Written By: Justina Perro
So you’ve created an app. The hard part is over, right? Wrong. As we’ve seen from research, the app space is a fickle (and vast) one. To give you an idea of what you’re up against in 2018:
The app market is oversaturated. Millions of app creators are vying for a piece. But as you can see from the above, getting a user to download your app is only half the battle. The other half is retaining them. And while you may think an eBook around app user acquisition isn’t the place to talk retention, think again. App user retention begins with attracting the right audience to your app.
While this concept seems pretty straightforward, there are many things to consider when building out your app acquisition plan, and these considerations can be the difference between success and failure. Doing your research ahead of time will make for a much smoother launch, and help you to wrap your head around the many moving pieces of a strong campaign. So what exactly are the elements of a successful app user acquisition plan? Read on to find out.
If you only read one sentence of this eBook, it should be this one: In order to have a successful app, you need to become your target audience. Understanding your target audience is essential to not only your app user acquisition plan, but to your app’s success in general.
An important note about app audiences: It’s possible (and common) to have more than one. For example a streaming app like Netflix is going to have many different audiences. But how they go about targeting and acquiring new users varies depending on their personal interests - think: comic book buff versus documentary lover.
So how do you go about not only deciding who your audience is, but fully understanding them? Consider the below your personal guide to doing just that.
Start by asking yourself the following:
When you think about who your audience is, make sure you get granular with it.
What to avoid: Males age 23-39 who love cars.
That’s a great start, but you’re just scratching the surface. Use the below as a sample of questions you need to know about your target audience in order to make a complete profile:
Target Audience Profile Questions
For New Apps (just launching):
Age: It’s very possible your app may have multiple age-groups associated with it. If so, narrow in on the different scenarios or popular features for each to ensure you’re appealing to them in the right way.
Location: Are you targeting city dwellers, suburbanites or does it not matter? Keep in mind that a young working professional from NYC is going to have a very different day-to-day than someone upstate. Also, you might have different marketing strategies or offers for different locations based on your business plan.
Day-to-day behavior: Speaking of day-to-days, what does your target audience’s day look like? Are they students or working professionals? Do they have a car or rely on public transportation? Are they into fitness or are they foodies?
Interests: How does your target audience like to pass their time? Concerts? Gym? Bar-hopping?
How your app benefits them: What value does your app add to their lives? Does it help them complete a task? Entertain them? Keep them organized? Make sure you understand exactly how your app adds value to your target audience’s life.
For Existing Apps:
Use all of the above plus the following:
Understanding the ins and outs of your target audience is critical to the success of your acquisition plan. Once you've figured out your target audiences, the next question is, how do you get them to download your app? The mobile app industry is highly saturated, so you need to be able to hone in on your potential app users with your ads.
Casting a wide net with your ads and hoping for the best is a bad strategy to have. Thanks to advances in technology, companies have gotten much smarter about their ad strategies and making them highly targeted. People now expect to see targeted advertisements that are relevant to them.
Clinique targeted me on instagram with the above app ad after I searched for their moisturizer.
Most importantly, advertising to a highly-targeted audience will help make your app “stickier” through stronger retention rates and lifetime values. Your acquisition plan shouldn’t be focused around just acquiring new users, but acquiring quality users who will find long term value in your app.
Once you identify and fully understand the target audience you’re going after, it’s time to reach them. How do you do this? By going where they are. While paid advertising is undoubtedly an extremely important part of any app user acquisition strategy, you should start by tapping into organic channels.
Don’t expect one tactic to work. If you want your app to succeed, you need to have several forces working together for you at the same time, so that you put yourself in the best position to be discovered. The first place to start is by considering the organic channels and tactics that will reach the right users. In this section, we tackle five tactics all brands should be using.
1. A Soft Launch
If you haven’t launched your app yet, you should consider a soft launch. A soft launch or beta test, will grant you extremely valuable insights into initial app reception and performance without releasing it to the masses. That way, you have the ability to optimize accordingly to better prepare it for full release. A few soft-launch best practices to consider:
Ensure your target audience is largely represented
Have a place for ‘testers’ to congregate and discuss the app (this can be a physical meet-up or an online forum)
Consider running two types of beta testing: a technical one and a marketing one. A technical beta test is where users are distinctly looking for bugs and snags, whereas a marketing test is geared toward user experience.
SoftLaunch Tip: Some developers choose to soft-launch to a smaller (but still targeted) audience in a different country, such as a US-based app launching in Canada. This gives you the ability to gain legitimate feedback from a smaller population that is still similar to the app market in the US.
