Mobile Growth: winning in User Acquisition for mobile apps

Carlotta Pasqualini
February 4, 2022
Mobile Growth: winning in User Acquisition for mobile apps

Let’s start with a quick definition of User Acquisition (UA) for mobile apps.

User acquisition is the act of gaining new users for an app, platform, or other service. (from adjust)

Bringing users to your online service is as important as getting potential customers enter through the door of your retail activity. As in any acquisition activity there are several ways to attract customers, some for free and some others paid.

Key points:

  • When should you start your User Acquisition strategy.
  • Attribution, Measurement and Analytics: how you can optimize your spending.
  • What you should REALLY focus on.

When to start user acquisition?

This is THE QUESTION I get asked lots of times. When to start growth campaigns for your apps? The answer is easy, you should begin working for growth as soon as your product is online (and probably even before this moment). The first user acquisition efforts start with App Store Optimization and also UX design for your app.

But once your product is online, I always suggest this strategy:

  1. Begin telling your contacts about your app, sending them the link to download the app.
  2. Get the first organic downloads, by positioning your app in the first places inside the app store for some long-tail keywords.
  3. Go Social. Start paid UA campaigns with social networks. The reason behind this choice is easy: social networks have a massive user base, their creative sizes are well optimized and the algorithms they offer work very well in the initial phase of the campaigns. Beware that once you start growing the volume of daily installs, price might go up a lot. This is the time to begin working with other acquisition channels
  4. Start with other channels. Channels are publishers where ads for your app are shown. At Mapendo, tell our clients that they should start working with other channels (mainly display channels) when they have more than 200.000 downloads. This threshold is very generic, and doesn’t make sense for every app. For example if you are targeting some countries in Europe the threshold could be lower. In the USA & in APAC it might be even bigger than 200.000 downloads

After you have activated many channels you can start measuring the success, picking the right channels and scaling your campaigns even more.

User Acquisition requires lots of effort

The mobile app stores feature more than 2M apps, so the market is much saturated. Users tend to skip downloading new apps. To lure them into installing and using your app you must be ready to spend lots of money.

User acquisition is a holistic process: before downloading the app, you must probably expose the potential users to many touch points. Some of them might even be offline (such as TV ads), while others are focused on performance (such as Apple Search Ads).

Every channel has a cost, some of them are not easy to trace bur for sure you must be prepared to invest time and resources in order to generate a good number of new users every day.

As I’ve said before the most important things are attribution and measurement. Specially after iOs14 and all the privacy updates attribution and measurement are even more important.

The Key is attribution and analytics

This ain’t new. Attribution is key to growth for apps. And analytics is strongly tied to attribution. Measure everything: from impressions to post install activities. The data you are gathering will be useful later when you want to optimize the campaigns and reduce the spending.

Focus on Cost per install but also on Events

At Mapendo we’re only working with programmatic traffic, I know very well that this is not the case with any growth partner. What I’m saying here makes sense only if you managed to get rid of mobile app install fraud, something you can achieve if you go programmatic.

Once you manage to avoid fraud you can rest assured that you are not wasting money. At this stage focusing on the Cost per Install (CPI) and the volume of daily conversions is good.

Bring in a good volume of conversions for a few weeks, without any other optimization on the channels you are using. In this phase don’t optimize but gather data. Pick a post install events that makes sense. Don’t go too much down in the funnel — for example, don’t trace sales — but instead focus on events that are abundant and relatively easy to generate.

Once you’ll start optimizing you need hundreds or thousands of events, in order to have an impact on volume and cost.

Optimization phase: Find the right UA channels

After a few weeks focusing on the number of daily installs, you should have gathered enough data to evaluate the acquisition channels you are using. this means you can start caring about user acquisition quality.

What are the rules for optimization?

  1. Keep the channels with the best volume of conversions. Ideally stop User Acquisition activities with the the worst 10–20% of the channels you are running with.
  2. Try to grow the volume of conversions you are getting from the channels that are generating the lower cost for the event you have picked for post-install optimization (CPA cost). How you do that? Try to increase the CPI, wait for a few days and then check whether the number of daily conversion is increasing.
  3. Ideally repeat steps 1 and 2 at least once per month. Don’t stop too many channels, as this might have an impact reducing the volume of daily installs

If you follow the tips I have added in this article, growing your app will be easier. Every app is different, so you must carefully pick the optimization events that bring value to your usage funnel.

Don’t forget that in order to acquire high value users, user acquisition strategy is important, but it is not enough. For example, the UX of your app is paramount to generate the events that bring in revenue. Follow closely how users interact with your app and work on the re-engagement strategy. This is not exactly part of user acquisition, but has a strong impact on UA.