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Building a Successful App With Paid User Acquisition

Ask almost any app developer what they struggle with most and you will likely hear something like “I need to get more downloads”.

With approximately 1.5 million apps in both the Apple App Store and the Google Play store, competition is fierce.

And the battle to get apps in front of users and on their phones isn’t getting any easier. Apple recently removed the ‘new’ and ‘what’s hot’ sections from individual categories in the App Store, making it even harder to get noticed without a coveted App Store feature.

With free marketing channels becoming crowded and less effective, should you consider a paid user acquisition strategy?

Many app developers consider paid user acquisition to be a strategy reserved for apps with high user lifetime value (LTV) and massive marketing budgets.

It’s often seen as something that is done after an app is successful. Only used you know that you can achieve a positive return on your marketing investment.

But I don’t agree with this view. I believe that all app developers can and should use paid user acquisition at various stages of an app’s lifecycle.

Here are 4 ways you can use paid user acquisition to help you build a successful mobile app. 


1. Acquire New Users To Collect Data & Iterate Fast


User Retention Example

You’ve probably read plenty of advice that tells you to get your minimum viable product (MVP) in the app store(s) as soon as possible. This advice comes from some of the most successful businesses in the mobile app industry, so it’s hard to argue with!

But what happens after you launch your MVP?

For a lot of app developers the answer usually looks something like this:

You get a few hundred downloads in the first week before slowing down to just a few each day. You want to improve the app, but with such a small user base it’s hard to make decisions about what to do next.

The key to building a better app is knowing which features to work on next and which ones to get rid of. Instead of taking guesses, it’s much more effective to use data to make these decisions.

So how do you build that initial user base so that you can collect the data you need? Paid installs of course!

It doesn’t require a huge budget to do. The idea is simply to use advertising to generate as many new installs as you need to start analysing user data and key metrics.

Here’s a basic overview of how the process would look:

  • Release your app.
  • Buy installs, focusing on your primary market. This is important because you want to collect accurate data. Buying installs from male teenagers when you have a pregnancy app isn’t going to give you much useful data…
  • Use the data you collect from your new users to identify where you need to improve your app and which features you need to build.
  • Update your app, giving your users exactly what they want.
  • Release the new version and repeat.


2. Supporting a Soft Launch

You’ve probably heard about some of the major app development studios using soft launches. The first one that comes to mind for me is Supercell with Boom Beach.

A soft launch is when a developer releases an app in a market that functions very closely to their primary market, but is much smaller. A common approach used by app developers whose primary market is the USA is to soft launch in Canada or Australia.

The purpose of a soft launch is to allow the developer to iterate, collect and measure data and see how the app performs. And by releasing in a smaller market, it can be done without losing that big launch boost in your primary market.

The app gets polished and improved while it’s only available in the smaller market. This gives the developer a much better chance of success when they are finally ready to ramp up and do a big launch in their primary market.

The problem with launching in a smaller market is that you will generally see even fewer organic downloads than you would with a global launch.

One benefit of paid installs is that you can be very specific with geographic targeting. To support a soft launch, you would use a similar strategy as in step 1, except only targeting the country in which you are soft launching.

A geographically targeted paid user acquisition campaign gives you the ability to ensure you have enough users to make your soft launch valuable. Without paid user acquisition a soft launch runs the risk of becoming a long, drawn-out process while the developer tries to acquire enough users organically in a small market.


3. Climb The Rankings With Burst Campaign

By this point we’ll assume you’ve built up your app to a point where the metrics are solid and you are ready to really ramp things up.

One way to really leverage the power of paid user acquisition is to use it improve the visibility of your app by boosting it’s app store chart ranking.



Both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store factor download velocity into their chart ranking algorithms.

According to a report by Fiksu, “No factor appears to matter as much as the sheer number of downloads combined with how quickly you acquire them. In other words, if you want to rise in rank, get more downloads and do it quickly”

If you need a large volume of installs in a short period of time, a paid user acquisition campaign is one of the most reliable ways to achieve this. By running what’s known as a ‘burst campaign’, you can dramatically improve (or ‘spike’) the ranking of your app in a relatively short period of time.

And don’t forget, the top charts are different for each country. That makes paid UA campaigns even more useful because you can target only the countries where you want to boost your ranking.


4. Finding More Qualified (High Value) Users

Once you’ve launched your app and start to ramp up your user acquisition efforts, you will notice particular user segments that are much more valuable than others. Once you know what these users look like, you will want to find more just like them!

When you acquire new users organically, you have basically no control over who sees your marketing material & who downloads your app.

Sure, you’re never going to complain about free downloads, but at the end of the day you want users who will spend money in your app.

To truly maximize the ROI of paid installs, you want find out what your highest value users look like and find more people just like them. This is where buying installs becomes very interesting.

Previously you may have just been focusing on acquiring users in your target market for the lowest price possible. Now this shifts to focusing on acquiring the highest value users for the lowest price possible.

The incredible targeting capabilities of app install services like Facebook are making it easier than ever to find and target your ideal users. Once you know what these high value users look like it’s just a matter of creating highly targeted advertising campaigns to bring them into your app.



As you can see, there are many ways to take advantage of paid user acquisition no matter where you are in your app journey. It’s not just a tool for the big studios with million dollar marketing budget.

These are just 4 ways to leverage paid installs. As the industry continues to grow and advertising networks continue to expand their offerings, I’m sure app developers will see even more opportunities.

Are you finding it increasingly difficult to get organic (free) downloads on the app stores? Are you considering paid user acquisition as a solution?

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