April 29 2020

With over 2.8 million Android apps in the world and 1.8 million apps in Apple’s App Store as of March 2020, it is clear that the app market is growing at an exponential rate. When 19.5 billion mobile app downloads were reached in 2019, the market surely knows that smartphone users are more than willing to use more apps – for personal, professional, and entertainment purposes. But with such a volume of apps getting published every single day, how do you create a mobile user acquisition strategy that actually works?

Successful apps don’t just happen. They are strategized for, and that answers the question of “How does mobile user acquisition work?” Our app marketing experts drilled down the strategies that you should include in your app marketing to hit virality this year. These strategies will help you reduce the app user acquisition cost.

User Acquisition Metrics

User acquisition is measured with the following metrics:

  • LTV (Lifetime Value) – the amount (income or profit) that you can expect from the average user (or segment) for the entire period when they are your customers. You should calculate LTV both before and after you launch the marketing campaign, to be sure that you follow the plan and strategy correctly.
  • ROI (Return on Investment) – a financial ratio illustrating the level of profitability or loss-making of a business, considering the number of investments made in this business.
  • RR (Retention Rate) – the percentage of returning customers. To calculate it, you can compare the number of users in a specific time period with the same users in the previous time period (for example, the previous month).
  • CR (Churn Rate) – the percentage of leaving customers. This indicator is calculated by subtracting the retention rate from 1. It displays the percentage of customers who have decided to stop using the app.
  • DAU (Daily Active Users)/ MAU (Monthly Active Users) – a number of unique users that open the app during a specific period of time, e.g. day or month.
  • Stickiness – how often the users return to the app in percentage; measured by dividing DAU by MAU.
  • CPA (Cost per Acquisition) – this indicator shows how much it costs to attract new users of the app within the context of a specific marketing campaign. To measure the CPA, you need to sum up the campaign cost of it and divide it by the number of conversions or acquisitions from this campaign.

Mobile User Acquisition Strategies

Before you prepare your user acquisition strategies, it’s highly important that you do the following:

  • Nail your app’s message. You might feel like you have created an app that serves an important purpose in the user’s life. But unless your message is right, the user is never going to know what you do. Let’s face it, the first thing you see in an app is its tagline! This is especially important for those apps and games that have just launched in the market.
  • Drill down and define your target market. A lot of apps and games make the mistake of launching on app stores and targeting users across the world. While this might lead to initially getting a lot of app downloads, it also results in a greater churn in less than 3 months. The reason being, most app users don’t see value in what you offer. That’s why you need to define and continually optimize your target market. For instance, start with the basic demographics like location, user age group, interests, and common concerns. This helps you align your mobile user acquisition strategy with the right solutions and pitch your app without sounding too pushy.

Here are all the basics to define a user persona effectively:

  • Get to know your competitors. To determine your competitor apps, you should know your niche well. It’s also important to competitors what your rivals offer users and what are their weaknesses that your app can compensate. The simplest way to find your competitors is to search Google and app stores for the keywords of your application. To do this, use the “keyword + app” queries. After that, go a bit deeper and get more details about the competitor app, such as the number of installs.

So how to get users for your app? The following strategies can help:

1. Focus on app store optimization

The one mobile user acquisition strategy that has always worked like magic, is app store optimization (ASO). Almost 90% of smartphone users utilize the app store searches to explore apps or browse through the options they have. If this is the search result that you want to be listed in, it’s time to optimize all aspects of your app store description. This includes your app name, subtitle, description, keywords, ratings and reviews, usage metrics, and more. Here are some tips that may help your app become top-rated in the app store and avoid the most common ASO mistakes:

  • Read reviews under competitors’ products. This can help you find interesting variations of keywords for your app. By the way, Google Play considers keywords in comments in the ranking.
  • A video uploaded to the app store can help you rank higher.
  • Change the app description depending on the season of the year.
  • Update your app – this will activate existing users and attract new ones.
  • Choose the right category for your app. It is quite possible to take a higher place in an adjacent niche than in the main one.
  • Do not forget to track the ASO KPIs, such as visibility, conversion rate, mobile growth, user feedback, and monetization.


Struggling with ASO? Sign up for App Radar’s free ASO tool!

2. Ask your most loyal users for reviews

If you want your app to be downloaded many times, it needs positive ratings and reviews. This is especially important because the keywords in reviews can impact the app’s ASO. However, not each user would leave a positive rating. If they have good experience with the app, they’d rather not review it at all. But if something goes wrong, the emotions will overwhelm the user, provoking a wish to write a negative review. It’s just human nature.

One of the easiest app review acquisition strategies is asking the users to rate the app. It consists of the following parts:

Presentation of the review request

The first and most important rule is to never interrupt the user. No one likes being distracted during an important or exciting activity. Clearly identify the place where you can ask the user to review the app. For example, in the case of a taxi ordering app, it’s best to ask to rate the app upon arrival at the destination. The time and place of the review is important, but no less important is the presentation, which can take one of the following forms:

  • A pop-up window. The main problem with this approach is that the user needs to select one of the options in this window in order to continue using the app. This forces the user to take unnecessary actions, and most of them will choose “Don’t ask me again”.
  • A request embedded in the app screen. This approach works much better – the user can skip it and not be distracted if they don’t want to rate the app at the moment. A suitable place is selected depending on the app specifics. You can integrate it into lists that are in almost any app: news, photos, products, store addresses, etc. If you can buy something through the app, you can ask for a review on the screen that notifies about a successful purchase.

Content of the review request

You can directly ask the user to review the app. A drawback of this approach is that the user can leave either a positive or a negative review. The approach works better when the user is first asked if they like the app. In such a way, you get valuable feedback. If the user likes the app, suggest that they rate it. If not, ask what went wrong and what can be changed.

