9 Startup-Friendly Mobile App User Acquisition Ideas to Boost Growth and Success

MAUA: hand holding a mobile phone

With over 5.5 million apps available for download in 2023, clearly the app marketplace is booming and fiercely competitive.

For one, acquiring new users has become expensive. According to SimplixityDX, the average cost per user acquisition (CAC) has risen by 60% in the last five years to 2022, reaching an average of $29 per user. If you’re an app startup with a shoestring budget, this could pose a problem.

Fortunately, our experience growing apps from zero to multi-million dollars has taught us effective user acquisition strategies that don’t break the bank. I’ll share these insights with you in this article.

Read on to discover mobile user acquisition hacks — ranging from free to affordable yet impactful paid techniques — that have empowered many of our startup partners to grow their user bases. Keep them in mind as you plan your user acquisition campaigns to boost mobile growth and success.

What is mobile user acquisition?

Mobile app user acquisition is the process of attracting and converting users to download and use a mobile app. The goal is to drive more traffic to your app and convert that traffic into users. Depending on your needs, you can implement a free, paid, or a combination of paid and free strategies.

5 Powerful Mobile App User Acquisition Strategies You Can Practically Do Free

Free strategies involve organic methods and do not require direct advertising spend or other paid efforts to attract users. Here are some strategies that often require zero investment and tips to execute them effectively:

#1 Optimize app store pages

One effective way to acquire new users for your app is to ensure that your app’s page in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store is as optimized as possible. This process is known as app store optimization (ASO).

ASO works similarly to search engine optimization (SEO) for websites. Just as businesses try to rank high on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), mobile app developers strive to rank high on app stores’ results pages.

The higher the app store ranking, the greater the chance of app downloads.

Optimizing your app store page can significantly increase your chances of acquiring new users for your iOS or Android app. In fact, app store spending generated $167 billion in 2022, indicating the significant financial impact of app store activities.

How to optimize your app store pages

  • Make your title keyword rich and descriptive. This means using the right keywords so that your app shows up when potential customers search for something related to your product or service. Tools like Google Keyword Planner, App Store Connect (for iOS), or Google Play Console (for Android) can help you discover valuable keywords.
  • Add keyword-rich metadata to your description. Include an enticing description and high-quality screenshots so potential users can understand what your app is all about.
  • Use high-quality visuals. Show off your app’s best features using clear, engaging screenshots and videos. According to the book, “Brain Rules,” we remember 10% of the information we heard three days earlier; we remember 65% if visuals were present.
  • Strive for positive reviews and ratings. Research shows that 93% of consumers read online reviews before purchasing. Reviews and ratings also affect app rankings in the Apple App Store.
  • Create an attractive and memorable app icon. Your icon is the first thing users see, so it should stand out and reflect your app’s purpose. Make sure, too, that it meets the specifications and other requirements of the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

#2 Implement best SEO practices

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of techniques and strategies used to improve the visibility and ranking of a website, web page, or in this case, a mobile app in search engine results.

Imagine the internet is a gigantic library, and every website is a book in that library. When you want to find a specific book (website) on a particular topic, you ask the librarian (search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo) for help.

SEO is like making your book (website) more attractive and easy to find in the library. The librarian (search engine) uses certain criteria to organize and recommend books. SEO involves doing things to your book, such as giving it a clear title, organizing the content neatly, and ensuring the information inside is relevant and helpful.

So, in a nutshell, SEO is like optimizing your book’s chances of being recommended by the librarian in the vast library of the internet.

Now, here’s the catch: search engines do not disclose their ranking factors. They also update their algorithms regularly. Fortunately, there are a few best practices proven to have stood the test of time.

How to implement SEO effectively

  • Make sure your website is technically sound. This means having a crash-free, responsive design that scales to fit any screen size. Search engines favor websites that load quickly and are free of glitches since they are easier to crawl.
  • Design a rich user experience. Search engines no longer rank sites based solely on keywords. To improve visibility in search results, design your site to meet your audience’s search intent. This means ensuring all elements, from navigation and headers to buttons and content structure, are utilized effectively to create a frictionless experience.
  • Focus on creating high-quality content. Avoid stuffing keywords into your content just for the sake of it. Remember, all search engines aim to provide users with the best answers to their questions. Creating high-quality pieces will help users find your content and increase organic traffic.
  • Don’t forget about link building. Link building is one of the most important ranking factors for mobile search, so reach out to other websites in your industry and try to guest blog or get featured on their site.

