Shopify offers app developers the opportunity to get their app featured in lots of different places. The App Store is well-known, and you're probably already listed there.
We'll start by looking at the areas of the App Store and how to rank in them. Then we'll go onto less well-known places where Shopify features apps.
By the end, you'll have some good ideas about how to get your app into the hands of more merchants.
Front-and-centre on the app store, we have the 'Staff picks' row. Everyone wants to be featured there! There are four slots available, typically running for a couple of weeks. During that time you can expect a spike of traffic and installs.
Of everywhere, this is one of the most demanding slots to secure for your app. They are hand-picked by Shopify staff, so consider that when thinking about how to get there. Approaching the support email cold and asking to be picked will not work.
First, make sure there's no reason not to feature you. Apps with no reviews won't be featured here, but the bar is also not too high. You're ready if you have tens of mostly positive reviews, with at least a 4.5 average.
What your featured banner looks like matters a lot here. Edit your app listing in the Shopify Partner Admin to add one if you haven't already. It should be clean and simple. Look at the current 'Staff picks' featured banners for examples.
Now onto the hard part! When my apps were featured, it's because I caught the attention of Shopify staff in some way. Exactly what I did I don't know! But around the time my app was featured, I was actively helping app developers in the Shopify Facebook groups and Slack. I'd also just published an article on using Google Analytics to track app listings. I'd helped a Shopify staff member out with UX research. Generally, getting my name out there and contributing without looking for something in return.
Shopify staff are watching! They understandably don't want to get mobbed and pestered on forums, so usually stay in the background even when summoned. But if you are helpful to other app developers and contribute to the community with good content and tools, you will be noticed. Being a good member of the community is an end to itself and opens all kinds of doors, including being considered as a Staff pick.
Don't focus on getting staff picked. It's just too subjective and hit-or-miss as a goal. Get the basics in place as described: a smart feature banner, your first tens of reviews, and keep those reviews clean. If you're lucky enough to catch the eye of Shopify, make it easy for them to select you.
Staff picks attract more casual installs than someone explicitly looking for your product. The spike of listing views you'll get from being featured will have a lower install rate than elsewhere. Merchants are also less likely to convert to paid after any free trial.
Trending apps are picked by an algorithm and change frequently. Shopify describes this surface as 'Explore apps gaining popularity this month'. They also hint at how to be featured here: '...if your app gets a significant amount of outside traffic, then your app can be listed in the Trending apps section on the app store's homepage.'
Being featured here is a side effect of the growth of traffic to your app listing. If you're small, it might be offputting to see apps with a few thousand reviews featured here, but it is the relative growth that matters. A new app with fast growth is just as likely to be featured as an established one.
From my analysis, external traffic plays a large part in trending. These are visitors landing directly on your app listing from organic search, social, email and ads, rather than from navigating the app store.
Put together co-ordinated campaigns to drive spikes of traffic to your app listing. Launch a new feature by emailing your users, buying some ads and sharing on social. Spike non-app store traffic to give you a chance of appearing in trending.
A few of the rows on the app store homepage are collections. There's also the Collections dropdown menu on the top navigation. They're identified by their URL starting 'apps.shopify.com/collections/'.
There are a wide variety of collections. Some are seasonally-themed with broad criteria and a small number of apps like 'Start the year with style'. Others have specific criteria and allow almost all apps in that satisfy certain criteria like 'Works with Shopify POS'.
All collections are manually picked and curated by Shopify staff. The curated app rankings within a collection are relatively static, suggesting that the order is also manually specified and doesn't change much. Once you're in a collection, you'll likely be there for a long time.
The good thing about collections is that you can apply for inclusion. If you feel that you satisfy the criteria for a collection, reach out to Shopify support and pitch them. When you reach out to support, note that the first line team are not the ones who will make the decision. Get to the point and be succinct in your pitch to break through to the decision-makers.
Shopify actively curates collections to give new apps more visibility with merchants.
Finally, on collections, there are many country-specific collections out there like 'Useful apps for Denmark'. Try getting listed there if you have features for a specific country or it's your home country.
New and noteworthy
Part algorithm, part human curation, new and noteworthy is where new apps can get discovered. It's always apps with a small number of reviews or installs that appear here.
