iOS user acquisition 2024: 16 top tips

By John Koetsier May 22, 2024

iOS user acquisition is hard, and it’s getting harder. You need some help and smart tips to make it just a little bit easier.

We recently ran a webinar with some super-smart people on iOS user acquisition in 2024. It’s a deep dive on what’s happening, how people are growing, what data you can still get, how SKAN 4 can help, and much more, including the flight to Apple Search Ads, and how ASA can boost both your organic and your SKAN strategies.

Those smart people were:

  • David Vargas, User Acquisition Manager, Splitmetrics
  • Alejandra Ugarte, Sales Engineer, Liftoff
  • Aleksandar Cvetković, Data Scientist, Webelinx Games  Horizontal 
  • Eran Friedman, CTO & co-founder, Singular

So what can you do now to make iOS user acquisition better in 2024? Check out these tips, excerpted from the webinar, and watch the webinar itself on-demand if you have time.

1. ATT opt-in isn’t great

At Singular, we’re currently seeing ATT opt-in rates of around 16% globally at point of install. That goes up slightly over time because many apps don’t ask for tracking permission immediately, but not much.

“About 20% of ad requests have a visible IDFA,” says Alejandra Ugarte, an engineer at Liftoff.

That’s enough to be interesting as a checkpoint for the IDFA data you might be able to see, but it’s severely limiting in terms of all the data marketers — and ad networks — would like to have for measurement and optimization.

2. Only 35% of marketers have transitioned to SKAN 4 so far

When we asked the hundreds of marketers attending the webinar live if they’ve transitioned from SKAN 3 to SKAN 4 yet, the answers weren’t amazing for SKAN 4.

  • Yes: 35%
  • No: 41%
  • Getting started: 24%

65% of marketers, therefore, haven’t fully transitioned to a new iOS use acquisition attribution framework that Apple released in 2022.


Of course, there’s reasons for that. Complexity is one. SKAdNetwork’s inherent limitations are another. Big ad platforms’ modeled results are another. The most important reason, however, is that the adtech industry isn’t transitioning to SKAN 4 very fast at all. 

If you look at Singular’s SKAN 4 tracker, adoption is currently around 30%. That means 70% of all postbacks we see for billions of installs, billions of dollars of spend, and trillions of ad clicks … are SKAN 3 or earlier postbacks.

Until that gets solved, marketers just don’t see too much of a point in fussing with SKAN 4.

3. SKAN revenue is always an estimate

While no-one’s fooling themselves that the previous IDFA-based system was always completely and totally 100% accurate, it was at least mostly accurate in principle.

SKAN is always an estimate.

“The first challenge is that you always get an approximation of your revenue at the end of the measurement period,” says Webelinx data scientist Aleksandar Cvetković. “So you never know the ground truth.”

That’s because even if everything in your SKAN set-up and conversion model is perfect, you’re still getting revenue data from buckets: the ranges you set up for your SKAN conversion model. And, in addition to that, you’re also dealing with privacy thresholds or crowd anonymity that will censor some of your data.

4. Data modeling is the future

We’re now fully in the era of approximate truth, or “truthiness” as I call it, for iOS user acquisition. 

Call it the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of marketing: you never know exactly what reality is, but you can still get a pretty truthy idea of where your results lie, within parameters and at a certain level of certainty.

“SKAN doesn’t provide cohorted revenue or cohorted events,” says Singular CTO Eran Friedman. “So in our reporting we wanted to compensate for that and bring cohorts back  … and we do that using data modeling, which I think is a very important part of the future of measurement because there’s no other option. You have to rely on data statistics and data science to bring those insights back.”

The good news: Singular has become very good at this, and Unified Measurement, which takes in multiple sources of data to unified attribution and measurement, is a major step forward for iOS user acquisition in 2024.

“If you run these through and formalize, and scale very hard across every campaign, across every date, then you can get to really accurate revenue ranges of those cohorts,” says Friedman.

5. Listen to your users to get better data

So if your data is going to be truthy rather than the truth, and if you have to use inexact buckets with ranges rather than actual values for your IAPs, subscription, and in-app advertising revenue, those buckets better be pretty freakishly good.

How do you make them awesome?

By listening to your users.

“You have this continuum of revenue from zero to infinity, but you’re limited by the number of buckets, and then you need to discretize this continuum,” says Cvetković. “And this is where your historical data comes into play: you need to listen to your data to see where your users accumulate in the given time period. And if you see that your users in early days accumulate somewhere on the lower scale, then the idea is to discretize these lower scales, even as low as $0 to $1 maybe, and to be more rough on the higher revenue.”


SKAN revenue buckets


Translation: if your revenue skews low, add more buckets to the lower range. If your revenue skews high, add more buckets to the higher ranges.