#3 Utilize social media channels

Using social media channels to promote your app is a smart move for a few key reasons.

First, a large chunk of people worldwide — 5.04 billion people — use social media according to Viralyft. This means you have a massive audience to reach and potentially attract to your app.

Second, social media is not just a broadcast platform — it’s an interactive space. You can engage directly with your audience, addressing their concerns, answering questions, and incorporating their feedback into improving your app. These interactions help you establish a more personal connection with your users.

Lastly, social media enables you to build a community around your app. You can leverage the platform to foster a sense of belonging, encourage discussions, and keep your audience excited and involved in the journey of your mobile application.

MAUA: statistic about social media

Source: Sprout Social

How to promote your app on social media

  • Create informative content. This can be done through blog posts, infographics, videos, or even helpful tweets or Facebook posts. The key is to ensure that your content is interesting and useful, so people will want to learn more about your app and be encouraged to share your post.
  • Add engaging visuals. People are more likely to pay attention to a post that includes an eye-catching image or video. Make sure your visuals are high quality and relevant to your brand. Use video when feasible since video marketing is one of the most effective ways to market an app and other types of businesses.
  • Use hashtags. Hashtags can help you reach a wider audience by making your content discoverable. When using hashtags, be strategic and use ones that are relevant to your business and have low competition.
  • Post regularly. Consistency is key when promoting on social media. Doing so will keep your audience engaged and more likely to remember your brand when they need your products or services. You can refer to the frequency recommendations below for posting

on social media.

Take note that this guideline is a general guide rather than a rigid rule. You may need to adjust your posting frequency on factors such as audience engagement, platform algorithms, and content strategy.

Platform Ideal Frequency Rationale
Twitter Multiple times a day Twitter is fast-paced, and tweets have a short lifespan. Posting several times a day can help you stay visible in users’ feeds.
Facebook 1-3 times per day Quality matters on Facebook, so focus on creating engaging and shareable content. Posting once or twice a day is generally effective.
Instagram 1-2 times per day Instagram’s algorithm favors quality over quantity. Posting consistently but not excessively is key. Stories and reels can be posted more frequently.
LinkedIn 1-2 times per week LinkedIn is more focused on professional content. Posting a couple of times a week with informative and industry-relevant content works well.
Pinterest Several times per day Pinterest has a chronological feed, and frequent posting can help your content stay relevant. Aim for consistency with fresh and visually appealing pins.
YouTube 1-3 times per week Quality and consistency matter on YouTube. Focus on producing high-quality videos, and maintain a regular posting schedule to keep your audience engaged.
  • Run contests and giveaways. Everyone loves a good competition or giveaway, so this is a great way to drum up interest in your business. Just make sure the prize is something that would interest your target audience.

One example of a brand that exemplifies social media engagement is Grill’d. In the Facebook post below, the Australian fast-food giant and one of Appetiser’s clients excellently showcased what it needs to capture the fancy of its audience: a clever copy, an engaging visual, and an interesting deal.

MAUA: Grill'd Facebook post

Source: Grill’d

But did you know that before our app development team came into the picture, Grill’d was an unstable app with a 1-star app store rating? Read Grill’d’s case study to find out how we turned things around and increased its monthly active users by 51%.

MAUA: Grill'd app screenshot

#4 Invite loyal customers to refer your app

Word-of-mouth will always be one of the most powerful forms of mobile user acquisition. A great deal of research has found word-of-mouth marketing to be the most effective way of promoting services or products, including mobile apps.

Have a look at the following data:

MAUA: word of mouth infographics

Source: Engenius

These figures highlight the effectiveness and trustworthiness of word-of-mouth marketing, which, in my opinion, lie in the inherently relational human nature.

