What is an install referrer?

Glossary What is an install referrer?

The definition of install referrer

An install referrer is an Android-specific string of unique characters used to deterministically attribute installs to ads for marketing purposes. In short, install referrers are used to measure ad performance.

Note that the phrase “install referrer” is most commonly used in reference to the Google Play Install Referrer API, which we’ll cover below. But other Android app stores like Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi also provide install referrer attribution.

What is the Google Play Install Referrer?

The Google Play Install Referrer is an API utilized to retrieve referral content from the Google Play Store for the purpose of attributing clicks on Google Play Store app pages to app downloads on Android devices.

How does the Play Install Referrer API work?

When an app supports the Google Play Install Referrer API, it’s able to collect information about an install on an Android device, known as “referral content”, from the Google Play Store to send to its mobile measurement partner (MMP).

This multi-step process is best understood when grouped under the following three main action points:

  1. User clicks on an ad

This process begins when a user clicks on an ad. The MMP generates a unique identifier and appends it to the link, sent to the Google Play Store when the click happens.

  1. User downloads and opens app, triggering MMP’s SDK to request referral content

After this, the user goes to the Google Play Store and downloads the app. Upon opening the app, the MMP’s SDK requests information about the install, known as “referral content” from the Google Play Store.

The referral content collected will depend upon the parameters placed, but can include:

  • The referrer URL of the installed package.
  • The timestamp of when the click occurred.
  • The timestamp of when an app install began.
  • The app’s version when the app was initially installed.
  1. Google Play sends referral content to MMP for attribution purpose

    The Google Play Store then shares the referral content with the MMP so that the MMP can match information from the ad click and install to accurately award attribution. This attribution data is available within the MMP’s dashboard so marketers can make informed marketing decisions.

Will Google Privacy Sandbox on Android affect Install Referrers? 
No, not at the present moment. Google states on its website for Android Developers that based on current plans, “The Privacy Sandbox APIs will not impact the functionality provided by the Play Install Referrer.”

And what is a Facebook Install Referrer?

Since the deprecation of Facebook’s AMM program, Facebook has utilized the Play Install Referrer API to send campaign information to MMPs. Upon an app install, Facebook shares referral content from Google Play via Google Play Store’s Install Referrer API in an encrypted format, and the MMP then extracts this data and decrypts it using a client-provided Facebook Install Referrer decryption key. Then, the MMP visualizes the attribution information shared by the Facebook Install Referrer in a dashboard so the client can review and optimize their Facebook campaign accordingly.

How Adjust uses an install referrer API

At Adjust, we’re evolving to new measurement methods that gain insights from aggregated data sources beyond sole attribution. However, we still offer attribution with Google Play Install Referrer, detailed below.

User flow for a Google Play Install Referrer with Adjust:

  1. User clicks on an ad and is redirected to the ad network server.
  2. Adjust generates a unique identifier and appends it to the tracker URL.
  3. Adjust redirects the user to the Google Play Store.
  4. User download the app.
  5. The Adjust SDK requests information from the Google Play Store about the install.
  6. Google Play Store shares information with Adjust—based on the parameters set—via the install referrer API.
  7. Adjust matches this information to award attribution.

P.S. Our Adjust SDK can also receive Facebook Install Referrer information for attribution purposes. The process is as described above in the section on Facebook Install Referrer.

Want to experience robust cross-device and cross-channel attribution? Request your Adjust demo now to power your marketing with the measurement solutions you need to drive real results.

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