2. Social Media (Organic)
The beauty of knowing your target audience is the ability to play in their space. Make sure you have a presence on some of the main social channels your audience is on. Create handles for your app and begin following key publications and influencers within your respected industry. In addition, start having an active voice on social media and join the conversation to start organically acquiring followers and creating a buzz about your app. Be sure to keep in mind your brand’s voice and tone while doing so.
Social Media Tip: Personality pays off. Just because you’re a company doesn’t mean your social media presence has to lack personality. Keeping your target audience and brand guidelines in mind, develop a persona people will want to follow and actively engage with. Apps like Slack and Lyft are great examples of brands with a strong social voice:
Forums are another great place to join the conversation because your audience goes there to actively share knowledge. You can use different forums, like Reddit, Android Central, or Mac Rumors, to introduce your app and solicit honest feedback about it, and how you can improve. Forums are unique in that they allow you the rare opportunity to directly connect with your audience, and truly understand where you can fill in any gaps with your app.
Forums Hack: This will vary by industry, so do your research and identify a minimum of three popular and trusted forums where you can begin making your app known. Don’t forget about Subreddits which can get highly targeted based on location, industry, and other factors.
4. Local & National PR Campaigns
Complementary to the Inbound Marketing strategy, strong press coverage about your app can also do wonders for your App Store listing since part of your ranking has to do with the number of installs over the past few hours as well as the past few days. For example, when Boston MBTA tracker app ProximiT was first launching, owner Randy reached out to relevant local press who published articles about the app and drove a large influx of users to their App Store profile. As a result, ProximiT broke into the top 100 apps for the Navigation category, driving yet even more installs.
Key takeaway? Don’t overlook the importance of PR to your app’s success. Doing some local PR campaigns allows you to create much needed buzz around your app, and ensure the right people in your community know about it. Initiating various PR campaigns will allow you to tap into various local and national channels who have a wide and impactful reach in getting the news about your app out to your audience.
Press Release: If your app was recently launched, draw up a press release with key information about it and blast it out to the local media. Remember that they get dozens of press releases daily, so ensure yours is attention grabbing and succinct. Tap into your network to see if you have any media connections to boost the chances of getting picked up.
Bloggers: Don’t underestimate the power of blogs. Blogs can be a driving force in promoting new apps and acquiring new users. One of the most successful examples of app blog promotion was Uber and Barstool Sports back in 2013. Uber tapped into their core audience by having Barstool create native content on their extremely popular blog. As a result, Uber’s acquisition cost fell over 70% in just 5 weeks after the launch of the campaign. Reach out to several bloggers that your target audience follows and see about implementing a similar campaign for your app.
Partnerships: Take the notion of teaming up one step further than bloggers by partnering with local businesses that complement your app. For example, if you have an app that is sports related, partner up with a minor league team or even a local sporting goods store for an event. Consider running several of these partnerships around your local community to boost brand recognition. Aligning yourself with trusted brands in your community will also boost your credibility.
PR Campaigns Growth Hack: You should have a targeted list of people to reach out to in the community based on their industry and core interests. For example, reaching out to the local tech community or key members of your respective industry is a smart way to not only boost your chances of getting featured, but to begin fostering relationships with important people within your local community.
Timing is important. Having a lot of buzz around your app all at once can do wonders to its App Store Ranking, so plan accordingly when implementing a PR strategy
5. App Store Optimization
Cue the ‘last but not least’ spiel. Because while the above tactics are important, app store optimization (ASO) is absolutely essential to your success and your only chance of getting discovered amidst an endless sea of apps in the store.
What is app store optimization? For the mobile newbies, app store optimization is the SEO of the app world. It’s all about boosting your visibility within the overly crowded app stores so that you can be discovered by your audience. Just how important is ASO to your app’s success these days? According to Apple, 65% of apps get discovered via the app store.
Key Components of Solid ASO:
1) App Name:
It’s fine to take some creative liberty with your app name, but try not to go too over the top. Your app’s name should be distinctive and easy to remember. Potential app users should be able to guess what your app’s about just from reading its name.
App Name Checklist:
App Name Pro Tips: Apple’s App Store gives you a 30 character limit to your app name. However, they do allow you to include a short subtitle for further description:
Google Play, on the other hand, doesn’t have specific character limits but warns about truncated text if you get too wordy. Subtitles only appear on older versions of Android:
2) Description: Include a clear and concise description about the functionality of your app and lead with your strongest points. Clearly define your functionality, any key features, and credibility you’ve received. Users searching the store should quickly understand the value-add of your app.
