Introduction to Sustainable Mobile App Performance


Mobile App Entrepreneurship has been on the rise for the past decade, as the world embraces mobile devices as the primary method of consuming media and staying connected. 80% of internet users own a smartphone, and consumers in the US now officially spend more time using their mobile devices than they do watching TV. With 3 million apps available across the apps stores, there is literally an app offering everything from games and entertainment to services such as hailing a cab, booking travel and lodging, managing our money as well as our health, and of course shopping, banking, commuting and beyond.

Mobile Apps Are A Business, Not a Short Cut

Apps are designed to make our lives easier and often provide instant gratification in several forms. Yet for the app entrepreneurs developing these games, tools and services, it’s not always an easy or instant journey to profitability. Anyone starting out in the mobile app business must come to terms with two fallacies that plague this industry. The first fallacy is that success will happen overnight. Reality check: overnight success is not likely. I repeat, success will not happen overnight. Sure, there are occasional meteoric rises, but the truth is that by the time the public hears about “instant” app successes like Uber, Airbnb, Flappy Bird and Candy Crush, the developers of these highly successful apps had been toiling away building, testing and marketing their apps for several months, even years, before the apps achieved mainstream success. An aspiring app developer should take note: There will be weeks and months of testing, debugging, optimizing, (some swearing), brainstorming, risk-taking, failing and trying again along your path to success. And all of it will be worth it.

The second fallacy is that mobile apps create a passive income. Truth: amassing users for your app and earning steady revenue from it is anything BUT passive. It takes work – Continual work – to attract users and keep them coming back. Just when an app developer thinks their job is done, the real work of promoting it begins. That said, with determination and the right strategies in place, an app entrepreneur can achieve manifold success. Here are some proven strategies an app maker and app marketer can implement to ensure successful and sustainable app performance:

With so many apps available, how do I get my app discovered by users?

Get reviewed – Ask friends and review sites

A recent study from Google-Ipsos revealed that 52% of awareness for apps comes from friends, family and colleagues, essentially word of mouth marketing. You’ll want to earn positive reviews from friends and family to publish on your app store page, but earning a review from an editor of an app review site will be even more helpful in raising visibility among a larger audience/ community of readers.  Do a little homework and identify app review sites that welcome invitations to review apps.

User-Acquisition (UA)

For mobile app marketers looking to grow a user-base (commonly via install campaigns), deciding how to attract high-value users is often the first conversation. When advertising your app, there are two methods to consider: an incentivized strategy (See Rewarded Videos, below) vs. non-incentivized.

Using an Incentivized UA strategy, app marketers (advertisers) pay users to try the app or game. It is just one of many approaches in the quest to achieve long-established UA goals. The mission is clear:

  • Grow a critical mass of users and keep them coming back
  • Increase app ranking to boost your likelihood of getting discovered in the stores
  • Compel users to share their love for the app

We call it UA, but let’s remember that at its root what we are really talking about is advertising. An incentivized approach can work well when your primary goal is driving app download volume. Rewarded Video ads are engaging, delight users and effective at driving app downloads.

In a non-incentivized environment, you are advertising your app based on its merit and appeal to your audience, which means that targeting the right viewers plays an important role in your campaign’s performance. Using appropriate targeting strategies (broad or advanced) will ensure that you are reaching users who are genuinely interested in your app.

Target broadly based on basic demographics such as carrier, device, location, and then refine as desired. After you try the broad approach, you can optimize with more advanced targeting strategies such as re-targeting methods to reach past “Clickers”, as they are prime candidates for conversion. Alternatively, try targeting users who have downloaded similar apps to yours. For example, if you’re a developer with a racing game app, try targeting other racing game users by referencing their passion for the sport (e.g., “Collect more racing apps with {Your App}”). Consider targeting based on additional factors such as loyalty to a brand (e.g., “The latest app from [app maker] is here!”], or on users’ interests such as Pet-Lover, Fashion, Nightlife, Sports, Travel, Music, even Food, and purchase history.

Both strategies have a place in your marketing plan, there is no “Right Answer”. What often works best is a blend of both approaches, followed by careful analysis of the outcomes. Whether you chose an incentivized or non-incentivized approach, never lose sight of the ultimate goal – RETENTION. A download is valuable, but what happens AFTER the download is equally, if not more valuable than the initial install. Steadily increasing your user base while being mindful of quality – an understanding of who you’re bringing in, how much they spend and what they do (or don’t do) in your app, will be the most important indicators to analyze for your long-term success.

When advertising my app to mobile users, which placement strategy is better, in-app or mobile web (WAP)?

