In terms of online advertising growth, mobile is where it’s at. In 2013 an estimated $13.1 billion was spent on mobile advertising. Mobile advertising revenues are expected to grow to around $18 billion in 2014 (TechCrunch, 2014).

Since 2010, internet advertising growth was fueled by 123% compound annual growth rate in mobile, compared to a measly 12% growth in non-mobile revenue (IAB report, 2014).

One of the areas in mobile advertising that has taken off is mobile app promotion; advertising on mobile phones that promotes mobile apps (iOS / Android). It works so well because users never leave the mobile ecosystem. In most cases a click on the ad takes the visitor straight to a specific app on the Google Play Store or iOS App Store. It’s scalable, low friction and very effective to acquire mobile app users.

In this article I’ll discuss results and insights from one of the mobile advertising campaigns I’ve run recently.

App Promotion 101: Affiliate Networks, Advertising & Tracking

A few months ago I decided to experiment with a few advertising strategies to promote mobile apps. I currently don’t have my own iOS or Android app so I used mobile affiliate offers for my campaigns.

There are many affiliate networks that have cost per install (CPI) offers for mobile apps. Some networks even specialise in mobile affiliate offers.

Mobile affiliate marketing is hot right now partly because mobile ads are still less competitive than desktop advertising. But it’s also because mobile advertising strategies are much harder to reverse engineer than other forms of advertising.

When you are running a profitable mobile campaign it’s more difficult for your competition to copy your strategies. Why? Because spy tools for mobile advertising are not as advanced as for more established traffic sources like Google Adwords and because mobile advertising offers very granular targeting settings which make it much harder to reverse engineer a campaign by just looking at an ad.

Here’s what you need to start promoting mobile apps:

  • An account with an affiliate network that has mobile offers (I used Mundo and Glispa for my campaigns)
  • An affiliate tracking solution like Voluum
  • An account with a mobile advertising network (I used Decisive for this case study)
  • A virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated server

For cost per install offers many affiliates directly link to the app using their affiliate link. Most mobile apps are free and therefore it’s easy to generate app installs without a landing page that is selling the benefits of the app.

4 Useful Mobile Advertising Spy Tools

Once you’ve got your basic networks and tracking setup it makes sense to do some research and understand how other advertisers and affiliates are promoting mobile apps. There are still fewer research and spy tools that are specifically designed for mobile advertising compared to desktop advertising.

But as I mentioned earlier that can be a good thing since it’s harder for your competition to figure out what you are doing.

Below are four tools that I used extensively as part of this campaign. Also check out my other article about my favorite online marketing spy tools here.

WhatRunsWhere
WhatRunsWhere (WRW) is a display advertising spy tool for desktop and mobile advertising. Especially for mobile advertising WRW offers more features, ad networks and countries than any of the other tools I’ve tested.

WRW allows you to find out on which ad networks specific mobile apps are being promoted and what text or banner ads the advertisers are using. It’s a great way to learn about mobile advertising before spending thousands of dollars on your own ads.

There’s a 3-day trial for $1 which you should check out.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A VPN provider allows you to establish a more secure connection between your computer or mobile phone and the internet.

But it also allows you to appear to be located in a different place than you actually are and that’s the real benefit in terms of advertising research. There are plenty of VPN providers who offer servers in dozens of countries.

That way you can connect to a VPN server in pretty much any country on your iPhone or Android and see the actual ads that are running in that particular country. Advertising spy tools are using this strategy on a large scale to collect their intel.

Where Goes?
Sometimes you will want to see the entire path of redirects from a URL to the final destination. WhereGoes.com shows you exactly that. It’s a great way to find out what ad networks or affiliate networks an advertiser is using.

It’s a free tool, check it out here: WhereGoes.com.

App Annie
App Annie is a free tool that shows you worldwide app store rankings for any mobile app. It’s a great tool to find out how long an app has been around and whether it’s been heavily promoted recently.

Check it out here: App Annie.

