500k App Downloads in a Month – Learn from our Digital Marketing Expert

500k App Downloads in a Month

How I Got into the Data-driven World of Digital Marketing 

My favourite advertisement back in college was the “First Love” campaign released by McDonalds in 2009. It featured a young boy who first fell in love in McDonalds. Even as an adult, he gets hit by that nostalgic butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling whenever he dines at the fast-food restaurant. The message of the commercial resonated with me and many people my age. It was one of the first ads that went viral in the digital age in the Philippines. I wanted to create an ad just like it.

When I started working in advertising, what caught my attention was the burgeoning landscape of digital advertising. Back in 2008, digital marketing was just emerging in the Philippines. Companies were putting up websites, and media platforms were experimenting with ad placements. The impact digital marketing had on more mature markets such as the United States excited me, and I pivoted my focus to this field.

What I like best about digital marketing is that it’s measurable. I like data and analytics. It’s really interesting to understand how somebody becomes a customer through digital marketing. When someone looks at a McDonald’s billboard, for example, you are unaware of how one converts from viewing the ad to buying a Big Mac. If you run a digital ad, you can drill down to when the last interaction with the brand was before that person ordered a McDonald’s delivery.

I also like that digital marketing keeps on evolving. Although I have more than 10 years of experience in this field, I continue to educate myself on the new tools, technology, and strategies. It keeps me on top of my game and instilled in me the idea to never be complacent.

So, let’s get down to business.

How I achieved 500,000 app downloads in one month

It’s quite easy to get 500,000 app downloads in a month. Have a big budget. Spend a lot of money on app install ads and follow these steps. That’s the trick. Hope you enjoyed my TED talk.

Kidding aside, budget is a major factor in acquiring app downloads. Big companies, such as Supercell, spend millions of dollars on acquiring app downloads. Obtaining 500,000 downloads in a month is easy for them—they actually get millions. However, this isn’t the case for most companies and apps that are just starting out.

I handled a browser extension application that was receiving 3,000 app installs a day, which translated to 100,000 installs a month. In three to four months, I was able to increase app installs to almost 20,000 a day—that’s over 500,000 app installs a month. I did this without adding any budget—zero budget increase! Instead, I employed optimisation techniques such as targeting, scaling, and testing. Check out the 5 ways I was able to do this, based on the techniques I learned over the past 10 years.

Determine Your App Monetisation Strategy

Tip 1 – Determine Your Monetisation Strategy

If you have a small company looking to launch an app, first, you’ll need to determine how your app will earn. App development and growing an app is not singularly about getting as many installs as possible. You can spend a huge amount of money if you have the budget and get thousands of app installs in a week, but how will your app ultimately earn money long-term? You want to be earning, not burning.

An important metric to keep track of when running digital marketing campaigns is the cost of customer acquisition (CAC). This metric measures how much cost is associated with convincing a customer to buy your product or service. For example, you spent $10,000 on a Facebook Ad and you were able to get 100 customers to purchase your good or service from that one campaign. Your CAC for that campaign would have been $100. An acquisition can vary for different companies –  it may mean an app download, a customer who made a first purchase or even an email subscriber. Determine what you want to acquire and what is realistic for your product.

Next, you’ll want to figure out how your app will make money. Is your app going to earn through ads? Will it run on a freemium model, or will it be a paid app? Your decision will be a major factor in determining the acceptable CAC.

For the browser extension application I was involved with, we aimed to acquire customers who would not only download the app but would also spend on features. When looking at Tier 1 markets for the product, e.g., South America, UK and Australia,  customers acquired from these locations were willing to spend on our product. However, Tier 1 markets had a high CAC when compared to that of Tier 2 markets such as India. For the latter, CAC was only 1/10th of that of Tier 1 markets.

Monetisation for the Tier 2 market, on the other hand, was more difficult. The time it took to recover the investment through selling add-ons and premium subscriptions were double that of Tier 1. Customers in Tier 2 markets were happy to use our browser extension as a free trial, but when it came to paying for a subscription fee and add-ons, Tier 1 markets were more than willing to spend comparatively.

When planning to run an app install campaign, It’s important to first determine how you plan to earn through your app and how much you are willing to spend per app install.

Track and Measure Campaigns

Tip 2 – Track and Measure Campaigns

Before you start any app install campaign, you want to make sure that you are able to track and measure campaigns. Simply put, tracking campaigns allows you to find out where your app installs are coming from. Is it through Facebook, Google or another ad network? You can be more granular and track results by campaign name, and even by the actions done by the customer on the site.

When I launch an app, I try to track everything – from every button to every banner. While this may be a lot of work, you won’t regret it as it’ll give you a wealth of information about the behaviour of your customer.