Personal recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues carry a weight of credibility because they stem from real-life interactions and genuine satisfaction. When individuals share positive experiences with a product, such as a mobile app, it creates a sense of authenticity that traditional advertising often struggles to achieve.

How to encourage users to refer your app

  • Make sharing your app easy. You can do this by adding a built-in social sharing feature on your mobile app. Another option is to include a link on your website, directing app users to the referral program.
  • Utilize email and social media. You may also email blast or create a social media campaign with a unique referral code or link. Make sure to use captivating images and compelling copy to grab attention and encourage people to click through to your referral page.
  • Offer incentives. Keep an eye on who’s referring the most people. To thank them for their loyalty, offer an incentive for every successful referral. This encourages users to refer and stick around longer.

For more valuable insights for promoting your app, check out our article on the 7 Biggest Mobile Marketing Trends That Will Continue in 2023.

#5 Feature user-generated content

Another effective yet pocket-friendly way to acquire mobile users is to feature user-generated content (UGC) on your website or social media.

UGC is any content created and published by users on mobile devices rather than by professionals or brands. This could be a review, a video testimonial, or even a post with photos of people using your mobile app.

The great thing about user-generated content is that it’s highly trusted — 93% of customers rely on UGC when making a purchasing decision. After all, it’s coming from a real person and not a paid advertisement. Therefore, it’s often seen as independent and objective.

Additionally, UGC allows users to feel like they are part of a community. And in our experience helping startups grow, when app users feel like they are part of a community, they are more likely to stick around.

How to feature UGC effectively

  • Secure the rights to use the content. Before using UGC for promotional purposes, obtain permission from the content creator. This is to avoid legal complications and ensure a hassle-free app marketing campaign.
  • Curate the content carefully. This means picking the best pieces of user-generated content to feature prominently on your promotional materials. It also involves choosing the most appropriate channels to showcase user-generated content.
  • Give credit to the original creator. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also helps build goodwill among potential users. After all, if you’re happy to give credit to the people who help promote your app, users are more likely to trust and download your app.

One example of a brand that effectively uses UGC for app marketing is Airbnb.

MAUA: Airbnb UGC

Source: Social Samosa

The vacation rental company encourages users to share photos and trip experiences on social media using the hashtag #Airbnb. This helps to generate buzz around the brand and drive traffic to the Airbnb mobile website.

4 Paid App User Acquisition Strategies Ideal for Startups

Indeed, organic methods are essential for long-term sustainability and success, but this doesn’t mean you should dismiss the idea of integrating paid strategies into your user acquisition master plan.

With how complex the user’s journey has evolved, it just makes sense to explore other types of strategies.

MAUA: organic vs paid user acquisition inforgraphic

Dominate the App Store.

Get the latest industry news first.

Source: LogRocket

In our experience consulting for app businesses, often, the most advantageous move combines free and paid models. Now, just because a method is paid, it doesn’t mean it has to cost you a fortune. You can acquire more users without overshooting your budget.

Here are some ways how:

#1 Utilize app store advertising platforms

Although this strategy works hand-in-hand with app store optimization, it’s an entirely different method.

App store advertising involves placing paid ads within the app store environment. These ads appear prominently in search results, category pages, or as featured placements, targeting users actively browsing or searching for apps.

It’s a cost-effective model with a cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-impression (CPM) structure, meaning you only pay for clicks or impressions generated by your ads.

There are two key players in this field: Apple Search Ads and Google Ads. To maximize the impact of your app on the respective ecosystems, consider carefully the strengths of each platform and tailor your strategies.

Apple Search Ads offers seamless integration with the Apple App Store, allowing advertisers to leverage the search behavior of iOS users. This platform emphasizes keyword relevance to user queries, ensuring that ads are displayed to those actively seeking apps similar to the advertised one.

Source: Apple App Store

On the other hand, Google Ads on Google Play taps into the vast Android user base, offering opportunities for advertisers to reach a diverse audience. The platform’s emphasis on demographic and behavioral targeting enables precise customization, making it a powerful tool for connecting with users based on their interests, preferences, and usage patterns.

