Trevor McCalmont

Trevor is a content creator and analytics expert at GameAnalytics. He's a statistical and analytical wiz, graduating from Macalester College with a degree in Applied Math and Statistics.

App discovery is tough. With over 1,500,000 apps in each of the App Store and Google Play, standing out from the crowd takes some work. Most game developers will need to spend some marketing dollars on paid user acquisition in order to be successful. Below are the seven deadly sins of mobile user acquisition, and how to avoid these hazards.


1. The first sin of mobile user acquisition is not soft launching

User acquisition begins with preparation. Soft Launching may be related to overall game design, but it’s extremely important to do before starting user acquisition. No game developer wants to shell out briefcases full of cash in order to drive users to an unpolished game. The return on investment will likely underwhelm if the game has not been tested and vetted by consumers.

Soft launching, that is launching in a smaller, similar country, gives some benchmarks on monetization, retention and other metrics. More importantly, soft launching helps game developers understand what users like and don’t like. Learning more about what makes your most engaged users tick will help improve monetization, and having higher monetization rates gives you more flexibility when you are acquiring users.

Learn more about how and why you should soft launch on the GameAnalytics blog.

Soft launching helps #gamedev's understand what users like and don’t like Click To Tweet

2. The second sin of mobile user acquisition is not setting standards for success.

Obviously the main goal of most user acquisition campaigns will be to generate revenue and increase profits. However throughout the process there will be plenty of small, analytical elements and each step of the way should be measured.

You’re running an A/B test on the creative. Great. Is the goal to increase the clickthrough rate or the conversion rate? After the campaign, you’re comparing two different sources. Are you patient enough to go with the users that had better retention rates or do you prefer the ones that monetized slightly better? Setting a goal each step of the way helps guide the process.

3. The third sin of mobile user acquisition is not knowing your ARPU

The question on everyone’s mind when running a user acquisition campaign: “How much can I spend in order to remain profitable?” One common pitfall in mobile performance marketing is not knowing how much revenue users generate before running a campaign.

Whether you use ARPU, LTV or another metric to place a value on users, it’s important to have a criterion for what’s reasonable to spend. It doesn’t make sense to spend $2.00 acquiring each user if the average user will only spend $1.00 over their lifetime playing the game.

4. The fourth sin of mobile user acquisition is using one network

There are so many ad networks and platforms for acquisition in the mobile space. Putting all your eggs (installs) in one basket (network) rarely captures the full opportunity for your acquisition campaign.

First off, diversification helps keep your Cost Per Install (CPI) lower and allows you to test different sources. Furthermore, if the campaign runs for an extended period of time, you run the risk of saturating that network. Saturation means that as your app is shown to more users, the conversion rate gradually declines.

Thinking about saturation in practice, let’s say App A has an impressive 10% conversion rate. If App A’s ad is shown to ten users, one user installs it. As they keep playing the game, the other nine users will be shown App A’s ad again. The likelihood that they choose to convert the second time decreases from the first, and your overall conversion rate drops.

To avoid saturation, run your ads on multiple networks. There will be a small headache in setting up multiple campaigns, but the gains are worth it.

5. The fifth sin of mobile user acquisition is overestimating your organic downloads

Don’t be naive enough to expect users will find your app and tell their friends how great it is. There are a few hundred thousand too many apps for that rosy story to happen with any frequency.

Ranking in the top ten free apps will earn a significant boost in organic downloads. However, this is not a reasonable goal for the vast majority of game developers based on the prohibitive costs. TradeMob has an infographic on burst campaigns, and as of February in the US it would cost about $100,000 to get a gaming app into the top ten free apps on iOS.

Most of the sub-categories do not provide enough volume to be worthwhile targets for a campaign. Game developers are better off finding paid sources that work well with their game than fighting up the charts.

App features can be another source of organic downloads for game developers, however they come with their own perils. Features by Apple and Google are exceedingly hard to come by. While they do provide excellent visibility in the marketplace, the platforms usually only give this exposure to apps that showcase a new feature of the operating system or a new integration they’ve added. Some apps get featured because they are fun and well done, but Apple and Google have a vested interest in many of the games they feature.

Online publications and review sites can sometimes help influence download numbers, but they are asked to review and feature tens or hundreds of apps daily. Unless a game developer has an existing relationship with a source, it’s unrealistic to expect these types of features to drive a majority of their app’s downloads.

All this being said burst campaigns can be very effective when done right. Just don’t expect the chart position to drive significant download volume on their own.

6. The sixth sin of mobile user acquisition is relying on incentivized installs

Incentivized users really only provide much value for chart ranking. The vast majority of these users install the app or complete the necessary action to earn their reward in the game where the ad appeared. They have little to no interest in the new game and their ARPU/LTV and retention will be lower than users acquired with no incentive. CPI costs are lower and the volume of users acquired is higher, but game developers rarely break even when acquiring incentivized users because of their lower monetization rates.

On Google Play, buying incentivized installs is less of an issue as ratings, reviews, engagement data, uninstall rate and other pieces of data are given more weight in the ranking algorithm. The only reason to buy traffic is because the advertiser has a positive return on investment.

Buying incentivized installs can work if the publisher app offers a similar demographic to your target demographic.

7. The seventh sin of mobile user acquisition is not segmenting your users

With almost every successful user acquisition campaign, there will be some pain points along the way. It is important to measure data from every user so you know what sources and tactics are working for your campaign.

The easy data points to segment by are things like ad type (video vs. non-incentivized interstitial), device type and geography. Depending who you are running the campaign with, you may be able to get more granular data like publisher genre or even the specific app source.

Segmenting users and analyzing their monetization and retention will help determine what messaging and sources are working to generate profitable users.

Avoid the seven deadly sins of mobile user acquisition:

  1. Soft launch your game in a test market
  2. Set goals for what you want to achieve at each step
  3. Know your ARPU/LTV and how much you can spend per user
  4. Diversify your networks
  5. Don’t count on organic downloads to do the heavy lifting
  6. Be wary of the quality of incentivized installs
  7. Segment your users and campaigns
Following these best practices will help improve the efficiency of your mobile user acquisition Click To Tweet

Trevor McCalmont

Trevor is a content creator and analytics expert at GameAnalytics. He's a statistical and analytical wiz, graduating from Macalester College with a degree in Applied Math and Statistics.

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