Want to save this article for later?
Even if you’ve put in the work to create an awesome app, your business will fail if nobody knows about it.
So how do you stand out from the crowd of millions of apps to acquire users? Especially when nearly half of smartphone users don’t download any apps in a month, and the average user only downloads two?*
When it comes to mobile user acquisition, the only sure thing is that there’s more than one way to strike gold.
We’ll cover the most popular acquisition channels, examples of how successful mobile apps hit it big with that channel, and some pros and cons of each tactic. Plus, get expert advice from experienced growth marketers on how to acquire users for your app.
Here’s a rundown of the acquisition channels we’ll cover:
App store optimization is the practice of attracting users to download an app based on the title, keywords, ratings, and other ranking factors. Done right, ASO can drive a huge amount of high-quality traffic to your app.
Check out our in-depth collection of App Store optimization best practices for more tips.
When Dark Sky Weather changed their title from simply “Dark Sky” to “Dark Sky – Weather Radar, Hyperlocal Forecasts, and Storm Alerts”, their rankings skyrocketed. Including the right keywords in your title has a tremendous impact.
App Store Search for “Weather” Image: Dark Sky
Their current app store page is packed with keywords like weather, forecasts, radar, hyperlocal, and weather alerts. It features beautiful screenshots, a description that highlights the app’s key benefits, high user ratings, and even an Editor’s Choice award.
The app is currently ranked #1 in the Weather category and ranked in the Top 50 overall.
Dark Sky on the Apple App Store
Organic channels can be both an effective and cost-efficient way to drive app user acquisition. Building a website, maintaining active social media channels, and funneling traffic to your app store page are all tactics that drive organic growth.
Organic campaigns are especially effective when complemented with paid ads, which can boost organic app installs by 150%.* Which only proves the importance of diversifying your user acquisition efforts over several channels and strategies.
Since their inception in 2007, Evernote has focused on education and content marketing as a basis for its mobile user acquisition strategy. Fast forward to today, and the app has over 225 million users and a reported valuation of $1 billion.*
Evernote’s content campaigns feature articles and videos on topics like productivity, goal setting, going paperless, app usage tips, and even interviews with high-profile users. Its content is both educational and engaging, and designed to appeal to both current Evernote users and potential users whose pain points the app solves.
Image: Evernote Blog
Paid ads can put your app in front of a massive audience, not to mention create additional touch points to further engage existing users. Think social media ads, PPC campaigns via Google Adwords, native and interstitial ads, even cross-promotions with partner apps.
Flight tracking and travel booking app Hopper used Instagram Stories to reach 7.5 million millennials across the US and Canada. It used campaign targeting to zero in on young people who plan their trips further in advance and are interested in monitoring fares over the course of a few months in order to nab the best price.
The results? A 67% higher rate of app installs, 50% more flight searches for new users, and an 80% higher booking rate for new users.*
As of October 2018, Hopper has passed 30 million installs. It’s on track to make nearly $1 billion in sales this year, in addition to a $780 million valuation.
Winning your audience’s trust and gaining a following can be incredibly difficult, especially when you’re just entering the market. By tapping into an influencer who already has an established relationship with your target users, you can increase your credibility and brand awareness in a huge way.
In fact, 33% of users say they downloaded an app because it was recommended to them.
Starting in 2012, wildly popular meditation app Headspace grew its user acquisition by targeting a more mainstream audience: promoting mindfulness as a way to improve athletic performance.
They partnered with influencers from a variety of fitness communities, like running expert Knox Robinson and Paul Karmiryan of So You Think You Can Dance. And recently, the app inked a major deal with the NBA, where players with massive social followings will share how they incorporate the app into their training regimens.
Partnerships, journalists, bloggers, and even websites like Product Hunt can be extremely valuable channels to drive user installs. build app awareness, and generate buzz in the days and weeks prior to launch.
Mint founder Aaron Patzer concentrated on PR from the start, spending a full week every 2 months on press tours. By the time of acquisition, Patzer had completed about 550 interviews, with every outlet from ABC to Yahoo!. He credits those campaigns as their most effective user acquisition channels.
Mint’s PR efforts led to a 255% increase in coverage and extremely high-quality traffic. They saw as many as 20,000 signups a day and became the fastest-growing personal finance software. According to Patzer, their PR campaigns were so efficient that Mint’s cost of user acquisition was under $1.*
71% of mobile marketers say they use video for user acquisition.* Why?
Is it because YouTube now reaches more individuals between the ages of 18-34 than any cable network?*
Perhaps because 30-second mobile video ads have an 88.3% completion rate?*
Because videos see 1,200% more social media shares — and bring visitors to your site that have a 64% likelihood of converting?
Or maybe because new users acquired via video ads have 3x higher retention rates than users who find an app via non-video ads?
Original programming is the foundation of Netflix’s business, for both user acquisition and retention. 58% of subscribers say they pay for Netflix for its original shows.* And the investment is paying off — the streaming giant added nearly 7 million users in the third quarter of 2018 alone.
Building awareness and excitement around its original programming premieres is critical, and Netflix takes a multi-channel approach that spans social media, video, print, and TV. To promote Season 3 of Stranger Things, for instance, Netflix released a video ad that teases a return to Hawkins, Indiana. The ad has nearly 2 million views and almost 5,000 viewer comments.
