Thursday, April 25, 2019

Create a simple landing page for your app in just a few clicks - for free

After redesigning one of my apps from scratch recently I decided it’s time to upgrade the accompanying website for it too. Previously it was hosted on a hidden subpage of my Blogger blog and I hardly ever updated it. Still, it received quite some traffic via the Google Play Store…

So a new website, right? Shouldn’t be that hard since I was looking for something simple: title, a short description, the logo and a few screenshots. Oh, a link to the app stores would be nice too of course. However I could not find any useful template / services to create a minimalist app landing page without designing it myself (my CSS is rusty to say the least). There are a gazillion templates that promise to deliver app landing pages, but most of them were bloated with unnecessary features or design elements. Shortly before giving up - and considering to refresh my CSS skills - I found LaunchKit. One of their tools allows you to create a website from the information available on the App Store (screenshot, logo, description, etc) - for free! Unfortunately they shut down their services after getting acquired by Google, but all of their code is open-source now and you can host it yourself:

Here’s a sneak peek of what I created:

Not too shabby, right? I even added some custom JavaScript to show a live chat for customers to ask questions (not shown on the screenshot). Here is the live version of it:

There is a few different ways how you can get something similar for your app too now that LaunchKit is not live anymore:

1. Host it yourself

LaunchKit released everything you need to host their services yourself. However, that means you’ll need a server to run it on - which costs a few bucks per month. Worth it, but definitely not the easiest solution if you keep in mind that you have to fix it yourself if the server goes down one night. Also, scalability? Nope. If you go down this route I would suggest to take a look at a fork that makes use of Docker:

2. Have someone else host it for you

Some people were smart enough to take the code that was published and host it so that others can use it. The only one I found so far is - it offers most of the features for free but some of them are paid (at an unreasonably high monthly rate).

3. Generate the website and export it as a static website

If you put in some extra effort you get the best of both worlds: create a website for free, host it for free and also have someone else worry about your servers. PLUS this scales infinitely (theoretically). And who else to use for hosting than good old Google? More specifically, we’ll use Firebase Hosting.

First generate a website using either a hosted or self-hosted version (localhost is enough) of LaunchKit. Afterwards export it as a static website using some bash magic:

Last but not least you upload the “exported” website to Firebase by leveraging their Hosting service:

I won’t go into details here, but the steps provided above give you an idea of how the process works. The website you end up with is scalable (please mind the limitations of the free Firebase plan), fast, customizable and even supports connecting to a custom domain. If you link this up with Cloudflare now you are pretty good to go. One less thing to worry about if your app becomes the next big thing over night. ;)

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