Facebook mobile app install ads: What you need to know

As we’ve discussed many times before on this blog, developers currently face a massive problem when it comes to getting their apps discovered, with app stores seemingly ill-equipped to make their burgeoning catalogue of apps easily searchable. Numerous third-party platforms and solutions have emerged, from app discovery networks, to app store optimisation services many of which you can find in our mobile app marketing directory.  Apple itself has also been trying to address the problem and there may be hope down the line following its acquisition of of search technology company Chomp earlier in the year. However, a silver bullet has yet to appear.

Enter Facebook, the world’s biggest social platform. Surely Mark Zuckerberg, with his 900 million-strong userbase, can help developers get their apps noticed? Facebook’s interest in app discovery dovetails nicely with its – increasingly desperate – need to monetise its mobile platform in the face of skeptical investors. The result? Facebook mobile app install ads, which came out of its beta testing phase late last month.

So how do these Facebook’s new mobile ads work exactly and – crucially – will they help developers generate loyal users? We take a closer look at the data and speak to a number of leading app promotion and advertising agencies to find out more.

What are Facebook mobile app ads?

Firstly, it should be noted that the new mobile app ads are different from Facebook’s mobile-targeted ‘Sponsored Stories’ and ‘Promoted Posts’, which up until a few weeks ago were the only mobile ads available on Facebook. To clarify, Sponsored Stories are essentially ads for your Facebook page, which go out to all users based on your targeting criteria, while Promoted Posts are messages (status updates etc) that will appear to users who have already ‘liked’ your page (contrary to many people’s expectation, not all of your updates are guaranteed to be seen by all your fans).

App install ads are simply ads that link a mobile user directly to your App Store or Google Play app page and – like Sponsored Stories – appear in users’ news feeds when browsing the Facebook mobile app. As you can see from the images, these ad units directly invite users to install your app. They can also contain social info, such as how many of a user’s friends have installed the app and the rating of the app on the app store.

Another distinction must be made between app install ads/Sponsored Stories/Promoted Posts and Facebook’s mobile targeted ads on desktop. As MobAff explain in this blog post, mobile targeting simply means targeting ads to desktop users who have – at some point – logged onto Facebook via a mobile device. These ads do not appear on Facebook’s mobile app. Something to watch out for.

So what’s the big deal about Facebook’s app install ads? What do they have over other mobile ad networks? Well, the key feature is that developers can leverage the huge targeting options offered by Facebook, giving them a guarantee that their ad will be only be seen by users in a certain demographic. The mobile app ads use all the same targeting segments as Facebook’s regular ads. This includes:

Location targeting – You can target your ad to specific countries or cities. Zip code targeting is also available to users in the US.

Age – Facebook lets you target app ads directly to exact age groups. You can also target ads to appear during users’ birthday week.

Interests – Target ads to users who have indicated certain interests by liking certain pages and using certain Facebook apps. Interests cover everything from cookery to science fiction, and Lady Gaga to gardening.

Education – Target ads to graduates in specific fields of study and at specific universities and colleges.

Facebook’s deep level of targeting will obviously be a big draw for developers, allowing them to segment audiences, test different ad creative and optimise their campaigns very precisely and in a way not offered by traditional ad networks. Facebook’s platform also has the benefit of knowing whether a user has previously downloaded an app, so developers won’t waste impressions on their own users. Plus it shows how many friends are using a specific app. However, remember if you want to benefit from all of this targeting goodness, you’ll need to implement Facebook Connect.

Are Facebook app ads working?

It’s early days but there’s already some positive stats on app install ads – chiefly supported by data from ad company Nanigans – and Facebook says big developers such as Kabam, Fab, TinyCo and Big Fish have been able to efficiently drive installs (notice a pattern – yep, they’re all game developers).

