If You Build It, Will They Come? Tips From the Trenches on Mobile User Acquisition

If You Build It, Will They Come? Tips From the Trenches on Mobile User Acquisition

Hands down the best part of my job is supporting entrepreneurs solving thorny problems.  I always get a charge when we get to convene founders with common interests to compare notes on what’s working for them and learn from one another. So I was pumped when we recently gathered a set of industry experts, tacticians and entrepreneurs in the trenches to talk about techniques that are successful for mobile user acquisition.

There is obviously no one size fits all playbook to get people to find, download and engage with your app, but we did identify some common themes and surface some practical advice.  Below is a summary.  Got to do more of these!

Discovery: Good Apps Can Be Hard to Find

Not surprisingly, app discovery surfaced as one of the biggest challenges developers are facing today.  We’re still in such early days with mobile that we just haven’t developed a quality search and discovery experience yet.  Conventions like page rank for mobile apps simply don’t exist.

Since consumers have limited ways of finding apps, smart publishers are experimenting with the dials with which to reach them.  The three main channels for app discovery are word of mouth, Apple and Google app stores, and app install ads in Facebook.

Understanding how to work with Apple and Google’s respective editorial teams and curated app stores is critical, and viewed by many as a black art. Creative hacks for testing and understanding how to work with the system were popular in this crowd.  Testing content to see what resonates with consumers in different channels emerged as a best practice and testing images was cited as potentially game changing.  Above all, keep showing consumers the value of the app throughout the entire process to get to download at this stage.

Distribution: Easier Said Than Done

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that if an app isn’t inherently viral, it’s hard to drive distribution even if it’s providing value to people.  Publishers are using a variety of tools for paid app distribution. Top rated were Kahuna for push notifications, Tune for marketing attribution and Heap for analytics.  For paid channels, Facebook was driving the largest cost performance volumes for most companies, not a big surprise considering Facebook’s $6.5B run rate on mobile.  Facebook’s lookalike audience tool is incredibly effective.

Targeting international markets is par for the course with global consumers having more influence than ever in the rise and fall of app popularity.  To succeed globally, app localization is mission critical with both the AppStore and word of mouth distribution.

When the topic of optimizing organic app store distribution came up, the advice is deceiving in its simplicity.  Build a great app.  Market it accurately.  Think about the title and write a good description. Reviews and images all make an impact.

Engagement: It’s All About Context

The onboarding experience emerged as one of the most important aspects to keeping users.  You need to hook people as quickly as possible since you don’t have a lot of time to demonstrate value to people with micro-attention spans accustomed instant gratification.

One intriguing insight was that the more information someone receives about an app before they get pushed to an install page, the higher the conversion rates are.  Context matter a lot. Giving users information that is personalized and compelling can prime them to engage more deeply with the app.

An app publisher, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of various channels is vital. For instance, Twitter is great at interest targeting, which is expressed via follows, whereas Facebook lets you delve into behavior and demographic targeting.  Again and again we heard that granular targeting pared with deep links drives conversions.

Retention is an age-old problem in mobile.  You might be getting thousands of downloads, but if people aren’t staying and engaging with your app, you’re just running in place.  You don’t want to constantly refill a leaky bucket.  Timely, context-related push notifications and re-marketing campaigns are particularly helpful in bringing users back and building loyalty.

This particular get together just scratched the surface on this broad topic, but it was good to see people making connections and finding tangible ways to grow their business.  Grateful to the insightful group of folks who joined us at this last gathering and looking forward to the next one!  Drop me a line if you have thoughts or questions.