Comment & Opinion

Paid user acquisition: The good, the bad and the ugly

Finding an effective UA strategy for your game

Paid user acquisition: The good, the bad and the ugly

Kobi Edelstein is VP of advertising at Appnext.

Advertising across any medium is always fluid and ever a delicate mix. Nowhere is this truer than in the mobile app space.

Paid user acquisition is necessary and can be highly effective but the path to a good acquisition strategy can be fraught with challenges – and misinformation.

Here are four key points to keep in mind when looking at how to maximise valuable ad dollars.

1. Traffic blenders—think transparency

Transparency might be the one most important factor when analysing/designing your user acquisition budget.

Buying media from an ad network that doesn't provide a breakdown of the publishers they use to supplement their own inventory is dangerous.

Incentivised installs where users get an incentive (think iTunes or currency credit) for an app install can quickly drive a high number of installs but usually means gamers just want the incentive. So the volume of users gained might be high but the quality is low.

And while the publisher might well have also delivered credible users, the metrics are blended, so there’s no way to know true users from invalid ones.

Buying media from an ad network that doesn't provide a breakdown of the publishers they use is dangerous.

With a transparent source you can you can check out the app, view the ad units, and directly see who the users are that are using the app.

And critically, you only pay for media that is driving high engagement levels and not for a blend of the good and the bad.

2. Bots—hazards of the non-human kind

Beware the bots. A bot is software that is designed to automate the kinds of tasks you would usually do on your own.

There are companies that are abusing the ecosystem by operating bots that actually install and use apps.

These “un-real” users are sometimes systems sophisticated enough to actually use the apps, making it past the first session activity criteria to camouflage that fact that they’re not human.

To prevent this sort of activity developers/advertisers can work to identify suspicious pre-install activity – such as the use of known problematic proxies or multiple clicks at the same time or from the same WI-FI IP, etc. – and look beyond initial activity metrics after the install.

For instance, analyse what percent of the users who installed use the app seven days later and look at the total number of sessions.

Again, knowing exactly where you’re running eliminates this issue.

3. Beware organic install hijackers

Just as there are companies abusing the ecosystem by operating bots, some publishers/affiliates misuse the common attribution system, which tracks the marketing channel to attribute payment on a cost per install basis.

They take advantage of the attribution method of the last click to attribute a lot of users to them although the user in many cases didn't even see an ad on their media.

They generate clicks (a lot of clicks and a lot of campaigns) without the users actually clicking, effectively hijacking any of the users that are organically going and promoting the app.

These hijackers deploy different methods: A publisher can display a hidden 1x1 pixel with the tracking URL of the advertiser - the landing page in the store with parameters in the URL that attribute the install to that publisher.

If the user didn't click on another ad, and organically went to the store (for example after hearing about the app from a friend) the publisher will get credit for this install.

To avoid wasting budgets on fraud or questionable media outlets, dedicate established budgets for testing.

The real problem is that someone can do this every day, meaning that basically for the lifetime of the user as long as s/he is exposed to the app/site all organic installs will be attributed to the publisher.

4. Knowledge is everything

What’s the simple solution to avoiding the pitfalls? Know where you’re running. See the actual ad units. Make sure there are no pop-ups to go directly to the store and no hidden pixels. Monitor CTR's.

If they’re very high it can be that some or all of these clicks are not actually user generated but are automatically done by the publisher to colour the user.

Look at the click-to-install (CR) rate. If it's too low, likely something is amiss and it’s another indication of automatically generated clicks.

At the same time, it’s important to realise that finding the best user acquisition strategy is always a learning curve. Even with very good sources you need to spend time to discover what works.

Close as many CPA deals as you can or at least CPI, so the risk of the learning is not on you. Be quick to stop what’s not working and move on.

To avoid wasting budgets on fraud or questionable media outlets or on audiences that are not the best fit, dedicate established (and limited) budgets for testing.

Be quick to pause what doesn't work on inertial engagement metrics and close as many CPA (cost per action) or at least CPI deals to minimise your learning losses.

At the end of the day, knowledge through transparency isn’t just power, it’s smart business. regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.