Source: Google Play

How to advertise effectively on the app stores

  • Optimize your app store listing. Conduct thorough keyword research, optimize app titles and subtitles, feature a compelling description, include high-quality screenshots and videos, and observe other best ASO practices.
  • Create engaging ad creatives. Use clear images, captivating graphics, and a consistent visual theme. Also, craft compelling ad copy that communicates the value of your app concisely.
  • Conduct A/B testing. Test different variations of your ad campaign elements, such as visuals, ad copy, and calls to action. This helps you identify the most effective components.
  • Monitor and adjust your campaigns. Regularly analyze the performance of your ad campaigns. Track metrics such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and cost per acquisition (more on this below).

#2 Partner with influencers

Another cost-effective approach is influencer marketing. This strategy leverages the influencer’s existing rapport with their followers on platforms such as YouTube or Instagram, making it more likely that your brand will be well-received.

Collaborating with influencers can be effective because they have already cultivated a community that values their opinions and recommendations. When influencers authentically endorse a product or service, it can generate genuine interest and engagement from their followers.

The authenticity and personal connection that influencers bring to the promotional content contribute to the effectiveness of this strategy, as it feels less like traditional advertising and more like a trusted recommendation from a peer. That said, it is crucial to collaborate with influencers who can authentically align with your brand values and messaging.

How to conduct influencer marketing effectively

  • Identify relevant influencers. Select influencers whose audience aligns with your target demographic and brand values. Authenticity and relevance are key to building trust with their followers.
  • Build genuine relationships. Cultivate authentic relationships with influencers. Engage with them beyond transactional collaborations to create a long-term partnership that feels genuine and mutually beneficial.
  • Incorporate authenticity. Encourage influencers to share authentic and personal experiences with your product or service. Genuine testimonials and stories resonate more with their audience.
  • Focus on quality over quantity. Prioritize influencers with an engaged and authentic audience rather than those with the highest follower counts. Micro-influencers may have a more dedicated and trusting audience.

#3 Utilize paid user acquisition networks

Paid User Acquisition Networks, often referred to as UA (User Acquisition) networks, are specialized platforms or services that help mobile app developers and businesses promote and acquire users for their mobile applications through paid advertising.

These networks provide a centralized marketplace where advertisers (app developers or businesses) can connect with publishers (advertising channels) to run ad campaigns.

Think of these networks as your app’s promoters — like advertising partners that help your app get noticed by more people. They use paid methods, like ads, to make sure your app reaches a larger audience and gets more users. It’s like having a team that spreads the word about your app to attract new users through paid promotions.

That said, keep in mind that not all user acquisition platforms and agencies are equal. So, make sure you practice due diligence when picking a network.

How to choose the right user acquisition networks:

  • Choose a network that aligns with your target audience. Look for networks that can reach the specific demographics and user segments you want for your app. Understanding your audience and ensuring the network can effectively target them will maximize the impact of your paid campaigns.
  • Opt for a network that provides robust performance tracking and analytics tools. You want to know how well your campaigns are doing, what’s working, and where improvements can be made. Detailed analytics help you measure the return on investment and make data-driven decisions to optimize your user acquisition strategy.
  • Consider the ad formats and creative options offered by the network. Different networks support various ad formats, such as banners, videos, or interactive ads. Choose a network that allows you to showcase your app effectively and engage your target audience. Additionally, assess the creative support they provide to ensure your ads are visually appealing and compelling.
  • Evaluate the network’s pricing structure and transparency. Look for flexibility in budgeting to accommodate your financial resources. Understand how the network charges for its services and ensure there are no hidden fees.

#4 Use in-app advertising

This strategy involves promoting your app within other popular apps that cater to a similar audience. You put up ads in other apps to get people interested in yours.

One great thing about this method is that it is cost-effective, meaning you can control how much money you spend based on how many people see or click on your ads. It’s also often cheaper than other traditional ways of advertising.

Reaching 1,000 people through online advertising typically costs from $3 to $10, while the average cost of reaching the same audience through traditional or offline advertising starts at $22 and can go higher.

