With over 600k apps in the iPhone App Store, and approaching another 500k in Google Play, the name of the game for mobile app and games publishers is getting noticed. With the Apple and Google appstores being the main channel to mobile consumers, this means building a good ranking in their respective stores. However, back in April 2011, Apple changed its approach to incentivized app download networks, rejecting any apps that offer rewards for downloads, and cracking down on app promotion services that guarantee top 10 placement in App Store rankings. Although incentivized downloads are still permissible in Google Play, the app promotion industry was rather shaken by Apple’s decision. So now the dust has settled, what options are there for developers to promote their apps across both the App Store and Google Play, and how have the wrist-slapped promotion networks changed their game?
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App promotion networks: a quick recap
Firstly, if you’re new to the world of app promotion you might be wondering what incentivized downloads are all about and why Apple decided to ban them. Incentivized downloads are offered by app promotion networks, which help developers generate new users by cross-promoting apps between different publishers.
A typical incentivized app offer might be an reward of virtual currency within a mobile game for downloading a promoted app (sometimes the user also has to also achieve something within the promoted app to receive the reward). Or it could be a voucher-style reward, which allows a user to download a paid app for free or access some other kind of offer. Typically, mobile games are best positioned to host these incentivized downloads, as they have much more scope to offer enhanced in-app features.
So why did Apple ban the practice of incentivized mobile app downloads? Well the argument is download incentives, such as those offered by the likes of TapJoy and Flurry, allowed developers to essentially game the system, rewarding whoever spends the most money by pushing their apps up the rankings to gain visibility.
The other problem was that many users had no intention of actually using the promoted apps. They simply downloaded them and accessed them once to get the reward, before hitting the delete button. The other app promotion issue that raised Apple’s ire, was slightly more dishonest (well a lot more). Back in February it was revealed that some app promotion agencies were increasing client downloads by creating thousands of fake iTunes accounts. Many developers and journalists suspected this practice was taking place for some time, but it was never proved. Apple has warned developers to stay away from agencies guaranteeing chart placements, though that’s not to say all agencies that do promise to boost placements are doing so fraudulently.
So what are the new ways that app promotion networks are using to get around Apple’s ban and generate downloads? Here’s a few stats concerning app promotion, followed by a quick rundown of what services the main app promotion networks and agencies currently offer:
What does it cost to promote an app?
You can spend as much or as little as you like on promoting your app. Typically, app promotion networks will price their services on a cost per install (CPI) or cost per download (CPD) basis. Here’s a few numbers to give you an idea of the costs involved:
- TapJoy charges around 50-75% of a paid app’s price per install, and between $0.35-0.75 for free app installations
- To get into the top 10 apps in the App Store, it is rumoured to cost around $20,000-$30,000. Agencies such as ComboApp say it can get your app into a top 100 category for $4,900
- Research from Fiksu, a leading app promotion company, claims the cost of acquiring loyal users (user who use your app more than 3 times)has risen from $1.10 in May 2011 (before the ban) to $1.31 in February 2011
- Fiksu says its own platform delivers loyal users typically for less than $1 and some as low as $0.45
App promotion networks
If you want to promote your app then there’s a number of specialist app promotion networks you can approach. Following the shift away from incentivized installs these networks are using a number of different approaches to drive app downloads ranging from moving incentives outside of iOS SDKs, using video promoting an app instead of actual app downloads and developing more non-incentivized formats such as interstitials and rich media. Here’s a list of some of the most prominent mobile app promotion networks:
Appflood is a commission free cross promotion network. Developers can exchange installs with other apps and games and buy installs without paying any commission. Their algorithm matches apps together to exchange traffic which generates 25% click throughs by providing highly relevant apps to users. Appflood is a great solution for developers who want to generate more installs without spending money and also offers a pay-per-install service.
NativeX will put your app in front of over 100m app users and quickly build a sustainable and engaged user base for your app. With over 1 bn downloads driven across their network they have the scale to deliver significant additional downloads. They also offer support with creative services and campaign optimisation. Their platform uses programmatic approaches to deliver the right app promotion to the user with the propensity to click and download.
AppLift is a mobile games marketing platform. It focuses 100% on mobile games and offers a range of no-risk business models such as CPI (cost per install) helping game developers to get to the top of the appstore charts and increase their revenues and return on marketing investments. They have offices in Europe, the US and Asia and offer support to games devs around the world.
