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How-To: Promote Mobile Apps in AdWords

Published: August 7, 2014

Author: Eric Smith

Mobile has been an area of focus for Google for some time now, and for good reason.   Smartphone proliferation has led to astonishing increases in mobile-based browsing – and, of course, mobile search.
2013 saw some radical changes to device targeting with the introduction of Enhanced Campaigns, which consolidated mobile and desktop campaigns (arguably reducing functionality). So far this year, the major changes and additional features have been heavily geared towards app promotion and in-app advertising.
Of course, app-related features are only relevant to businesses with a high-quality app and goals around app use.  That said, in my experience, many of the newer features are under-used.  This is likely because advertisers are still unfamiliar with app tracking and many of the newer campaign types.
Mobile app promotion and tracking is only getting bigger; you can look at Google’s recent focus and Facebook’s huge advancements in app install ads and revenue to drive that point home. So I think it’s high time for a quick rundown on app promotion, starting with tracking and moving into different ad types.

How to Track App Activity

Being able to track app downloads for campaigns where that is a goal is mandatory.  Luckily, it’s actually pretty easy.
For Android: Simply create a new conversion event within AdWords (Tools > Conversions).  Adding code to the app is not required. image001 For iOS: Slightly more complicated.  The most common integration uses an app, so you’ll need to create a conversion event within AdWords and update your app accordingly.  There is a useful step-by-step with screenshots located here.
Now let’s move on to the available app ad types.

App Remarketing and In-App Conversions

This is achieved either through standard SDK integration (define conversion events > generate code > place within app) or a server-to-server API push if app activity is being captured using another analytics tool.  There are limited use cases where you would want to actually do this, but upcoming functionality will make this more important.

App Extensions

image003 This is the most basic ad format to drive mobile app downloads, and the setup is quite simple.  All you have to do is create an extension for your app and associate it with existing search campaigns.  The app extension will then serve as a part of your existing ads. image005 Deep linking within apps is also possible.  In this case, users can be directed to specific locations within the app – for example, product pages.  Users who do not have the app installed are instead directed to download the app. image007   image009

Mobile App Install Campaigns

This campaign type drives all traffic to the app store and comes in three flavors: Search, Display, and YouTube.
These campaigns use “app install ads” (also known as “click to download ads”), which are built automatically based on app store content along with a Headline & Description set when creating the ad.  It’s also possible to upload custom images if desired. image011 Targeting options include:
Specific device: OS is the most important segment here, though in some situations excluding older phone models can be a viable strategy.
Connection type: Breaking out specific carriers is usually not productive; however, segmenting WiFi vs. carrier performance is a good idea.
Interests & Remarketing: Useful if you want to focus on transitioning users who browse your site on mobile web to your app.   The interest category is defined by other apps users have installed and also has a few very interesting options:  “New Mobile Devices”, which targets recently activated phones; and “Show only to people who have installed at least one paid app”, which can help you focus ad serving to users who are much more likely to pay for apps. image013 App Categories: For display, serve your ads within specific apps or apps in a specific category.
Demographics: Age, gender.

Ads in Mobile Apps

This is a display campaign for mobile app placements only that can serve standard mobile web ad types (text and image ads) as well as app install ads.
Campaign-level targeting is similar to App Install Campaigns and includes OS, device, and carrier breakouts.  The major difference is that the there is no user-level targeting for apps currently installed.  App category targeting (targeting placements within specific apps or app types) is the main focus.
Since Mobile App Install campaigns provide more functionality, the only time you would really want to use this campaign type is to segment in-app mobile web traffic.

Mobile App Engagement

This is Google’s latest campaign type and is currently not available to all advertisers.  The main idea here is to serve ads to specific types of users who use, or have previously used, your app.
The most obvious use case is to re-engage users who have the app installed but not logged in within a certain timeframe.  This requires implementation of a remarketing tag within the app.
Alternatively, if you are tracking in-app conversions (through AdWords), you could segment out high-value customers and target them more aggressively.
As this gets opened up to more advertisers, we are likely to see more interesting use cases, though re-engagement seems to be the lowest-hanging fruit.

Looking Forward

As mobile continues to grow, we’re likely to see additional features roll out in the near future.  Personally I’m hoping for more cross-device tracking integration, but the current focus on apps functionality is great for businesses with good app experiences and well-defined app acquisition values.

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