Facebook mobile app ads: Key stats

  • App install ad campaigns have average CPCs ranging from $0.18 to $0.60 (Nanigans)
  • CTRs on mobile app install ads exceed 3% in some instances (Nanigans)
  • App ads achieve 20% higher CTRs than sponsored stories (Nanigans)
  • AdParlor saw CTRs between 1 and 2% from engaged users (AdParlor)
  • Videogame app ads have 85% higher CTRs than ecommerce apps (Nanigans)
  • Ecommerce apps have 15% higher CPCs than game apps (Nanigans)
  • TinyCo saw 50% higher CTRs compared to other channels (Facebook)

Of course, these are very early results and must be taken with caution, but they are tentatively backed-up by the data available on Facebook’s other mobile ad types. According to research from TBG Digital, AdParlor, Nanigans and Spruce Media:

  • Facebook’s Sponsored Stories ad units are getting over 13 times the CTR of Facebook desktop ads
  • TBG Digital says mobile sponsored stories have a very healthy average CTR of 1.14% at a 0.86% CPC, compared to a desktop CTR of 0.588%.
  • AdParlor meanwhile found an average CTR of 0.821% on Facebook’s mobile ads, while Spruce saw CTRs between 0.8% and 1.7%.

But not everyone is entirely convinced that Facebook’s new ads are an efficient way to drive app downloads. As you can see from a brief look at this Quora page, a number of marketing specialists do not recommend the new platform. AppCod.es’ Tomasz Kolinko, who we interviewed a while back for our app store optimisation article, puts things into perspective:

“If you pay like $0.20 for a click, you’d need a 20% conversion ratio to break even for $.99 app. Usually conversion ratios are more like 1-2%.The other challenge is that Apple doesn’t tell you where your sales come from, so it’s a lot harder to judge the results of each advertisement, and do A/B ad testing. You know that one ad is $.20 per click, and another one is $.30 per click, but which one converts users after the click better? No way to know.”

We asked some of the leading app promotion agencies and mobile ad agencies whether they think app developers should give Facebook a try.

Facebook mobile app ads: Ask the experts

We were lucky enough to speak to some of the leading mobile app promotion agencies and media buyers including:

Frank C. Lipari, marketing exec – Fetch

Sarthak Srivastava – AppVersal

Gary Yentin, CEO – App Promo

Simon Andrews, founder – addictive mobile

Would you recommend Facebook mobile ads to developers looking to promote apps?

Frank C. Lipari, marketing executive, Fetch: Definitely. Facebook’s ability for developers to advertise direct app-installs is one of the key features of the network. Now you can run targeted ads that speak directly to the consumer with a cleverly placed link to “install app” that’s akin to “liking” a post. Placing the advertisements directly in the users feed allows them to be viewed as a part of the entire social network experience which aids in identification and encourages engagement. Furthermore, Facebook has the ability to target users not only socially but with self-identified interests. Thus, initial campaigns designed to drive app-installs are seeing significant results.

Sarthak Srivastava, AppVersal: Only if the App has a mass market appeal. If the App has been developed only for a specific set of users, Facebook ads are not useful and we do not recommend it. You need to validate it and check if your business model fits the network.

Gary Yentin, CEO, App Promo: Facebook is beginning to become a viable tool for developers to promote applications. Budgets are best spent where developers can measure conversions at the lowest cost, so Facebook is still in its early stages and there is not enough data yet to measure if its the best inventory to spend on.

Simon Andrews, founder, addictive: We highly recommend Facebook advertising for anyone with a mobile product or service. And for mobile apps we believe it will quickly become a must have tactic for driving effective downloads.The key strengths are the massive reach combined with the ability for granular targeting using the profile. But the weakness is probably that  the formats and pricing are still developing so its hard to be precise about what is best approach.

What’s been your experience using Facebook to promote clients’ apps?

Sarthak Srivastava, AppVersal: It is clear that sponsored stories on Facebook work better than the native Facebook ads. Sponsored stories appear on the News Feed which helps in better discovery. But for us, Facebook ads have not been very successful. Even with a very high CPC, Facebook ads did not help us target our audience. The conversion rate was not worth it.

