This is the second of two three posts about my experience with mobile advertising to drive app installs for Miso’s new iPhone app, Quips. This post is about my experience getting started with different ad networks. To read about the results of my ad campaigns, check out: Facebook Crushes the Competition With Mobile App Install Ads.
Being new to mobile advertising as an app developer, I did some research before starting. Sources told me standard CPIs range from $2.00 - 5.00 depending on the type of app. Install ads for gaming apps tend to convert better and so can be bought for a lower CPI, whereas social apps like ours depend more on whether we can find an audience that coverts well. Based on some articles, Quora posts, and recommendations, I decided to run test campaigns with these networks:
mMedia (Millennial Media)
Tapjoy (incentivized and non-incentivized)
I wasn’t planning to get anywhere near incentivized installs. My skepticism had been bolstered by articles like this one in Forbes from January 2012 . But I was curious and Tapjoy’s name kept coming up in my research. I discovered they also offer non-incentivized CPI ads so I decided to test both types. Here’s what our incentivized ad looked like:
A Note on Tracking Installs
First, you should know what an install is and how they are measured. Consider the differences between a download, a launch, and a signup. Most networks will measure an install as a first launch (typically reported through the applicationDidBecomeActive method in the App Delegate). Some networks, Tapjoy and MdotM being two, offer the ability to set up custom events (pay per signup or pay per post) however you just simply pay more the further down the funnel you go. Personally, my preference is to optimize the signup funnel on the product side (which you should be doing anyway) and stick to paying per launch.
Second, you should probably avoid server-side tracking. Some ad networks provide options for matching unique device ids by pinging their API every time you get a new user. The main ways I saw this working was by capturing and storing UDIDs (which it has been reported that Apple is rejecting apps that do this) OR by capturing Apple’s new advertising identifier (iOS 6+) and the ODIN-1 ID, which is the MAC address for the iPhone. If you aren’t already capturing these IDs, then you will probably have to do a release anyway, so I would recommend using the client-side solution since I’ve been told it is more effective.
For Tapjoy we integrated their SDK and for MdotM we just added a snippet of code to the App Delegate. So in developer time, the cost was low, but it still sucks to have to wait for your next release cycle and for Apple to approve your update.
Here are links to detailed instructions on tracking conversions for the follow vendors:
My subjective grades and a comparison of each network:
1. Account Setup
The sign up process was pretty easy across the board. Put in your information, add a payment source, and access some sort of ads dashboard.
AdMob: I was able to use my google account to sign up at Admob.com but later found out that this site is being deprecated in favor of the AdWords site. I heard you can create mobile install ads directly from Adwords, but I have not tried it.
iAd: This was the one vendor I was not able to setup an account with. All you can do on their site is fill out a contact form and wait. About a week later, a sales rep emailed me some information including, "This program is done on one flat CPC rate of $0.25. Normal starting budgets have been between $5k - $10k". I replied asking if they offered CPI pricing and whether we could run a test campaign for under $5K. I never received a reply.
Facebook: I did not have to create an account, I just used my existing developer account.
Jumptap: Signup was easy but I had issues with the payment. After several attempts I emailed an account manager and he told me they don't accept Amex even though this was a drop down option on the form. I switched to a Visa and the transaction got marked as fraud. They tried to help me by emailing me a paper form to fill out. Fortunately, I sorted things out with my CC company the next day.
MdotM: They only accept Paypal so I had to use my personal account since we don't have one for the company. The minimum deposit is $500 which was a bit higher than some of the others.
mMedia: They had the most intuitive interface. Signup was quick and painless.
TapJoy: Easy signup and payment setup.
2. Ad Creation Process
The creation process was very similar across most networks with an option to create a generic ad or upload your own creative. For self-serve campaigns we stuck to the 320x50 banner ads. Some networks also allow you to upload a 640x100 to serve on retina devices. Surprisingly I didn’t come across any best practices or helpful guides on designing custom creative.
