How App Marketing Differs From Search Engine Marketing

In the world of digital media, search engine marketing is so widely adopted that I often find myself explaining to other digital marketers how app marketing compares to search engine marketing. In this post, let’s compare and contrast how to think about marketing your app with an eye toward comparing it to your current search engine marketing knowledge.

Compare Implementation Time

It takes minimal effort to write your first 95 character keyword ad, design a landing page, and start your first promotion using self-service tools provided by Google.

Mobile app development and promotion can be done on a low budget, but it is definitely more complex than launching a search marketing campaign. Third-party app building tools like those from BuildAnApp allow you to build an app for free ($49 to remove banner ads). Once you build an app, there are self-service mobile ad vendors like AdMob, Millenial Media, Jumptap, and InMobi that allow you to acquire traffic quickly.

Compare Pricing Approaches

Search campaigns are priced using cost per click (CPC). App campaigns are priced using cost per install (CPI), cost per click (CPC), and cost per impression (CPM).

CPC rates are all over the board depending on how competitive the search term is and the quality score. For app campaigns, free casual games dominate the top 25 percent in performance, typically having the highest click-through and conversion rate (often two times higher than other free apps). Their conversion rates range from 3 percent to 18 percent (small banner sizes tend to perform lower).

The CPC rate, for free iOS apps in the U.S., is typically $0.05 to $0.30 per click. The cost-per-install for the top performing free games generally backs out to $0.75 to $3.00 per U.S. iOS install for CPC and CPM placements on top ad networks.

The general rule is that if you are looking to achieve any meaningful scale, you should be satisfied with purchasing free U.S. app installs any time they are performing at $1.00 or less.

All of the above figures are for non-incentivized ad placements. Incentivized ad placements are very popular as they can help achieve a higher ranking in the app store and drive meaningful, predictable installs to the app. These app campaigns are priced using cost per install with rates ranging from $0.40 to $0.75 per U.S. install.

Every digital marketer knows what you are saying when you talk about a CPC campaign. Google made cost-per-click advertising famous. Google’s mobile display ad network, AdMob, is continuing what Google did in search and offers CPC pricing for most of their campaigns. This does not work as well for mobile developers. Larger advertisers are typically using CPC ad networks as backfill to the cost-per-install networks (with incentives and without incentives). The top cost-per-install ad networks will reach saturation after multiple campaigns leading to less volume available for a particular app. To maintain effective scale with each subsequent campaign an advertiser will begin to buy more installs from other sources such as CPC networks.

Compare the Landing Page

The landing page is very important in optimizing both SEM and app marketing campaigns.

In SEM, Raquel Hirsch of Wider Funnel advises that with optimization you can lift your conversion rates by as much as 277 percent.

In mobile, what users see when they get to your app store listing is crucial to whether or not they will download your app. For app store submission, prioritize and optimize in the following order for the most impact to your app ranking: icon, name, screenshots, and description. Here are several tips:

  • Icon: Make it easy to recognize and tie to your game. Consistent use is also important. The small app icon and the large icon should be visually equivalent. Be careful of trademark violations. Build in a vector-based drawing app to allow for easy resizing.
  • Name: Describe the utility of the game in its name. Avoid special characters. Don’t use “device” in the name, like iPhone or iPad.
  • Screenshots: Use common sense, take time to capture the images that best depict your app. Never use imagery of the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, as they will ensure automatic rejection.
  • Description: The first two lines of a description are the most important. Ensure they accurately communicate the app’s value. Use simple, concise words to demonstrate the features in the app. Match your tone to the app experience. Include copy to enhance your credibility. Never include pricing. Maximize the use of copy above the fold (before the “more” button). You are limited to three lines; lines are made up of 120 characters and then they word wrap. Watch out so when the line wraps, you don’t lose precious real estate. In the description, try using shorter lines (less than 120 characters) and a space between them for more readability. Be aware of how word wrap works on the iPhone screen, as many apps are being installed through the iPhone. Long lines can make the text look weird. Do your research. It will pay off with higher conversions.

Compare Conversion vs. Engagement

Search performs for digital marketers because the Web is transactional in nature. It drives a conversion.

When people are sitting in front of their computer, they can easily fill in the required fields in a transaction because they can easily navigate between their keyboard and their mouse.

Keying a transaction in a mobile device is very difficult and, therefore, conversion rates on any kind of complex transaction are going to be low. Mobile apps perform best when they are created with the goal of engaging users, not for converting users to some kind of a transaction. Once the user is engaged, you will find the best transaction possible is using in-app purchases because the native payment platform simplifies the purchasing process.

Consider How Top Search Marketers Use Apps

“PriceGrabber has a family of mobile apps (for the iPhone, iPad, and Android) that allow users to search via a mobile device just as they would in front of a desktop using,” says Mindy Ferguson, senior director, application development, PriceGrabber. “For our mobile apps success is measured by ranking and number of downloads, but more importantly, from the feedback we receive from our user base as it was their word of mouth that pushed our apps to the top of the iTunes charts.”

Both search engine marketing and app marketing have a place in most digital marketers’ advertising mix. Those who have developed a strong expertise in search engine marketing are able to draw upon their expertise as they develop and implement their app marketing strategy.

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