10 tips for user acquisition on a budget

by Tom Lemrond on Dec 5, 2017

Top app publishers can spend a million or more each day to acquire new users. As an indie developer with limited time and budget, it can be a struggle trying to make ends meet. So how can you compete for new users without a big budget?

First, don’t make a move until you know why you’re making it. Understanding your target market based on a detailed analysis of your most profitable users is key, as is knowing the competition.

Second, only apply your efforts to the channels and tactics that offer the greatest return. There’s probably no point investing in a cost per install campaign in the UK if your average user there is gone before 30 days or has a lifetime value (LTV) that’s a fraction of your top users elsewhere.

Third, tap every low- and no-cost tactic available to you to market your app. That may mean a content strategy, PR hacks, or cross-promotion with your own (or even the competition’s) apps as a means to monetize.

Finally, never forget that user acquisition is a process, not a task. In the same way that you continually A/B test to create optimal user experiences and refine profit margins, your user acquisition strategy and tactics should be constantly reviewed and tweaked.

To help get you started, here are 10 tips for user acquisition on a budget.

Know before you go

Before the acquisition process gets started, you’ll need data from existing users, and lots of it. How are people playing your game? What is retention like? What types of users show the best retention? Once you have a basic data set, you can sink your teeth into UA. Johannes Heinze previously offered these first two tips on

  • Copy what works: In terms of gameplay and user experience, always be on top of the features your competitors add, their improvements, and of course, their app store descriptions and reviews. If something works, don’t be shy—copy it.
  • Know what delivers LTV: Vanity chart positions are for bigger publishers to worry about. Know the different factors that make up an LTV calculation, get granular on how the factors are intertwined, and know how you arrive at results.
  • Make a friendly first impression: Mobile users’ opinions are formed quickly and decisions are made in a heartbeat. As a result, your app must put its best foot forward and make it easy it for users to discover, install, and register for your your app. As listed by Intellectsoft, good ways to make your app more accessible include offering social sign-on and app activity updates in social feeds to raise awareness of your app and offering user-to-user invites via text or email.

Channels and content

Reaching users through low- or no-cost channels is both possible and necessary to create organic reach. But sometimes it makes sense to set aside a bit of budget for paid ads or to defer a bit of revenue in order to reward your best users for their loyalty. In all cases, quality content that engages and instructs users, rather than sells to them, is key.

  • Give it away organically: Try using social to offer something for free, like introductory in-app currency, in exchange for users sharing the opportunity via social media, emails, or texts. Just be sure the offer and experience is in line with your app as a whole so as to make the introduction to your app less jarring and retention more probable.
  • Pay to advertise on competitors’ apps: Targeting people that already enjoy a similar experience to what your app offers is one way of acquiring users at a good conversion rate (if the CPI makes sense). The inverse of this tactic, allowing competitors to advertise in your app, is discussed in #10.
  • Target rewards intelligently: Apps that provide loyalty and reward programs are highly desirable to users. Of course, the rewards you offer should be based on the behaviors and preferences of individual users and delivered in the context of optimal micro-moments within your app.
  • Be generous with content: Write, design, and share content specifically for your user. Blog posts and how-to videos contribute to SEO and ASO, helping users become more skillful with your app, foster user-generated content and social sharing, and can even help you earn the opportunity to contribute to media and websites that target users are already enjoying.

Low-hanging tactics

The laws of traction dictate there are dozens of low-cost, light-lift marketing tactics that can be explored for any marketing campaign. Here are three that can work wonders for app marketers with small budgets.

  • Keep PR on point: Journalists, bloggers, and influencers make their livings by providing their audiences a unique take on timely topics better and sooner than the competition. Earn their coverage with a well-constructed query about your launch/upgrade/new feature by giving them what they need. Just be be sure to do this early on in your process, as many aren’t interested in news more than a few days old.
  • Growth hack yourself: What do you offer right now that users want more of? Give it to them to increase retention, LTV, and word-of-mouth referrals. As Kiip notes: “Dropbox employs growth hacking by offering users extra space for referring friends, and some developers insert a requirement in the middle of mobile games where users must invite friends in order to progress to the next level.”
  • Cross-promote and let your competition do the same: Developers typically cross-promote among their own apps because it’s a great way to generate installs and incrementally acquire users at little or no cost. Less common is allowing competitors to advertise in your app (the fear is cannibalization of IAPs, etc.) But if your players have proven their loyalty by installing and using your app, offering them competitive content and calls to action might just be one of the most cost-efficient ways you ever find to add users and grow revenue.
Tom Lemrond is Senior Director, Partnerships at AppLovin.
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