AdMob: I was able to target my campaign by location, device, OS, and age range. I ran both generic and custom creative and there was no significant difference in CTR between them, so don't sweat it if you don't have design resources.
Facebook: When I started, Mobile App Install Ads had just launched and Facebook only had a very basic setup page. The official directions on the developer site still direct you to this basic setup. After poking around, I figured out how to use the Power Editor to access more advanced targeting options. I don't think this document is shared widely but I did find published instructions on how to Power Editor. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND you follow these instructions to take advantage of the powerful targeting options.
Jumptap: I tested two 320x50 custom banners with Jumptap. In addition to the standard targeting, they have a nice feature that lets you target different interest groups, we chose Entertainment, Movies TV Music, Social Networking, and Technology. Social networking performed the best and our campaign automatically optimized towards that group.
MdotM: MdotM managed our campaign for us with our test buy of $500. Disclosure: I have friends who work there and Miso's CEO Somrat Niyogi is brother to MdotM's CEO Sourabh Niyogi. We emailed them 320x50, 640x100, and 300x250 banners and they handled the rest, optimizing for us along the way.
mMedia: I also only ran custom creative on mMedia. The odd thing here was they required 320x53 banners (3 pixels taller than the others) so we had to adjust our files slightly before uploading them. I was also able to target by device, OS, carriers, and age range.
TapJoy: For incentivized installs I was not able to use custom creative, but for non-incentivized installs I used our 320x50 banners. Targeting options were a little weak compared to other networks. I could target by location, but not by age or gender. I had to email to specifically request that we only target iPhone and iPod users, not iPad. They adjusted my campaign for me within 48 hours.
3. Ad Approval and Account Support
I was seeking a self-serve ad solution for running tests (mostly because I was wary of sales pitches) but it’s always nice to know someone has your back when you need help. MdotM was the exception to this since I know some of the team, so we did get a full-service solution from them.
AdMob: This was a very frustrating process for me. My first ads were disapproved because "the ad text, image and/or URL is misleading". I dug through documentation trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. The email was a no-reply, I clicked the contact link in the email which was a dead link, I clicked a support link in documentation and got a 404. I finally guessed and tried firstname.lastname@example.org. Success! I got an automated response that someone would get back to me. The next day I got an automated email that my account balance was low (?!). The ads had run. A few hours later I got an email from a real person notifying me that my ads were "inadvertently disapproved". I submitted new ads for another test and a few minutes later I got another automated disapproval. Over the next week and a half I sent 3 more emails trying to get help. I finally got an email that explained the ads were disapproved "due to use of superlative claim on your landing page: 'Quips is the best way to talk about TV.'" This was our tagline and I wasn't about to change our messaging on account of AdMob, so I ended my tests.**
Facebook: Our ads were always approved within an hour, sometimes within minutes. We never worked directly with an account manager or support, but since I didn't ever have a strong need to reach out, it was fine
Jumptap: Our ads were approved very quickly, in less than 1 hour. It was only the payment issue which slowed me down. Support was helpful in trying to fix it.
MdotM: I did not have to go through any approval process since I just emailed our ads over. They account manager was very helpful and responded to emails quickly.
mMedia: mMedia simply dropped the ball here. 24 hours after setting up ads and funding the account, my ads hadn't been approved. I emailed support and never heard back. A week later, I received an apology email explaining that my ads had been "missed" and that my support ticket didn't get filtered properly. By then I had narrowed down my list to other vendors, so I got my deposit refunded and moved on.
TapJoy: My ads were approved within hours and their support was great. Even though I only made a low initial deposit of $200, I received a reply within 24 hours from my first email and then had a dedicated account manager who answered my emails quickly.
**A few weeks after this ordeal Google Ventures put us in touch with an account manager for Google AdWords and it turns out users can now create AdMob mobile ads straight from Google AdWords site, rather than going to AdMob.com. If you want to use AdMob, my advice is to contact an AdWords account manager to help you sort out these inconsistencies as they transition sites.