For example, Uber asks users to rate UberPool after they complete a few rides. For ratings lower than 5 stars, the app asks to choose a reason for giving this rating.

3. Use paid advertising

Paid ads can be quite an efficient way to promote your app. Depending on your product’s target audience, you can use the following tools to buy ads:

  • Facebook Ads: helps you reach the maximum number of relevant audiences through the world’s most popular social media platform.
  • Cross-Promotion Networks: one of the most effective ways to promote game apps, which involves using one app to promote the other.
  • Promoted Tweets: helpful when the most part of your audience is active on Twitter.
  • App Store Search Ads: based on the app store searches.

4. Tap into the word of mouth promotion – referral marketing

According to Nielsen, 92% of users trust recommendations from their friends and family, over 67% that trust ads or any other content format. That’s why referral marketing is one of the most used and trustworthy marketing tactics.

But to leverage the power of word of mouth, you need to build a viral loop of referrals into your game or app. Here’s what you need to have in place:

  • Offer something valuable in lieu of referrals
  • Enable easy invite sharing on social media and chat apps
  • Reward power users for active participation
  • Ensure more value with every session
  • Make it a part of the user’s onboarding and in-app journey

Some smart ways to incorporate a referral program into your app or game design is to enable milestone sharing, offer exclusive content, create a multiplayer gamification scenario, and others.

Example: In 2010, the Evernote app launched a referral program that gives points to customers every time they make a referral. It is possible to redeem these points for free access to the software’s premium features. Additionally, each time a customer’s referee upgrades to Evernote Premium, the customer receives extra points.

5. Leverage social media and influencer marketing to the fullest

A mobile user acquisition strategy is incomplete without social media. When 90% of your users are present on at least 2 or more social media channels for personal and professional purposes, why not reach out to them where they are the most active on a daily basis?

For example, here’s a post by the Clash of Clans game – they use social media to share glimpses from the game, address common questions, or even ask for feedback.

Another powerful tool related to social media is influencer marketing. This involves the promotion of a product through the interaction of a brand with an influencer – a person whose opinion is taken seriously by a specific target audience. Most often they interact with this audience through social networks such as Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube.

Depending on the social media platform, there are the following types of influencers:

  • Networker – such an influencer can be found on almost all existing social platforms. They are recognizable and have a huge contact list.
  • A specialist (opinion leader) is authoritative in a particular field. The audience trusts their choice and opinion and shares information with other consumers of social content. Such an influencer is perfect as a representative of an organization, company, or brand.
  • Distributor (sharer) – the main function of such an influencer is to spread information from various interesting bloggers and journalists.
  • User – represents the average buyers and customers. If we compare the User with the Networker, then the latter certainly have many more contacts, but this does not make the Users less influential.

Example: In 2016, Taco Bell partnered with YouTube prankster BigDawsTV to advertise their special offer – users of the Taco Bell app would receive a 50% discount on their orders if they used Visa Checkout.

6. Offer a demo or freemium model 

One hack that always works for both apps and games, is to offer a freemium model. Yes, you want to monetize from your app – but what’s an app without an active community of users?

When the commitment is just about installing an app, the user is more likely to convert. This allows them to experiment with what your app has to offer before they actually pay for it. Similarly, a ‘play before pay’ model for games can give the user a sneak peek into the game and let them decide if they’d like to go for a paid subscription.

freemium-app-modelWhat’s more?

Well, free apps also have a higher acceptance rate when recommended to friends and family. A lot of apps like Dropbox, CandyCrush, and others have used similar models that let the user first focus on experiencing the app and then nudge them to the next step.

7. Don’t forget about email marketing

A lot of app developers underestimate the power of email marketing campaigns when it comes to getting more app installs. But as a channel where you can reach your target users on a 1:1 basis, it is where you can get a considerable number of users from.

With up to 70% of emails opened on mobile devices, you can use Smart Links to redirect people to the right app stores. Deep-linked emails don’t just create a seamless channel of user acquisition, but also set the right first impression for your brand.

Example: FreshDirect, a grocery delivery service, promotes their app by using emails that introduce the mobile version and have direct links to the app stores.

Also read: How to choose the right deep linking solution

8. Convert web users to mobile app users

If you have a website, it is possible to redirect traffic from desktop to mobile and thus acquire more users for your app. Modern solutions such as GetSocial’s Smart Banner and Smart Widget can help you seamlessly integrate app conversion into the desktop experience.

Creating a high converting mobile user acquisition strategy

No matter what channel or strategy you make use of to acquire more users, you always need to use the “measure and optimize” model. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creating a mobile user acquisition strategy for an app or game. You need to experiment, measure, and optimize on the go!

Still, don’t know how to hit virality?

We recommend to check out our study with SEGA on what makes some apps go viral, while others struggle to even retain their acquired users. The study covers insights from more than 40,000 players who were invited to the game, Sonic Forces: Speed Battle, via social media, invites powered by GetSocial.

It typically looks into the viral behavior of users who generated five or more installs from their friend circle, displaying greater social influence. But what channels did these users make use of to send out invites?

See the full infographic here

Why did this mobile user acquisition strategy work?

  • Personal recommendations work 10X better than push marketing tactics for user acquisition
  • The instant gamification resulted in more app sessions from both the users – invitee and invited
  • Power (active) users generated five or more installs by sending 10X more invites than a regular user
  • WhatsApp being a commonly used chat app, accounted for 47% of user acquisition
  • Lower user acquisition costs, resulting in further campaign optimization for higher results

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