UA, your way: a guide to user acquisition for the modern marketer

July 13, 2020

Tags: Industry Perspectives, Marketers

Marketers today are hired for skill sets spanning many roles. From analytics to monetization and product to data, the modern marketer wears many hats to help grow their brand. Perhaps one of the most important roles the modern marketer has taken on is the task of acquiring new customers. In the tech space, the search for new business is referred to as user acquisition (UA), and has opened the door to many new roles, strategies, metrics, and rules for success. As if wearing many hats wasn’t enough, the world of UA has its own jargon to learn too. Successful campaigns run across many channels, utilize a variety of targeting techniques, and are measured against several metrics. In order to succeed at acquiring new users and growing their apps, mobile marketers today should understand the ins and outs of user acquisition lingo, key channels, targeting techniques, and key metrics. Here’s our guide to walking the UA walk and talking the UA talk. 

User Acquisition and how success is evaluated is rapidly changing. As marketers, we need to evolve with the industry to keep up with the newest technology and metrics to ensure we’re seeing success and getting the most value from our campaigns.

Dan Morris, Senior Manager, Growth Marketing at DraftKings Inc.

What it really means to manage user acquisition today

At MoPub, we recognize the value of building out and perfecting a robust user acquisition strategy, and it starts with understanding the true meaning of the term. By definition, user acquisition (often shortened to UA) is the act of gaining new users for an app, platform, or other service. On mobile, user acquisition is a strategy designed around generating installs, usually achieved by advertising campaigns and promotional offers. 

Using paid acquisition and UA campaigns to get your app in front of the right audience

With millions of apps fighting for the attention of users across various app stores, breaking the clutter and driving adoption can be a daunting task for app developers and marketers. To become the preferred app in a specific category, marketers need to build a holistic marketing strategy that can place their app in front of the right audience. There are 2M+ unique apps in Apple’s App Store and 3.8M+ in Google’s Play Store, making app discovery extremely competitive, and today, many successful mobile publishers are now using paid acquisition to drive profitable growth. UA campaigns can also help reinvigorate declining organic app installs, and whether launching, refreshing, or scaling the user base beyond the initial target audience, a top 10 spot in the app store comes with highly valuable free marketing and increased visibility that can launch momentum to achieve exponential growth, and profit.

Top channels for user acquisition

  • Universal App Campaigns (UAC) are an automated ad type in Google Ads that can help advertisers generate more app installs and/or drive in-app conversions. One setup runs ads across Google Search, Google Play, YouTube, Google Display Network, and AdMob.

  • Social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Snap, TikTok, and Twitch provide a platform for not only community engagement, which often translates to growing an organic user base, but also paid promotion. A marketer wants their brand to be part of a community where users will talk about it, and social platforms provide that network built into their culture. 

  • Ad networks enable marketers to reach a much larger and diverse audience, and can help maximize conversions on mobile opportunities through a wider range of apps. Networks provide the marketer with scale and some specialized targeting that increases their level of customization.

  • Programmatic technology platforms enable automated media buying at scale. App advertisers are able to bid in real time auctions of multiple ad exchanges using a single interface. 

Current common targeting techniques: 

  • Lookalike audiences are a way to reach new people who are likely to be interested in your business because they're similar to your best existing customers. 

  • Retargeting works by keeping track of people who visit your site and displaying your retargeting ads to them as they visit other sites online.

  • Negative targeting or a suppression list works by providing a channel partner with a list of organics to not target during a new user campaign.

Note: Apple’s recent announcement regarding Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) for iOS 14 will likely impact mobile app targeting techniques once it goes into effect. At this stage, many across the industry are figuring out exactly what this will mean for targeting, and we look forward to keeping you posted as more information becomes known.

Key metrics and how to calculate them:

  • CPM (cost per thousand impressions): the amount an advertiser pays a website/publisher per one thousand visitors who sees its advertisements, or cost per 1,000 impressions of an ad. Formula: Cost/impressions * 1000 = CPM

  • CPI (cost per install): a pricing model used in mobile user acquisition campaigns in which app advertisers pay each time a user installs their app from an ad. CPI is a very common pricing model and is specific to mobile apps. Formula: Spend / installs = CPI

  • CPA (cost per acquisition): an online advertising payment model in which payment is based solely on qualifying actions such as sales or registrations. Formula: Total earnings of campaign/ number of actions taken = CPA

  • ROAS (return on ad spend): a popular metric that can help businesses evaluate if their campaigns are successful by revealing how much revenue they’ve earned for every dollar spent. Formula: Revenue / cost of media

  • LTV (lifetime value): the metric that indicates the total revenue a business can reasonably expect from a single customer account. It considers a customer's revenue value, and compares that number to the company's predicted customer lifespan. Formula: Total in-app purchase revenue + advertising revenue/ all new game users 

For mobile marketers looking to become more knowledgeable about the ins and outs of running a successful user acquisition campaign, we hope these insights have provided a strong baseline for your next steps towards UA mastery. Still have questions about the programmatic landscape, how to evaluate partners, and practical tips on activating and optimizing campaigns? Be sure to check out insights from MoPub’s Programmatic Summer School series for mobile marketers, or get in touch with us today to learn how our Marketer Program can help maximize your programmatic investment. 

About the author: Kristy Barger, Sr. Programmatic Demand Lead

Kristy has spent over 15 in the digital advertising space with the last 7 focusing on mobile. She is familiar with a variety of platforms including SSPs, DSPs, Adnet, ATDs and has experience with advertisers across multiple verticals. At MoPub, she’s currently focused on helping mobile app marketers develop and refine their programmatic user acquisition strategies. 


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