I see two groups of apps that turn up here: new apps with an above-average reviews/installs velocity and older apps with a small number of good reviews that appear to be stagnant (no reviews/installs for a while).
New and noteworthy apps are picked by Shopify staff and frequently cycled. You can increase your chances of being featured here by having a launch strategy. Before listing publicly, build up a waiting list of interested merchants. When you launch, open your doors to a nice spike of installs and reviews. Most apps don't bother with this, which is a huge missed opportunity. That means if you do, even if it's only a few tens of reviews you launch with in the first week, you have a good chance of turning up in New and noteworthy.
Every app is in one or more categories. There's a maximum of five categories your app can be listed in, although there are a very very small number of apps listed in that many. You can expect to appear in 1-3 categories.
Most categories have subcategories like Store design > Page builders. A subcategory works like a filter, meaning if you're in Page builders you'll appear in Store design.
Categories open many possibilities when it comes to optimizing your listing for more traffic and installs. Some categories get more traffic than others; some may not convert as well as others; some are crowded; some you'll appear on the first page.
Request to be added and removed from categories through the support section of your Shopify Partner Admin. If your app is already getting traffic from categories, I recommend you experiment by moving in and out of them. Measure the effects to find the right categories for you.
If you are not getting any traffic from categories, it could be that you do not appear high enough in the sort order. You can try to move into a less competitive category.
Most app installs come from keyword search. You can rank by including these keywords in your app listing copy. Every piece of app listing text is used for ranking, apart from keywords in your image ALT tags.
Write naturally, thinking about the keywords your merchants use to find your app rather than fancy copy. Avoid using your brand name in the text since you will naturally rank well for it (unless you've chosen a generic brand name).
If you've been tracking your listing and website with Google Analytics, the keywords there are a good starting point. You can pull these keywords out into a Google Sheet.
Another good source is app store autocomplete. You'll see as you type in the search box that Shopify gives some autocomplete suggestions. These are high-traffic keywords. Use them, and variations, to make sure you're writing copy using the same language merchants use.
Start by making use of all of the available space in your app listing to write. Fill out your app description, key benefits, app name, tagline and integrations to their maximum.
You should revisit the keywords you use every month or so to tune. Remove irrelevant keywords. Remove those where you rank high but get hardly any page views. Mention keywords more often where you're outside of the top ten but convert well. Look at the language your competitors are using.
Keyword optimization of your app listing, just like SEO, builds over time.
App Store ads
Three slots at the top of every keyword search are for paid ads. It's a simple system of bidding for keywords.
A keyword can be broad match or exact match. A broad match bid on 'backups' could appear for variants like back-ups, backup, store backups. An exact match bid on 'store backups' only appears for that term.
I typically start by going broad as a form of keyword research. There will be irrelevant keywords in there. We'll also discover keywords we hadn't thought of. There will be keywords too expensive to cover our expected LTV.
It's a quick, potentially expensive, way to get to valuable keywords for the longer term.
Partner-friendly apps collection
You won't see this collection anywhere when browsing the App Store. It's a curated collection of apps that are free for Shopify Partners to install in development stores.
You make a change to your app's code to detect the app is installed in a development store and not ask for a charge to be approved. When the store is handed over to a merchant once development is complete, your app remains installed and switches to a paid plan.
It's a worthwhile investment since it is cheap to develop and lets Shopify Partners try your app without paying for it. Once a Shopify Partner installs your app, the merchant will likely continue to use it and start paying.
Once you've made your app partner-friendly, request to be listed in this collection through your Shopify Partner Admin.
In a merchant's Shopify Admin, the Apps page lists currently installed apps. Underneath this list, there's a panel with app recommendations. This panel promises to recommend apps to a merchant based on similar stores to their own.
It makes those tailored recommendations but also pulls in collections from the app store.
Unlike the app store, apps recommended here don't have surface parameters. Instead, you'll see them in your analytics with the query parameters st_campaign=app-index&st_source=admin.
This section is still under development. It is, however, interesting to identify any traffic you're getting from there.
Shopify has two active blogs, a partner one and one for merchants. There are opportunities to feature your expertise and help merchants and partners, with the knock-on effect of building your personal and app brand.
The first opportunity is to write an article for these blogs. You cannot feature your app or any business you have a connection to in this article. Instead, focus on your expertise and share what you've learnt with the merchant and partner community.
