The AppsFlyer Performance Index has come a long way since Edition I was launched back in May 2015. Fast forward five years and the industry-standard ranking of the best media sources in mobile advertising is back for the 10th time (!) in Edition X, covering the second half of 2019.
Edition X is a fitting end to an exciting decade in which mobile apps exploded into our lives, attracting $57.8 billion in app install advertising spend in 2019 alone.
Edition X is also the most segmented to date with 252 rankings sliced by region, platform, and category (including new categories like Finance, Entertainment, Travel, Photography, and multiple Gaming genres). Overall, Edition X covers 25 billion installs, and 52 billion app opens of over 16 thousand apps.
Note: The data set of Edition X covers the second half of 2019, a time frame that preceded the global outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Having said that, as of March 15, 2020 we have not seen any significant change in the total number of non-organic installs (NOIs) on a global and aggregated level in comparison to previous years — neither for gaming, nor for non-gaming apps.
Edition X marked the first time that Google hit the #1 spot in the most important ranking — the power ranking — which combines quantity and quality factors. The search giant’s success can be largely attributed to its performance on Android and the App Campaigns product.
Facebook dominated iOS power rankings across the globe, while commanding the Retargeting Index thanks to its Dynamic Ads product and unrivaled targeting capabilities.
The growth of Unity Ads has formed a powerful gaming triopoly beyond the duopoly: ironSource, Unity Ads and AppLovin achieved 35% market share of Gaming installs in H2, a 10% increase compared to H1.
TikTok Ads is now the 4th largest media source for Non-Gaming apps. The app’s success has also led to #1 ranking in the Growth Index for the 2nd time in a row, increasing its share across the globe: from China and India, to North America and Western Europe.
Increased awareness of app install fraud paints a positive picture: 23% of media sources improved their fraud rate by at least 20% in H2 — double the rate of sources whose fraud rate took a turn for the worse by at least 20%.
(July – December 2019)
(with a minimum of 50,000 attributed installs)
(with a minimum of 2,000 non-organic installs)
The AppsFlyer Performance Index only includes media sources that met strict conditions on two fronts:
Volume Ranking: A ranking of media sources based on the total number of non-fraudulent installs each was attributed for, and, to a lesser degree the number of apps running on the platform
Power Ranking: We normalized and combined the number of non-fraudulent installs, the number of apps running with each media source, and the weighted retention score (see detailed explanation below). We then factored an additional fraud penalty based on the network’s overall fraud rate for the region in question.
Thresholds: A strict threshold policy based on the number of non-organic installs per app, in addition to the number of apps per platform, media source and region was applied. If the threshold wasn’t met, the next category level and / or platform level was used.
For example, let’s explore a ranking at the most granular level: platform, region, and sub-category, or Android-LATAM-Role Playing Games: if the threshold of the number of media sources — each with a sufficient number of apps — was not met, the ranking used was Android-LATAM-Hardcore Games; if that too was insufficient a cross-platform combination was applied.
We compared the performance of the top 350 media sources in H1 2019 vs. H2 2019. The comparison was calculated by combining a number of factors: install growth, number of apps growth, average installs per app growth, and growth in share of the app install pie — on a global or regional level.
We factored and normalized the number of attributed retargeting conversions (a conversion occurs when an existing user that has the app installed engages with the retargeting campaign, excluding re-attributions), and the revenue generated from these conversions (based on all events reported after the retargeting attribution occurs and within its attribution window).
STEP 1: We calculated the non-organic retention rate of each app per media source and per region. We did this separately for each day of a 30-day period, dividing the number of users who were active on the day in question by the total number of users who first launched the app in the selected timeframe. We added two longer term signals — week 8 and week 12 post install — dividing the number of users who were active on the week in question by the total number of users who first launched the app in the selected weekly timeframe.
STEP 2: We calculated the organic retention rate of each app on a regional level, separately for each day over 30 days, and for week 8 and week 12.
STEP 3: We then compared the non-organic and organic retention rates for each timeframe. Using organic retention as a benchmark significantly reduces the impact of a given app’s quality, and therefore offers a far stronger indication of a media source’s performance.
STEP 4: We calculated a weighted average using a retention-based logic; the longer a user is retained, the higher the assigned weight. As such, the day 1 non-organic to organic ratio had the least weight, and week 12 the most weight. This weighted average serves as our retention score.
STEP 5: We calculated a network’s overall weighted retention score per region and category group in question by taking the retention score of each app separately and factoring the number of installs it delivered.
Install fraud rate: We divided the number of a network’s fraudulent installs coming from Device Farms and Bots by its total number of attributed installs.
Poaching fraud rate: We divided the number of a network’s fraudulent installs coming from click flooding and install hijacking by its total number of attributed installs.
Overall fraud rate: We divided a network’s poaching and install fraud by its total number of attributed installs.
Clean installs calculation: We reduced the number of fraudulent installs from each network’s overall install count according to its install and poaching fraud rates (the latter is based on stealing organic or non-organic users of other networks and therefore impacts the install count).
