The AppsFlyer Performance Index, Edition XI | AppsFlyer

performance-index_edition-xi

 

Introduction

Since 2015, app marketers have turned to The AppsFlyer Performance Index to guide them in one of their most important decisions: which media sources to partner with. To help them make that decision, we have focused, until now, on retention as the key metric in our methodology.

Although retention is a central KPI for performance app marketers, monetization metrics in a freemium-driven ecosystem reign supreme. Thanks to our unrivaled scale, we have been able to produce, for the first time, new indices with granular monetization-driven rankings per region and category: 

  1. New! The IAP Index: Media sources are ranked on their ability to deliver users with the highest likelihood to complete an in-app purchase (IAP). 
  1. New! The IAA Index: Media sources are ranked on their ability to deliver users who monetize best with ads — vital information for apps who rely on in-app advertising (IAA) as a key revenue stream.

In addition, there are the existing rankings:

  1. The Retention Index: This is the main index in previous editions (AKA Performance Index). It ranks media sources by their ability to drive users with the best retention rates.
  1. The Remarketing Index: In this index, media sources are ranked by how well they delivered high quality retargeted users.
  1. The Growth Index: This ranking is focused on the fastest-growing, up-and-coming media sources per region (excludes the top 10 players in each region).

All in all, these 5 indices provide a complete report card on the mobile media landscape across multiple angles (click here to review our methodology for each index).

Highlights

The quality of users delivered by Facebook powers the social network to claim the #1 cross-index position.

Thanks to its domination in Android devices, Google drives unrivaled scale across the globe, particularly in APAC.

Apple Search Ads (ASA) reached the #2 spot in the iOS Non-Gaming power and volume rankings; ASA also had the best share of paying users in the IAP Index. 

Unity Ads emerged as the leader of the gaming triopoly in the Retention Index thanks to a significant increase in scale that distanced them from ironSource and AppLovin.

Chinese media companies dominate global growth rankings with 5 of the top 7 spots.

Click here to read all key findings >>

Methodology

 

 

Period
H1

(January – June 2020)

# of Media Networks Evaluated
495

(with a minimum of 50,000 attributed installs)

# of Installs
27B

 

 

 

# of Apps
14K

(with a minimum of 3,000 non-organic installs)

# of App Opens
58B

 

 

More about our methodology >>

 

Rankings

The AppsFlyer Performance Index only includes media sources that met strict conditions on two fronts:

  1. Volume: Based on client adoption and the number of attributed installs, both on a per-platform, region and category level (where applicable).
  2. Fraud: Based on a fraud rate threshold that was calculated per region and per category (a detailed explanation appears in the fraud section). AppsFlyer’s scale in the market enables us to provide the most accurate impact of fraud on the performance of media sources.

The Retention Index

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, category and region was applied.

Retention Score

STEP 1: We calculated the non-organic retention rate of each app per media source and per region. We did this separately for days 1,3,7,14,30, 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 day 30 & 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 platform, region and category in question by taking the retention score of each app separately and factoring the number of installs it delivered.

Fraud

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: Because the level of fraud differs by region for different media sources, we used the specific fraud rate for each region in question.

Exclusion: Networks that did not meet our overall fraud rate threshold by region were excluded from the Index in question.

The IAP Index

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 IAP score which is calculated by dividing the non-organic share of paying users by the organic share of paying users. 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, category and region was applied.

The IAA Index

Volume Ranking: A ranking of media sources based on the total number of ad impressions, 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 IAA score. This score is calculated by dividing the amount of ad revenue generated by non-organic users and the amount of ad revenue generated by organic users; in addition, we divided the non-organic IPM (installs per mille) by the organic IPM as an additional factor (although with a smaller weight in the formula than the IAA ARPU ratio). 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, category and region was applied.

The Growth Index

We compared the performance of the top 150 media sources in H2 2019 vs. H1 2020. The comparison was calculated by combining a number of factors: install growth, number of apps growth, and growth in share of the app install pie — on a global or regional level.

The Remarketing Index

We factored and normalized the number of attributed remarketing conversions (a conversion occurs when an existing user that has the app installed engages with the remarketing campaign or re-installs the app, and the revenue generated from these conversions (based on all events reported after the remarketing attribution occurs and within its attribution window).

