A Beginner’s Guide to Mobile User Acquisition

A Beginner's Guide to Mobile User Acquisition

With the advent of smartphones, mobile apps have flourished into a dynamic and lucrative business. The amount of time an average US mobile user spends interacting with apps grew to a staggering 92% (or roughly five hours per day) in 2017 and mobile app downloads are predicted to surpass 255 billion annually by 2022. Recent statistics have put the number of apps in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store at 2.6 million and 2.2 million respectively.

In such a highly competitive environment, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make your app stand out from the crowd and become discoverable by new users, even if it is an awesome and valuable app. This is where mobile user acquisition (UA) steps in.

How does Mobile User Acquisition work?

Mobile user acquisition is the term used in reference to attracting customers to purchase or download your app and continue using it. Acquiring new users can happen via unpaid (organic) or paid media like mobile ad networks, social advertising (through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so on) or incentivized mobile ad networks.

A major part of any app’s marketing strategy, mobile UA can be used during an app’s soft launch, when app developers pre-launch the app in select markets and run mobile UA campaigns to analyze app retention and monetization before the worldwide launch. During the soft launch, UA campaigns can provide information on which creatives and supply channels work best and will bring the highest-quality users for the most reasonable price after the app is fully launched.

App developers run UA campaigns to try and bring in valuable users who will continue interacting with the app and generate revenue through in-app purchases and advertisements.

Key terms

Measuring your mobile app’s user acquisition can be done with the help of important metrics dealing with cost, such as:

  • Install rate (IR) – the percentage of the number of users who downloaded an app after clicking the ad, calculated by dividing installs by clicks;
  • Conversion rate (CVR) – the ratio of the number of users who downloaded the game over impressions, calculated by dividing installs by impressions;
  • Cost Per Install (CPI) – the fixed or bid cost the advertiser pays every time a user installs the app via their ads, calculated by dividing the cost of ad spend with a total number of installs during a particular time period;
  • Lifetime Value (LTV) – calculated profit a customer will bring to your company over time;
  • Cost Per Acquisition/Action (CPA) – the cost of acquiring a paying customer or getting a customer to perform a certain action within the ad campaign; calculated by dividing the cost with the conversion;
  • Return of Investment (ROI) – measuring the efficiency of an investment, how much you earned from ads compared to how much you have spent on them, calculated by dividing your total investment cost with the difference between the gained revenue (investment) and the total cost;
  • Cost Per Mille (CPM) – the price paid by the advertiser for one thousand clicks or views of their ad, calculated by dividing the cost of the ad with a total number of impressions, multiplying the result by 1000;
  • Effective Cost Per Mille (eCPM) – the cost of every 1000th ad impression regardless of the buying method or ad revenue generated per 1000 ad impressions, calculated by dividing the total earnings with the total number of impressions, multiplying the result by 1000;
  • Cost Per Click (CPC) – the cost the advertiser pays for each click on the ad, calculated by dividing the campaign cost with the number of clicks although methods vary among different platforms;
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR) – the ratio showing how many users clicked on an ad after viewing it, calculated by dividing the total number of ad clicks with the number of times the ad was shown.

Be sure to check out SOOMLA’s full mobile glossary of advertising terms for an even more in-depth look at all the need-to-know terms.


Mobile UA Channels

Successful mobile UA can be achieved through various strategies and channels which include:

  • App Store Optimization (ASO): Given the fact that the majority of users discover apps via app store search, ASO is one of the essential UA channels. It refers to increasing your app’s visibility in an app store so more relevant users would download it. With its primary focus on click-through rate (CTR), ASO includes optimization of keywords, install/uninstall rates, app usage, reviews, screenshots, ratings and other factors affecting the app’s discoverability and ranking. Bekitzur breaks down the ASO into two groups: search optimization (the factors affecting app stores’ ranking algorithms) and appeal optimization (all the things a user sees when they find your app in the app store, including icons, screenshots, wording, and so on).

Here is a great illustration of ranking factors for Apple App Store and Google Play Store by App Radar:

Source: AppRadar

  • Web to App: Having a nice website to accompany your app is another great way to drive UA, as observed in a study by Branch. One of the best ways to achieve this is through smart banners placed on your mobile website.
  • Social Media Campaigns: We all know how popular social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are, so it would be a mistake not to utilize their power in your UA. In doing so, remember to include your sign or logo as much as possible.
  • Referrals: People highly value their family and friends’ opinions, and they will value their recommendations as well. This is a great potential to tap into for advertising, which why referral marketing is one of the most popular marketing strategies. Getsocial’s Vanshikha Bhargava advises you lean on more than just recommendations; have in place a reward system for active participation and increase value with every session.
  • Content Marketing: Every self-respecting company should have a blog or some other way of communicating its story to the public. The stories don’t necessarily need to revolve around the company itself but can include infographics, analyses, reviews, advice, etc. anything your potential customers might find useful.
  • Email: Although email is no longer as popular as it once was, deep linked emails can help drive mobile UA by pushing the users directly to the specific part of the mobile app.
  • Press: Press coverage is another important channel to look into if your goal is UA. Since the invention of the printing press, the media has been a great way to spread the word of your product across. However, always ensure you have a great narrative created around your app, so the ad doesn’t look obvious.
  • Influencer Marketing: The power of social influencers should not be underestimated either. Choosing a popular, authentic, experienced and relevant influencer to form a partnership with could prove to be an excellent decision in bringing in new users, just see to it that you create a balance between their creative freedom and your influence. As with press coverage, here as well you need to weave a story around your app.
  • Mobile retargeting: One of the best mobile UA strategies, mobile retargeting results in a 46% higher CTR rate, as well as 13 times more sales conversions than desktop retargeting. Keep in mind, however, that you should not overwhelm your visitors with ads just because they visited your site once or twice, as this could prove counter-productive. To this end, Branch recommends using burn pixels to make certain users who converted are no longer exposed to retargeting.
  • Non-digital channels: The non-digital sphere should not be overlooked either as the power of word-of-mouth can be immense. For example, you could announce your app at a well-known industry conference, utilizing the audience numbers and press coverage to give it a kick. Or you can use such events to spread the word about your product and connect with other industry players, which itself could prove useful in furthering your business.

Mobile UA Ads

Certain types of advertisements work better for mobile user acquisition than others. These include:

  • Video ads

Incorporating high-quality 30-second video ads is one of the best mobile UA strategies as it is most effective in bringing new users. This is thanks to the fact that they can be placed on a wide array of platforms, like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or even content discovery networks like Outbrain and Taboola. Moreover, videos are engaging by default. So if you can afford it, we definitely recommend using them. Why 30-second? Because the videos with this length are proven to have an 88.3% completion rate.

  • Banner ads

Although their popularity is somewhat waning, banner ads are still a good way to promote your app. They are placed at the bottom or top of the app’s layout and they stay there while the app is being used. Banner ads have multiple advantages – they allow your user to start recognizing your app, bring more new users and retarget those who didn’t sign up or try out your product.

  • Native ads

Integrated ads that are consistent with the natural design, content and function of your app are another strategy to look into when considering UA. A study has shown that 25% more consumers looked at in-feed native ad placements rather than display ad units.

  • Social ads

Social media channels should not be overlooked as platforms to advertise your app, especially considering the sheer number of Internet users who are also active in the social sphere. Namely, the number of social media users globally in 2018 was 3.196 billion, an increase of 13% since January 2017. The times are obviously a-changing, so don’t miss out on the great opportunity the social media offers for spreading the word about your app. Social media ads also allow you to harness the power of images to lure the potential customers in.


Mobile UA Attribution

Adding mobile attribution to your marketing strategy is one of the key requirements for your app’s success. The term refers to monitoring the entire conversion funnel, helping you learn which of your UA channels trigger the best results. Appsflyer’s Jacob Nehman lists the reasons for using mobile attribution tools, which include:

  1. It saves you money. They allow you to make better data-driven UA spend decisions by giving you insights into all your UA channels, campaigns, ad networks, publishers, creatives, and so on. All this information can then assist you in increasing your LTV.
  2. Not only this, but mobile attribution also ensures the ad networks do not take credit for the installs they had no part in. This, in turn, prevents them from charging you for those installs and save you from paying more CPI (cost per install) than you have to.
  3. It simplifies your advertising infrastructure. Your app has to implement SDKs (software development kits) for the measurement and optimization requirements of each of your ad networks. We can all agree that this whole (expensive) mess can be simplified with the use of one all-embracing SDK. This is where attribution comes into play as attribution platforms and tools are commonly equipped with such a kit. This universal SDK saves you the trouble and costs incurred by maintaining all those SDKs as it interconnects advertisers, agencies, and ad networks through its infrastructure.
  4. Most mobile attribution platforms are also equipped with one dashboard to cover all the data you acquire when conducting non-organic campaigns, thus reducing the chance of mistakes happening when trying to get a sense of the vast amount of information you would be forced to juggle otherwise.

Mobile UA Platforms/Tools

When considering your UA strategy, an important step is to decide on the UA platforms or tools that work best with your app and will help you achieve the best results possible. We recommend you do thorough research on each of them to see if they match your app or the relevant part(s) of your app. To help you kick it off, here are some of the examples:

Mobile UA Trends

Keeping up with the trends is important in every industry, especially so in the vibrant and dynamic field of mobile UA.

According to Mobivsta’s Senior Vice President, Charles Xi, one of the major threats to the global mobile games business are the increasing UA costs. According to a 2017 analysis, the rising UA costs were seen as a threat by 63.2% developers, second only to competition, ie the number of releases (73.1%). Other threats included rising marketing costs, availability of free content, development costs, ad fraud, and so on.

Analyst Luba Anashina believes that UA is more important now than ever for acquiring and keeping app gamers and shoppers. This is due to the trend of ever-increasing spending on mobile games and shopping apps, despite the decreasing sessions for mobile games. She also suggests investing more in shopping apps’ UA during periods of lower CPI and CPM rates when users see fewer calls to action. As for gaming, she notices that UA “is guided by autonomous exploration and intelligent, automated messaging via any channel.”

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