A recent study by the IAB shows that consumers value the mobile web and apps nearly equally, and therefore there’s reason to include both placements in a media plan. That said, in-app advertising offers some clear advantages to specific kinds of marketers, such as marketers of apps, who require the ability to measure Lifetime Value of users post-install, and manage against their acquisition costs.

Here are some compelling reasons to consider advertising inside mobile apps:

More Time Spent Using Apps

According to Mary Meeker’s Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers report , 11% of time spent on media happens via mobile web. By contrast, we spend considerably more time – 89% of our media time – using apps.

In its 2015 Mobile App Report, Comscore reported that “digital media usage time is exploding right now, and it’s predominantly being driven by mobile apps. Over the past two years, total digital media usage has grown 49% with mobile apps having grown 90% and contributing to 77% of the total increase in time spent. Mobile browser is also seeing very strong growth at 53% and even desktop is still rising.”

Although the data may vary by source, the verdict is the same no matter who you ask: mobile apps are eating up the digital universe and are now close to being a majority of all digital media time.

Better Attribution

Marketers are generally concerned with two metrics: Where consumers are coming from and where they are going to. Attribution – the practice of identifying the sources of your traffic volume, is made much easier by advertising in apps.

Understanding the value of consumers is absolutely crucial in deciding where to place advertising, but also in the ongoing optimization and refinement of campaigns.

There is an entire vertical in Ad-Tech that is devoted to In App attribution and post-back attribution.

Companies like Tune ( and Appsflyer ( are becoming a really important tool for marketers to better understand and decide where to spend their advertising dollars.

Cookies – the identifiers for the above actions – are not widely available for mobile web, but for ads placed within apps, these types of insights are possible.

Ability to Track LTV

Mobile web is tough to funnel. As mobile web users search, they are harder to pin down and track all the way through to a purchase or download. Mobile web surfers are a bit promiscuous that way.

An app’s closed environment allows the consumer to click straight through and install something, and allows marketers to better track LTV by tracking post-install activity. This is absolutely crucial in evaluating the true value of your media spend.



Ad-Supported Apps

Enabling your app to display ads is a highly popular method of generating revenue, and consumers are surprisingly accepting of in-app ads when given a free download. In fact, mobile ads can also deliver real benefit and value to users when careful targeting and ad delivery are practiced, making ads mutually beneficial to developers, marketers and users.

What Mobile Ad Format is Right For My Free App?

Video Ads

Mobile Video Ads resonate with audiences because of their ability to tell a story that captivates. High performance video ads can enhance an app experience, rather than disrupt one. A study by IAB reported that twice as many users recalled mobile video ads than display ads, with 57% of users recalling mobile video ads. Additionally, eMarketer data revealed that 83% of users find videos to be helpful toward making a purchase decision.

Rewarded Video Ads

Also referred to as an Incentived Ad or Video with Points, in-app Rewarded Video Ads increase brand awareness, deliver better advertising performance and higher engagement.

With rewarded video ads, the user must willingly opt-in to engage with the ad, ensuring a more interested, willing viewer for the advertiser. The Rewarded Video Ad is delivered at precise moments of game play, and offers a player the opportunity to receive a perk or privilege (e.g., an extra life, game level advancement, coins) in exchange for watching the ad.

Better yet, app makers can offer players a credit or bonus toward their next in-app purchase as the reward for viewing. These gifted trials of premium experiences offer users a glimpse of the good life, demonstrate the full potential of the game or app, and set the stage for future in-app purchases (IAPs).

Consider these creative opportunities to apply in-app rewards and enhance your users’ gameplay:

  • Create anticipation: Use a countdown timer to add a sense of urgency to the decision to view the ad. With the clock running down, adrenaline builds and so does the impulse to hit “Play.”
  • Be a tease: Offer an advanced look or sneak peek at a new character or first-right/beta privileges to try a new game function, special effect, or tool.
  • Sweeten the deal: A credit or bonus toward their next in-app purchase can trigger an initial IAP and motivate continued IAPs.
  • Confide: Reveal a secret move, tip, or hidden code buried within the game.
  • Train: Offer a tutorial to empower your players with a deeper understanding of strategy.
  • Protect: Reward viewers with an extra weapon, tool, or superpower to defend their safety and advance their journey. Perhaps teach them a new game skill, move or strategy.
  • Currency: Value comes in many forms depending on your game, of course. Think gems, gold, tokens, or even energy pellets to help your players succeed.
  • Be generous: Coins. Cha-ching! That’s the sound of a happy player.
  • Score big: For competitive players, racking up bonus points and achieving the highest score provides an advantage and invaluable bragging rights.
  • Advance: Allow your players to move up in their game world by allowing them to advance to the next level or skip a level.
  • Relax: Offer users more time to complete a level or task.
  • Live large: Help your players stay in the game longer with an extra life.