General Notes

  1. Category groupings were based on the following store categories:

    Utility Group: Utilities, Tools, Maps & Navigation, Weather, Photography, Productivity, Video Players

    Life & Culture: Entertainment, Lifestyle, Travel, Health & Fitness, Food & Drink, Music, Social, News, Education, Parenting, Books, Dating, House & Home, Beauty, Art & Design, Medical, Communication, Comics, Reference

    Gaming Casual Group: Casual, Puzzle, Card, Board, Word, Educational, Trivia, Family, Sports

    Gaming Hyper Casual: Apps with at least 90% of revenue coming from ads

    Gaming Hardcore: Strategy, Role Playing

    Gaming Midcore: Adventure, Simulation, Action, Arcade, Racing

    Gaming Social Casino: Casino (not real money)
  1. The global rankings only include media sources with significant activity in at least two of the following regions: North America, Latin America, APAC, Europe and Middle East & Africa.

The Retention Index

 

The IAP Index

 

The IAA Index

 

The Growth Index

 

The Remarketing Index

 

Industry
Category
 
 

Key Findings

All insights relate to the Retention Index unless stated otherwise

1) Facebook quality powers social network to the #1 cross-index position, but quality comes at a cost

The Google and Facebook powerhouses continue to dominate mobile advertising with a significant majority of the non-organic install market. The search and social giants hold the #1 power ranking position in 79% of breakdowns, and 82% of volume rankings across all indices. 

Facebook was the undisputed leader in mobile until 2018, when Google, propelled by its move to App Campaigns (previously UAC), became the #1 player in Edition IX (H1 2019). A year later, when taking into account all indexes in our newest edition, Facebook has recaptured the mobile advertising crown. 

The standard Performance Index, which we now call the Retention Index (see our methodology for in-depth information), has Google atop the Universal Power Ranking by a small margin. Its position is driven by superior scale across the globe, and particularly in APAC, with the exception of North America where Facebook has higher volume. 

However, when we look at our new IAP (in-app purchase) Index based on the share of paying users, Facebook leads Google by a wide margin in the cross-platform universal power ranking. The importance of IAPs in a freemium-driven app economy is massive, and takes precedence over retention in performance app marketing (see insight #2 for more about the IAP Index). 

The social network’s ability to deliver top quality in both the Retention and IAP Indexes has propelled Facebook forward. Add to that the fact that it also dominates the new IAA (in-app advertising) Index as well as the Remarketing Index (see insights #3 and #7 ahead), and its overall position as a dominant force in mobile, across indices, is clear.

A platform breakdown shows Google is a clear winner in Android thanks to its leap in developing countries where the OS dominates, while Facebook controls much of iOS (note that Google stopped claiming iOS Search conversions to App Attribution Partners in early 2020, so this subset of Google conversions on iOS was not considered for this report). 

An analysis of the Gaming vertical has Google leading the Action, Adventure, Board, and Card game power rankings, while Facebook is first in Puzzle, Simulation, Social Casino, Sports, Strategy, and Word. Among Non-Gaming categories, the social network is #1 in Entertainment, Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, Photography, and Shopping, while Google led Social and Utilities.

Quality, however, comes at a cost. An analysis of the cost of media shows that Facebook charges more. This is especially true in Gaming, where cost is significantly higher in North America, Latin America, and Europe, while Google has a slightly higher cost in APAC. In Non-Gaming, Google is more costly, but not by a wide margin, with the exception of North America where Facebook is more expensive. 

Ultimately, it’s about return on ad spend so marketers must look at their ROAS to guide budget allocation.

2) New IAP Index highlights pure performance media sources and optimization direction 

Thanks to the sufficient scale of marketers measuring purchase events with AppsFlyer, we were able, for the first time, to create an IAP Index with statistically significant results. Based on the share of paying users metric (or install-to-purchase conversion rate), its function in a space where most apps rely on in-app purchases to drive revenue is very important. 

In this index, a platform breakdown has Google leading the global Android power ranking thanks largely to its scale, and to its performance among Non-Gaming apps. But on iOS Facebook is the top player by a significant margin, leading the social network to the #1 spot in the cross-platform IAP universal power ranking. 