Another exciting benefit of in-app advertising is that it gives you a lot of data. This data helps you see how well your ads are doing and understand what users are doing in your app. Having access to that information empowers you to make your ads better and get more people interested in your app.

One ad hosting app that executes this method well is Uber. The company offers advertising surfaces on both its ride-hailing and food service platforms. With visibility to customers’ data and in-app activity, Uber manages to feature targeting hyper-relevant ads.

MAUA: Uber Eats in-app ad sample MAUA: Uber in-app ad sample

Source: Uber

How to execute in-app ads effectively

  • Ensure precise targeting. Identify your target audience based on demographics, interests, and behavior. The more accurately you can target your ads to specific user groups, the higher the chances of attracting users genuinely interested in your app.
  • Create eye-catching and engaging ad creatives. Whether it’s banners, interstitials, native ads, or videos, your visuals and content should stand out. Use clear and compelling language, high-quality images, and concise messages to capture users’ attention and convey the value of your app.
  • Prioritize user experience. Ensure that your ads seamlessly integrate with the user experience of the hosting app. Users tend to positively receive non-intrusive and well-placed ads. Consider the mobile ad type, placement, timing, and frequency of your ads to enhance the overall user experience.
  • Regularly analyze performance metrics and user data. Pay attention to click-through rates, conversion rates, and user engagement (more on this below). Use this information to refine your targeting parameters, adjust ad creatives, and allocate your budget effectively.

Mobile app metrics startups should track

Part of ensuring a successful mobile user acquisition strategy is keeping tabs on your app’s performance. To make sound decisions, pay attention to the following key metrics:

📱 Cost per acquisition (CPA)

To gauge how effectively you’re able to acquire new mobile users, you must calculate your cost per acquisition (CPA) or how much you spend to acquire new users. Calculating CPA follows this straightforward formula:

CPA = Total user acquisition cost per channel / Number of new app installs in a given timeframe

📱 Engagement rate

This metric measures how often users interact with your mobile app. It indicates how interested users are in what your app has to offer. To gauge user engagement, you need to track the following:

  • Daily Active Users (DAU) and Monthly Active Users (MAU): How many use your mobile app daily and monthly
  • Average Session Length & Frequency: How often and long app users interact with your mobile app

📱 Churn rate

App churn rate is the percentage of users who stop using your mobile app within a given period. This metric gives you insight into how good your app is in keeping users. Here’s the simplest way to calculate your app churn rate:

Churn rate = Total app uninstalls on a specific timeframe / Total app installs at the start of the specified timeframe

📱 Total app uninstalls

This metric reflects the cumulative number of times your application has been removed or deleted from users’ devices. It indicates a loss of active installations. The formula to calculate the total app uninstalls is straightforward:

Total App Uninstalls = Initial Installations −Current Installations

📱 Retention rate

App retention indicates users’ continued use of your mobile product or service. It reflects your mobile app’s ability to keep users interested over time. Calculating app retention can be done using any of the following formulas:

Aggregate retention rate = Total monthly active users / Total app installs

Retention rate for cohort = Total users retained at the end of a given timeframe / Total app installs at the start of a given timeframe

The key to a solid user acquisition strategy

Like most things in the ever-changing world of app marketing, user acquisition is an ongoing process. Therefore, the key to implementing an effective user acquisition strategy is consistency.

While some user acquisition hacks I’ve mentioned may be more effective than others, they all require ongoing effort and attention to produce results. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see positive impacts immediately.

Continue to measure crucial mobile app metrics and pivot strategies accordingly. As long as you’re consistent with your efforts, you should start seeing a difference in your app’s popularity and engagement levels.

You may also check out an article written by one of our founders for a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to promoting your app before and after launch.

Ready to elevate your mobile app business? Reach out to us, and let’s explore how we can enhance your success together.

Dominate the App Store.

Get the latest industry news first.

Roamni Case Study
How Jason & Greg Built an App Worth Over $5 Million
  • How to Get $100,000s in Funding for Your App
  • What Makes a Profitable and Successful App
  • 7 Critical Entrepreneurial Lessons From Jason and Greg
  • How to Create Apps that Get People Hooked