Data and analytics are imperative to making your ads work for you. By understanding the metrics you track on platforms like Google Analytics, you’ll be able to measure how effective your campaigns are and make the correct incremental changes to obtain more customers or spend less for the same result.

If you’re not fluent in data and analytics, I suggest learning before implementing app install campaigns. You can learn through free or paid online courses. The best-case scenario is to have a mentor – someone who is willing to light your path and give you direction.

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Some free ways to learn is to listen to podcasts from Neil Patel who talks about organic and paid digital marketing news and strategies, as well as inspirational podcasts from entrepreneur and advertising agency mogul Gary Veynerchuck. Learning how to translate metrics into insights is essential because it’s disadvantageous to spend money without understanding your results.

Always be Testing

Tip 3 – Always be Testing

Testing is comparing different versions of an ad to measure the differences in performance and see which works better to achieve your goal. Testing your campaigns will enable you to come up with the best combination of copy, creative, landing page and even product to deliver to your customers.

When testing, always seek to answer a question. In other words, ask yourself: Will this change increase conversion rate? Will this test lead to more economical conversions? Does this tie into the app’s monetisation strategy?

For my browser extension campaign, I tested ads on Facebook, Google and other ad networks to validate whether one network warrants more spending over the other. Once I pinpointed Facebook and Google as more effective channels, I continued to test and validate a mix of creatives, target audiences and landing pages. I did this to determine which combination provided the best return on ad spend (ROAS). This metric measures how effective a digital marketing campaign is. It measures how much dollars you receive for every dollar you spent on advertising.

I recommend spending a maximum of 15% of your advertising budget on testing in order to achieve a profitable campaign. Once you’ve come up with profitable campaigns, use the rest of your budget to scale up.

Testing informed me of the best mix of elements to wisely spend my budget and ensure that I get the best return as possible.


Align Product, Ad and Audience

Tip 4 – Align Product, Ad and Audience

When preparing for a campaign, figure out who your target audience is. Come up with personas of your ideal customers to have the best idea who you should be targeting, what you want to tell them and the creative you want to show them. Remember the tip I gave about testing? In other words, a perfect campaign doesn’t exist since you will continue to test and optimise to refine your campaign to your audience.

If you find out that the type of user attracted to your ads isn’t your defined target audience, you can opt to pivot. But before you pivot, you need to make sure that your product aligns with this new direction. For example, your ad attracts millennials but your defined audience are baby boomers. Your ad works well and you obtain the lowest CAC since you started, but later find out that millennials download the app but quickly uninstall the app and do not spend on in-app purchases and add-ons.

However, will this new audience find value in your app and spend on in-app purchases and add-ons? If they only take action on the ad but do not actively use the product, then rethink the ad’s message to target customers that will lead to monetisation. Simply put, spend on ads that will attract users who will spend on your product.

Use Data to Strategise

Tip 5 – Use Data to Strategise

Acquisition is just step 1. If you are McDonald’s, for example, your step 1 is to get customers into the restaurant. Step 2 is to make sure they order according to your store’s promotions and friendly staff’s recommendations. McDonald’s should get the most out of each engagement with the customers. Ensuring that the customer comes back by giving good service and top-notch dining experience are steps 3, 4, and so on.

For an app — whether it’s a web or a mobile one — ads are simply the first steps to getting a customer to interact with your product. Making sure that the app doesn’t crash and that the user experience is seamless is just as important as the app download.

When you run an ad and obtain a specific number of downloads, you are able to mine data from these users, and then later categorise them into audience types. Tracking every action (i.e., Tip 2) plays an important role in learning about your customer. Where in the customer journey do users make a purchase? Are you able to retarget them to buy an add-on? Do you understand where in the customer journey do they uninstall the app? These are all questions you can learn by analysing the information you can find on Google Analytics’ dashboards.

I employed strategic audience segmentation and targeting on my browser extension campaign using the gold mine of data I extracted from my previous campaigns. I came up with segments that hyper-targeted customers based on specific actions. For example, I created a lookalike audience to target users who would exhibit the same behaviour as a customer segment who made a lot of in-app purchases. This is how custom targeting allows you to maximise the return on your advertising spend (ROAS)

I ran a campaign to promote a new feature for the browser extension. I allocated 60 percent of the budget to the highest spenders on add-ons, 20 percent to the lowest spenders, and 20 percent to active customers who didn’t spend on any add-ons. In this scenario, I was able to maximise the return I’d potentially get for the same amount of budget.

500,000 app downloads is the goal but the process on how to get there is more important for success. These 5 steps are just the tip of the iceberg to building a successful app, creating the best product and winning the right customers.

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