Appia is the leading mobile monetisation and cross promotion exchange reaching users across the world with over 1m downloads per week on a totally non-incentivised basis. Appia delivers huge reach across a high quality network of apps, operators and publishers
Leadbolt is one of the best ad networks for monetization and offers some of the highest eCPMs. They are also worth checking out from an app promotion point of view as they have some innovative formats that can deliver great results for developers such as App Icon or Offer Walls.
InstaZebra offers the ability to promote mobile apps over rich media ads on Instagram. Ads appear as native photo and text or you can buy ‘shout outs’ or follows across the network.
Jampp is a mobile app promotion network and platform that originally focused on Latin America but is not increasingly global in scope. They are offering a deal for developers which allows them to get 100 free app installs when they sign up. The service acts a bit like a buying platform and provides a fully managed services at a fixed CPI (cost per install).
Brusmedia is a performance based app promotion network offering CPI and CPC based campaigns across its network of publishers. They work with advertisers to develop a marketing plan that will meet specific objectives.
TapJoy was arguably the biggest provider of incentivized downloads, and its business was hit hard by Apple’s ban. The company has since migrated its incentive network outside of the app store and onto the web. The principle is exactly the same as TapJoy’s previous offering, but because developers don’t install the SDK into their apps, Apple cannot really interfere in the process (though the platform is in a beta phase and Apple’s response remains to be seen). In order to bolster its incentivized service on Android, TapJoy has created a $5 million fund to help developers port their iOS app over to Google’s OS. So if you already have an iOS app, then it may be worth your while to get in touch with TapJoy.
Fiksu developed Fiksu Mobile Apps Marketing Platform, which combines media optimisation with what it claims is the world’s largest app media inventory. The company also runs Free My Apps, which goes down a similar route to TapJoy. Free My Apps has developed an incentivized network that circumvents the App Store, letting users sign-up to a web-based platform. It works by giving users credits every time they download a promoted app, these credits are then turned into iTunes gift codes, which can be used to purchase paid apps.
W3i has now shifted to a non-incentivized model, where developers have access to a cross-promotion platform dedicated to mobile games. While W3i’s platform doesn’t reward users for downloading apps, it does provide limited offers and gives developers a variety of ad display options – think of it as a premium ad network dedicated to mobile games.
Flurry offers its AppCircle service to developers, which is similar to W3i’s platform, offering non-incentivized downloads. Flurry claims its network is able to increase downloads by using its detailed analytics to recommend relevant apps within other apps the consumer is using.
Applifier offers a non-incentivized platform for iOS and Android users, focused entirely on games. Developers can promote other publishers games via banner ads embedded into their pause screen, or via interstitial ads. Applifier’s USP is that developers do not pay for users. When a publisher sends a user to someone else’s app, that publisher will receive a new user – for free. Applifier makes its money by serving paid ads next to the cross promotion ads.
AppBrain offers two Android-focuses services, one is a offer-wall platform that delivers non-incentivised app promotions, the other is AppBrain’s own app store (which is downloadable from Google Play). The app store provides regular app recommendations of the best apps in Google Play. AppBrain says its lack of an incentive-driven approach results in more valuable users, as they will only install the app if they are interested in it.
ChartBoost offers three non-incentivised ways to promote your app. The first is a platform that allows you cross promote apps within your own network (obviously, this only makes sense if you have more than one app), the second allows you to form direct deals with other publishers (letting you set the cost per install, or arrange an install exchange model) and the third is paid advertising on ChartBoost’s network, where you’ll pay either on cost per click or cost per install. ChartBoost lets developers set-up internal cross promotions and direct deals with publishers for free.
G6Pay used to be a big player in incentivized downloads, but has now gone down a similar route to W3i , offering a non-incentivized app promotion platform, where iOS developers can cross-promote apps via interstitial ads and pay per download.
App promotion agencies
App promotion agencies are essentially marketing agencies that focus exclusively on promoting apps, usually by combining a number of mobile marketing strategies, PR and media relation services, SEO and social media services. There are plenty of agencies out there, but you may want to check out the ones below:
Dot Com Infoway – leading mobile apps marketing specialist offering services to app developers and publishers around the world
ComboApp – App promotion agency based in Vancouver, Canada with offices in Chicago. Offers social media promotion, PR and more.
AppPromo – Full service marketing agency that focuses on app promotion. Based in Toronto, Canada.
ProAppMarketing – App promotion agency that handles PR, social media development, monetisation and research and analysis. Based in London.
Apps Marketing Mobi – Full-service app promotion agency based in Israel. Offers monetisation, app marketing and app store optimisation.
What services do app promotion agencies typically offer?
