Getting to 1K: How to acquire users for your app | AppsFlyer
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How to get your first 1,000 app users

Avatar Tom Shelly Nov 04, 2020

Your app is up and running, congrats! You’ve tested it repeatedly, fixed bugs, monitored performance, confirmed with beta trials that it actually works for users, and submitted it to the app stores.

Now you need to dive in and do what it takes to get your first 1,000 users. That might seem daunting at first with millions of apps in the stores to compete with, particularly if you don’t have a background in marketing. 

But once you know the basics and you’re open to experimentation, you can increase your mobile installs efficiently and start to see a return on your investment as your users engage with your app.

Focus on owned media

Generally speaking, the most cost-effective way to get started is by channeling your efforts into what you already control, which is known as “owned media”—those are the channels that you “own,” through which you are likely already communicating with your first users and potential users. Owned media typically includes your social presence (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest), your email lists, users you already have who can invite others, and even your website.

Your job then, is to pair each of those channels with the user acquisition tools (platforms and mechanisms that help you get installs of your app) that will drive installs of users who are most likely to engage with your app and generate revenue.

how to get app users

Create seamless user experience

Everything you do to get users to install your app should be framed by one crucial factor: user experience. You should never lose sight of it, because if users can’t install and use your app easily—without any irritating or confusing bumps along the way—they’re not going to stick around. 

In mobile app marketing, you want to get app installs in a way that is “frictionless” or “seamless” for the user, meaning that they get from one place (e.g., an email you’ve sent) to another (e.g., a specific page within your app) without any snags. 

No matter the channel or device you use to reach a user, the mechanism that takes the user from a link in one of your owned media channels to the app store where they can install and use your app (or, if they’re an existing user, to launch the app) is called redirection; the user taps on a link you generate and is redirected to the app store. If that path is compromised by a bad user experience, like a broken link or being dumped somewhere that isn’t relevant, that’s “friction,” and you’ve likely lost that user right out of the gate.

Redirection supports a host of user acquisition strategies, it frees you from having to worry about building and maintaining infrastructure, and over the long term, it helps measure, iterate, and improve whatever user acquisition strategy you choose. If you’re pursuing new users (as startups generally are), then you want to become particularly familiar with deep linking, which happens after redirection and makes a new user’s journey smooth from first impression of your app to engagement and even purchase within the app—a journey which can include personalized content that resonates with the user. Basically, deep linking makes sure that when a user launches your app, they go directly to a specific page rather than to the app home screen.

For example, let’s say you reach out to prospective new users (on any channel) and offer them a discount if they download your app. They tap on the link, are directed to the app store, download the app, and boom, as soon as they open the app, there’s the discount they were expecting to see; on your side you can then tell exactly where that install came from—if it came from browsing on the mobile web or from an SMS, for example.

But the beauty of deep linking isn’t just rooted in the personalized content and the seamlessness of the user experience—it’s also in attribution: done right, deep linking makes the user experience engaging and friction-free and provides you, the app developer, with the data (attribution) that tells you where that user came and what they do once they download. 

All of this is great, right? It is…but the truth is the mechanisms that streamline the user’s journey and provide you with attribution data can be more complicated than you would expect when you look under the hood—there are all sorts of factors and variations that can make redirection and deep linking complicated, like what OS and device existing or new users have or where they are when they click on the link (e.g., social app, email app, etc.). That means, in theory, that you have to generate multiple links that will work for all of the different possible device, platform, and app scenarios, which is a headache.

how to acquire app users

The good news is there are powerful tools that, with a bit of time investment, can easily create those multiple links that you need to reach users and get them to install your app and engage with it, no matter where and from which device, platform, or app they’re coming from. The magic of it all is that each of those links leads to the right content—whether in-app or not—and is created by the same tool. That’s where the road to meaningful engagement opens up. 

So get started with getting those first 1,000 installs by arming yourself with basic knowledge about how deep linking and each owned media channel work best together, and the tools that can keep them working together efficiently.

For this specific purpose we created the video series: How to land your first 1,000 mobile installs. Every video is focused on a different channel you can use. This time around – Social!