App Description Checklist:
Spotify’s app description highlights the benefits of the streaming app and outlines why it’s a must for any music lovers.
App Icon Pro Tips:
Use a unique symbol that will represent your brand as well as standout in the app store sea. You want your app icon to be as distinctly recognizable as possible, and to encompass not only the essence of your brand but it’s functionality as well. When someone sees your icon they should be able to understand what it does
Simplicity is king. Your app icon should be sleek yet have a minimalist design approach so it doesn’t look too busy and appears clean and professional
Using a single letter to represent your icon is more encouraged than using full words. Remember that this is an icon, not an ad
Choosing the right color scheme can help your app stand out amongst the competition. Just ensure that the color scheme is aesthetically pleasing
A/B test two icons via your ad campaigns to identify which is rendering higher engagement rates
Screenshots have become increasingly more important to App Store/Google Play listings over the past two years. Oftentimes, users will skip right over your description and rely solely on the screenshots to learn about your app. Use your screenshots as a storyboard to show of your beautiful UI and workflow so users understand the benefits:
App Store Screenshot Pro Tips:
Include key feature screenshots with a brief description of the functionality so users clearly understand your app’s purpose and capabilities
Keep it short and sweet - try to include no more than 4 screenshots and be sure your app’s story is easily depicted
Many apps have starting using video in place of screenshots. Test out how this tactic performs for you.
4) App Store/Google Play Updates: Each time you update your app, you need to include release notes and a bulleted description of the update. This will not only refresh your app store activity, but will show app users that you are committed to continually optimizing your app.
For example, in the App Store there is a “What’s New” section which has become the standard for keeping users informed about important updates, fixes, and new features:
HSN does a great job at showcasing all the latest updates to promote new app downloads and entice churned users back
App Store Updates Pro Tip:
Updating your app store profile with release notes whenever you make updates to your app not only boosts your SEO, but will show users that you are actively making improvements to your app based on their feedback
5) Ratings: Positive ratings are extremely important to boosting app-store placement. However, it can be difficult to get users to rate your app. That’s why it’s important to have an in-app strategy in place that focuses on getting your most loyal users to rate your app.
App Ratings Pro Tips:
The more people who rate your app positively, the more visible you will be in app stores
Do not ask new users to rate your app
Use behavioral data to target users who will most likely rate you well, taking a look at key conversion events they have taken within your app as well as the frequency of use
Consider launching an in-app rater and only directing those users who would rate you positively to the app store
Move beyond the standard iOS and Android rater requests and ensure your in-app rater message matches the look and feel of your app
Just like with SEO, App Store and Google Play keywords are an essential driver of your app’s discoverability and many of the same rules apply. For example, keyword stuffing is heavily frowned upon. Each keyword you list should be highly relevant to your app. Below are some tips on how to think outside of the box to get some more traction when choosing keywords:
Keyword pro tips:
7) Inbound Marketing: The more organic search you can drive to your app listing, the better. Consider creating a website for your app and creating relevant content. If done well, this should drive organic pageviews to your app’s listing and help boost your ranking (and app downloads!).
Inbound App Marketing Pro Tips:
Create a website for your app. Not only will this help with branding, as it did with community-based traffic app Waze above, but can also help drive more downloads to your app through relevant searches and content
Consider launching an app blog to highlight cool things about your app, user stories, and drive more traffic to your app site and app store page. Get inspiration from RunKeeper’s blog
While having a solid organic strategy in place for your app is key, you cannot overlook the importance of paid channels. Paid acquisition campaigns allow you to cast a much wider net than organic, driving more traffic to your app. Your paid tactics will catapult you in the right direction with a solid user base that you can retain and grow organically.
Just like the other aspects of your user acquisition campaign, it’s important to have your target audience in mind with your paid strategy. Understanding where they frequent online is key to success. Here are a few paid tactics to consider:
1. Social Media: Start with a list of social channels your audience is most active on. Facebook and Instagram are the undeniable titans of social ad campaigns, especially if you are trying to reach millennials. Some companies have also had luck on SnapChat and Twitter. Your strategy should be to place targeted ads on several social media channels, and monitoring where you are getting the most bang for your buck.
Another pro-tip for social media advertising is the importance of A/B testing. Don’t just create one ad and expect it to deliver, instead test several versions of the ad to see which performs best. Research some best practices around social media ad copy, and implement it in your different ads. From there, you can hone in on which ads are performing best and drop the rest.