Android App Promotion Case Study and Results

I’ve run a number of different mobile cost per install offers. For this case study I will discuss the results of one particular app. The offer was a free Android utility app with a payout of $0.50 per app install.

Cost Per Install Offer

  • Free Utility App
  • Operating System: Android
  • Country: Brazil
  • Affiliate Payout: $0.50 per app install

Mobile Advertising

  • Ad Spend: $1,337.48
  • Clicks: 72,859
  • Conversion Rate: 5.3%
  • Cost per Click: 1.8 cent
  • CPM: $0.09

App Installs, Revenue & Profit

  • App Installs: 4,127
  • Cost per Install: $0.32
  • Revenue: $2,063.50
  • Profit: $726.02

The campaign generated 4,127 app installs at a cost per install of $0.32. The total profit over two weeks was $726.02.

Mobile Advertising Optimisation and Targeting Features

In order to achieve results similar to the campaign described above you need to test and optimise all aspects of your mobile advertising campaigns.

Here are some unique targeting features of mobile advertising:

  • Connection type targeting: you can choose to target users who are connected to a wi-fi network or mobile carrier (3G / 4G connection)
  • Carrier targeting: you can target users based on their carrier (e.g. only users on Verizon)
  • Operating system: Android / iOS / Windows Phone etc.
  • OS version: target or blacklist specific versions (e.g. iOS 6.1 or newer)
  • Device model: iPhone 4 / iPhone 5 / Samsung Galaxy 4 etc.
  • Content type: run ads only in mobile apps or on websites
  • App targeting: choose specific apps to run your ads in (e.g. only fitness related apps)

In addition to the unique targeting opportunities many mobile ad networks offer real-time bidding (RTB) to advertisers. That means as soon as your ads are running your statistics are updated in real-time and you can adjust your settings based on the performance immediately.

Here are the optimisation strategies I have used for the Android case study described above:

Banner Designs

Mobile traffic is cheap and conversion rates for app installs are high. That means you can get results on your banner split tests quickly. For this campaign I split tested 29 different banner designs (320×50).

Only two out the 29 banner designs consistently generated app installs at a cost per install of $0.32. The next best banner design generated a 30% higher cost per install. Banner copy and design are probably your most important optimisation strategy.

Advertising in Apps vs on Websites

For this campaign the cost per install from advertising in apps was much lower compared to advertising on websites. This doesn’t always have to be the case but after a few days I chose to only advertise in apps for this campaign.

Wi-Fi vs Carrier Connection

Wi-Fi is typically where it’s at in terms of traffic volume. 86% of my traffic came from users connected to a wi-fi network and only 14% were using a carrier connection (3G / 4G etc.). Interestingly the cost per install was 30% lower for mobile users who were using a carrier connection.

Device Brands and Models

A large part of the traffic for this campaign came from Samsung phones. The performance reports were showing dozens of different handset models with huge differences in conversion rates. Some handset models were generating app installs for as low as $0.12 per install. I also had to blacklist a number of handset models that were generating a cost per install above the payout of $0.50 per install.

Operating System Version

The operating system version also has a huge impact on the performance. In this case some older Android OS versions were generating very low conversion rate and I blacklisted them.

Opportunities in Mobile Advertising

As you can see it’s possible to make money as an affiliate by promoting cost per install offers. The campaign described above was one of my first mobile affiliate campaigns.

In the beginning there’s a bit of a learning curve when you setup your affiliate networks, mobile ad networks and tracking tools. But after that you can launch and test campaigns quickly.

There’s a huge opportunity in developing better ways to monetize mobile traffic. Mobile app promotion is one strategy that is proven to work well because there’s almost zero friction; users are on their mobile phone, click on an ad and are taken straight to the app store to download it.

However, other areas like mobile e-commerce traffic are still nowhere close to the performance of desktop traffic. e-Commerce conversion rates for mobile devices are currently only one third to one quarter of tablet or desktop conversion rates (Smart Insights, 2014).

Mobile advertising is probably the most exciting area of online advertising and also an area with huge opportunity since ad formats and features are evolving fast.

Have you experimented with mobile advertising strategies already?