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User acquisition strategy: Best practices for marketing mobile games

This year mobile will claim $93.25 billion in ad spend, making it the leading platform for advertisers in the U.S. This is great news for mobile game developers, but it now takes more than just a great product to make users choose your app over the competition. With more apps available in the app store, an air-tight user acquisition (UA) strategy is needed to ensure your app reaches its revenue potential. This means attracting high value users and keeping them interested for longer. To get you up to speed, this article will detail what user acquisition is, how that applies to the gaming vertical, and share best practices when marketing mobile games.

What is user acquisition?

Put simply, user acquisition means bringing new users to your app. For all verticals, this is a strategy of generating interest in your product so users will consequently install your app. Marketers have several channels to choose from when selecting the right campaigns for their product. This will depend on the nature of your app, the users you want to attract, and the actions you wish them to complete.

When developing your overall UA strategy for your mobile game, there are a number of challenges you need to overcome. These range from communicating your unique selling points to learning about essential fraud prevention tools.

Why is user acquisition important?

By using data to spot trends in user behavior, you can strategically persuade users to install you app, building a larger community while significantly increasing your game’s revenue and engagements. Your UA strategy also allows you to learn what users want from your app, which users are the highest value to you, and what can be done to increase return on investment (ROI). This eliminates any guesswork and gives you information that can be confidently included in your overall strategy for optimal results.

User acquisition: 9 best practices for gaming apps

1. Test demographics for paid user acquisition

Paid UA channels enable you to advertise your game and encourage users to install. Examples of paid UA channels include Facebook ads, Apple Search Ads and Google’s UAC. When using paid user acquisition channels, it’s important to define which target audiences are relevant to your app. With a clear view on who you want to target, you can make use of paid channels that offer exposure based on criteria such as location or demographic. However, it’s also smart to test different demographics and users grouped by specific characteristics to learn what works best for your app over time. When setting up campaigns for new apps, this creates a win-win scenario: these tests will either give you new demographics to target, or lead to valuable lessons as to who you don’t want to target moving forward.

2. App Store Optimization (ASO)

ASO is a hugely valuable, cost effective method of bringing users to your mobile game. Just like SEO for mobile web, ASO is the practice of optimizing your app store entry to achieve the highest ranking. This means learning everything you can about the app store’s indexation and creating communicative and engaging creative based on that criteria.

When done right, app store optimization has the potential to attract high value users without the cost of a campaign. To improve your ranking, it’s important to:

  • Use keywords in your app’s name
  • Use keywords in your app’s description
  • Localize content
  • Select the most appropriate primary and secondary app categories
  • Submit relevant and engaging screenshots that convey your user experience

This needs to be an ongoing process whereby you regularly update your entry in the app store for best results. This ranges from altering your app’s description to leveraging your creativity. For example, you could even adapt your app’s theme in accordance with a specific holiday season or event. Check our app store optimization strategies to increase user acquisition.

3. Integrate social media platforms

Last year, the average online user spent 136 minutes on social media each day — something that should be leveraged to your advantage by integrating social media platforms with your mobile game. This enables your users to easily share their in-game activity (for example, their achievements and gaming experiences) through these hugely popular platforms.

In addition to gaining free exposure across some of the most active online communities in the world, this is also a great way to help build a community for your app. Users can also submit feedback easily, giving you more information that can be used to create the best possible user experience. Depending on the social media platforms you decide to integrate, you can then analyze current trends on that platform and stay ahead of the competition.

4. Make use of your game’s visual appeal with video ads

Before downloading a game, it’s essential that you convey the user experience as best as possible. While they may be more expensive than formats such as banner or interstitial ads, video ads are a great way to show your app’s experience before purchase.

When creating video ads for your mobile game, it’s critical that your message is conveyed as quickly as possible. This is because there is a very short window of opportunity where users will decide whether they have an interest in that ad. For example, as Snapchat’s Lead DR Creative Strategist, Tom Bates, explained during his Mobile Spree appearance that 65% of all brand impact happens in the first two seconds. To test whether your creative is working before implementation, Tom suggests cutting the length of longer videos down to two seconds: “Play it for someone and see if they know who it’s for and what they should do with the ad. If they can’t tell you, that creative isn’t going to perform.”

5. Implement playable ads to drive installs

Although video ads are a great way to convey the look and feel of your game, they’re no match to actually being able to play that game before purchase. Playable ads offer this experience to users, sharing a playable version of a specified section of your game. Once their time is up, they should then receive a call-to-action to install the full game.

The invention of playable ads is a golden opportunity for marketers: since their creation, playable ads have become a popular choice for the gaming vertical, and are the most effective in-app ad format according to U.S. professionals (followed by interactive ads and rewarded videos.)

6. Set up rewarded video ads

Another ad format that leverages the gamification of your product is rewarded video ads. These require the user to choose whether they want to watch the ad in exchange for a reward (for example, in-game currency or an extra life). Because these ads are opt-in, this gives users greater control over their experience, which in turn increases retention.

Utilizing rewarded video ads are also beneficial to your company’s revenue: video ad network Unity Ads describes them as the “hottest revenue generator” on the market, while OpenX found that 77% of users would watch a 30-second ad if they were rewarded with a discount from a retailer. When selecting the right ad format for your game, it’s important to consider the audience you’re trying to engage. To learn more about different ad formats, how they work, and their advantages, read our guide here.

7. Cross-promote your mobile games

If you have more than one app, it makes sense to cross-promote both products by implementing in-app ads. Not only is this cost effective (as you are both the advertiser and the publisher), this also gives you a greater impression of what your users enjoy, beyond a single game.

8. Leverage automation tools

Automated tools let you optimize the functionality of your work by reducing the heavy lifting. This gives you more time to focus on data analysis that can push your company forward. Adjust's Director of Client Success, Americas, Melissa Coleman, has explained this significant, industry-wide change: She says that marketing managers currently “have to handle dozens of channels, switching between tools while trying to unify disparate sources of data.” She highlights that “a range of new marketing automation tools, with their abilities to automate a range of repetitive tasks, are expected to change the way marketers work forever.” This is why it’s essential for marketers promoting all verticals to distinguish which processes should be automated (such as pulling triggers), and which should be human-led (such as data analysis and strategy).

9. Protect your ad spend from mobile ad fraud

Mobile ad fraud is a universal issue affecting all verticals. There are several methods fraudsters can use to steal your ad spend, so it’s important to understand how these work and what can be done to maintain trust in your data.

There are three types of mobile ad fraud every marketer should know: click spam, click injection and SDK spoofing. Our global benchmark report revealed that fraud attacks on mobile games are distributed as:

  • Fake Users/Bots 12.82%
  • SDK Spoofing 12.05%
  • Click Injection 47.15%
  • Click Spam 27.98%

The effects of these attacks is two-fold. Not only will your ad spend be handed over to fraudsters, but you will also form your UA strategy on compromised data. This can even lead you to invest more of your budget on channels where fraudsters are able to take your marketing budget. This is why it’s critical that you work with a measurement partner capable of preventing these attacks from stealing your ad spend.

If you’d like to learn more about user acquisition strategy, take a look at our complete guide. We also have further insights into marketing mobile games on our blog, including how to run ROAS campaigns for ad-based games to reach new audiences.

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