Mobile User Acquisition on a Budget

“We look at mobile web as top of the funnel for mobile users; it’s the introduction to our product and a critical part of our mobile experience. But our app users engage more deeply with us and have proven to be more valuable over time. So there’s a balance on mobile web between presenting a really solid shopping experience and guiding shoppers and sellers to our apps. We look for targeted scenarios to promote the app from the mobile web. For example, if a customer has visited our mobile website multiple times in a week, we can be more aggressive in promoting our apps. We think that’s a customer who’s more likely to be interested in our native experiences.”

– Arpan Podduturi, Etsy’s Group Product Manager

user acquisition

Image source: Flickr, user: coolio-claire

User acquisition is a different ball game for big vs. small-time developers. But no matter what your company size – 10,000 or just one – you don’t want to break the bank acquiring new users on your mobile app.

You’ve already optimized your app for search in the App Store and Google Play. Here are a handful of tips from our experts on how to drive traffic to your app outside of searches, get downloads and convert installs to loyal users who spread the word about your app. All while on a budget.


Before your app officially launches, reach out to tech blogs and news sources. Make sure you find the right outlets that match your audience and announcements – in this case mobile and launches. Ask friends if they have any connections or contact writers at the company’s generic info@ address. Be sure to do this early on in the process, however, as many tech sites won’t publish information that’s older than two days.

If you’re in a pinch, you can always post on Help A Reporter Out, which matches journalists with companies trying to squeeze into the spotlight. It’s not a guarantee, but it can be helpful for smaller app development companies without a budget for PR.

Finally, if you have the resources, outsource your PR for short-term projects. If you’re launching your app, making updates or announcing company changes, it’s worth it to hire a rep who can spread the news to major media outlets.

After your initial PR blast is done, thank reviewers publicly, on Twitter or elsewhere. Then, set up Google Alerts for your app’s name, competitors and relevant keywords to keep up with breaking news about your company and the industry.

Social channels

You know that Google Plus account you have that sits around, mostly untouched? Yeah, that can help you with user acquisition on your new app.

There’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest – it seems like the list never ends. Each one has its own unique marketing strategy, as well, which is enough to make your head swim. Don’t worry; we’re here to simplify matters.

It’s not necessary to build a presence on all social media channels. Just pick the ones that work for your brand and put effort into those. If you have a recipe app, Instagramming food porn builds an audience, just as a beauty app benefits from Pinterest. When people see their friends linking to and using your app, they’ll be more likely to give it a shot.

When you’ve created social media pages, move on to paid advertising that converts fans into users. We’ll cover the basics of Facebook and Twitter, the two most popular social media ad platforms, to make the most of your marketing efforts.


Facebook has always been one of the most common user acquisition tactics for developers – especially developers of mobile games.

When you are creating the ads, start with your target demographic. Aside from gender and age, you can narrow your focus with user-chosen “likes” to people who play specific video games, listen to certain music or eat certain foods. Start broad and then narrow the campaign to select a demographic who responds well to your ads.

Facebook ads will probably comprise most of your spending and it’s easy to go over budget. To keep user acquisition costs under control while ensuring your ads are successful, pair with an analytics program. Though despite focusing so much energy on user acquisition on Facebook, don’t dismiss your app’s other users. One study now shows that users acquired organically retain just as well as users acquired via Facebook.


Twitter recently introduced its mobile app promotion, a new way to target specific users based on geo, keywords, interest and more to discover those most likely to download and regularly use your app. When a user finds your app interesting and installs it, a prompt appears to notify the user the download is completed. In Twitter’s words, “the notification is designed to drive activation of your app when user intent is highest.”

mobile promotion

Aside from this new feature, there are three other ways to advertise on Twitter: promoted tweets, promoted accounts and promoted trends.

Promoted tweets gain wider distribution than regular tweets, ensuring your message is displayed to targeted demographics.

promoted tweet

Promoted accounts list your company on the “who to follow” sidebar, so you attain and engage more followers.

promoted account

Promoted trends are trending topics that appear on Twitter’s left sidebar. They can build mass buzz, while increasing advocacy and purchase intent.

promoted trend


Harnessing the power of Facebook and Twitter, as well as other social media platforms, is a great intro to user acquisition. But don’t just stop there. Reach out to influencers in your field. Perhaps there’s a CEO who could endorse your app to a relevant audience of 10,000 Twitter followers, or an internet celebrity who could flaunt your game on their page. Think outside traditional social media and contact influencers on sites like Reddit and Quora. People put faith in influencer words and are more likely to download an app if someone they know or trust recommends it.

Users share content for many reasons. A few include wanting to be seen as an authority in a field, because of social proof (if everyone else likes it, I should too) and for likability (i.e. spreading an entertaining video on YouTube to make friends laugh). If you can understand this logic and play into it, you’ll start to pick up on what makes content go viral.

Growth hacking, a marketing method that uses creativity and social metrics to increase exposure, also plays a huge role in affordable user acquisition. For instance, Dropbox employs growth hacking by offering users extra space for referring friends, and some developers insert a requirement in the middle of mobile games where users must invite friends in order to progress to the next level. Start by offering something for free (extra lives, in-app currency, etc.) if users spread the word via social media, emails or texts. If that’s successful, experiment with other methods, so long as these integrate well into your app and don’t disrupt user experience.

With growth hacking, you’ll pay for the initial users, but as they spread the word about your app, you’ll acquire a smaller bracket of new users for free.

Follow this three-step process to user acquisition and your number of downloads will rise in no time. For more information about marketing new mobile apps, be on the lookout for our next post about user onboarding.

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This is part of Kiip’s ongoing Developer Success Guide.

Kiip is a leader in the field of app monetization. We enable developers to reward their users with advertising they enjoy. We want all developers to be successful in their ventures, so we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide with industry observations, best practices and expert advice.  

To learn more about monetizing your app, visit or email us at


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