How Many Downloads Does It Take to Reach the App Store Top 25? (And Why You Shouldn’t Care So Much)

Chart with the number of daily downloads required to hit top 25 in US App Store per category.

Most mobile developers dream about getting an app into the Top 25 of Apple’s app store. So what does it take to get into those illustrious ranks? A recent TechCrunch post with new stats from Distimo reveals that the answer is currently 38,400 daily downloads for free apps and 3,530 for paid. Ranking in categories is easier–you can crack the top 25 in photography with just 270 paid downloads. But the question is, should you care?

The answer is still yes, but if you’re planning on driving installs through advertising, focusing on rank shouldn’t be your primary strategy. The reason is ROI. Let’s say you spend $50,000 on Strategy A, with media that’s focused on conversion volume, and drive 100,000 installs for a CPI of $.50.

For comparison, let’s say you spent that same $50,000 on Strategy B, that focused on higher quality but lower volume–and drove 25,000 installs for a CPI of $2.

Strategy A looks like it’s clearly the best choice at first. It gets you a much lower CPI, and lands you firmly in the top 25. But when we look at lifetime value and ROI, Strategy B actually starts to look better than A.

Assume that Strategy A gets you a registration rate of 5%, and that each registration has an average lifetime value of $7. That’s $35,000 in value for your $50,000 spend–not a very attractive return.

But what about the organic value of being in the Top 25? The problem with Strategy A is that those low quality, un-targeted installs are often the same users with a low frustration tolerance, who won’t hesitate to give you one star and remove the app. You may get a poorly rated app into the Top 25, but it’s going to be much tougher to keep it there.

So let’s look at Strategy B. While it got only 1/4 the downloads, by focusing on quality you can get your registration rate up to 30% or more. 30% of 25,000 is 7,500 registrations. Multiply that by $7 and you’re looking at $52,250–While you’re still not killing it, you are at least showing some positive ROI, and have a fighting chance.

And because you targeted the right people, and your app is actually valuable to them, you’re much more likely to get good ratings and review. If you add the right social sharing and engagement tools to your app, those high quality registrations look like an even better deal. They’ll share and promote your app far more than the high volume downloads who open your app once and never use it again.

The best part is the ripple effect. People who install based on a social recommendation from another user are much more likely to be high quality, engaged users themselves. That’s the type of engagement that can get your app to the App Store Top 25 without spending a dollar on low quality/high volume installs.

So while it’s great to dream about the Top 25, if you want to stay there, take some time to think about which path you’re going to take to get there.