Other top performers that deliver top quality users include Apple Search Ads and Snapchat with an impressive #3 and #4 rankings in the global cross-platform power ranking, respectively. In Non-Gaming, cross-platform rankings put a spotlight on the success of Twitter (#5 in Android and #6 in iOS) and TikTok For Business which came in at #4 (more on these media sources further ahead). 

On the Gaming front, Facebook is at the top of cross-platform rankings, but other players also shared the glory: Google (#1 in Action), Snap (#2 in Simulation), Apple Search Ads (#3 in Simulation), and Unity Ads (#3 in Action, Arcade, and Strategy). 

Overall the three Gaming powerhouses — ironSource, Unity Ads, and AppLovin — are outranked by Snap and Apple Search Ads thanks to a higher share of paying users (and despite a much lower volume of installs). This is most likely due to the fact that Apple and Snap focus on optimizing towards the share of paying users, while Gaming networks often optimize towards ad monetization.

3) Facebook, Unity Ads, and ironSource deliver users that engage with ads, leading them to top the new IAA Index

The growth and adoption of in-app advertising (IAA) as a key revenue stream for apps has been well documented in the last couple of years, especially among games.

Thanks to increased scale among apps measuring ad revenue with AppsFlyer, we were able to create the IAA Index for the first time. It is based on the user acquisition source, which means it ranks media sources based on their ability to deliver new users who monetize best with ads, and the delivery of these types of users at scale. As such, we’ve factored the number of non-organic installs, the number of apps, installs per mille (IPM, install per 1,000 impressions), and ARPU into the ranking (see the methodology section for in-depth information and more about these KPIs here). 

Facebook holds the #1 position in the universal cross-platform power ranking, followed by Unity Ads and ironSource. Unity Ads’ scale was significantly higher than ironSource, but quality-wise there was only a minor gap. 

Unity Ads is the main platform for game developers to create mobile games on, and as a result they have a massive longtail of indie games that monetize with ads, many of which continue working with the Unity network post launch. The platform is particularly attractive to Hyper Casual games, which is another reason behind their #2 IAA Index position. Likewise, most of ironSource’ inventory consists of Casual and Hyper Casual games, and they optimize towards ad revenue at scale, reaching the #3 ranking.

A platform split shows Google’s strength on Android with a #3 position compared to #5 in iOS, largely thanks to its success in Midcore games. 

Facebook’s domination in the power rankings is clear not only on the global level, but also regionally, in North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Australia & New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. The social giant is followed by Unity Ads, which was the #1 player in China, India, Japan & Korea, and Eastern Europe, while ironSource led the Middle East ranking. 

Looking further down in the cross-platform rankings, we see that Unity Ads took over the #2 position in most sub-regions (6 out of 10), while ironSource did the same with the #3 position. At mid-field, we have Google (#4 position in 9 out of 10 sub-regions), AppLovin, TikTok For Business, and Vungle, covering most of the 5th and 6th positions. 

When optimizing towards ad revenue, it’s important to ensure that inventory you run on includes apps with players that are used to ads being part of their experience, and actually engage with them. Since different networks specialize in different supply sources, it’s important to take that into account when planning budget allocation. In addition, the network’s algorithm should be able to identify these users and enhance targeting accordingly.

It is therefore not surprising to see that the media sources that lead the IAA Index have a sophisticated business logic in place that matches ad-driven inventory (mostly Casual and Hyper Casual games) to the most relevant users, delivering strong performance. 

4) Leap in scale moves Unity Ads to a leading position in the Gaming triopoly

In Edition X, we recognized the Gaming triopoly under the duopoly, with ironSource, AppLovin, and Unity Ads far ahead of the competition with better quality and bigger scale.

This time around, Unity Ads has emerged as the leader of the triopoly in the Retention Index thanks to a significant jump in scale (its quality is actually the lowest among the group). It took over the #1 global power ranking in Hyper Casual and Arcade, and came in right after the duopoly in 9 of the remaining 14 genres. 

Improving its power ranking position from #5 to #4, ironSource had the best retention-based quality among the triopoly thanks to its extremely high scores in Music, Sports, Adventure, Arcade, and Simulation game rankings, while its scale was 2nd to Unity Ads.

AppLovin dropped two spots in the Universal Gaming power ranking to #5, mainly due to reduced scale as its quality rank was higher than that of Unity Ads.

