Automation Tips for Indie Developers

When you are a one man show, you have to automate everything you can. If you do a task more than once, spend a minute to see if you can automate it. I have three apps that I use extensively for automation.


First, I use TextExpander from Smile Software to answer support emails. TextExpander has tons of features, but I mostly use it for canned responses to common support questions. You type in an abbreviation and it expands to the full text.

An example:

I type: “;addv”

I get: “Thanks for the feedback. Adding voice to the calls is the most requested feature and I hope to add to the app soon.”

I type: “;pleaserev”

I get: “If you like my app, please take the time to give it a nice review. It really helps.”

TextExpander Automation

I also make a snippet for links to the app store for each of my apps. I type ;fflink for the link to my fake phone call app. If you get a lot of similar support emails, you will use TextExpander all the time. Be careful not to respond with only canned text. It’s important to connect with your audience, so be sure to personalize your response if time allows. Although a bit clunky, their iOS app makes it easier to respond to support emails on your iPhone or iPad. I use TextExpander along with Clips for this.

Keyboard Maestro

Next, Keyboard Maestro allows you to assign hotkeys to a command or series of commands. You could assign Control+Option+Command+X to open Xcode, xScope, Spectrum or any other app you use during development. There are tons of other uses as it allows you to simulate a mouse click, pick a menu action to execute, or execute a series of keyboard presses. This can be handy for scraping data from a web site or formatting an XML file. It works well with Applescript, so you can automate just about anything.


Finally, no Mac user should be without Hazel from Noodlesoft. Hazel allows you to assign actions to folders. Save or drop a file in a folder configured with Hazel and any rules in Hazel will be applied to that file. You can move, delete, rename, upload, reveal in Finder, etc. I often use it for cleanup of older files and moving specific file types to new locations. Pro tip: Use Hazel together to execute actions on files synced through Dropbox on a remote Mac.

Hazel Automation


Final Thoughts

If you love automation, check out Brett Terpstra’s site. He is an automation ninja. Visit David Spark’s site, macsparky too. Good stuff on Hazel and TextExpander there.

Also, don’t forget Automator, Apple’s automation tool that comes with every Mac. I find myself using it for quick automations such as image resizing.

If you have a cool automation tip, let me know. I would love to feature it on the site.

Using Sensor Tower to Optimize Your App Keywords

I’m in the process of updating my app, Censor Ninja, and I thought I would give Sensor Tower a try. Sensor Tower is a keyword optimization and research service. I have used AppCodes in the past, but have been hearing many other developers talk about Sensor Tower and it’s great keyword research tools. As an indie with a limited budget, I had been hesitant in the past to give it a go with a minimum cost of $79 per month (as of 8/5/14). They do offer a free trial, which does fit my budget, so I jumped in, prepared to fry my brain with every keyword related to a censor app you could imagine.

First Impressions

After I signed in for the first time, I was impressed with the user interface. Coming from, which isn’t visually appealing, Sensor Tower has a nice simple layout and easy to understand tools.

My first stop was the Keyword Optimization tool, which told me my keywords were optimized correctly. I have worked hard on my keywords and know most of the tricks to maximizing how many you can cram in those 100 characters, so no surprises there. However, I know many developers out there that can use this tool to learn about what they are doing wrong (no spaces!). This is also a good tool to see where you rank on all your current keywords. Here’s how I ranked on my top keywords.


Keyword Suggestions

The Keyword Suggestions tool is a good place to start a brainstorm session. I learned from this tool a few keywords that I hadn’t thought of before. It’s important that you use keywords that are relevant to your app. It wouldn’t do me any good to use ‘twitter’ as a keyword even though you can share your censored pic there because my app is never going to rank high for “share my pic on twitter”. But keywords like block, private, and mask are relevant and important for me to target. This tool can be a little intimidating with ‘seed’ keywords, weights to each keyword, and filter strength, but there is help available that explains it all fairly well.

Keyword Research

My favorite is the Keyword Research tool. Simply type a keyword or phrase and see what apps rank high for that word. If I try ‘photo censor’, my app ranks fifth.


You can also use this tool to see what apps show up for keywords or phrases you want to try. It’s important to look at the traffic, difficulty and number of apps for each keyword. I keep a spreadsheet with potential and current keywords showing this data so I can easily sort to see which keywords might be easier to target. For instance, if the traffic is 2.4, but difficulty is 1.1, this is a keyword I may want to target.


Other Features

The keyword translation module is good for research, but I would be very careful relying on machine translation with an app. It can be ok for the Spanish translation of ‘pixelate’, but bad for phrases and words that don’t translate from English well. The Keyword Spy is a nice tool for letting you compare your shared keywords with your competition. I really like be able to see the keywords that my closest competitors are using that I am not. It’s nice to see them using keywords that aren’t helping them, especially.

It’s also nice to get daily digest emails that show any changes in keyword rankings. As a developer, it’s common to work on keywords, submit to Apple, and then get caught up in the next project. It’s important to closely follow how the keyword changes you have made effect your downloads and how your rankings improve. Unfortunately, marketing you app is just as important as coding it, so no dropping the ball here.

My Killer Feature Request

I do wish there was some sort of mechanism to keep track of keywords you would like to try, but haven’t. It could also track how your keywords have changed over time. Since Sensor Tower can connect to your dev account, it can pull in your downloads. All the data should be there to give you a birds eye view of what keywords are underperforming along with what potential keywords could replace those. Sensor Tower is awesome at researching keywords, but you ultimately have to keep track of your keywords in a spreadsheet or text file.

Overall Impressions

Sensor Tower has an impressive feature set. Although the price can be steep for indie’s like me, I think that if you use the tools correctly and put some time into it, you should easily make up the difference in increased app sales. I’ve tried a few keyword tools and I agree with my fellow developers that Sensor Tower is the best. With several apps in the store, I will be spending quite a bit of time with Sensor Tower this week.