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Why Ad Bursts Work to Drive App Installs

[Originally posted on ClickZ April 7th 2011]

Not using advertising when launching an app in the App Store is like launching a website and not telling anyone the URL; your app never gets discovered. With more than 369,000 apps in the App Store and more than a thousand being submitted each month, advertising gets your app noticed.

In my February column, “How To Achieve A Top Chart Ranking In The Apple iOS App Store,” I scratched the surface on using burst campaigns to improve your ranking in the App Store. In this column, I am going to discuss key takeaways from using ad bursts to capture that elusive top ranking.

My company launched Dolphin Play on December 21, 2010. Dolphin Play was supported with three ad “burst” campaigns in its first 90 days, achieving a Top 25 Overall Free App Store ranking during each campaign with a 175 percent lift on average in organic installs over paid installs.

What is a burst campaign? Burst campaigns happen when an app developer concentrates their advertising spend over a short period of time to boost their app’s popularity.

Why use a burst campaign? In my company’s proprietary research of 458 consumers with smartphones, consumers indicated that the top three ways they discovered apps were: Top 25 Overall Chart (Free Apps or Paid Apps), Category Chart (like Games or Books), and New Featured. It pays to top the charts or get featured. If done right, a burst campaign results in a prominent ranking in the App Store, driving organic installs. As stated above, we saw a 175 percent lift for each paid install.

Here are some pitfalls to avoid when planning burst campaigns that we wish we knew before launching Dolphin Play.

Be sure all your ducks are in a row. Images and copy must be spot-on to increase conversions. Creating an app with strong, communicable benefits is important. Building an engaging app is paramount to retain the acquired user.

Focus on finding low-cost, high-volume, predictable install distribution sources. My company found that pay-per-install advertising was more predictable than display advertising, so it was easier to “burst” the campaign. It will take several campaigns to determine what media buys will result in profitable installs. We also found that incented sources were more affordable than non-incented sources of traffic.

Do not underspend. Organic installs optimize once you land a ranking in the top 50 of the app charts, so concentrate your largest spend during the first 24 hours. You can maintain this position with about half of the daily installs.

Be wary of increased costs during the holidays and other peak periods. With Dolphin Play, we wanted to capitalize on the holiday demand for apps. As consumers get new devices for holiday gifts as well as gift cards, they are naturally in the spending mood. We experienced an organic boost of 269 percent but the ad spend was much higher than anticipated. Although we were able to get increased installs, ad rates were higher and inventory more difficult to secure.

It can happen in reverse also. My company recently launched AppAllStar, a free game of the day deal service, receiving nearly 200,000 installs in four days. Part of this success was due to timing the launch with the beginning of the baseball season. Users could identify with the emotion tied to the word “all star” and the “quality” attached to it given the high level of interest in baseball during early spring. Make sure that you consider seasonal timing in the equation.

Using burst campaigns to get high App Store rankings works. It is a science to optimize the spend for the ultimate profit from your apps. Be sure to monitor your ROI and continue to apply your learnings to future campaigns. If you have any other tips on bursting your way to the top, please leave them below.


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