The App Store’s Another Fight Against User Acquisition Black-Hat Strategies

4min read

The App Store’s Another Fight Against User Acquisition Black-Hat Strategies

Apple recently made a number of changes to the way it features and organizes mobile apps in the iTunes App Store particularly aimed at the mobile game community.

This created significant buzz among industry insiders. Opinions from industry insiders, such as Oliver Kern, predict the close end of burst campaigns like Top 25, Top 5, etc. Is it an attempt for Apple to kill User Acquisition by removing burst campaigns or just a normal cleaning session from the App Store?

Apple has removed the possibility for games to surface among the featuring slots of a category page based only on data. Lists such as New, What’s Hot and All iPhone (Free & Paid) were changed by featured lists curated by Apple’s editorial team rather than algorithms in the same fashion as the main page.

These pages now have their own banner art at the top to better highlight the best new games within those sections. Within each subcategory page, consumers can browse editorial collections including Best New Games, All Time Greats, etc. Top charts such as Top Paid, Top Free and Top Grossing are still available.

This significant update is showing that Apple is moving from algorithmically generated sections increasing its focus on editorial content. This means that a fast rise in installs generated by burst campaigns or other user acquisition techniques will no longer automatically land your game on one of the featured categories as it would have in the past. If Apple staff judges the quality or relevance of your game to be lacking, based on their undisclosed internal list of criteria, your game will be weeded out of the selection no matter how many times it was downloaded today.

Essentially burst campaigns still work in the sense that their primary objective had been reaching Top charts. This is where burst campaigns can be sustained and scaled as an ingredient in a good marketing mix. What has disappeared is only the one-off effect of maybe getting featured in a category, which should always have been a secondary target given that there is a bit of luck involved. More importantly because this added bonus element has little impact on a sound, long-tail plan.

A burst campaign consists of acquiring cheap and low-quality users often from incentivized traffic sources in sufficient amounts within a short time frame (less than a day) so that the app will rise up on the App Store charts. When surfacing in the Top 10 or reaching the top of a category, the app will see an organic uplift that offsets the cost of buying poor traffic.

The best detailed resource about how such burst campaigns are executed in the app world is included in Eric Seufert’s “Trampoline Launch” slide deck. Although he is quoting that, there is no need for User Acquisition at all. “I don’t need to run mobile user acquisition. If I make a great game, it will grow on its own”. As a technique, User Acquisition has grown due to persistently rising competition, especially in the gaming category where the number of certain clones can reach hundreds. When Apple is clearly aiming to increase the quality of content, games and apps distributed on the App Store, cleaning out clones and artificially boosted apps, the User Acquisition technique will clearly decline.

Why is it only happening right now? Apple is searching to maintain its loyal end users. With more than 1 million apps on board it becomes a complex issue for end users to discern a worthy app from a clone app. Users have to dig through over dozens of referrals, review sites and social pages to gather user feedback in order to find the right app solving a particular issue. The App Store changed the algorithm to clear the ground from “weeds” and increase potential for high-quality apps to prosper.

It’s also a chance for smaller mobile app development companies publishing high-quality content to get noticed by Apple rather than compete in terms of budgets on burst campaigns with bigger publishers, which would be winners by default.

Here at ComboApp we are fully welcoming the fact that Apple is cleaning out “black hat techniques” and transitioning to transparency, measurability, scalability and productivity for developers while leaving behind costly and inefficient burst campaigns. This policy update is showcasing market development and maturity, which could not please us more.

The decline in using burst campaigns would probably be compensated by the growing demand for PR and Community building tools. ASO tools, including an icon, app description and keywords optimization, would probably attract more attention of developers. High quality design of promo screenshots, video previews media-kits and press releases would be the right assets to put more efforts on in order to get a featured position on the App Store.

The ComboApp team will help you to liaise effectively with the right media outlets and get you the right connections. The most important thing, however, is to build an app that is top quality. It doesn’t matter how much buzz there is or who you know at Apple, if your app is not an efficient, well-designed product that serves a genuine purpose it won’t get featured. If your startup has something that consumers will want or need and if you have designed it with love and care, then you stand a better chance of being recognized.

Oles Dzyub, Branded Content Manager at ComboApp