Mobile Apps Compete for Holiday Downloads

Facebook emerging as key app discovery engine

Christmas morning is a gift to app developers. Once folks unwrap their new tablets or smartphones, among the first things they do is load them up with apps.

“My understanding is that December is the largest month in the [Apple] App Store for traffic,” said Daniel Raffel, founder and CEO of how-to app Snapguide, which released its iPhone version in the spring. Given that attention, there’s plenty of jockeying for attention in the App Store or Google Play during the holidays. Heightening the frenzy is the fact that Apple closes its App Store to new apps or updates on December 21 and doesn’t open again until after the holidays. Little wonder that many developers release new apps or significantly update their existing efforts before the holidays in order to refresh their profiles.

“The holidays are a big time for us to market given that there are a lot of new devices gifted over Christmas in addition to iTunes gift cards that people need to use,” said Sho Masuda, vp of marketing at mobile social gaming network GREE International. Mobile gaming ad network Chartboost runs an ad marketplace spanning more than 8,000 mobile games and saw a 50 percent increase in overall game boot-ups in the U.S. alone on Thanksgiving Day. The company expects an even larger increase over Christmas and Hanukkah. And with increased demand, comes increased ad prices. The cost to acquire a new user shot up 6.1 percent from November to December, according to Chartboost.

However it’s not about acquiring just any user. On Thursday GREE launched a new iOS game, Knights & Dragons: Rise of the Dark Prince, and Masuda said the game’s advertising objective prioritizes the lifetime value per install versus the initial cost per install. “Basically, we strive to invest in networks that will bring potential spenders or users who will refer high-engagement users to our titles,” he said.

An overlooked network—with all the attention on the app stores and in-app banners—that GREE invests in to promote its apps is search. Last year Google saw a more than 70 percent year-over-year increase in searches for “best tablet apps” and a 37 percent jump for “free phone apps,” said Brendon Kraham, Google’s director of global mobile sales and strategy. Google runs two ad products to get app developers present for those queries. App extension appears as a normal paid search result but includes a image and link to the Apple App Store or Google Play. Click-to-download ads drive traffic straight to Google Play.

While it’s not surprising to see online advertising kingpins search and display attract developers’ promotional attentions in addition to app store discovery, social is emerging as a fourth tentpole that blends all three of the others. Similar to how Facebook became a leading traffic driver for online publishers, the social network is becoming a new way to surface and draw attention to mobile apps. The Apple App Store and Google Play each spotlight apps and host directory-like search services, but “Facebook is playing in the same space as web, bringing interesting apps directly to your feed from your friends,” said Doug Purdy, director of developer products at Facebook.

“Last month we drove 183 million clicks from the News Feed to the Apple App Store and Google Play,” said Purdy. Bolstering Facebook’s role is its deepening ties with app developers. Of the top 400 grossing iOS apps, 50 percent integrate with Facebook, including eight of the top 10, Purdy said. “Our goal is to be the number one source of traffic to [the Apple App Store] and Google Play,” Purdy said.

But Facebook can really solidify its stature in the mobile app discovery market through its App Center and mobile app install ads. While Raffel said App Center hasn’t performed as highly as expected in driving conversions for Snapguide and he has yet to try out the mobile app install ads, “my expectations are fairly high,” he said.

Social ad firm Nanigans had tested the ad product early on and said in October that the mobile app install ads drove 13 to 17 times higher CTRs than Facebook desktop ads and garnered eight to 10 times the reach of mobile ad buys on other channels. And a recent update should drive even higher conversions. Mobile app install ads can now bring the app install window directly inside the Facebook app, said Purdy.

“You can literally install the app inside of Facebook itself,” he said. That is to say, the News Feed is becoming the new app store.