Clean retention score calculation: We reduced a network’s retention score according to its poaching fraud rate (most of this fraud is based on stealing organic users, thereby elevating a network’s retention and engagement levels).
Fraud per region and category: Because the level of fraud differs by region and category for different media sources, we used the specific fraud rate for each in the region and category in question.
Exclusion: Networks that did not meet our overall fraud rate threshold by region were excluded from the Index in question.
The Google-Facebook duopoly took shape in the 2010s following Facebook’s massive success on mobile. While Google was late to the mobile game, it was able to catch up as the decade winded down, reaching the #1 universal volume ranking in Edition IX (H1, 2019).
Edition X (H2, 2019) marks the first time that Google topped the most important ranking — the power ranking — which combines both quantity and quality factors (see the methodology section for a detailed explanation). Clearly, Google’s choice to go all-in on machine learning, while focusing on video and creative to power its App Campaigns product has paid off.
Google’s success can also be attributed to its domination on Android, with the #1 position in 16 of 23 global rankings across gaming and non-gaming categories. On Google-owned Android, the search giant has increased inventory and improved measurability across its numerous assets, generating significant scale and top quality.
Facebook, on the other hand, dominated iOS with a #1 power ranking in 17 out of 19 global segments across gaming and non-gaming categories. On a regional level, the social network ranked #1 in more slicers than Google. However, it was Google who topped the universal index due to the fact that the volume driven by Google when ranked #1 was much higher — particularly in the developing world where Android owns an overwhelming majority. Indeed, Google’s share of the app install pie in Africa jumped 30% in H2 2019 compared to H1, while LATAM (+15%), and India (+10%) also generated strong results.
In the Retargeting Index, Facebook was once again the #1 media source by a large margin, although Google grew faster (see insight #3 for more).
Mobile Gaming continues to be the driving force of the app economy, pushing new and existing developers to constantly release new titles. Data-driven as they are, gaming app marketers then employ aggressive user acquisition strategies, monetizing users through in-app purchases and ads to turn a profit.
Beyond the Google-Facebook duopoly, a triopoly of networks have been able to fully capitalize on the explosion of gaming: ironSource, Unity Ads and AppLovin. Together, they controlled 35% of the gaming pie in H2 2019, a 10% increase compared to H1. Other players in gaming trail far behind.
Unity shined in Edition X with an impressive 76% leap in the gaming install pie. The platform offers a nearly ‘end-to-end’ solution for gaming apps: from game development, through paid distribution (UA), to ad monetization (integrations with mediation platforms).
Therefore, the increase in the number of gaming studios this year propelled Unity forward to reach 4th place in the universal gaming volume ranking — up one spot. The platform was also #1 in the power ranking in different regions and gaming genres, such as Arcade in Southeast Asia, Action in Eastern Europe, and Strategy in Japan & Korea.
ironSource continued its upward climb thanks to a significant investment in product, leading the network to 3rd place in the universal gaming volume ranking, and to 5th place in the universal power ranking (up 3 spots thanks to its pre-install arm Aura).
The network has built products for both the buy-side (mainly its ROAS optimizer) and the sell-side (in-house mediation with automatic waterfalls, cross-promotion features, and a real time bidding offering). Heightened interest in ad monetization has led more developers to ironSource’s mediation platform, and from there the integration with the buy-side was easier, benefiting the network’s standing. Having said that, they grew at market pace, maintaining their share of the pie compared to H1.
AppLovin’s high quality score helped maintain the network’s impressive 3rd place in the global gaming power rankings. AppLovin was very active in the last couple of years, launching Lion Studios and making top charts hits, acquiring MAX mediation and increasing its publisher portfolio. The fact that it can go full circle enables AppLovin to drive top quality and scale.
With low retention and high uninstall rates, apps have been turning to re-engagement in increasingly greater numbers: in H2 we saw a 20% increase in the number of apps running retargeting campaigns compared to H1, and an 18% increase in the number of apps with over 30% of their conversions (including non-organic installs and retargeting) attributed to retargeting.
Powered by its Dynamic Ads product and unrivaled targeting capabilities, Facebook is in a league of its own in retargeting. Although Google trails behind, the search giant is growing faster with a 44% rise in their share of the retargeting pie, compared to Facebook’s 5% increase.
Criteo maintained its 3rd place ranking but its distance from the duopoly is increasing. RTB House ranked 4th, driven by their success with shopping and travel apps, while Remerge’s 5th place can be attributed to its 3rd place ranking in the gaming and food & drink indexes.
For the first time, the Retargeting Index included a regional breakdown, emphasizing its increased scale. Facebook retargeting domination is seen across the board as the #1 media source in all regions in the index.
Facebook produced double digit growth in the share of the pie in 6 out of 11 sub-regions, especially in Eastern Europe where it more than doubled its share. Google grew in double digits in 7 out of 11 sub-regions, with significant growth in North America, India, and the Middle East.
The adoption of retargeting was most widespread in APAC. The region holds the largest share of conversions with nearly half of the global conversions in Edition X, up 12% compared to Edition IX. The share of retargeting conversions out of total conversions (retargeting and non-organic installs combined) within the region has also grown by nearly 10%, with North America showing similar growth rates.