For the Apps that we market, Facebook ads did work for some of them. We made sure to do A/B split testing, target a small and precise group, crisp images and use famous copywriting formulas to drive traffic.

Do you think Facebook will help solve the app discovery problem?

Frank C. Lipari, marketing exec, Fetch: It won’t solve the problem but it will alleviate it to some degree. Studies have shown that far more users find apps on their mobile screens than in respective PC app stores. The large and engaged userbase has the potential to grow an app install base quickly. Facebook alone has 78 million Americans age 18 and older who spend 7.3 hr/month glued to the app. If targeted effectively, those numbers will considerably aid in app discovery.

Sarthak Srivastava, AppVersal: No, Facebook cannot help solve the App discovery problem that developers are facing now and it won’t be able to do so for quite some time. Marketing is all about values and no one platform can solve the discovery issue. Marketing only works when different channels are optimized in the perfect combination. Marketing yields us the results only when a perfect strategy is combined with detailed execution.

Gary Yentin, CEO, App Promo: Facebook is definitely a step in the right direction to help solve the app discovery problem as it combines the best of the best in terms of social, mobile and local in terms of discovery, downloads, and monetization.

What are your tips for app developers looking to advertise with Facebook mobile ads for the first time? What kinds of thing should they be aware of?

Frank C. Lipari, marketing executive, Fetch: Targeting. Understand who you’re trying to communicate to. Android or iOS or both? Tablets? What percentage? And that’s just device. Facebook allows for hypersensitive targeting. Use it.

Creative. Too many brands throw banners or display ads up on mobile as an afterthought. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between malicious adware and a genuine ad. Treat mobile creative like you would in any other channel: with attention to detail (that goes for copy as well). Remember to cater your creative to OS and device and your consumers will thank you for it.

Test. You’ve got some demo stats. Pulled your research. Now it’s time to put it all to use with one incredible advertising campaign that’s guaranteed to garner awards, right? Not necessarily. Spreading a wider net through different demo characteristics/combos, creative, and copy will allow you to optimize your campaign towards what is actually working. Putting it all on Red 32 usually only works in Vegas.

Gary Yentin, CEO, App Promo: Make sure that Facebook Connect is installed in your app first so you can take advantage of the targeting and recommendation features, and then test with a small budget, see the results and then if it works scale the media buy as much as your budget allows you.

Sarthak Srivastava, AppVersal: Do organic Facebook promotion instead of optimizing Facebook Ads. Create a page for your app, share exciting content, use the page to share updates about your app and most importantly, build a community around your app. Use your app’s Facebook page to promote your app and serve customers. A brand will be cultivated and sales will follow.

Simon Andrews, founder, addictive: Start small with well constructed tests – but make sure everything you do can be scaled up if it works. It’s also key to get the creative right and make sure it matches the targeting. A good example is if you run a football message you’ll get poor response without targeting. If you target the ads against people who say they like football in their profile you obviously get better response. But if you find a way to include the team the person supports in the ad the increase in response is huge – because of they way the brain works the ad will be noticed by much more people.

To conclude…

Well as you can see from our Q&A there’s a range of opinions out there. Certainly A few trends can be spotted though:

  • Facebook app ads more effective at promoting games than other kinds of apps
  • Apps with mass appeal are better suited than those in a specific niche
  • CTRs are generally very good and big developers have run successful campaigns
  • However, big questions remain over how cost effective each install really is both on an individual basis and in terms of increasing visibility through rankings.

As we keep saying, it’s still early days. Facebook’s mobile app ads have only been out of beta for a few weeks and prior to that only big name devs have used them. Given Facebook’s huge mobile audience, the network seems a natural fit for app promotion, but whether it can deliver on this promise remains to be seen.

For more on mobile app marketing check out our Guide to Mobile App Promotion and the Mobile App Marketing directory.