Mobile attribution in China: How Adjust gets it right
Adjust, Content Team, Adjust, Nov 11, 2021.
For mobile developers, the potential of the Chinese market has long been frustratingly out of reach. In a country where there are 600 million smartphone users (a number expected to grow by 50 million annually), and with a total population of 1.3 billion (meaning market saturation is a long way off) only 20 percent of China’s top-performing apps originate from outside of the country.
Despite this, international developers are eager to break into the Chinese market, and with good reason. In 2016, China overtook the U.S. to become the largest market in App Store revenue, earning upwards of $1.7 billion in Q3 of 2016. More recently, estimates put Chinese yearly revenue at over $8 billion.
Additionally, Chinese consumers spend more than Americans do on in-app purchases, even though they spend roughly the same amount of time in apps. With billions of dollars up for grabs, ignoring China is not an option. So how do app marketers optimize their campaigns given the attribution challenges?
Back in 2017, Adjust began supporting native measurement in China. For app marketers looking to take their first steps east, a mobile attribution solution that’s simultaneously neutral, reliable, and speedy is a welcome helping hand. The sheer number of Chinese smartphone users, coupled together with a greater tech savviness, means huge opportunities for international companies looking to break into the Chinese market. However, the Great Firewall, privacy and piracy issues, and a fragmented mobile ecosystem all present significant obstacles to most outsiders.
Why is mobile attribution in China so hard?
China is a mobile-first society, but mobile attribution has remained a black box for international companies, in particular for app marketers. Unable to track campaigns reliably, there has been no way to effectively measure ad campaigns and reinvest in the retargeting of high-value users. Though Chinese companies are expected to spend more money on digital advertising than on TV campaigns in the next year, international businesses have had little success in stepping into one of the most promising economies in the digital world. A fragmented and messy market, issues with traffic congestion, low retention rates, mobile piracy, and the Great Firewall all contribute to the current state of affairs. A more in-depth look at those hurdles reveals just how great an obstacle course stands in the way of most apps looking to head East.
In addition to censorship, the Great Firewall also slows mobile user experience with timeouts and dead ends. Because it controls everything that goes in and out of China on the web, it limits the bandwidth available for international apps going into China. This creates a lot of congestion, network delays, and failure.
Problem #1: Slow and spotty at the Great Firewall
Started in 1996, China’s web barrier, known colloquially as the Great Firewall (which keeps Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and many Google products from reaching Chinese users), has morphed from a list of blocked websites to a series of firewalls and proxy servers that filter out banned keywords, stop traffic to specific blacklisted pages, control social networking sites, and block access to VPNs. Officially known as China’s Golden Shield project, it also filters out banned keywords in order to control content Chinese internet users would otherwise have access to. The Wall slows user experience to such an extent that it can be impossible to tell whether you’re experiencing an actual connectivity issue or if you’re trying to access a banned site.
Another effect of the Wall is that it limits bandwidth available for all external traffic, including international apps. It can effectively destroy an international app’s user experience, causing images and videos to timeout, slow down redirects and tracker links to a crawl (or drop them entirely) or cause users to try the app once and never open it again (which is likely why 37 percent of Chinese smartphone users report having an app they’ve only opened once), wrecking your retention rate.
How the Great Firewall affects the mobile market
When it comes to mobile measurement, tracker URLs can take many seconds to redirect (and sometimes are not redirected at all) and packages from an app’s SDK are regularly dropped entirely, making it slow and unreliable. On a typical mobile network, most app latency happens during the last mile. In China, an app’s contents must travel far further as well as backwards and forwards through the firewall, which can ruin the experience of an app’s images, videos, and advertisements.
This has led to low retention rates. In the mobile ecosystem, retention is considered by many as the top metric for long-term success. China’s slow loading times and poor in-app performance mean that almost no apps (no matter the vertical) retain more than a quarter of their users after the first week.
We’ve created a direct connection with dedicated bandwidth to China. With our technology, we’re able to guarantee fast and reliable traffic. How fast? 200 millisecond latency with a success rate of 100 percent. Adjust is 5x faster than foreign competitors and 25 percent faster than local solutions. This means that if someone wants to talk to Adjust servers from China, they’re able to communicate with us even better than if we were their next-door neighbor.
Problem #2: Where’s Google Play when you need it?
In China, where Android commands over 86 percent of the smartphone market, the experience of purchasing an app is quite different than it is in the US or EU. There is no single app store with the breadth or market share of the Google Play Store; instead, there are hundreds of smaller stores, and each functions as its own ad network (many provide attribution as well).
One of the largest stores, Tencent App Gem, has 700 million monthly users on its WeChat messaging app. Others, like D.cn (Dang Le in Chinese), focus on a specific vertical (in this case, games). This can be problematic for international companies because getting into each app store requires its own infrastructure, meaning extra time-consuming work to build individual APKs for each one. In addition to the work it takes to customize an app for each store, the attribution data that then filters in is scattered, making it near-impossible to view your data in a single dashboard. Imagine trying to get an overview of your best-performing creative assets when you have six or fifty or two hundred dashboards to look at — not especially user-friendly.
Some attribution providers in China are perfectly legitimate. However, they require a server-to-server setup, which can be both cumbersome and miss key data points. With a server-to-server connection (rather than an SDK), the attribution provider uses a custom-built SDK to talk to the client’s server, through which the client can communicate with the attribution provider, although the client is never directly connected. This type of connection puts a great burden on the client and can miss key information that gives color and depth to attribution analytics, such as localized IPs, correct timestamps, and user agents.
Adjust’s support for mobile attribution in China comes with an APK duplicator. For international companies, this means a single, one-time SDK integration with Adjust that automatically builds a new APK for you when you need it. This means that you set up all of your events once, and then Adjust tracks every campaign you run without filling your plate with heavy, backend work.
We also decided to offer an SDK integration rather than a server-to-server setup in order to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with the latter; SDK integrations are both more reliable and provide attribution with a bit more color to it, capturing more information (such as accurate timestamps and location-based information).
All of your campaign data will be filtered into one high-powered dashboard. This means that you can do a variety of things that were previously quite tricky across multiple app stores. With it, you can analyze lifetime value, retention, ROI, or any other user trend. You can also sync your data to any platform or business intelligence system. You can even segment your users across all app stores in order to send targeted push or in-app messages, without compromising sensitive data. Adjust will also automatically deduplicate your users, so you’ll never pay for the same user twice, no matter how they arrived in your app.
Problem #3: Neutrality and privacy
Some local mobile attribution providers in China take a different approach to data property, and profit from selling data. There is also the problem that many of the stores that offer attribution services are just that — stores. This means that app marketers are paying to advertise from the same place they receive their attribution data from. So far, neutral entities in China have been scarce.
Adjust is a neutral, third-party attribution solution and a global leader in fighting mobile ad fraud. Our Fraud Prevention Suite offers real-time protection, meaning that fake user activity is rejected straightaway, before you pay for it. Adjust stops fake payments, fights click spamming, and filters out IP addresses that are unlikely to belong to real users, meaning that you’ll protect your budget and keep your KPIs safe.
Adjust will never sell your data. On the contrary, tools like individualized permissions and our Audience Builder allow you to refine and control the data you share with your colleagues and partners, so you know exactly who has access. We also use our own servers, rather than cloud-based solutions, to give you peace of mind.
Adjust is the only mobile measurement partner to meet global security standards. We are EU Privacy Compliant and have passed rigorous legal and security audits to earn the ePrivacy Seal.
Curious about how companies are already using Adjust in China? Keep your eyes on the blog for upcoming case studies with Chinese and international partners, or contact us to find out more!