The leap in scale achieved by Unity Ads is impressive, with growth driven by both onboarding a large number of new clients and increasing budgets with existing ones across the globe. 

ironSource remains a top player in Gaming, catering to the needs of savvy gaming developers that earn money from a variety of revenue streams. In the past year, they released an in-app bidding platform, LevelPlay, launched a new mediation app to improve user experience and accessibility, and created SuperSonic games, a publishing house arm that quickly established itself as a worthy competitor in the Hyper Casual field.

It’s been a busy year for AppLovin as well – they launched MAX mediation, expanded their foothold in the gaming development side (in addition to LionStudios) by investing in various studios such as Clipwire, Geewa, and Redemption games, and also acquired Machine Zone. It appears that AppLovin has a long-term strategy: rather than doubling down on their ad network business, it appears that they have set out to become a Gaming empire by operating different products across Gaming genres beyond Hyper Casual. While these moves may have come at the expense of short-term performance, this doesn’t mean it will necessarily impact their long-term ranking in future rankings.

5) Apple Search Ads is 2nd best media source in iOS with the highest share of paying users

Apple Search Ads (ASA) is providing great results for Non-Gaming apps, coming in at an impressive #2 in the Retention Index’s Universal iOS Non-Gaming power ranking and #3 in the volume ranking. It performed particularly well in Entertainment (ranked #1 in North America, Western Europe, and the Middle East), Social (#1 in North America), Health & Fitness, Shopping (#2 in North America and Western Europe), and Utility apps (#2 in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Japan & Korea). These apps are particularly well-suited to match strong intent that can be drawn from what users search for in the App Store.

On the Gaming side, the variety of apps forces marketers to heavily rely on traditional UA. Therefore, we see lower adoption of Apple Search Ads in Gaming and correspondingly lower rankings than Non-Gaming. 

However, Gaming apps should consider ASA with an impressive #4 position in the global iOS power ranking. It performed particularly well for Hardcore games, coming in #2 in the global iOS power ranking, with a strong showing in Japan & Korea, Southeast Asia, North America, and Western Europe. As more of a niche genre, Hardcore games rely more on App Store discovery, whether organic or not. 

ASA also had the highest share of paying users in the IAP Index leading it to the #2 spot in the index’s universal power ranking, thanks to strong performance delivered to both Gaming and Non-Gaming iOS apps. 

Following its expansion to an additional 46 countries earlier in 2019, ASA also opened up Russia in Q2 – 2020, going into the largest market in Eastern Europe. Earlier this year, ASA also released a software update implying an expansion of their product outside the App Store, to other built-in Apple apps such as Maps, News, and Stock. It will be interesting to see where this carries them in the next Index. 

6) TikTok For Business and Snap prove value of social media for app marketers beyond Facebook

TikTok For Business continues to enjoy rapid growth and is already an established top 10 global player. Its success is largely driven by Non-Gaming apps where it is the 3rd largest player in Android devices and a top 10 player in the power ranking of both Android and iOS. It is also a top 5 player globally in the Lifestyle, Photography, Social, and Entertainment verticals.

The social app is also seeing success in the IAP Index, with a #4 spot in the global Non-Gaming Android ranking. particularly in North America (top 4 result in Action, Arcade, Lifestyle, Photography, Utility, and Entertainment), and Japan & Korea (#4 in Strategy, Role Playing and Puzzle). 

Snap is driving solid retention-driven performance particularly for Non-Gaming apps, having reached the #4 place on Android and #5 place on iOS in the Retention Index’s global power ranking. It is the 3rd best media source for Health & Fitness apps globally, and 4th in Entertainment, Photography, Shopping, and Social. 

The social network also had an impressive performance in the IAP Index thanks to its ability to deliver high quality paying users for both Non-Gaming and Gaming apps. A #1 power ranking position was even achieved in Hardcore games, while the 2nd place rank was secured in Simulation. Among Non-Gaming apps, Snap reached the 3rd best position for Shopping apps on both Android and iOS. 

Regionally, Snap is a top 5 player (cross-platform) in six different Non-Gaming verticals in North America and Western Europe, and a top 5 media source in the Middle East. It earned the #1 power ranking in the IAP Index for Social apps in North America.

