Category Deep Dive: Mobile Attribution
Between paid media campaigns, owned channels, and app store optimization, user acquisition (UA) is a fundamental piece of your mobile business, given that:
- It facilitates growth in the hyper-competitive, free-to-install app ecosystem
- Organic app discovery is largely broken
- UA is the gift that keeps on giving, with effective practice leading to higher app store rankings + more UA
One of the most powerful tools for transforming complex data into actionable insights for UA is the attribution provider, also known as a mobile measurement partner (MMP) in the app world. While capabilities vary somewhat between providers, MMPs offer a variety of tools including deep linking, mobile fraud protection, first party audience segmentation, and of course, attribution.
Mobile attribution is the process of measuring and attributing every app install and in-app engagement to the marketing campaign and media source that drove it. Without attribution, marketers lack the right kind of visibility into their performance, which informs wrong decisions and ultimately overspending. In order to make sense of it all and pay their media partners for demonstrated value, marketers need to work with a partner that has a view from above and is a source of truth that can rule which marketing activity should be credited for delivering a desired action and which should not.
Fitting Mobile Attribution into Your MarTech Stack
As the centrality of the mobile app as the ultimate destination becomes adopted as a standard, marketers need less convincing as to an attribution provider’s role in their efforts. Nevertheless, a common misconception is that an attribution provider isn’t relevant for non-paid efforts. However, there are two key reasons to integrate mobile attribution early on in your product lifecycle, before paid media begins:
(1) Attribution is centered on understanding engagement with both paid and owned media across the user journey, from ad exposure to push notifications and customer emails. Attribution is crucial for optimizing post-acquisition user flows through the measurement of in-app events such as sign-ups, purchases and level completions, in addition to down-funnel metrics such as retention, revenue and lifetime value (LTV).
(2) Using information gathered by an attribution provider, deep links allow marketers to create a single link that can automatically detect the user’s device, channel, platform and app state (installed or not) to send them to the optimal web or app page. While deep links are helpful for automating paid link trafficking, they are absolutely crucial for optimizing the user experience for owned media.
When opening a marketing email link on your mobile phone, for example, you’ve probably encountered the frustration of being sent to that brand’s website instead of the app store. This is even more cumbersome for apps that you’ve already installed, in which case you have to exit the webpage, open the app and manually navigate to the intended in-app page. This is precisely why universal links are so important. Without using a third party deep linking solution, marketers have no way of optimizing the experience by device and platform. And while some email service providers (ESPs) and marketing automation platforms have come up with their own universal link solutions, few are equipped to handle every edge case. AppsFlyer’s OneLink solution solves that, ensuring a seamless user experience across paid advertising, SMS campaigns, user invites, web-to-app banners, cross-app promotions, referral programs, QR codes and more.
Note that, without attribution data on where, when, and how users engage with promotions and apps, deep linking cannot be fully optimized—these two capabilities go hand in hand. That is, deep linking is the process of using attribution data to route the user appropriately. Since deep links are powerful tools at any stage of your app’s growth and development, it’s crucial to find an attribution provider to unite deep linking and attribution in a single dashboard and maximize the impact of both.
Now that we’ve covered the top two reasons to integrate attribution early on in your product lifecycle, let’s dive deeper into more advanced functionalities and use cases.
Top Attribution Use Cases
While there are many applications of attribution data depending on the marketer’s tech savviness, here are five of the most universal and wide-reaching use cases:
(1) Break down the silos between paid and owned media.
In many ways, an attribution provider can be considered the common link between advertising and martech partners. In addition to providing deep linking functionality across paid and owned media, attribution data is crucial to unify the two. By differentiating the source of in-app events between paid re-engagement and marketing automation campaigns (push, email, etc.), marketers can better synchronize and deduplicate efforts to maximize their return on investment (ROI).
Through built-in partner integrations, MMPs allow marketers to unify measurement from all their advertising partners, providing holistic attribution data to product analytics, marketing automation, developer tools and other stack partners to customize web and in-app user flows by audience and acquisition source. MMPs also prevent the need for a marketer to integrate new SDKs for every new advertising partner, streamlining the testing process while facilitating a continuous feedback loop for media optimization through the use of postbacks.
(2) Optimize campaigns with advanced attribution and analytics.
From user acquisition to retargeting, effective campaign optimization requires granular measurement. For example, a travel app might focus on basic events such as installs, app opens, registrations, add to cart and bookings as their key performance indicators (KPIs). However, by mapping additional parameters such as origin, destination and class on both content search and booking events, the airline marketer can unlock more granular options for optimization as well as audience segmentation. Rich in-app events are the ideal attribution tool to determine the value of app users and the quality of traffic originating from different media sources. Additionally by analyzing the correlation of specific rich in-app events that tend to precede lower-funnel goals such as bookings and purchases, marketers can build predictive models to better optimize towards ROI and ultimately LTV.
