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Audience building. User acquisition. Performance marketing. App-install advertising. Whatever you call it, all these terms amount to the same thing: running mobile campaigns that focus on delivering installs for your game.

App publishers often focus their audience-building strategies on quantity and quickness, trying to hit a certain number of downloads as fast as possible. The savviest developers, however, focus on another Q: quality. Let’s explore what quality means for performance advertising and why it matters.

Not All Installs Are the Same: Quality Counts

There will always be people who download your game and then hardly (or never) play at all. Those installs might happen quickly or in great quantity, but they’re not really helping your bottom line. Your real goal is to find and convert users who will deliver genuine value to your business over time.

A quality install is one that delivers a high “lifetime value” (LTV) user. For each game, this value will be different, depending on your monetization strategy. Generally, it comes down to a mix of the following criteria:

  • Retention (continuing to play at a certain frequency or beyond a certain threshold of in-app time)
  • In-app purchases (reaching a threshold of gross dollars spent or a specific number of transactions)
  • Subscription or utilization (performing some kind of action that indicates ongoing engagement, like completing a set number of game levels)

Bottom line? Better is better, no matter how many users you acquire or how long it takes.

How to Drive Quality Installs with High-LTV Users

Assuming you have no trouble developing creative assets that showcase your game (and by the way, have you checked out playable ads?), here’s how to build a smart app-install campaign focused on quality.

Step 1: Define what quality means to you.

If you run ads without setting clear objectives, there’s a good chance you’re wasting money. Dial in on what defines a high-LTV user for your app using specific metrics for frequency, spending or whichever criteria matter most to you. If time is a factor (in terms of how long it takes to determine the quality of an install), be specific about that as well.

Step 2: Start out broad and gather campaign performance data.

In the beginning, run your ad on different kinds of apps across multiple categories—games, retail, entertainment, utility apps, etc. Letting the campaign run for at least two weeks will allow for different usage and spending patterns across various apps and will give you enough data to assess the performance of each source. Look for an advertising partner that will be as transparent as possible with campaign data and provide a wide spectrum of data points. For example, will they share site and app names where your ads are shown, or only disclose anonymized site and app IDs? Do they pass back information about which ad creative performed best? For the most detailed picture of performance and attribution, you will likely also want to bring in a third-party tracking partner like TUNE, Kochava or Appsflyer. These tools can help you make sure you attribute each install to the right source and campaign creative.

Step 3: Evaluate sites or apps to find the best-performing apps.

Identifying top-performing sites and apps is as simple as looking at the users each one delivers against your established KPIs and goals. For example, let’s say your goal is to drive app installs so you can increase the number of subscribers to a premium subscription your app offers. Let’s say your goal is a $40 cost per subscription and your known cost per install (CPI) is $5. For you to meet your goal of $40 per subscription, at least one in every eight installs would need to become a subscriber.

With KPIs in place, measuring site or app performance against that goal becomes simple:

  • If Site A has only driven five subscriptions out of 100 installs, that equates to $100 per subscription—more than double your $40 per subscription goal. Site A should be blacklisted or at least reduced in volume.
  • If Site B has driven 20 subscriptions out of 100 installs, that equates to $25 per subscription—well below your $40 goal. Site B is where you should focus investment and attention.

Step 4: Experiment and optimize.

Once you have identified top-performing sources, it’s time to look for ways to optimize the performance of each one. For example, try boosting campaign frequency. It may increase your cost per install, but it might also yield a greater volume of high-LTV users. Other tips to keep in mind:

  • Watch your ROI—the balance between users’ LTV and how much you spend on acquisition. Once you see diminishing returns from any given source, it may be time to pause your campaign on that source and try something new.
  • While you’re whitelisting top-performing sources, keep up your presence on the rest of the traffic (the “run of network” group), looking for sources that suddenly start to deliver for you. Things can and do change, and platforms are always adding new inventory. This practice helps you avoid over-saturating the whitelist sources, spreads your risk and keeps you open to fresh opportunities.

As you go down the optimization road, you may choose to be hands-off or hands-on.

  • Hands-on advertisers tend to be protective of their post-install data and quality metrics. Instead of sharing that information with their platform partners directly, they usually pull reports and analyze sources internally to determine which ones drive the highest-quality installs, then send the partner a report with directions for optimization.
  • Hands-off advertisers, on the other hand, monitor their campaign spend, engagement and ROI at a high level and depend on their partners to determine which optimization levers to pull at the app or site level.

Regardless of the approach you prefer, make sure to select a partner who will freely provide information on where your campaign is running and how it’s performing so you can make the best choices for driving installs.

Step 5: Repeat.

Audience building is never “set it and forget it.” Continue monitoring campaign data and tweaking things weekly, and refresh your ad creative at least once a month to help avoid saturation.

Assume nothing, and keep watching the data. Don’t expect things to happen quickly (though they might). Optimizing your campaigns for maximum quality could take some time—perhaps more time than another app you’ve launched in the past. User bases are different. Things change. It’s always better to take your time if that means you get the results you’re after.

Questions to Ask a Potential Audience Building Partner

There are lots of ad platforms out there. Even if you’ve worked with a partner in the past, it’s a good idea to ask questions to make sure they are giving you their very best. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Does the partner focus on quality over quantity? Can they help me define these metrics, if needed? You’re looking for a platform that can track post-install metrics to help you understand what happens after a user downloads your app. Did they make a purchase? Book a trip? Otherwise convert? The best platforms can ingest and analyze this data, then help you optimize based on the results.
  • What makes the partner’s inventory valuable? Do they have any exclusive opportunities that fit your business objectives? Most ad platforms have a lot of the same inventory. The effective ones have the data and the expertise to target more precisely and optimize more efficiently. They also have the know-how to anticipate trends and develop unique formats, such as playable ads and sponsored integrations, that serve the needs of developers and advertisers in unexpected ways.
  • Has the partner ever built and successfully launched a highly engaging app? You want a partner who understands where you’re coming from because they’ve spent time in the same trenches.
  • Does the partner also offer brand advertising? If a platform has first-hand experience with what brands are doing across the mobile landscape, that’s creative insight you can leverage to optimize your campaign.
  • Does the partner have engagement experience? Nurturing high-LTV users goes far beyond the initial install. You’ll need a strategy for ongoing engagement and conversion within your app, and a partner with expertise in this area can be invaluable.
  • Will the partner share all campaign data as well as rich contextual user data with you? Many ad networks only have access to data from campaigns (and you want them to be as transparent as possible with this data). A more well-rounded partner can offer more unique data points that can help you find and understand higher-LTV users in more ways. For instance, if the partner also offers mobile marketing automation, it might be able to share location-specific information about your users that can reveal deeper insights about where they go, what they do and why they do it.

At Phunware, we offer solutions across the entire mobile application lifecycle—from strategy and development through audience building, monetization, and more. To keep learning about app audience engagement, download Mobile Marketing Automation; Why It Matters and How to Get Started.

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