In Audience Building, Blog Articles

We’ve previously discussed the basics of performance advertising for mobile app user acquisition. in this post, we’re looking at how to make sure you maximize results by targeting and testing campaigns appropriately.

Mobile performance advertising is both:

  • A type of campaign: ads that run on mobile apps and websites and are designed to drive installs for an app, and
  • A type of media placement: ads for which the advertiser pays only when a user installs the advertised app (in mobile lingo, this is called CPI or “cost-per-install” advertising)

On the branding side of mobile marketing, advertisers generally know their target audiences very well. Ad platforms and publishers then simply build campaigns around that knowledge.

It’s smart to keep an open mind about where your apps run. You might find quality traffic where you least expect it. Within that traffic, your goal should be to convert the highest lifetime-value (LTV) targets—prospects who will not only install your app but continue to use it and spend money through it over time. These high-value users are the white whales of performance advertising. (Note: This is just a metaphor. We love whales. We don’t hunt them for real.)

Whale-spotting: Who qualifies as a high-value user?

Every app developer or publisher has a different way of recognizing the white whales among their install base, but these are the most common criteria:

  • Retention: Are they still using the app on Day 1, 7, 30? You can set the timeline to whatever measurement makes sense for your app.
  • In-app purchases: Did they buy something? This is sometimes measured as a gross dollar amount or a specific number of transactions.
  • Subscription or utilization: Did the user perform an action indicating engagement? For example, did they stream a show? Have they completed several levels of your game? Did they use your wayfinding?

Finding these white whales requires testing and optimization, plus a whole lot of collaboration with your performance advertising partner.

Step 1: Cast a wide net and test every source.

In this case, a “source” can be any mobile site or app. The idea is to test your ad on different kinds of sources across multiple categories—games, retail, entertainment, utility apps, etc. Then look at the data and see which sources deliver the the most installs, and which sources deliver the highest lifetime-value installs (those white whales again).

We recommend letting the campaign run for at least two weeks, collecting data all the while. Giving it a couple of weeks allows for different usage and spending patterns on various apps, so you have enough data to provide an accurate picture of performance—and can make sound decisions moving forward.

Step 2: Fish where the fishing’s good.

By analyzing the data, you can identify the best-performing apps in terms of installs and high-value users. Focus your campaign spending there. Work with your platform partner—the more you collaborate and share information, the more they can help you.

For example, let’s say we are running an install ad in an entertainment app and 100 people download the app we’re advertising. Eighty of those people go on to spend money in our app—victory! This tells us that we want to focus more spend on this newly identified white whale entertainment app. At the same time, we might find that a utility app delivers 100 installs as well, but only three of them make in-app purchases. So we may avoid running ads on this particular utility app in the future. (But maybe not—more on that in a moment.)

Step 3: Repeat

Keep monitoring the data to see how performance shifts across the traffic. Things can change seasonally. For example, a sports app might see a lot more traffic and spending during the playoffs. Keep your eye on the sources delivering your best users, as well as your overall ROI. (In this case, ROI refers to how much you’re spending on acquisition vs. the user’s spend on and within your app.)

It’s really that simple. It takes patience and collaboration, but steady stewardship can maximize the results of your mobile performance campaign(s).

Here are few additional tips and best practices we’ve learned from our experience with performance campaigns:

  • Develop an ongoing schedule for monitoring and optimization. (We recommend weekly.)
  • As you optimize, split up your campaign and try some whitelisting. A “whitelist” is a list of your very best source apps and mobile websites. Explore opportunities to maximize the value of each source on this list. For example, you might increase the frequency of your ads on these sources. This may increase your cost per install, but if that spend is delivering the highest value users at a higher volume, it’s surely worth it!
  • While you’re whitelisting, keep up your presence on the rest of the traffic. Monitor this “run of network” group for any changes or performance improvements, looking for sources that suddenly start to deliver for you. Things can and do change, and platforms are always adding new sources. This practice helps you avoid over-saturating the whitelist apps, spreads your risk, and keeps you open to fresh opportunities.
  • Refresh your ad creative monthly to help avoid saturation.
  • Don’t be afraid to pause your campaign on certain sources if the data shows that performance is falling off.
  • Don’t assume anything. Just because a streaming app campaign worked really well on one source, don’t assume that another streaming app campaign will have the same results, or that you can “set it and forget it.” You must continually look at the data. (Let’s say that again: Look. At. The. Data.) This is the “maybe not” we mentioned in Step 2—you have to keep testing sources to find where the most value is.
  • Look at your performance campaign like a well-run investment portfolio. You want a mix of different sources, and you should be constantly tweaking the mix to maximize your returns.
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