The Ultimate Guide to Mobile User Acquisition

For our latest tips, check out our 2018 Ultimate Guide to Cost-Effective Mobile User Acquisition or request a Branch demo

With over 1.5 million apps in both the App Store and Google Play Store, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get your app noticed in the crowded mobile ecosystem. In order to get your app into the Top 25 Apps on the US App Store, you’d need to acquire 38,000 new users every day. That’s a lot of installs, and that number is rising every year (up 25% from 2013 to 2014). In this guide, we’re not trying to solve the massive undertaking that is mobile user acquisition. Instead, we’re going to provide the ultimate compilation of resources for you to craft a personalized user acquisition plan for your app.

How is User Acquisition Measured?

The most important metrics for user acquisition are number of installs and install rate. These two metrics are by far the easiest way to tell if your app is something that people find valuable, and therefore has a shot to be successful. However, from the perspective of a marketer, it is also important to consider other metrics that deal with cost. These include:

    • Cost per install (CPI – $3.15 in US)
      • This is becoming increasingly expensive, not an efficient way to gain valuable users
    • Cost per action (CPA)
      • The cost of getting a customer (old or new) to convert
    • ROI
      • Are the users you acquired making you money? Making purchases in-app?
    • Cost per 1000 impressions (CPM)
    • Conversion rate
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
    • Total acquisition costs divided by total new customers
User Acquisition Strategies and Tools

In their Mobile User Acquisition report, VentureBeat collected data about the most effective user acquisition strategies that mobile marketers use. Branch has touched on user acquisition ideas before, but one of the most important things to recognize about a user acquisition strategy is that there is no formula that will work for everyone. Making sure to try different things, get creative, and continually refine your user strategy is crucial. Below is a list of resources and tools for each strategy:

    1. Web to App
    1. Social Media
    1. Video ads
    1. Incentivized Installs/Referrals
    1. ASO  
    1. Email
    1. PR/Press
    1. App cross-promotion
    1. In-app viral tactics
    1. Native ads
  1. Banner ads in mobile apps
Web to App

Mobile websites are the number one source of app installs that many marketers don’t talk about. Our research shows that if you have a top website, you’ll have a top mobile app. By using tools, like Journeys, to creatively and seamlessly take your users from your mobile website to your mobile app, marketing teams can efficiently increase their app user base.  

Social Media

Social media was the #1 strategy for the largest number of app marketers by a significant amount. The ease with which content posted on social can reach a large network and potentially even go viral leads marketers to continue to lean on social as an important marketing tool.





Video ads

As we’ve noted before, mobile video consumption is increasing 100% every year, and 30-second mobile video ads have an 88.3% completion rate. Video content is becoming more and more popular; it wouldn’t be surprising to see video ads approach social media as the top UA strategy over the next few years.


Loop Me

Facebook Premium Video Ad Service

YouTube Mobile Video Ads


Incentivized Installs/Referrals

Incentivized installs and referrals come from some kind of offer (in-game credits, discounted products) or from word-of-mouth. Both Dropbox and Airbnb saw extreme success with this strategy by creating dual-incentives for sharing their products. And while those two business have mobile and web based products, mobile-only apps like Uber and Postmates have also built their businesses through referral programs.


Branch offers rewarded referral tracking that makes it easy to run user install and engagement campaigns. Dating app, The League used Branch’s referral tracking to boost installs through referrals by 30%.


App Store Optimization can be broken down into two portions: search optimization, which are all of the factors that affect the App Store or Google Play Store’s ranking algorithm, and “appeal optimization,” which includes all the things that a user sees when they do find your app in the app store: icon, screenshots, description, etc. Branch has written about ASO before, and Trademob also covered both App Store optimization and Google Play Store optimization.

Search Optimization

Install numbers are not the only metric used by the App Store or Google Play Store in their ranking algorithms. While some people argue that there is an order of importance around the factors that alter an app’s ranking, almost everyone will agree that the App Store and Google Play Store ranking algorithm is very difficult to decode. The general consensus is that these factors affect an app’s ranking:

In terms of reviews, it’s important that you make sure to prompt users to review your app at the optimal time. This means that you’ll want to ask them to leave a review after you know that they’ve had a positive experience with the app, like advancing a level in a game or completing a purchase. 98% of Top 100 apps have at least a 4-star review average, so if you want your app to climb the charts, make sure it’s getting great reviews.

One thing we’ve seen work a lot (we’ve heard it over and over at our mobile growth meetups) is moderating reviews early on. Get a bad review? Do everything you can to find that user, ask them what went wrong, and how you can help. They will likely change their rating. Bayram Annakov, CEO of App in the Air, shared a clever hack that he had used for reversing negative reviews on his app at one of our mobile growth meetups.

Appeal Optimization

Appeal Optimization is every bit as important as search optimization. Even if you’re able to optimize your keywords and position your app well in the App Store search results, app installs will remain low if users don’t immediately see the value it can have for them. For this reason, you should do everything you can to find the combination of icon, screenshots, and description that will drive the best results.


