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What app advertisers need to know about Google’s bold push to UAC

Published: August 14, 2017

Author: Eric Smith

VP of Client Services Bob Sturges and Assoc. Director of Mobile Natalie Aller contributed to this post.
This morning, Google announced that they will be retiring channel-specific app install campaigns in favor of universal app campaigns. For those who may not be familiar, universal app campaigns (UAC) are a newer campaign type that uses app store assets to serve ads on Google search, Google Play, YouTube, and the Google Display Network.
Google had already limited several types of inventory to UAC and has been making advancements in the campaign type throughout the year. They have been vocal regarding their goals for UAC growth. In all, this announcement is not too surprising – although it is happening more quickly than many in the industry anticipated.
One catalyst for UAC’s rollout could be the recent, significant growth we’ve seen in Apple search ads. While the scope of Apple search trails Google’s, Apple has unlocked a way to further monetize their app store, and Google seems to be looking to do the same.

What to expect (and when)

This will be a phased rollout, similar to the expanded text ad transition. Beginning on October 16th, advertisers will no longer be able to create channel-specific campaigns within AdWords. On November 15th, existing channel-specific campaigns will stop serving.
As an agency, we’ve typically seen improved performance from UAC on Android, as well as greater scale in display and YouTube. There are a few downsides, however. Despite better overall performance, UAC lacks transparency and optimization levers for ads, keywords, placements, and negatives. UAC for iOS also came out just over a year ago, and its performance is closer to that of early Android UAC campaigns (i.e. poor). We are optimistic that iOS performance will mirror Android’s and improve through Google’s updates.
Since its launch, the biggest development for UAC has been the ability to optimize to in-app-events. This mirrors a major shift in the “app install industry” over the past two years.  Advertisers are getting smarter about the quality of traffic driven through app install programs; looking at installs as a conversion metric is simply no longer good enough.  
Not mentioned in the Google blog post is the addition of new reporting functionality for ad creative (available only in the new AdWords interface). You can now see side-by-side ad performance for all primary metrics (impressions, clicks, cost, conversions, and all derivatives). This will go a long way towards offering advertisers insights and an important performance lever.

Highest on 3Q’s UAC wishlist is the ability to drill into performance by keyword and placement. (On the keyword side, even Apple search ads currently have this functionality.) As for placements, we believe it is of paramount importance that advertisers know where their ads are serving. This has implications for brand alignment (see recent YouTube and Breitbart controversies), performance optimizations, network overlap, and click fraud detection.
Overall, this change should be fairly straightforward.  We recommend that clients currently using single-channel app install campaigns run in parallel with UAC and migrate traffic over the next month or so. One of the biggest advantages of UAC campaigns is that its core focus on utilizing machine learning to find the next most efficient install (or in-app conversion event) allows advertisers to spend less time on tedious optimizations and more time on overall strategy.  We’re looking forward to Google adding additional reporting functionality and features to make UAC even better in the coming months.

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