7) Facebook continues to dominate app remarketing, while Adikteev drives top quality

App remarketing continued to gain popularity in the market, and in some verticals has become an integral marketing activity. Powered by its Dynamic Ads product and unrivaled targeting capabilities, Facebook is in a league of its own in remarketing. 

The social network’s scale is unmatched while its quality is second only to that of Adikteev. Google is a strong second, but still trails far behind Facebook in scale and quality. Adikteev made an impressive leap from #6 to #3 thanks to its top quality in campaigns for Gaming apps across North America and Europe. 

Criteo, known for dominating remarketing on the web, has yet to translate its web success to mobile apps, dropping from the #3 place in the last index to #5 overall this time around. However, it did reach an impressive #3 global ranking in the most important vertical in remarketing — Shopping.

Diving deeper into the regional level under Shopping, we see different names following the duopoly such as Twitter in APAC, Remerge in Europe, and Google Marketing Platform (DV360) in North America.

Gaming marketers have been much slower to adopt remarketing. As a result, the scale is much smaller and there are fewer rankings. After Facebook, the duopoly is broken by Adikteev in second place, followed by Google. Another player worth noting in Gaming is Remerge, taking the #3 spot in APAC and the #5 spot in North America.

8) Chinese media companies dominate top growth rankings

The Growth Index has two main objectives: for marketers — to identify new sources of inventory to explore, and for partners — an opportunity to shine among the larger players. As such, each regional ranking excludes the 10 largest media sources in that region.

Overall, we can see that Chinese firms make up 5 of the top 7 global rankings, indicating Chinese companies are seeing growth potential outside of China, and are acting on it with increased presence in different regions across the globe. 

The fastest-growing media source globally in Edition XI was SHAREit with an impressive 160% growth rate in the app install pie in H1 2020 (compared to H2 2019), and a significant increase in its client base. As a result, it captured the top spot in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. 

Riding the success of video ads, AdColony came in #2 as it nearly doubled its share in the global app install pie. Their growth is seen across the globe with a spot in eight regional rankings. 

Another strong up-and-comer is Trassion, which increased its share in the app install pie by 143%, powered by a top spot in Africa, where as an OEM, it is the most popular mobile phone brand.

AdTiming demonstrates the value of cleaning up fraudulent inventory. In H1 2018, this media source had a significant share of fraud because of its affiliate model, but has since shown dramatic improvement culminating in a 63% growth in the share of the app install pie — mainly due to its growth in Latin America. Today, most of AdTiming’s traffic is driven by its ad monetization SDK. 

MOLOCO has also shown continued growth, with its share of the pie increasing by 40%. The network’s success is seen across the globe, making the growth rankings in no less than nine regions.

Other players wearing the fastest-growing crowns in regional rankings include Chengdu Invincible Warrior (North America), Kuaishou Ads (Greater China), and Skyfall inc (Japan & Korea).

9) Almost 1 in 5 top media sources have significantly improved their fraud rate, but the same number continue to have alarming rates

Awareness of app install fraud grew considerably among marketers in 2020. As a result, they are far less tolerant to suspicious media partners. An analysis of the top 100 media sources paints a positive picture: 19% have improved their fraud rate by at least 20%, more than double compared to sources whose rate increased by at least 20%. Furthermore, there was a 13% increase in the number of media sources that had a fraud rate below 5%. 

Clearly, there are companies that are working hard to clean up their inventory; however, there are others — 18% of the largest 100 media sources — whose fraud rate increased by at least 20% in Edition XI. 

Therefore, advertisers should 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 attacks to bypass protection, such as post-attribution and in-app fraud.

10) COVID-19 had a huge impact on mobile apps, but not on media source rankings

The novel coronavirus has had a significant impact on apps (and our entire ecosystem). In most verticals, and across the globe, installs, usage, and revenue skyrocketed during periods of lockdown and/or government-mandated social distancing as users sought ways to stay entertained and engaged. To meet the heightened demand, marketers aggressively pursued new users.

However, the impact of the pandemic on media source rankings was marginal.

The only exception was Apple Search Ads. Organic growth in the App Store led marketers to start and/or increase their app store optimization efforts, bringing Apple Search Ads to the front, driving impressive growth and strong performance (for more on ASA see insight #5).

 

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