Social media: Social media is a powerful marketing tool for nearly every sector but given the amount of crossover between people using social media and those using smartphone apps, it is particularly important for app developers. Promoting your app via social media can involve anything from running ad campaigns in Facebook, to simply rolling out a Twitter feed and building a list of followers. However, the most successful use of social media for app promotion is where it is embedded within the app or game itself. For example, Draw Something by OMGPOP has used social media to great effect by making it easy to find friends to play on Facebook. Other apps including Foursquare and Run Keeper have also been effective in using Twitter to broadcast in-app activity. A good app promotion agency will advise on how to develop this type of viral effect.
SEO/ASO: If your app targets a particularly searchable niche, then you may want to deploy n search engine optimised website, targeting relevant keywords, to capture search traffic. Another aspect of SEO, perhaps even more important, is SEO for app stores (sometimes called ASO). This is an area still very much in its infancy, but most app promotion agencies will be able to keyword optimise your app store page to ensure the right users find you. The days when you could easily use tactics such as keyword stuffing in the appstores are gone, but it is fair to say that mobile appstore search is still fairly unsophisticated so agencies who know a bit about ASO can be very useful. MobileDevHQ offers an ASO tool that you can download and try out for free. Appcod.es has also recently launched a tool to help with appstore SEO. Just remember, unlike Google keyword information, ASO search volumes are estimate from third parties and may not be completely reliable. The presentation below from Appcod.es is worth a read to get an overview of appstore SEO.
Media coverage: App promotion agencies will conduct typical PR activities, such as drafting press releases, coming-up with relevant media lists of journos and bloggers to contact, and trying to generate coverage through news. Many app promotion agencies will make guarantees such as ensuring your app gets reviewed X number of times by the press, though take such services with a pinch of salt because anyone can set-up a blog and review apps – the only publications that are worth targeting are the ones that are actually trusted by their readership. There are a huge range of app review blogs around these days however, and a good agency may have established relationships or a long list of blogs to contact which should help with getting coverage.
App placement guarantees: Some agencies will guarantee you a placement in the Top Apps categories on app stores. Agencies will likely use a combination of the above strategies, along with app promotion networks, to achieve this. However, as we mentioned at the top of the article, the practice of guaranteeing chart placements came under some scrutiny last year, after it was revealed that companies were using fake iTunes accounts to generate downloads. So proceed with some caution
Mobile ad networks
Premium and blind mobile ad networks remain one of the most popular ways to promote apps. It’s generally thought that, while generating users via mobile ads is more expensive than incentivized networks, the value of the user (the ARPDAU) via mobile ads is higher. There’s a multitude of networks out there that provide everything from simple banner ads, right the way through to video ads and rich interactive ads, displayed in mobile sites and apps. Some mobile ad networks are very well set up for promoting apps, and will allow developers to cross-promote apps or games within the network in exchange for running ads. Check out our guide to mobile ad networks for more information.
Mobile Marketing and Media Buying Agencies
There are also a number of mobile marketing agencies focusing on mobile app promotion to some extent. For example, Fetch Media in the UK and US carries out app promotion for a number of leading brands and games developers. Other specialist mobile ad buying agencies include Mobiclicks in South Africa, and Mobile Shakers in the US. An agency will benefit from economies of scale in buying mobile advertising, and will also have close relationships with the ad networks. A good agency will also be able to manage the complex process of running and optimizing mobile ad campaigns more effectively. This is particularly useful following Apple’s depreciation of the UDID that was used to track mobile app downloads, an agency will be able to help track mobile app downloads using alternative methods. Typically a mobile agency will require a certain level of minimum spend, this is typically $10k per month at least, and more generally, closer to $30k per month. However, for developers with an established app or successful game this is well within reach. You can find more agencies in our list of mobile marketing and advertising agencies.
Forums and discussion boards
There’s whole bunch of developer forums and discussion boards out there, which let you swap promotion techniques with other devs. Mobile Marketers Club is a private forum that’s just started out and discusses everything to do with app monetisation and promotion. Also check the advertising sections of iPhoneDevSDK (even if you’re an Android dev you can get a few good tips there), and XDA Forums, which don’t have a specific sub-folder on promotion but such topics often get discussed in the general folder.
To sum up…
There is still a big problem when it comes to discoverability on the App Store and Google Play. Nevertheless, despite Apple’s decision to ban incentivized downloads, the app promotion industry is back on its feet and much more diversified, with different networks approaching the problem with different solutions. It could also be argued that the industry is more healthy given the fact that incentivized downloads generally produces low value users. It’s not perfect, but with the right combination of traditional promotion techniques and more specialised solutions, any budding app developer should be able to get his or her app noticed. What happens after that is down to how good your app is!