There are several tools that allow developers to A/B test an app’s icon, description, and screenshots without having to push new updates to the App Store or Google Play Store.

Store Maven (A/B Testing)

Split Metrics (A/B Testing)

TestNest (A/B Testing)

Upwork (Icon)

Dribbble (Icon)

App Icon Template (Icon)


Email may not be the most exciting new technology that a marketer can use to drive mobile user acquisition, but it remains a key component of a marketer’s arsenal. Universal emails are essential for a positive user experience on mobile, and can drive users directly to a piece of content inside of a mobile app. And our research shows that $3,000 in revenue is lost for every 1 million emails sent without deep linking.  


Branch has partnered with several top ESP services (Responsys, Sailthru, Sendgrid) to provide Universal Email. It will increase the conversion rate of your emails and provide additional, previously unrealized revenue.


Press coverage from a high-profile outlet can work wonders to drive awareness and installs for your app, especially for consumer-facing apps.  But before you reach out to a reporter at TechCrunch, or any major tech news site for that matter, make sure there’s a fit between what your app does and what they write about. It’s always helpful to research the market and find a unique angle for your app before pitching. Websites like Product Hunt are also a great channel to drive organic user installs.


App Review Websites

Product Hunt


App Store Apps


App Awards

The Mobileys

– Reach out to bloggers/media influencers who write about the niche that your app occupies or would be willing to promote your app

Paid Strategy

Paid advertising is especially important for apps because it can place your app high enough in the app store rankings to start to bring in huge amounts of organic traffic.

The most important thing to keep in mind when planning your paid advertising is to diversify your paid efforts. Mike Burton, head of mobile engineering at Groupon, encouraged developers looking to grow their apps to explore different options: “You can get to 100,000 users with Facebook advertising. You can maybe get to 1,000,000 users with Facebook advertising. If you want to start getting beyond that, you have to diversify your networks and diversify your exchanges. It’s only through having a lot of different tools that you’re using can you get to the 10 million number.”

The best way to make the most of your paid advertising is to do extensive research beforehand. There are many different ad platforms out there, so figure out who your target customers are, and where they are most likely to see your ads. Calculating your users’ lifetime value (LTV) will also be important to understanding how much you can afford to spend on advertising campaigns.

You can use Branch’s deferred deep links in your advertising efforts. HotelTonight decreased cost per install, increased conversion rates, and increased monthly revenue by 99% using deep links in their ads.


Facebook App Install Ads

Google App Install





In-App Viral Tactics

Encouraging your existing users to share part of your app with their social networks is a great way to get free promotion for your app. Vine did this especially well when they first launched; users would share Vines on Twitter or Facebook and draw in friends who found the content amusing or interesting.


Deep links can make it easy for your users to share in-app content with their  networks. Deep linking shared content drives user engagement and retention and makes sure that prospective new users find the content they’re looking for right away.

User Experience and Onboarding

The average user is fickle when it comes to the experience they first have with an app, and if you don’t make the onboarding process as simple and enjoyable as possible, users will begin to drop like flies.

We’ve talked about how contextual deep links and personalized user onboarding are important before.

Deepviews create a custom splash page for a preview of app content on the web or mobile web that deep link into the app. Across the Branch partners that have used Deepviews, we see a 6X increase in click-to-install rates.

A/B testing tools can also make sure that your app is perfectly optimized for conversion.






Content Marketing

Content marketing should be at the core of any app’s growth strategy. Without content for people to consume, users are left with a binary decision as to whether they will use your app or not. With valuable content, you can lead those users down your funnel and into the app. There are numerous forms of content that you can market to potential app users:

– Blog about your app’s niche. People looking for information on it will come to your content and become more familiar with your brand.

– If your app solves a problem, look to answer questions about that problem on Quora or StackOverflow

– Video Content

You can read more about Branch’s content analytics literature here.

Organic App Search

Don’t just promote your app, promote the content within it. It’s more relevant and timely and it significantly reduces costs. Google and Apple are still in the nascent stages of developing their App Indexing and Spotlight Search, but knowing the amount of resources they have, it is likely that these will be powerful channels of user acquisition and app discovery when they are fully functional. Some of the first companies to build apps were heavily featured early on the App Store, and still reap the rewards of that today. If you’re the first to integrate into Cloud Spotlight search when it’s ready, who says Apple won’t feature you?


TV is definitely a non-traditional route when it comes to marketing your mobile app, but games like Clash of Clans and Game of War seem to have concluded that it is worthwhile for drawing new users. If you can accurately determine the LTV of newly acquired users, it may be worthwhile to investigate non-digital methods of advertising like TV, radio, or print.

Remember that your strategy should be dynamic; iterations and continual optimization will be the key to finding the perfect balance of different approaches. Do your research, find out which tools will be most effective for you, and always strive to improve inefficiencies wherever possible.