Facebook Ads: Facebook totes some of the best targeting capabilities in the ad world, allowing you to get as close to 1:1 advertising as possible. For starters, you get to tap into their massive audience reach (1.5 billion and counting), and run highly targeted campaigns using their audience profile tool. This audience tool allows you to get very personalized with your ad campaign, not only breaking down audience by standard demographics (age, gender, location), but by personal interests and life events. Plus, you can A/B test ad copy and audience profiles to see where you’re getting the strongest ROI on your campaign.
Instagram Ad Tip: Instagram is able to tap into the robust data of its parent company, Facebook. Using this data and combining it with the power of visual advertising their social platform lends easily too, Instagram ads enjoy CTRs of 2.5x higher than other social platforms.
Twitter Ad Tip: According to Twitter’s blog, creating a sense of urgency through using words such as “now” drive a 9% higher conversion rate and 36% lower CPI.
Apple Search Ads: With the launch of iOS 11 came the ability to place search ads in Apple’s app store. App owners are now able to target their audience based on key insights like - location, gender, keyword searches, competitor searches to boost discoverability even further. When a user searches for specific keywords, the app ad appears at the top of the results page.
Apple recently introduced two types of search ad programs, Search Ads Basic and Search Ads Advanced. The Basic program is aimed at smaller app publishers looking to pay per install. Whichever one you choose promises a powerful way to reach your intended audience.
Google AdWords Hack: Adwords gives you the ability to create app install ad campaigns that run exclusively on tablets and smartphones to better target your audience.
Below are five of the big ad networks to check out beyond Google and the social media platforms we listed above:
Knowing where to target your paid strategy is half the battle. The other? Effective ads. How many times have you simply scrolled past an ad without even giving it a second thought? That’s a marketer’s worst nightmare. We know that there is an art and science to creating effective app ads, and below are a few of the key ingredients to an engaging app advertisement:
Clearly state the value proposition: You created your app because you felt there was some kind of void in the marketplace, right? Be sure to clearly state in your ad what needs or problem your app addresses. Whether your app is entertainment based or task-oriented, you designed it to provide value to your audience, so make sure they know it.
Measure success and optimize accordingly: As with any advertising campaign, it’s important to closely monitor performance upon launch, and gather insight into what’s working for you. In other words, start broad and then narrow down based on data insights. Continually optimizing your app’s advertising campaigns will allow you to get the most bang for your buck, and increase the success of acquiring new app users. We cover more on how to do this, below!
App acquisition campaigns are tricky to get right, which is why it’s imperative to closely monitor yours to see where you can improve. But what exactly should you be monitoring?
How are your ads performing? According to studies, the average CTR (click-through-rate) for a Facebook ad is 0.04%. This number will vary based on channel and industry, but use it as a benchmark to measure success. If you’re not at least getting a 0.1% CTR, it’s time to optimize. How do you go about doing so? By A/B testing your ads. Test one thing at a time so you are able to pinpoint the effect of the change.
How is your ad performing on each channel? Take a step back and look at your ad’s performance by each individual channel. More often than not, the results won’t be even. It’s possible that your creative for a certain channel is falling flat, but it’s also possible that your audience is just more active on a different channel. That’s why with every app acquisition campaign we recommend casting a net and then honing in from there. Now that you’ve identified where you’re getting the most traction, put more of your advertising spend towards the channel that’s paying off.
Is your ad network partnership up to snuff? Ad networks use different algorithms and methodologies to produce results, and some perform better than others. That’s why it’s important to take a look to see the results your ad network is giving you, and if it’s worth changing.
Are Your Campaigns Actually Attracting Quality Users? While app downloads are great, they’re really just vanity metrics, especially since we know from research that 24% of users abandon an app after only one session. To truly understand the success of your app acquisition campaign, you need to go beyond downloads to see how many users are actively engaged with your app (daily and monthly active users). In order to do so, you need access to a mobile engagement platform with strong data capabilities. Checkout a breakdown of the key metrics you should be tracking to understand how your campaigns are paying off:
The most successful app acquisition campaigns come from performance measurement and optimization. And while there’s no exact formula for success, taking into consideration the best practices listed above while continually monitoring results and A/B testing will help you find the rhythm of what works for your app.
