By Dennis MAKOWSKY
As growth marketers, we are aware of Google Universal App Campaigns (UAC) powered by machine learning and their impact on how we architect and execute campaigns. The switch to UAC means app marketers no longer have visibility to optimize efforts at a granular level. However, our experiences show that UAC unlocks the potential of app marketers to focus on strategy and devote resources to driving deep-funnel activities and conversions.
When Google first made the announcement to move their clients to UAC, everyone, including the team at InnoGames, was skeptical. After all, UAC was (and remains) a black-box, providing only visibility into top-level KPIs and data points. UAC doesn’t provide marketers important and granular insights into key aspects of campaigns such as how specific placements or keywords impact outcomes. Put another way, with UAC we must rely entirely on the algorithm to optimize campaigns to deliver the best results.
Despite a lack of transparency, we decided to go all in on UAC to get a head start on the learnings and move up the learning curve in preparation for the industry’s inevitable switch to UAC. At the time we had a simple goal: scale our Google Mobile campaigns and generate learnings. With the support of Google, and backing of our management, we migrated all our search, display, and YouTube campaigns to UAC in the weeks following the announcement.
The first 6-8 weeks were challenging, in part because we had to invest a lot of resources into training the algorithms. We needed to be patient and give the machine learning time to gather and understand the data before it could identify the right users for us. However, the investment and patience paid off big time. We were able to significantly increase not only our investment but also the profitability of our Google Mobile campaigns.
The numbers speak volumes. If we compare the results for our Google Adwords Mobile campaigns for Forge of Empires for 2018 and 2017, the positive impact of UAC is impressive (and lucrative) Year over year, we have observed:
- Install volume grew by more than 2x
- The total amount of transactions increased by 40%
- Projected revenue increased 3.3x
- This amounts to a massive 40x increase in total Return on Ad Spend (ROA)
Do the math, and UAC has been a tremendous success for InnoGames, allowing us to grow our Google Mobile campaigns to a much higher level than anticipated. Based on this, we plan to expand our UAC setup for our other games, as well as ramp up campaigns on iOS significantly in 2019.
Clearly, after 1.5 years of running UAC (and observing results that are off the charts) we are quite confident in our understanding of how UAC works—and how you can get the best results. We draw from our key learnings to share the top 5 ways you can use UAC to save time and money--and rocket your campaign results.
#1 Focus on Android first
Google owns the ecosystem and some of the best-performing, high-value premium inventory is only available in the Play Store. Based on the data Google has access to, the algorithm also has an easier time finding the right users there--as opposed to, say, iOS environments. If your budget is limited, then it makes sense to focus on Android first. Test one market at a time to make sure you don’t spread your budget too thin. Pay attention that campaigns are generating a sufficient amount of data to teach algorithms to yield the best results moving forward. You can run UAC on iOS, but it can still be challenging so I would recommend exhausting all available options on Android first.
#2 Know your product, set the right goal and be patient with the machine
Optimizing only for installs didn’t result in profitable campaigns for us. However, when we started using in-app events, things changed. Upper funnel events--like tutorial completion--as optimization goals didn’t help us to reach the desired goals. However, the in-app purchase event finally did the trick. Depending on the length of the conversion funnel it could take the user 1 to 30 days to reach the one event that drives value for your app. Patience literally pays dividends. You need to give the model the time to learn-- and you need to invest enough money--to generate 10 of those events per day. In the case of an average conversion delay of 30 days, you should choose the appropriate Post-Click Conversion window and wait at least one month until you evaluate the first cohorts.
#3 Include View-Through conversions into your performance assessment
View-through conversions give you a holistic view of the value of UAC. Several InnoGames internal analyses across multiple marketing channels have shown a clear statistical correlation between the view and the install following in the first 24 hours. Therefore, the 24-hour post-view attribution window absolutely makes sense and helps to increase the precision with which we measure performance, leading to ROI uplifts of more than 60%.
#4 Influence the Network-Mix and buying KPIs with your budgets, bids, and assets
Network-level performance of UAC is highly dependent on the ad creative, format and message you deliver. Limiting video advertising to Display-inventory, and excluding YouTube by removing Landscape Video Ads, was a feasible solution for us in the past. However, with square and vertical video assets dominating YouTube since Q3 2018 (and how users interact with video in the first place) this is no longer an option. However, we see the algorithm is not allocating budget to YouTube if the eCPAs are not met, so the risk of running video assets in UAC is quite low.
Another approach we tested was to run new campaigns with only text assets, and quite conservative budget caps. The campaigns will mostly use app store assets to build creatives and can be quite limited in terms of reach--and this turned out to be a good way of running low-risk UACs to test the waters in a new market for us. It’s quite important to make sure your app store product page is well optimized to ensure that creative quality meets your standards. Be aware this goes against Google’s best practices and they advise against using this approach because it might mess with the algorithm, so be careful when testing it.
#5 Align your marketing efforts with your ASO efforts
As mentioned before, UAC will use assets from the app store product page to build creatives. This is especially true for the app icon, which will appear in almost 100% of the creatives, even if you provide creative assets via direct upload into the campaign. In Play Store browse inventory ads, this goes one step further. Here, the app icon will be the only “creative” shown to the user. Every test and, ultimately, every permanent change to app store content, will have a direct impact on the performance of UAC. This makes aligning ASO and marketing activities very important. Doing so will allow you to make use of synergies and understand certain KPI developments better.
The road ahead
Results with UAC are positive--and the outlook for this year is even better if we consider key products Google has in the pipeline. A few to watch for are:
- Instant app integration in UAC--Google announced the integration of Google Play Instant apps into UAC as part of the creative assets at Google I/O last year. The beta for the integration should start soon and we are excited to see how this new format will perform.
- In-depth reporting--Information on placement level, as well as downloadable asset reporting, should arrive sometime in 2019 as well. The promise is more insights we can all extract from UAC using this feature.
- UAC for value-based optimization--Introducing the ROA-based optimization will enable advertisers to run a mix of CPA and ROA goal-driven campaigns, add another key capability to the app marketer toolkit and enable us to diversify the UAC setup.
- Adgroups for UAC--In theory, adding adgroups to UAC offers endless testing possibilities. It could become a good opportunity to run tests with adgroups with different asset types, different thematic asset sets and similar audiences to find out what works best.
It has been a wild ride. Starting with the migration to UAC back in 2017, followed by a full stop and re-launch, we were finally able to scale significantly in 2018. We had a rough time in the beginning, but didn’t give up and learned how to make it work for us. In the end, we were able to turn the ultimate advertising challenge into an opportunity and generate more sustainable growth with Google Mobile campaigns than ever before. I hope the tips and learnings that I share in this article are valuable for you, inspire you to try out a few new things, and ultimately help make UAC work for you.
About Dennis Makowsky
In his role as Performance Marketing Expert at InnoGames, Dennis focuses on growing mobile user acquisition via Oath AdPlatforms, Apple Search Ads and Google Ads. Over the last 12 months, he successfully scaled Universal App Campaigns (UAC) and started working on App Store Optimization for InnoGames’ latest mobile games. With more than 7 years of experience in performance-driven online marketing, Dennis started his career at InnoGames over four years ago, when InnoGames released its first hit titles on mobile.