You pitch your idea to the content team by filling in a form, requested through your Shopify Partner Admin support. You should already have published good quality content before submitting your pitch. You have blog posts, videos, forum replies, courses, or even just in-depth social media replies. The team will review your request and let you know what they think.
Another opportunity is to be quoted as an expert in a post. There's no process for getting there, but you can start by interacting on other posts, the forums and social media. Consistently sharing thoughtful, insightful content will be noticed by Shopify, although it can take some time. I have been cold-approached by the content team as a result of my content.
Shopify shares out blog content in their emails to all merchants and partners and across their social media channels. It's an indirect but great way to grow your app.
Most of the Shopify social activity is on Twitter. They have several accounts including @Shopify, @ShopifyDevs, @ShopifyPartners, @ShopifyPlus and more. Search for Shopify, and they'll turn up.
Mentioning and interacting with these accounts amplifies your message and app, building your following of merchants and partners. There are humans behind these accounts. Of course! But think about this when tweeting. Contribute to threads and join a discussion, don't spam out your app description.
Shopify staff are on the Facebook group, Slack and their forums. You'll find links in your Shopify Partner Admin. They don't always interact with threads, but they're there. Being a contributor to these communities can increase your chances of being featured in the App Store and getting approached for content opportunities.
Shopify Plus Certified App
Shopify Plus is a more enterprise-like version of Shopify with extra features and support for the largest merchants. Plus merchants can install standard Shopify apps; however, most Plus merchants discover apps differently. They don't tend to browse the App Store and trial a bunch since they have more demanding requirements.
Shopify has a certification program to vet and monitor apps targetted at Plus merchants. These additional requirements are demanding and include a 30 minute response time to critical issues, insurance cover, uptime and performance SLAs and information security. There's also an annual fee.
In exchange, your Plus Certified App will be listed in the Plus apps directory, and you'll have a closer relationship with Shopify and Plus merchants with access to new communication channels and groups.
Note that you cannot list a Plus-only app in either the App Store or the Plus apps directory. This oddity is because Plus Certified Apps must be listed in the App Store, and the App Store doesn't accept Plus-only apps.
If you're targeting Plus merchants, it may be worth considering going for certification, since it's a strong stamp of approval of your app and removes many of the objections Plus merchants have to install apps.
Shopify has some products and features that you can integrate into your app. When you integrate with them, you'll benefit from being featured more prominently in the App Store, in the documentation and within these products. Let's look at a few examples.
Kit is an app that does marketing and communication for merchants. It works conversationally, with the core feature being running Facebook ads. Kit's capabilities can be enhanced by adding 'skills'. These skills add things like email marketing, retargeting and syncing products to other channels.
You can write a Kit skill using its API. Pick a key feature of your app that could support a conversational interface. Designing and building a Kit skill is relatively cheap to develop. You'll be featured in the Shopify documentation for Kit and the Works with Kit collection in exchange.
Another is Shopify Flow. Flow is an app like IFTTT for Shopify Plus merchants. Merchants can use workflows to do things like creating a Trello card if a risky order is flagged.
You can write a connector. Connectors are used in workflows to create or respond to actions. The Flow documentation and the Flow app will feature you.
Others include Shopify POS, Checkout and sales channels. They enjoy more prominence in the App Store and through Shopify content. The list changes as Shopify launches new areas. If you're one of a small number to integrate, you'll be very visible with merchants and Shopify.
Shopify runs events, offline and online, for merchants and partners. Partners even take the initiative and organize their local events, sometimes supported by Shopify.
At events, you have the opportunity to attend and chat with agencies and other app developers about your apps. There are opportunities to team up and partner with them. I've found that going into events as a learning experience brings the best results. That person who flits from person to person spamming out business cards, pushing their app, is not going to go far.
Many events are open to sponsors. Recently, most sponsors have been app developers. They're given prominence in the event emails, landing pages and at the event. It appears that they're also more likely to land a speaking spot or a seat on a panel too.
Speaking slots are in high demand. Those who get picked have a solid pitch and can show other events where they've spoken. What's good about Shopify events is that speakers do not push their products and services; they share and teach. Sharing your knowledge can be an excellent brand-building tool for you if you're playing the long game.
Now we've run through all of the places Shopify provides for you to feature your app. There are a lot of opportunities to try out.