With up to 70% of emails now opened on mobile, there is a huge opportunity to drive customers and prospects to your app.
Use email marketing to promote your brand’s content, share product updates, offer discounts, and hype upcoming events. Email is also a great way to connect with your audience in a more personal way, whether it’s a happy birthday email, a custom offer, or a personalized content recommendation.
Uber is recognized as one of the fastest growing mobile apps, increasing their user base by 443% over just three years. 75 million riders take 15 million rides every day, and 21% of all US Android devices have Uber installed.*
Uber as a brand is defined by simplicity: just tap a button and get a ride anywhere you want to go. That simplicity is reflected in its user acquisition emails, with a simple color scheme, single call-to-action, and straightforward copy.
According to a Nielsen study, 92% of people trust referrals from friends.*
A referral program can add a viral component to your user acquisition model and lower your customer acquisition costs. They not only provide incentives for users to share your app with their networks, they introduce your app to potential users in a way that builds trust.
Airbnb is a hallmark example of using referrals and social proof to fuel exponential growth.
After conducting some internal research, Airbnb discovered that 25-55% of new user growth could be produced through referrals.
But instead of trying to get users to send as many invitations as possible, they focused on figuring out which contacts users were closest to and sent customized emails that featured the referrer’s profile photo. As Growth Product Manager Gustaf Alströmer explains, “It was important that each invite appear as a gift, not a promotion.”
The results? Customers gained through referral programs booked more reservations, became hosts more often, and even referred more users. Overall, referrals increased bookings by over 25% in some markets.
Airbnb now hosts 150 million guests across 191 different countries.*
You may think traditional marketing techniques like TV, radio, and print ads are out of date in the era of all things digital. But don’t be too quick to discount them — TV spots can increase app installs by 56-74%.*
84% of TV viewers watch with their mobile device in hand or within arm’s reach,* even scrolling through them during commercials. It’s an ideal moment to capture their attention and persuade them to check out your app.
Liam Neeson’s Clash of Clans commercial was the most-viewed ad of the 2015 Superbowl on YouTube with more than 30 million views. And the app’s $9 million ad investment paid off: The mobile game jumped from #39 on the most-downloaded App Store charts to #24.
What better way to convince users to download and use your app than letting them see its value firsthand? If you have a paid app or subscription service, let users demo your app on their phones for free before paying for it.
Highlight key features during the trial period and notify users which features will no longer be available once their trial ends. Show personalized in-app messages near the end of their trial notifying them that their most-used features will soon go away unless they subscribe or purchase the app.
App developer Stuart Hall built a simple 7 Minute Workout app in a matter of hours, then launched it as a paid app.
After doing some basic marketing and press campaigns, he decided to experiment with offering the app for free. The difference was staggering: 216,718 downloads in 3 days. That’s an average of 72,000 per day, which Hall says was up from an average of 28 per day at paid.
Image: Stuart Hall
7 Minute Workout was the #1 fitness iPad app in 68 countries and the #1 fitness iPhone app in 49 countries.* Hall later monetized with a variety of in-app purchases and sold the app for over $70k profit.
When it comes to acquiring new users, you can’t afford to just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. You have to analyze and choose your customer acquisition channels carefully.
So how do you do that without relying on your gut — or simply following what worked for someone else?
Growth expert Brian Balfour uses a matrix to compare marketing acquisition channels.* The process starts with three basic steps:
Step 1. Create a spreadsheet and list out all potential channels in the header column. If you want to get detailed, you can break down certain channels into individual tactics. For example, content could include blog posts, infographics, ebooks, guest blogging, etc.
Step 2. List channel attributes in the header row. These include things like cost, input time, output time, control, scale, and audience targeting.
Step 3. Fill in each channel’s values as low, medium, or high.
Image: Brian Balfour
You can then choose channels that fit your business’ needs and goals.
Balfour notes that in a perfect world, you would want a channel that has high targeting, control, and scale, and low cost and time. But if your business is running on a tight budget, you can prioritize channels that have low cost and evaluate the other attributes to find the best fit.
Once you’ve narrowed in on a short list of channels, you can test viability in order to either optimize, or move on to test other channels.
Growth marketer Ryan J. Farley recommends basing your acquisition channels on your Customer Lifetime Value. Since you can’t afford to spend more than you’ll make, your LTV can help eliminate ineffective marketing acquisition channels and focus your efforts.
Ideally, he says, you should plan to make 3 times what you spend on a customer within 6 months.
Farley also emphasizes the importance of testing and iteration. As with most things, your first attempt at cracking an acquisition channel might not be a complete success. That doesn’t mean you should write off the channel completely.
If you’re within what Farley calls “striking range” of making the channel work, it’s worth testing and iterating to see if you can crack the code.
His #1 piece of advice? “Think about how your customers buy, and plan your customer acquisition strategy accordingly.”*
So how will you know if your mobile acquisition efforts are paying off? Here are three key user acquisition metrics to track:
An effective user acquisition strategy is essential to growing your mobile app. But it isn’t the end of the story.
Acquiring new users isn’t enough if they only use your app a few times before uninstalling. With the cost of acquisition, you simply can’t afford to lose your hard-won new users.
But with a solid retention rate, revenue compounds with time. The longer you keep users the more valuable they are to your business.
Learn everything you need to know about creating a practical and effective user retention strategy in this free download: Preventing Mobile App Churn.
Preventing Mobile App Churn