Inside SKAN Part 1: Publisher and advertiser app connections revealed

By Shani Rosenfelder
inside sk part 1 publisher advertiser - square

Which app categories advertise most and with what kind of publishers? Neither Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) nor ad networks have been able to independently answer this question. 

Until now. 

As part of SKAdNetwork —  Apple’s solution for aggregated attribution post iOS 14 — new data has become available that enables the connection of data between advertisers and publishers for the first time. 

Previously, the MMP and advertiser weren’t exposed to the Apple publisher app ID (this data isn’t available in Android either). But the SKAdnetwork postback includes the source-app-id. Now, with this new data, we can see how publishers connect to advertisers, and vice versa. 

SKAdNetwork postback

This data is extremely valuable to app marketers to inform targeting (especially in the age of privacy when data is limited and contextual signals become increasingly important), drive ad revenue (allowing publishers to prioritize categories and genres with high affinity to their own), and inform cross-promotion optimization, to name just a few key benefits.

This blog is the first in our new Inside SK series, where we’ll uncover a world of insights from SKAdNetwork to help advertisers navigate this largely uncharted territory.

Sankey diagrams explained

A Sankey diagram is a specific type of flow diagram visualization, where the width of the arrow is proportional to the flow or value. 

The easiest way to explain a Sankey diagram is to show you one, and to dig straight into the advertiser-publisher data from SKAdnetwork:

Sankey diagram gaming and social

On the left side are the publisher apps, and on the right side are the advertiser apps, showing us which app categories connect, and to what extent. 

There are three types of insights in these Sankey diagrams:

1) From left to right, or publisher app category to advertiser app category, we can see that 51% of installs driven by ads in Social apps were of Gaming apps. 

2) From right to left, we can see that 35% of Gaming app downloads were the result of ads in Social apps.

3) Left or right side only shows distribution of each type; for example, 48% of paid app installs were driven by ads on Social apps (publisher side).

Key findings

The data is based on tens of millions of SKAdNetwork postbacks aggregated between May 10 and June 15, 2021.

1) Overall: Social and Gaming publishers reign supreme

Sankey diagram gaming and social

On the publisher side:

  • Ads on Social & Gaming apps drive 92% of paid installs: 48% from Social, 44% from Gaming.

This is no surprise considering a) the popularity of social network ad platforms among advertisers (Facebook, Snap, Twitter, TikTok etc. are all integrated with SKAdNetwork), and b) the sheer size of Gaming in the app space and their heavy use of advertising to drive both demand and revenue as publishers.

  • More than half the installs driven by Social publishers are of Gaming apps. An additional 10% led to Shopping app installs, and 7% to Education as well as to Health & Fitness apps.
  • A whopping 97% of installs driven by Gaming publishers are of Gaming apps. The appeal is clear, gamers play many games and are always on the lookout for the next game to play.

On the advertiser side:

  • Gaming apps account for 70% of paid installs, with Shopping a distant second at 5%. 

Gaming app marketers rely heavily on paid acquisition to drive demand. Because their space is hyper competitive like no other industry, they must spend money to make money and stand out. 

As the savviest marketers, they also have confidence in their ability to leverage data to ensure their ad investments are profitable. 

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2) Non-gaming publishers: Social apps command 86% share

Sankey diagram non-gaming social
  • When we exclude the massive source of Gaming apps as publishers, we can see Social take over non-gaming publishing with an 86% share. 
  • Although Shopping is the second biggest vertical, it is not used at all as a publishing platform. Given that the sole reason users browse Shopping apps is to buy goods, which of course is aligned with any brand’s goal, there is no reason to disrupt the flow with ads.
  • Entertainment apps are the second largest publisher with a combination of streaming apps that often use ads as a revenue stream to complement/supplement subscription revenue, and the resemblance to Gaming in quite a few apps categorized as Entertainment in the App Store. 

3) Gaming sub-category*: Revenue model determines publishing space distribution

Sankey diagram gaming sub categories
  • Ads in Hyper Casual (HC) apps drive 48% of paid Gaming app installs. Since these games are completely reliant on in-app advertising (IAA) as a source of revenue, and because of their popularity, they dominate the publishing field among Gaming apps. 
  • The rest of the Gaming publishing space is also driven by the revenue stream: Casual games often have a mixed income from IAA and IAP (in-app purchase), while Hardcore and Social Casino are far more reliant on IAP revenue. It is also a question of size as these subcategories are far more niche and appeal to more advanced gamers. 

Genre groupings were comprised of the following app store categories:

  • Hyper Casual: Apps with at least 90% of revenue coming from ads
  • Casual: Casual, Puzzle, Card, Board, Word, Educational, Trivia, Family, Sports
  • Midcore: Adventure, Simulation, Action, Arcade, Racing
  • Hardcore: Strategy, Role Playing
  • Social Casino: Casino (not real money)

4) Gaming genre: Casual and Puzzle games hold a 45% share of publishing space

Sankey diagram gamin sub sub genre casual and puzzle
  • A category level breakdown shows Casual apps driving 30% of paid Gaming app installs, followed by Puzzle at 15%. In this App Store-based categorization, Hyper Casual apps are included in Casual. 

As explained above, these apps rely on IAA and therefore dominate the publishing space. Puzzle games are a form of Casual games as they are relatively simple to play and rely on a mix of IAA and IAP to drive revenue.

  • Although Racing games are not major publishers, they do command 15% of the paid install space. 

To summarize

  • Thanks to SKAdNetwork, new data connecting publisher and advertiser apps has become available for the first time. 
  • Given the popularity and size of social network ad platforms and Gaming in the app space, ads on their apps drive the vast majority of paid installs.
  • Because of their hyper competitive space, Gaming app marketers rely heavily on paid acquisition, accounting Gaming apps for the bulk of paid installs.
  • Social takes over non-gaming publishing, with Entertainment grabbing second place. 
  • Shopping is not used as a publishing platform at all, despite being the second largest vertical, because ads tend to interrupt the shopping flow. 
  • Ads in HC apps dominate the publishing field among Gaming apps, primarily due to popularity and for being completely reliant on IAA-driven revenue.

Shani Rosenfelder

Shani is the Head of Content & Mobile Insights at AppsFlyer. He has over 10 years of experience in key content and marketing roles across a variety of leading online companies and startups. Combining creativity, analytical prowess and a strategic mindset, Shani is passionate about building a brand’s reputation and visibility through innovative, content-driven projects.

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