Native Ads

A Mobile Native Ad is placed or embedded in a mobile environment or app in such a way that its placement follows the form and function of the app experience and design.

Native ads are often preferred by app owners and app marketers because the mindful placement of ads help maintain a high quality app experience and limit disruption, while delivering higher engagement levels than other types of ad formats for their advertising partners. There are many types of Native ad placements, such as in-feed on Social Platforms, in-feed within commerce and shopping apps, In-Game, In-Map, Recommendation Widgets, and even custom native content created by the brand. Here’s a breakdown of the eight official Mobile Native Mobile Ad Types identified by the Mobile Marketing Association:

Native In-Feed Social

Advertiser Goal: Build awareness, grow word of mouth, or increase engagement with the brand

How it Works: Ads will appear as “Sponsored Content” within user feeds in the social network channel. Since the social capabilities are built into the ad, users will see friends who have already engaged with or like the brand. Data shows that people are more likely to “like”, interact with a brand, or make a purchase as a result of their friends’ influence and product acceptance within their social circle.

Native In-Feed Content

Advertiser Goal: To promote interaction and engagement with branded content

How it Works: Media sites and mobile environments delivering a wide array of content (e.g. news, weather, editorial, photo-sharing, music discovery, programming, videos, games, etc.) display ads that are discreetly marked as “Sponsored Content” and designed to aesthetically match other content on their site. The ad will take on the physical characteristics of it surrounding environment so it “blends” into the mobile experience.

For example, imagine a music app showing album cover tiles. The Native Ad may appear among the album covers, in the same size and shape of the other tiles, with the design of the ad in the same creative style as album art.

Native In-Feed Commerce

Advertiser Goal: Encourage Purchases!

How it Works: Shopping sites displaying products and services for sale will feature the promoted item among the items for sale. The ads will often incorporate the same or similar functionality of the retailer’s items, such as the ability to buy, like or add the promoted item to a wish list.

Native In-Map

Advertiser Goal: Help users find your location, discover locations in close proximity, drive foot traffic to brick and mortar location

How it Works: Your business listing will appear within a map and include map functionality such as driving directions, navigation, click to call, and associated listing details such as store hours, business review ratings, etc.

Native In-Game

Advertiser Goal: Even the Mobile Marketing Association agrees that in-game mobile native ads increase brand awareness, deliver better advertising performance and higher engagement

How it Works: These are truly the star performers of mobile ads. The user must willingly opt-in to engage with the ad, ensuring a more interested, quality viewer for the advertiser. The ad – typically a Rewarded Video Ad – is delivered at precise moments of game play, and offers a player the opportunity to receive a perk or privilege (e.g., an extra life, game level advancement, coins) in exchange for watching the ad.

Paid Search

Advertiser Goal: Be relevant when users are searching for related topics, products or services

How it Works: Your Ad appears above or below the organic results from a user search.

Recommendation Widgets

Advertiser Goal: Drive traffic to your content, and be included in the consideration set among content the user is already known to enjoy

How it Works: These “recommended” pieces of content most commonly appear at the end of an article or video the user has just completed. It appears in a section that is often labeled as “Recommended” or “Other Videos You May Enjoy”, “Recommended for You”, etc.

Custom Mobile Native Ads

Advertiser Goal:   For advertisers looking to create a truly unique mobile experience and leverage an offline component

How it Works: Rather than the components of an ad (e.g., title, link, text, image) being assembled via automated technology methods, brands have the opportunity to create their own content with rich visuals, functionality and integrated approach between the mobile environment and brand properties to form a custom sponsorship.

 Lean on Your Ad Network Partner

Your ad network partner is exactly that – your partner. We want you to succeed! There are many networks and platforms to choose from, and many offer specialized ad formats and services. To get the best sense of who is right for you, do ask questions. The right partner will provide answers and help you along every step of your journey.

If you are an app developer, your ad partner should be able to conduct a diagnostic of your app’s unique flow to discover the best places and in-app moments for an ad to be served, as well as answer and assist with integration. For marketers, your ad network partner should be willing to answer questions ranging from cost structures, best practices, and targeting strategies.

It’s a great time to be in the mobile business – and we are in this together.


This article was originally written by Dale Carr, founder and CEO of Leadbolt, for AMAZING, a resource for entrepreneurs that is dedicated to helping people build better businesses.  Descriptions of Mobile Native Ad formats provided by IAB.

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