Your first campaigns: Pitfalls, tips, and tricks


Social campaigns

Social is an incredibly strong growth channel because the audience, whether they’re your friends, family, or other followers, are self-selecting: if you’ve got them, it’s because they’re already interested in you and perhaps even your app. 

In an ideal world, you would be able to post a single link on social that leads to the app store to install (or even to a particular page within your app); new users ( those that don’t have the app installed) and existing users (those that do have it installed) would tap on it, and presto, they land exactly where you want them to be (and where they expect to be—no surprises!))

But as we noted above, it’s more complicated than that because there are so many variables (new users, existing users, iOS, Android, etc.)—and social apps in particular —often break Universal/App Links.

Those broken links get back to the issue of creating extremely annoying stumbling blocks that can alienate users: they tap on a link for your app in a social app and nothing happens, or they reach your app’s home page instead of a landing page, or they wind up routed through the app store even though they already have the app installed. All of these, unfortunately, are common scenarios. 

But again, if you familiarize yourself with deep linking options, you’ll find those that have workarounds. AppsFlyer’s OneLink technology for example, offers you reliable deep links as well as the option to create landing pages that obviate broken experiences from social to an app.

Email campaigns

Email marketing has long been one of the most reliable channels for acquiring and retaining users, and it’s inexpensive, relatively simple, and extremely effective. Moreover, given that these days many users open email on mobile, the leap from email to an app can be relatively friction-free when you embed a call-to-action in the email, like “download the app” or, to give a more specific example from the travel category, “Check out these cheap flights.”

how to get app users from email

But that doesn’t mean using email marketing to app installs is without challenges—those rear their heads when it comes to measurement. While email service providers wrap links (shorten them automatically) and track opens (always a crucial metric to track), wrapping in particular can break links on iOS as well as on Android (to a certain extent). 

That means you need a deep linking solution (like AppsFlyer’s OneLink) that ensures that the user has a seamless experience moving from your email to your app, and that you can easily compare data from your email service provider with that from your attribution provider to measure their effectiveness side-by-side. Armed with that information, you can make smart decisions about where to channel your marketing budget. 

Referral invites, word-of-mouth and SMS

When it comes to increasing your mobile installs, there’s nothing quite like the magic of referrals—they’re where the possibility of your app going viral and growing at scale originates. But just like every other approach to getting new installs, you need to be smart about it: you need to incentivize referrals and you need to measure how they’re performing. 

Yet again, this is where deep linking is invaluable: with a single link, you can measure and attribute which user originated every new install and each action inside each new install AND make sure that the link maintains personalized content to attract, engage, and retain new users. 

SMS offers one of the best channels for referrals and user acquisition overall because it’s so tidy: an existing app user can invite other users through their mobile phone contacts, again using a deep link, without the messiness of needing to know if the user has an Android or iOS device. 

But there is a limiting factor with SMS referrals: you have very little room on the screen to make your pitch. Again, that’s where a good deep linking solution from a good attribution provider can make a huge difference. OneLink, for example, enables you to send extremely short links that you can customize, so you’re sending a link that is relevant and doesn’t eat up space on the screen. 

Also, when it comes to re-engagement of existing users, a deep link delivered via SMS offers ideal friction-free re-engagement; all the user needs to do is tap on the deep link in the SMS, and they’re instantly in the app, looking at whatever customized content you’ve created for them.

To sum up, getting your first 1,000 users is a huge milestone for any app creator just starting out —once you’ve reached that benchmark, smart tools and a keen awareness of user experience can help you build still more momentum. 

Remember, in today’s hyper competitive app space where users have extremely high expectations, anything that falls short of a world-class first time experience with your app and you risk an uninstall within a click of a button. 

It’s that simple. If you take the time to learn how to combine your owned media with redirection and deep linking, you will be well on your way toward capturing and keeping valuable users.

Here at AppsFlyer, we’ve launched our free-for-life package, Zero, as a part of AppsFlyer’s Zero Budget Marketing initiative – aiding app developers leverage owned media, especially web for growth. You can create your free account within seconds.