Much of this guide has been focused on a tactical approach to app acquisition, but let’s take a step back and do some strategic planning. Having a solid launch and post-launch plan is essential to driving all of these tactics. That’s because when launching your app, you have a lot of options on how to proceed. And since we’re well aware of the fierce competition in the app world, in order to have any chance of success you need to come out of the gate with a solid game-plan. What should this game-plan consist of? Consider the below your personal guide to a successful launch plan:
During Launch Week
During the first week of launching your app, you should be obsessively monitoring performance. Here are some key items to monitor and address:
Functionality & Reception
Feedback: Addressing functionality issues is just the tip of the iceberg. Based on feedback, you’ll most likely have plenty to work on, from workflow optimizations to overall user experience. Understanding how these newly acquired users are reacting to features and using the app is critical to prioritizing new functionality. Oftentimes, the features we think will be the most used or accessed aren’t at all and vice versa.
General Mood of New Users: On a broader spectrum, how are new users initially reacting to your app? Is it in line with what you envisioned or does it need some work? Getting a feel for the initial reaction towards your app will tell you if you’re on track, or perhaps need to take it back to the drawing board.
App Store Ranking: Keeping an eye on your app store ranking will be a surefire way to see if your acquisition campaigns are paying off. You should hopefully see a boost in your ranking after the launch of your campaigns, so monitor closely and follow our optimization suggestions if not.
Referral Traffic: Understanding which channels your users are coming from will help you narrow in on which ad channels are most successful right out the gate, and where you may need to make tweaks.
Retention Rates: As you know, retention is key. Keep an eye on the retention after the first week. This will give you insight into whether or not you’re attracting the right audience with your app acquisition campaigns so you can adjust quickly.
New User Session Length (Engagement): The new user session lengths will let you know if your newly launched campaigns are attracting the right audience or not.
After the initial launch period, there is still plenty you can do that will immediately improve your app and harness incoming users for long-term engagement:
Customization: App users expect a highly personalized experience, one that is tailored to them. Your app should do the following in order to give you the ability to deliver on this expectation: save user preferences, geotargeting, surface relevant content based on previous history, remember previous user actions taken, and implement cross-channel functionality,
UX: Apps have literally changed the way we interact with technology. That’s why it’s extremely important to ensure the user experience of your app is top notch. This means continual app optimizations to improve user interface from the smallest tap to the biggest feature.
Customized Push and In-app Notifications Based on Location & Behavior: How you talk to users will differ based on location and previous actions they’ve taken within your app. We touch more upon this below, but you should be monitoring this activity closely post-launch so that you’re ready to begin implementing personalized messaging. After all, mobile users expect a 1:1 user experience.
The final but most important part of any app acquisition campaign is user retention. You can acquire two million app users through your paid campaigns but if they all churn, it’s a failed (and costly) effort. That’s why in conjunction with your app acquisition campaign you need to be zeroed in on retention.
Push Your Way to Success
While app user retention can fluctuate, we know that using push notifications can improve app retention rates up to 56%. Put together a solid push notification strategy for users, keeping in mind to customize according to app interactions. Below are some pro tips on how to tailor push notifications based on the user:
Transactional: If a user makes a purchase, send them relative push notifications about their order from receipts to delivery details:
Targeted Offers/Content: Send a relative push notifications to users based on items or content they’ve previously looked at or converted on.
Spend Money (and Time) Wisely
Marketing your app can get very pricey, so make sure you’re getting the best ROI for your dollars. Tap into your referral data to understand where both your paid and organic campaigns are paying off. But don’t stop there. Dig deeper and analyze what the LTV of these users is based on retention and churn. Is a paid campaign driving a ton of new installs who mostly end up churning? If so, take a look at your app’s functionality and optimize accordingly. In addition, make sure you have the right marketing strategy in place and are attracting the right users. Your dollars should not only be driving in new users, but qualified ones who will engage with your app longterm, so invest in the campaigns that are working best and ditch the rest.
Don’t Forget to Remarket
If you’ve ever viewed a product online only to find it following you around afterwards as you peruse other sites and social channels, you’ve already encountered remarketing. Remarketing is targeting consumers outside of the app based on how they’ve previously interacted with your brand. The goal of remarketing is to bring them back into your app. It takes place across multiple channels, from social media to blogs. And it’s becoming more and more essential to have as part of your app marketing strategy.
Developing a successful app user acquisition campaign is a process, but an essential one that will set you on the right path as you enter into the app world.
Implementing multiple user acquisition campaigns that have been well planned is your best bet for becoming top of mind for your audience and gaining market share. After all, you can have the most amazing app in the world, but if no one uses it, it’s going to fail.
So keep calm and acquire on. After you launch the campaigns, keep your ear to the pulse and optimize accordingly. Putting together a stellar app user acquisition campaign can be the difference between whether your app becomes yesterday’s news or tomorrow’s headline.