 – Statistical Significance: If you’re like us, metrics analysis, empirical testing, and so on, are extremely important to you.  The bigger the user base for Translator With Speech for Windows Phone, the more dependable our conclusions will be when analyzing metrics and testing hypotheses.  To give you an idea of how may more users making this app free has added, take a look at the one-week download graph below (we’ve removed actual numbers, as those are confidential).  The black line represents cumulative downloads and the purple line represents daily downloads.  For those who like percentages, our daily downloads have increased by 2,785% since making the app free (I’m sure you can guess when that was)!

Daily and cumulative downloads of Translator With Speech since making it free

Daily and cumulative downloads of Translator With Speech since making it free

Reason 4 – Ranking Visibility: Without exception, whenever we’ve made an app free, downloads increased dramatically.  The reasons are obvious.  What happens when the app is no longer free is that it ranks much higher than what it did before it became free. Apps that rank higher are downloaded more often, so ranking higher when the app is no longer free will lead to more sales, due to increased visibility.  When we made this app free, it ranked in position 206 of the travel (free) category.  It’s currently in position 8 and climbing!  We’ll be daring and say that when the app is no longer free (in a couple of weeks), we’ll be in the top 3 to 5 of all paid travel related apps (not just in the language sub-category).

Reason 5 – Sales of Other Apps: Getting an app in more users’ hands means they’re more likely to check out your other apps (assuming they like the free app).  Every time we’ve made one of our apps free, we’ve noticed increased sales of our paid apps; this time is no different.  It makes sense, as a developer, to publish a few free apps, as it will definitely impact positively on your overall sales.  This is assuming users like your apps, of course.

Reason 6 – More Published Reviews: When an app is paid, professional reviewers need to get in touch with you to arrange for a free download; in most cases, they will not pay for the app.  When you make it free, at least for a while, they are more likely to install and test your app.  This leads to more published reviews.  We’ve had more attention from professional reviewers since making the app free.

Reason 7 – Better Ratings: Someone who downloads an app for free is less likely to judge it as harshly as someone who paid for it.  Since making Translator With Speech for Windows Phone free, we’ve seen our average rating increase from 4 to 4.5, with most ratings being 5 star!  Below is a snapshot of what users think of our app.  Obviously, higher ratings lead to more sales…

Sample of user ratings and reviews of Translator With Speech for Windows Phone

Sample of user ratings and reviews of Translator With Speech for Windows Phone

It goes without saying that many of the above reasons to make an app free don’t apply to every app.  Many of the benefits described above would only be of value to a quality app.  If an app is not popular, the rankings, ratings, and reviews would negatively impact on results.  At the very least, however, you will get more useful feedback, to help you improve your app.