Advertising Options for Apps

Our team has been looking at advertising our app and I thought it might be useful for some people to get some details about some options we explored. By no means is this an exhaustive list or fully detailed. This data is taken from a variety of sites and some is opinion, and we are just starting out on our investigation in this space, so take it with a grain of salt!

This is for an app that is trying to target app installs, hence does not value impressions without installs, and may not want visual ads. We are at this stage since we want to get a small group of users, not try to start a large awareness campaign.

Below I will go over the stats of each and then afterwards, pros and cons I found.

Google Ads

There are a lot of types here, but if you want to pay per install, there are only two options.

  1. Search -> Sales or Leads
    • This is a typical ad you might see on Google search.
    • Targeting
      • Demographics – Parental Status, Marital Status, Education, Homeownership Status
      • Location
      • What they are researching/planning
      • How they have interacted with your business
      • Keywords
    • Bidding/Cost Optimization: Lots of ways to optimize, including on conversions within the app once you have set it up
    • Ad Format: Text
    • Placement: Google search, search partners, display partners
    • Through keywords, you can target the user intent pretty directly. Most online sites say this has one of the lowest ROI.
  2. Universal App
    • This is an ad specifically for app downloads
    • Targeting
      • Location
    • Bidding/Cost Optimization: CPI, but can target conversions within the app.
    • Ad Format: App Store Icon + Small Text + Install button, or optional image and video
    • Placement: All google networks.
    • In theory, this should learn the best users and placements for your app by itself. Once it learns, the ROI should be good, but may need to have a large campaign.
  3. Other Google Ads
    1. Typically similar level of targeting as Search -> Sales or Leads
    2. Does not allow CPI as a cost optimization strategy.
    3. More ad formats for videos and display
    4. Since they don’t target CPI, doesn’t seem optimal for an app trying to grow users specifically.

Facebook Ads

They use the same setup for all of their types of ads. They don’t end up being too different.

  • Targeting: Basically anything on the facebook page of a user, examples:
    • Location, Demographic (gender, age, education)
    • Interests
    • Job, Relationship, Location status (ex. moved in last 6 months)
    • Allows exclusions as well as inclusions
  • Bidding/Cost Optimization: Allows CPI or conversions for optimization, allows some bidding options
  • Ad Format: Flexible, most have an image or video + some text.
  • Placement: Flexible over Facebook networks.
  • ROI is not optimal but has very deep reach due to good conversions per impression.

Other Options

  • Bing + Yahoo
    • Targeting: Age and gender groups, key words, device, location
    • Targeting is done by bid increase or decrease, not full inclusion/exclusion
    • Allows blocking specific websites
    • Flexible in other dimensions
    • Supposedly very low ROI.
  • Twitter
    • Targeting: Age and gender groups, device, location, interests
    • Flexible in other dimensions
    • Supposedly high clicks per impression, but not high conversions, resulting in lower ROI
  • Influencers
    • Instagram influencer cost can vary a lot, but seems to be about $2 per 1000 followers, which is similar to an $2 for 1000 ad impressions.
  • Amazon
    • Mostly for products on Amazon.
    • For non products on Amazon, requires a budget of $35K or more and discussion with their team.
  • theTradeDesk
    • A big player, but seems to be for larger companies or platforms, not early startups
    • You can contact them for a demo or discuss campaign options.

How they compare

  • Targeting: There are two considerations here, who the user is that we are targeting, and what they are currently doing (user intent).
    • User: Facebook has the most information about the user and seems to win out here by a wide margin.
    • User Intent: The search engines (Google + Bing) know what they are searching for, if you can find cheap keywords to bid on they can be good.
  • Reach: All of the above have very high reach, even if you have very specific targeting, Facebook seems to saturate the latest.
  • ROI: Bing, then Google seems to have the highest ROI, but Twitter has better CPC, Facebook is somewhere in the middle for both.
  • Ad Format + Placement: Google has the largest amount of options for placement, but is restrictive of the Ad Format (others are all quite flexible) if targeting CPI.
  • Bidding Strategy: All have a lot of formats, but Google and Facebook (if you include their SDKs) allow the deepest into conversion cost, including allowing CPI.

Each of the platforms seems to have their own advantages depending on your needs. For us, I think that Google Search ads make the most sense for us because:

  • We want to target a user intent or users wanting to do something specific, not necessarily growing a specific demographic of users (Facebook may be better for that)
  • Text ad format is good enough for us
  • ROI focusing on CPI is important to us

The Universal App does not give enough control for an early stage app and likely needs a large campaign before the learning kicks in. Facebook allows better targeting of a user type, but does not target user intent, and the ROI seems to be worse. Other options have less flexibility on targeting than Google and do not integrate well in cost optimization. Google also allows for text only ads which makes it easier to deploy if you are not willing to spend too much on creatives. We might be discounting Bing, which is still a very large search engine and has most of the tools Google has and supposedly better ROI.

I have also read Google ads saturate quickly compared to Facebook ads, so you may end up having to do a few of these options quite quickly if you have a specific audience in mind!

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