Retargeting remains a predominantly non-gaming activity, covering 90% of retargeting conversions. We believe this will change in 2020 as more gaming marketers discover the effect retargeting has on performance and proven methods to measure it.
2019 was the year TikTok went all-in on its media business with the introduction of TikTok Ads. After capturing the #1 spot in the H1 Growth Index, H2 marked its inclusion in the power club, reaching the 4th position in the non-gaming universal volume ranking. Overall, its share of the app install pie has jumped 120% in Edition X.
The platform has enabled advertisers to reach new audiences across a variety of segments and markets. TikTok Ads has extended its reach in H2, increasing scale in all markets they operate in, particularly in their home country China (under the name Ocean Engine), in India, and in developed regions of North America and Western Europe — especially in Italy, Spain, and the UK.
TikTok Ads is particularly well suited to non-gaming apps, and this is clearly evident in its own category split which consists mostly of non-gaming clients and growing 16% vs. H1. A platform level analysis shows TikTok’s growth can be largely attributed to iOS.
The app’s success also secured its top ranking in the growth index for the 2nd index in a row (see insight #5 for more).
TikTok exploded onto the social media landscape worldwide in 2019. Indeed, for the 2nd Index in a row, TikTok Ads was the fastest-growing media source in mobile advertising worldwide (more about TikTok in insight #4). It was a top 3 Growth Index media source in seven regions globally.
Another top performer in Edition X’s Growth Index was Mintegral. Like TikTok, it reached the top 3 in 7 regional growth rankings across the globe. Beyond volume, the gaming-driven network also delivered top notch quality, leading to an impressive 6th place in the Universal power ranking.
Thanks to strategic partnerships (e.g. integration with ironSource’s mediation platform), new business offerings (e.g. header bidding), an in-house creative studio, and IAB certification, Mintegral gained momentum, increasing its share of the install pie by 183%.
Top global networks also made a mark in the Growth Index as they continue to drive impressive growth despite their size. Led by Unity Ads, which was the fastest-growing player in 7 regional rankings: from Africa, through Japan & Korea, to North America (read insight #2 for more about Unity Ads).
Another leading gaming network — ironSource — reached the top 3 position in four developing regions: Africa, India, Latin America (where it ranked #1) and the Middle East. Moloco Ads is also worth a mention having generated impressive growth in developed countries, with a top 5 ranking in four regions (North America, Western Europe, Japan & Korea, and Australia & New Zealand).
The Growth Index also shows just how global the mobile advertising market is; only 15% of placements across rankings were taken by purely regional media sources.
Heightened competition of the app ecosystem is making organic app store discovery increasingly harder and in some cases nearly impossible. Running Apple Search Ads (ASA) is one way to overcome this challenge.
When examining its performance, we see a significant difference between gaming and non-gaming indexes; in non-gaming, ASA held on to its impressive 3rd place in the power ranking, while in gaming it ranked 6th. Volume-wise, in non-gaming ASA ranked 3rd, while in gaming it only reached 13th place.
This indicates that ASA is more effective for non-gaming apps, while gaming apps have many more options in standard user acquisition (for example, a gaming ad could work when running in a health app, but it is far less likely to work the other way around).
Data-driven as they are, gaming app marketers excel at user acquisition and have been using more video ads which are not available in ASA. Furthermore, many gaming apps for the masses — particularly the fast growing hyper casual genre — aim for low cost/low user value, while ASA is a high cost/high quality channel.
From a regional point of view, ASA generated significant growth in its share of the pie in APAC, followed by the Middle East, and Latin America. Having said that, the vast majority of its traffic naturally came from strong iOS markets in North America and Western Europe.
Awareness of app install fraud grew considerably among marketers in 2019. As a result, they are far less tolerant to suspicious media partners. An analysis of the top 200 media sources paints a positive picture: 23% improved their fraud rate by at least 20%, almost double the rate of sources whose fraud rate increased by at least 20%. Furthermore, there was a 21% increase in the number of media sources that had a fraud rate below 5%.
Having said that, there are still fraudulent sources that can drain ad budgets: the fraud rate of 8% of media sources increased by over 50%, while 4% of them had double the fraud rate they had in H1.
Clearly, there are companies who are working hard to clean up their inventory; however, there are others that are simply trying to “milk the cow” until it dies, and they remained successful as oblivious advertisers lost billions of dollars to fraud in 2019.
Advertisers should therefore remain vigilant and keep their defenses high. With app install ad spend on the rise, fraudsters will not give up their attempts to exploit loopholes, while developing more sophisticated forms of attack to bypass protection.
The social network is performing well among non-gaming apps, coming in at #6 in the universal power ranking, and #5 in the volume ranking. Its success in this category group can be largely attributed to success in the Food & Drink vertical (3rd in power ranking) and shopping (4th in the power ranking).
Snap is predominantly iOS, and therefore most of its traffic is in North America and Western Europe, while it is also extending its footprint in the Middle East with a 15% increase in the share of the pie in the region.