In addition to providing granular measurement of in-app events, attribution providers can also connect the dots between different channels and devices to provide a holistic, people-based view of user journeys within a single dashboard.
For example, AppsFlyer offers multi-touch attribution to differentiate the last touch that drove a user to install vs. “contributor” media sources that a user may have been exposed to previously across web and app environments. Whether viewed as raw data, cohort reports or other dashboard visualizations, these insights can be used to optimize end-to-end user journeys from awareness to UA and re-engagement.
With that clarity, marketers are better positioned to combat ad fraud, reallocate advertising spend, and prevent double or triple charging by ad networks each claiming credit for an install or other action.
(3) Detect and prevent ad fraud in real-time.
Mobile ad fraud is a growing industry problem, comprising 22.6% of non-organic app installs worldwide, according to AppsFlyer’s State of Mobile Fraud [H1 2019] report.
Although it’s possible to manually detect certain types of fraud by analyzing click-to-install times, conversion rates and other metrics in-house, policing media partners without the use of anti-fraud technology is a cumbersome and only partially effective process. Fraud is a cat-and-mouse game in which fraudsters are constantly finding new ways to evade detection, such as the use of bots to emulate real users. Given its dynamic development, the best way to stay ahead of sophisticated fraud tactics is by using the massive scale of MMP data to power AI detection and blocking.
By investing in an advanced solution such as AppsFlyer’s Protect360, marketers are guaranteed real-time fraud protection, as well as a suite of advanced reporting that can be used to set up custom rules, alerts and enforcement mechanisms for network compliance. Realizing that 16% of app install fraud is impossible to stop in real-time, Protect 360 is also the first industry solution to provide AI protection against post-install anomalies that contradict standard user behavior.
(4) Identify and expand your highest-value users.
In addition to using attribution data to optimize ad spend and user journeys, you can also leverage an attribution provider’s audience tools to improve the relevancy of your prospecting and retargeting efforts. By analyzing performance, you can start to understand which actions and metrics correlate most with your highest value users, as well as which types of users are most likely to churn.
Using this insight, you can activate the full potential of your 1st party data by segmenting audiences based on a combination of custom actions and rules, such as ad views, installs, specific in-app events and revenue amounts generated within a set time range. Rules can be combined and customized to create lookalike audiences modeled off active users, retargeting audiences for new users who have yet to sign up or engage, and exclusions to remove active users from your UA campaigns. Audience segmentation is also useful for promotional offers, so you can customize the type and value of the offer based on your users’ previous interests and levels of engagement or spending.
Audiences can be synced in real-time to all of your integrated ad partners, in addition to your product analytics partner for custom onboarding flows, as well as your marketing automation partner for email, push and in-app messages that are synchronized with your paid re-engagement campaigns.
(5) Optimize user journeys with deep linking and smart banners.
As mentioned previously, deep linking is a critical tool for making the user experience with your app and brand frictionless across channels, platforms, and devices. By providing a more seamless conversion process and enabling contextual experiences customized by a user’s interests, acquisition source, and previous brand engagements, deep links can boost conversion rates by 2.5x and retention by 2.1x.
In addition to optimizing journeys across paid and owned media, deep linking can also be used to convert your web users into more valuable app users through the use of smart banners. Let’s take eCommerce as an example: Given that 70% of mobile sales occur in app, it’s no wonder that conversion rates are 3x higher compared to web. Remember that once you convert a user to your app, you can maintain more consistent communications through push and in-app messages.
Leave the Data Plumbing to the Plumber
At this point, you may still not be convinced that a mobile attribution provider is necessary for your marketing efforts. For example, if you’re entering the app world from an established web-first enterprise, it may be tempting to lean on your marketing cloud or web-based product analytics suite. It’s true that you can gain some insight from these legacy tools, as well as partial views of your user journeys from marketing automation and free attribution products such as Firebase. And while some attribution functionalities can be built in-house, taking any of these routes is a compromise that may not be worth taking in the long run.
Take the diverse partner integrations, pre- and post-install attribution, universal deep linking, real-time data, and security protocols for audience data which are only supported by a complex network of mechanics. Such mechanics might not be realistic to build and maintain for companies working with limited team members and resources. Pair this with the complications of working in multiple environments with different methodologies—mobile web and mobile app, for example—and the possibility of things going wrong only increases.
Another consideration is the extent to which you can effectively protect yourself from fraud. Due to the inability to manually counteract every form of fraud, and the time required to continuously update in-house technology to keep up with new fraud tactics, the ROI from a third party anti-fraud suite is usually worth the cost. Attribution providers are far better equipped to fight fraud with their resources, expertise, and scale.
Ultimately, no matter where you are in your app growth or what goals you may have for your data and optimization, an attribution provider can lend invaluable insights and capabilities at multiple stages along your journey. To learn more about how attribution can support your mobile growth strategy, request a demo or check out our guide to Getting Started with Mobile Attribution.