Performance Marketing: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Many companies in the mobile marketing space have made their name by making not unfounded claims of being able to guarantee a top spot for your app, particularly in Apple’s App Store. But with ongoing changes being made here, and questions over the real value of rigging your app’s ranking to get more users, is this the end of app performance marketing campaign as we know it?

“App marketing is still a very young industry,” says Rob Thurner, managing partner of Burner Mobile. “Where we sit today – about four and a half years in – it seems there is still a very crude way of buying your way to top. There have clearly been mistakes made over using that method and apps have found their way to the top for the wrong reason.”

While Google’s Play Store algorithm is known to take much more than app downloads into account, there is still some debate about if and how Apple is changing its focus away from pure downloads. “There are still bots live in the ecosystem,” says Chris Shuptrine, senior director of client development at Fiksu. “You don’t see bots affecting ranking on Google Play like they do on iOS but Apple is doing a number of things to change this. One is effectively telling the industry that if they catch people, they will remove them from the store and there has been a percentage drop in the number of advertisers using bots. They just can’t risk being removed from the store – if they do they’re out of a company.”

With figures stating anything from 90 per cent of apps uninstalled in the first three months, to only half of people opening an app more than five times, it must be easy to search around for the silver bullet. “The industry has been completely obsessed with acquisition of users,” says John Rankin, VP of international at Trademob. “But only two per cent of people online ever transact on their first visit and that’s slightly less on mobile.

“We’ve learnt this from 10 to 15 years of online and it’s no different in the app world. It feels crazy that I find myself having to say to people ‘once you’ve got a customer, you should probably talk to them again’. People who are re-engaged are 70 per cent more likely to make a purchase – and buy three times as many things.”

So is it always wrong to pay? “Most apps in the top spot are using a paid strategy to complement organic,” says Chris Shuptrine. “But it’s not unlike buying a billboard ad on the side of road for brands to attract users while they’re browsing. This is visibility they wouldn’t have got otherwise and earns them more downloads. Do we advise people to buy real traffic from the likes of Google and Apple? Yes, it helps them to find real users and get visibility in the store.”

“There is definite value in being at the top of the App Store, but how you get there and stay there is going to be way different from what we’ve been doing for the last two years,” says John Rankin. “For lots of companies, boosting people to the top of the app stores was easy on iOS – you just needed a lot of downloads. And this was very tempting, because getting a massive volume through non-incentivised traffic was incredibly expensive compared to using bot-based solutions.”

Without incentivised downloads, he estimates a top position App Store campaign in the US would cost about $300,000, including getting yourself featured, running a TV campaign alongside, PR or an event all used to reduce the cost of the CPI campaign.

Rob Thurner says the best way to move the industry forwards is through app tracking. “Using data to determine post-click activity is key to making sure you can’t just fiddle the system and buy your way to top of the charts. When you use tools like Flurry, it helps you figure out how to get to the top of the app stores and stay there. As a brand, you need to know how each page on your app is performing,” he says.

Rather then spelling the end of app performance marketing, Rankin believes this is just the beginning. “The App Store does give an incorrect view of what’s most popular,” he says. “When the rules change it will be a much fairer reflection of true user recommendation and that will change people’s focus. It’s helpful that Apple has started to go down this route, it will help to create professionalism in the business and force us to look after our customers a lot better.”