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Can You Make Money With Apps?

Make Money with Apps
Photo Credit: Johan Larsson via Compfight cc

Last year, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released a study concluding for the first time that the majority of adult Americans (56%) have smart phones. That number seemed shockingly low to me, to be completely honest. Everyone in my immediate family as well as the majority of my extended family owns a smart phone, and it has become a rarity to meet someone who doesn’t already own one.

Contained in the marketplace of your Android or Apple phones are literally millions of apps, ranging from simple RSS readers to complex apps and games. In fact, many of the games I can download in the Android marketplace have graphics that would put my old Sega Genesis to shame. It really is amazing what developers are able to do.

Can You Make Money With Apps?

Have you ever asked yourself why someone would put all this effort into developing an app, only to then allow it to be downloaded for free? It’s because through the use of in-app advertising, free apps are often the top grossing apps out there. The way it works is very simple: Google has an ad-serving service called “AdMob” which can generate a code that a developer can put into their app that will display banner advertising. As people use the app, the banner is shown (usually at the bottom of the screen) and the developer gets paid for each person who clicks the banner.

AdMob is not the only service out there – there are other banner advertising services as well as plenty of affiliate type programs which can pay you for directing your users to download another app, or buy someone’s product, etc.

My Experience Making Money with Apps

A few years ago, I started a website project with a couple friends. It is a blog/magazine type of website where we write articles about a topic we are mutually interested in. Racking my brain one day trying to think of creative marketing opportunities for our site, I decided that I’d develop an app for the Android marketplace. The app would be a simple RSS reader, and I’d connect a handful of the biggest and best websites’ RSS feeds from our niche, as well as plugging our own RSS feed into it. The idea was to get a good base of users on the app who are looking for a one-stop resource for our niche, and sneak our own articles in there to get some extra exposure. I was hoping this exposure would lead to more users finding their way to the site. I didn’t add any advertising to the app, since I figured the income would be negligible anyway.

Time went by and I ultimately lost interest in the app. The app was getting downloaded and the user base was steadily growing, but it wasn’t really resulting in many more actual visits to our site. After about a year and a half of letting the app sit in the Android marketplace, one of my partners logged in and noticed that our app had about 8,000 active users. Cool, but I didn’t get too excited because the app still wasn’t hitting the intended mark of getting more visitors on the site.

My partner asked if we could monetize the app somehow. I assured him that it would probably be a waste of time, but that I would install banner advertising on the site via AdMob because we really had nothing to lose and it wouldn’t hurt anything anyway.

The results: We’re on pace to earn more than $300 this month from the app. Wow! What? Yes – we’re talking about upwards of $10 per day, for doing nothing additional than what we were already doing (writing articles on our website). I did nothing to market the app, nor have I spent any significant time or money keeping the app updated and maintained. I didn’t even write the app (that was done automatically and for free by

Why This Worked For Me

Two things contributed to the success of this app for me:

  • Since there is a fee to become a developer in the Android marketplace and you typically need to be a programmer to write an app, the barrier to entry is pretty high. As a result, there are likely fewer apps related to your niche on the app marketplace than there are (for example) total websites on the internet.
  • The topic my other project covers is a fairly hot topic that likely gets many searches in the app marketplace.

Keep in mind, my results probably aren’t typical, and are likely aided significantly by the popularity of the subject matter of my other project. Even still, I was astonished at the steady growth in downloads for the app. The first day, I had 10-15 downloads, and it climbed steadily over the ensuing months. Then as my app began to get some good ratings and reviews, the growth exploded. Now, I get 50-100 downloads in any given day. With any luck, the $10/day my app is currently earning will continue to grow as the user base grows.

The negatives are easy: If you want an app more complicated than a simple RSS feed, you will either need to be a programmer or be willing to pay a programmer to write it. Even then, there are no guarantees people will download it and there are no guarantees you’ll get enough clicks to pull in any real revenue.

Even still, any amount of passive income is a beautiful thing, even if it’s 50 cents per day. So far, this has been my most successful “side hustle.”

Have you ever thought about developing a smart phone app to make some passive income? What were your results? 

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  • Tyler

    I’ve actually thought about doing almost exactly this idea in the past. Just put together an app that aggregated content for a specific topic/niche and wrap it up with some ads. I didn’t have any intention of driving traffic to any websites of my own, though.

    I’m glad to hear it’s been so successful for you. I may pursue this idea more seriously now.

    • Zac Fields

      I was blown away when we put in the ads, honestly. The 8,000 users we’ve got are giving us upwards of 10,000 ad impressions per day and something like 150 clicks. And my stats tell me that only about 60% of them have upgraded to the new app version with the ads, so we’re actually getting those impressions and clicks from about 5,000 users. I thought we’d be lucky to land 10 cents per day, but the results have far exceeded my expectations. The great thing about it is that it’s purely passive income. Check out AppYet if you haven’t. I thought I’d learn the programming to put it together myself, but with the wide range of different types of smart phones and different versions of the operating systems, it just seems daunting to keep your code up to date constantly if you’re not really a programmer. You slap your AdMob code on there, and basically your ads show 70% of the time and AppYet’s ads show 30% of the time. Fair price (I think) to really make this a totally passive source of income.

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