Mobile App Growth, User Acquisition

Ask the Dev: How to Determine Your UA Strategy

Claire Tak
Aug 26, 2020

In our most recent Ask the Dev, Jerome Turnbull, who leads user acquisition and ad monetization across AppLovin’s partner studios, welcomed his long-time colleague and friend Bill Walton. Bill worked at Machine Zone with Jerome as a Lead Analyst and joined AppLovin’s performance marketing team where he builds in-house automation tools. 

Jerome recalled, “My most memorable moment with Bill was the night we launched Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire. It was all hands on deck and at midnight we jumped on to a conference call and Bill was still in the office. He’s that type of guy.”

The two sat down to talk about how to determine your UA strategy, with a focus on performance-based digital marketing. The conversation was framed around two perspectives:

1. How is the mobile marketing landscape changing?

2. How developers should shape strategy based off of their product.     

The changing mobile landscape: It’s getting broader

The targeted audience in marketing campaigns have been obscured in recent years. As a result, the audience has become more broad. Bill noted, “We used to be able to see specific audiences at any given time, but now we see a shift towards much broader audiences, as well as fewer distinct audiences.”

Google and Facebook used to allow marketers to see their segmented audiences on a granular level. Recent ad products have removed that visibility. In the past, “marketers would try to define the predicted value of each of these segments to optimize for installs and push spend towards those audiences that were performing better.” Now, a different approach is needed.

Best practices for a broader targeting approach

When it comes to media buyers, Bill recommends breaking up your strategy to two approaches, but notes that much of it could change with the release of iOS 14.  

1. Understand your audience

2. Understand the event

Understand your audience

Today, understanding your audience poses more of a challenge. Bill said there are still workarounds ways to get to this information but they’re not nearly as reliable. That’s why he recommends that you get at least an approximation of your audience size based on population estimates and the audience lookalike similarity. He noted that “it’ll go a long way.”

Understanding events

Bill said your best optimization event is your KPI (key performance indicator). “Ultimately, if you can provide enough signal strength to API partners like Facebook or Google, to effectively drive scale towards that audience, then that’s going to be your best bet.” Revenue is the north star, but sometimes that event does not happen frequently enough to be used as the optimization event alone.

Try to maximize scale against these deep funnel optimization events by examining the results from these partners and finding events that are highly correlated with revenue.   

iOS changes: Be ready to test

Bill explained that there are a spectrum of possibilities that may happen due to iOS 14 changes. One major question is “What’s going to happen with Facebook’s value optimization product?

Marketers should be ready to try out different strategies.

He gave a few examples, saying, “If there is an outcome to only serving ads to users who are tracking enabled, then you may have one situation. If they are switching gears to allow for ‘do not track users,’ then you have an entirely different outcome where you’re likely going to have lower CPMs. Be sure to test for other outcomes that you may run into.” 

Other challenges for media buyers in this broader approach

Getting a true read on creative performance can be an additional challenge. The ability to define creative performance at the attribution level is going away. 

“Historically, when a user clicks on an ad, you get a response that includes the ad ID or campaign ID that they drove that install. With these dynamic ad units, this is no longer happening. You’ll still get the ad ID but you won’t be able to see which creative drove that install.” 

This is indicative of a broader trend—less deterministic performance evaluation and more along the lines of data pools. It means your UA team will need to figure out how to get a directional sense of which creatives are performing best.

Bill also added, “the cost of running a true scientific creative test will be significantly greater as we optimize towards revenue or purchase events, so identify a lower cost strategy so you can continue with your evergreen marketing strategies.” 

Look at media buying in a holistic way

Bill gave a “puppy dog” example, saying, “If you show an app install ad with a cute puppy on it you’re going to have an insanely high CTR but it’s not going to drive any value.” 

He suggested thinking about your strategy from a holistic perspective, and ask:

  • Where are we driving intent? 
  • What types of campaigns are driving additional value? 
  • How can we evaluate our campaigns on a broader level, like your partner mix by market?

That way you can define which partners are adding incremental value and driving users into your funnel. 

Questions from attendees 

After wrapping up the conversation with Jerome, Bill answered questions from the attendees. Here are a few notable ones:

Q: Do you recommend working with outside agencies?

Bill said there are definitely pros and cons to going this route. 


“You may be able to gain insight into verticals that you may not have otherwise been exposed to. Working with third-party SaaS providers can get you out of a static way of thinking.” 


“The lines around KPIs can be difficult. Ultimately, there’s going to be a different set of KPIs, both internally and externally.”

Q: How does your ad monetization model determine your UA strategy?

“The ad monetization on the partners side should be aligned with whatever your revenue event is. It’s also identifying whether or not there is an event that is highly correlated with the ad impressions.”

Q: What aspects of UA are overlooked or not considered, until too late?

Jerome chimed in, saying, “Cohorting and measurement are important. Once you start viewing the world in a certain way, it’s hard to change –that could be if you’re cohorting based on install, click or impression.”

Bill added that he thinks metric definitions are also important. “Many partners have different metrics that may not align with your conversion funnel. What are you trying to isolate when looking at partner data? Clicks are a good example. Understanding which ones are intent driving vs. which ones make your campaigns look like it has a higher CTR than it actually does is worth looking to as well.” 

Q: How do you see iOS 14 influencing user acquisition?

Jerome said, “Bill and I talked a lot about this. Be in communication with your MMP or product teams to see how well you can improve the chance of an opt in. Being flexible, as we mentioned before, and approaching things in a more directional or probabilistic manner.” 

Bill recommended optimizing your opt-in flows. “Keep that in mind that this may not be a long-term win. Certain partners will pull away from this better than others. For marketing teams, I’d suggest working closely with measurement partners and try to piece together a sense of what this post-IDFA world will look like.”

Being able to adapt quickly and being prepared for changes are keys to continue growing. 

Tune in next time

It’ll be interesting to see what changes take place and how it affects the marketing and UA side. Perhaps we’ll queue that up for another topic of discussion on Ask the Dev. 

In the meantime, stay tuned for more upcoming videos from AppLovin. Be sure to check out our events page to watch our on demand videos. 

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