Knowledge Base

User acquisition for beginners: A checklist

How to put together your marketing campaign and what to consider

User acquisition for beginners: A checklist

Troy Nicolaou is sales director, performance, at AdColony.

There are few instances where a single advertising strategy can apply universally.

Can you see a location-based SEO working for international B2B organisation? How about a national TV campaign for a single-office medical practice?

The mobile apps space, however, is unique. Every app has to start from zero and everyone has the same goal: get users.

It doesn’t matter how big or experienced you are, your primary focus is user growth. Acquire, retain, monetise.

Consider this article a checklist to winning in the mobile performance space.

Want to learn more about user acquisition? Check out the Growth Track at Pocket Gamer Connects Hong Kong on July 17th and 18th.

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  • 1 Get clear on your (internal) goals

    If you’re a small team it’s 100 per cent on you to understand the monetisation model and the financial needs of your organisation.

    If you’re a larger team, you’ll have more cooks in the kitchen. Regardless, you must lay out your timeline and expectations. Here are some guiding questions:

    • How much are your users worth?
    • When calculating the lifetime value of a user, do you have a short or long-term mindset? (e.g. If after 30 days you’ve spent $10,000 and have not yet become profitable, how mad will you be?)
    • What percentage (ROAS) do you expect to see at day seven? Day 30? Day 60?

    For some teams, if they don’t have 100 per cent by the end of one month, they jump ship.

    Traditional advertisers shudder at the thought of abandoning a campaign so quickly – but this is the joy of performance advertising. If it doesn’t perform, you can do that. Pause, evaluate, then start over.

  • 2 Find a collaborative partner

    No one will ever understand your app or audience better than you. But there are times when you have information gaps or blind spots.

    If you decide to work only with a single platform like Facebook, you’re not going to get any advice.

    Collaborative ad partners, however, will actually use your app, interact with your users, and provide feedback that will inform your campaign strategy.

    Here’s what else you should expect from a collaborative partner:

    • Whitelists. Once you identify the right user profile together, you can build a whitelist of apps that are ideal to find those users.
    • Special deals from their supply partners. When the goal is clear, your partner can work within their network to find profitable pockets of inventory and target these premium users at scale.
    • Transparency. Since you’re dealing with direct SDK traffic, nothing is hidden. You'll ingest the app name, publisher and bundle ID, so you will know exactly where your ad is running. No surprises. No random affiliates.
    • Profitability. Your partner can make recommendations on how much to spend, but for them, it’s not about a number, it’s about ROAS – because that’s their value to you.
    • Optimisation. Even if you have an in-house team, having a partner who can adjust levers for you in real-time (see page four) is invaluable.

  • 3 Set up your tracking

    This is a key first step. Work with your internal team to set up tracking to ingest relevant data points.

    When optimising, you want to understand exactly where each install came from and why. This will empower you to make the best possible decisions.

    You should also ensure your post-install events (transactions, opens, etcetera) are tracked. If you share these events with your ad partner, they will be able to further collaborate to meet your KPIs.

  • 4 Adjust your levers

    There are two main ways that you can actively optimize your campaign:

    • Pricing. Don’t just set your campaign to run on the whole network (RON) at a baseline cost per install (CPI) and hope everything works out. Not every site/app is equal, and you won’t know what the real value is until you try it. Through regular connections with your partner, you’ll be able to get more granular pricing, based on the information you’re gathering.
    • Install rates. The best way to influence install rates is with creative. With a proper, dedicated creative team, you can work through iterations of rewarded video ads, interstitial units and end cards to convert your target audience. Creative teams have built out so many of these that they can guide you to the right type of message and medium, but don’t be afraid to chime in with ideas.

  • 5 Be patient

    In the beginning, patience is key – trust that your network partner is working behind the scenes with a personal interest in your campaign’s profitability.

    Here’s what you can do during this 30, 60 and 90-day period of exploration.

    • Examine post-install events. Your knowledge of what users are doing after install is valuable for future recommendations.
    • Explore all revenue avenues. Even if it’s not your typical demo, paying users come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes you’ll have to take a risk to chase profit where it lies.
    • Ignore the competition. Why? Unlike you, your partner has visibility into competitors from their internal network data. If you’re getting beat, they know it – and are making adjustments so you can be profitable.

  • 6 Settle in for the longer haul.

    New publishers are added to inventory every day, so once you hit that 90 or 120-day stride where you feel comfortable, divide your spend into two buckets:

    • Security Bucket. This is your tried-and-true “what’s working”. You’ve got whitelists, blacklists and optimisation dialled in. This is what makes you reach 120 per cent of your goal, which means you can invest 20 per cent more into your…
    • Dream Bucket. Perhaps it’s a new site or something you’re still on the fence about in terms of value. Testing out new inventory is essential for long-term campaign health – and there’s always the chance you’ll hit the jackpot.

  • 7 Final Tip: Treat your campaign with respect

    The market is consolidating, and the vast majority of installs now are coming from just two, maybe three platforms (you know which ones!).

    Ad networks are all competing in the same small space where the remainder of impressions are – namely, from direct SDK inventory. As a result, these players know their value is in client services, being truly on your team and treating you with respect.

    Equally important, ad networks know that if you’re not profitable, you’ll go somewhere else. They’ll go to great lengths to leverage their expertise of what works on the network plus their understanding of your IP to get the job done.

    Treat your campaign with respect and don’t just set it and forget it – make sure it’s taken care of every day.

    Consider this article a checklist to winning in the mobile performance space.

    Want to learn more about user acquisition? Check out the Growth Track at Pocket Gamer Connects Hong Kong on July 17th and 18th. 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.