Best ways to monetize your app

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Let’s face it. There are over a million apps available for the various platforms out there. While this is awesome for consumers, it's not so awesome for app developers. Having a ton of apps to compete with makes it more difficult to stand out and earn a bit of money. Not only do you have get your app noticed, but once you do, you have to convince consumers to download and use it, and more importantly, get them to continue using it, then like it enough to get others to try it, too. Successful app monetization is a hard goal to achieve. There are three main approaches to app monetization and a multitude of factors to take into account. Some prefer the single-model approach, while others like to use a combination of them, and choosing a path is by no means an exact science. But with the right mix of direction, experience and hard work, you should be able to make informed decisions and maximize the return you get from your app, situating yourself one step ahead of the competition.


Advertising is a simple way to monetize your app. Basically, you assign space in your app to a third-party that uses it to deliver ads, and when those ads generate revenue, you get a piece of it. Sure, it sounds easy, but don't let the simplicity of this approach fool you into thinking you'll be able to sit back and let the ad dollars roll in. Most advertisers use a pay-per-click model which means that every time a user clicks an ad in your app, it creates a little bit of revenue. Although this is very simple to implement, and often requires only a few lines of code, it is very hard to get any real financial reward out of it. Unless you have an app with a great amount of traffic, the amount of clicks you'll be able to generate is limited, thus the payout will be small as well. Furthermore, while there are a number of advertising agencies you can sign up with, such as Google AdMob, Microsoft Advertising, Apple iAd and Nokia Ad Exchange, to name some of the bigger ones, many ad networks don't serve ads globally. This means you have to implement backups with backups. I have used Microsoft Advertising with Nokia Ad Exchange as a backup, wtih AdDuplex as a backup of those. Setting up these backups was the only way I could be sure I would always have ad content being served, and that users wouldn't see an ugly blank space if they happened to be outside of the reach of the first two advertising networks.

Premium paid app

The obvious choice for many is to just sell the app. If you've created an amazing app, then millions of people will want to buy it, and you'll easily become rich. But unfortunately, things don't really work that way. If you look into the numbers of which types of apps are downloaded, free apps account for more than 90 percent of downloads in the three major ecosystems: Google, Apple and Microsoft. And of the remaining ten percent which are paid for, six percent of the iOS apps cost only $0.99, and the numbers are similar for Android and Windows Phone. What does this mean? It means your app will enter the market at a huge disadvantage if you dare go above the $0.99 price point. But don’t fret; there is still room for you. Even though you'll be starting with a handicap, users who download a higher-priced app are much more likely to keep using it, as they have paid a premium for it. If you are developing for Windows Phone, you have one advantage over the other platforms. The Windows Phone marketplace allows you to set up a trial for your app, and by doing this you can get more sales. Nearly one in ten trial apps downloaded lead to a sale, and paid apps with a trial version gets 70 times more downloads than those without. If you are developing for Windows Phone, incorporating a trial version of your app is a must. There's real merit to having a paid app, but be prepared for a lower number of downloads and an expectation that your app be refined, full-featured and above average.

In-app purchases

My favorite way of monetizing my apps is by using in-app products. These are products that you sell inside your app, such as extra gold coins and health upgrades in games, a language pack for your translation app, or whatever might fit into your specific scenario. The excellent thing about in-app products is that you can get users excited about the value you add before you sell the products in your app. It is up to you where and when you decide to show and offer in-app products. You can offer your app for free, which means you get the most exposure, and then once your users are comfortable with your app, you can offer more functionality or more value for a price. This is win-win in my opinion. Users can use your app and test it out before deciding to invest in it, and in return you'll get more downloads and more money in your pocket in the end.

Which is best?

If you are building an app that is very simple or has only a small, yet important, value to add, going the free route with advertising is probably our best bet. But if you don’t have significant functionality to provide, it can be a hard sell even in a free model. In those cases, try to focus on other ways of getting your downloads numbers up — through marketing and word of mouth tactics — so your ad impressions and subsequent clicks go up as well. When it comes to premium pricing, unless you have a great, full-featured app, this route might be hard to justify. There definitely are apps that fit into this pricing model, especially games, photography and navigation apps, but while many successful apps can be sold at a premium, developers often will choose a freemium model to get more downloads. The in-app products give the best of both worlds. You can offer a free app, and still monetize it by adding products and enhancements that will become relevant once the users get familiar with your app. In my opinion, this fits the majority of apps. As inviting as it is to make some cash off your great idea, you have to remember that competition is fierce. Being the best at what you do is always the best approach to any app. If you are passionate about your project and you strive to provide the best experience possible, when you come to choose a monetization model, you will already be at an advantage. There is definitely money to be made from mobile apps, but you have to carefully choose your strategy and not just jump into it blind.

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Lars Klint

Lars Klint is an author, trainer, Microsoft MVP, community leader, authority on all things Windows Platform and part-time crocodile wrangler. He is heavily involved in the space of HoloLens and mixed reality, as well as a published Pluralsight author, freelance solution architect and writer for numerous publications. He has been a part of the software development community for the past 20 years and co-organizes the DDD Melbourne community conference and developer events with Microsoft. Lars also runs a part-time car restoration business. He has spoken at numerous technical events around the world and is an expert in Australian Outback Internet.

Check Lars' own blog at and follow him on Twitter @larsklint.