This will give you more fine-grained accuracy for revenue per install that will provide important data for ROI, ROAS, and LTV questions, and enable smarter iOS user acquisition optimization for ad campaigns and partners. 

It’s not granular per se, but it’s more granular where you benefit the most from additional specificity.

6. We now can have different sources of truth depending on channel

Unified Measurement uses multiple data sources to deduplicate marketing conversions from different channels and modes of measurement, but it’s still helpful to have those different measurement methodologies.

Some are just better for specific iOS user acquisition channels than others.

“The idea was to first of all make sure we put all the different data sets together in the same report,” says Friedman. “So you can actually compare between the tracker user level based attributions and the SKAN-based data, and basically the network data everything in the same report, essentially, across other channels. But then we even took it a step further and came up with what we call the unified metrics, the deduplicated numbers showing the installs per campaign per channel that relies on the best source of truth for that specific channel, including, by the way, organic traffic in showing all the organic installs and all the revenue coming from it.”

The result is the best possible measurement: just 1 metric that represents your results. 

(Though of course in Unified Measurement you can see all the underlying data and make your own determinations if you wish.)

7. SKAN 4’s first postback is incredibly important

In SKAN 3, the first postback is unbelievably important because, of course, it’s the only one. But don’t let SKAN 4’s 3 postbacks fool you. The first postback is still incredibly important.

Without it, you won’t get anything else.

“You have to keep in mind that when you receive zero on data from SKAN, you won’t receive second and third postbacks,” says David Vargas, UA manager for SplitMetrics. “So the first postback is more important than ever.”

All that extra data and that extra cohort information that you hope to get from postbacks 2 and 3 depends on postback 1 actually being sent.

8. Keep it simple for SKAN 4

Some UA managers are tempted to go a little crazy in SKAN 4: more campaigns! more data! more events! more postbacks! more everything!

This, however, is a massive mistake.

Don’t fall into that trap.

First of all, it makes everything that much more complex, increasing the likelihood that you’ll dive into SKAN 4 and never surface, eventually giving up as it gets harder and harder. Secondly, however, as any data scientist or statistician can tell you, the more events you add to your conversion models, the more installs you require to get meaningful and predictive results out the back end.

“For example, if you have a subscription app, just focus on paywall views, trial subscriptions, and then model with that data,” says Vargas. “My general advice is to make it simple.”

More data points means more complexity, and more data points requires more total data to both overcome privacy-related data censorship and to achieve statistical reliability.

For iOS user acquisition and SKAN models …

Keep. It. Simple.

That means sticking to the default windows too, says Vargas, and not locking postbacks early.

9. Postbacks 2 and 3 in SKAN 4: Map your minnows, dolphins, and whales

Whales spend a lot, dolphins spend, and minnows might watch some ads. Build those designations into your second and third postbacks in SKAN 4.

“Basically, you can map those three coarse conversion values into those three groups,” says Cvetković.
“And then, from your data, you know how each group behaves in your app. And from this behavior, you can model long-term behavior, revenue, or whatever you’re interested in.”

Now you’re working from what you know to what you don’t know.

10. Only 3% of marketers are 90% confident in their SKAN data


When we surveyed participants about their confidence levels in their SKAN data, only 3% were 90% confident. The rest fell from 70% to 50% to 20%.


SKAN data


Now, this is a biased sample, of course: it’s literally from participants in a webinar about how to use SKAN. If you’re a SKAN expert, you’re probably not attending.

But still: ouch.

iOS user acquisition isn’t easy under SKAN.

11. Flight to Apple Search Ads

When you’re not confident in your SKAN data, what do you do? 

Well, on iOS in 2024, you flee to Apple Search Ads.


“Apple Search Ads is the only channel that doesn’t work with SKAN, and that’s a key factor,” says Vargas. “The estimations of growth in Apple Search Ads … are just insane. And for me, it’s not surprising, because at the end of the day, most of the advertisers are reallocating the budget from SKAN channels towards Apple Search Ads just because they can manage the performance. They can get cohort data, much of which they can analyze over time. So they prefer to pay a bit more per install in exchange for getting accurate data, which nowadays is gold, right?”

Apple Search Ads uses Apple Ads Attribution API, not SKAN, and it offers a lot:

  • Campaign ID
  • Ad group ID
  • Geo
  • Download or redownload identifier
  • Date & time of click
  • Keyword matched so your ad was shown
  • Ad ID
  • Broad demographic data
  • Some behavior and interest-based data
  • Detailed performance metrics (impressions, TTR, CPT, CVR)

It’s pretty clear why Apple Search Ads has grown significantly over the past few years.

12. If you’re using ASA, you need keywords with reach

Apple Search Ads has plenty of scalability and lots of traffic for iOS user acquisition, but there are limitations. And those limitations are mostly linked to the keywords you use.

“We still have one main disadvantage in Apple Search Ads, which is the inner limitation of the query system, which is what Apple Search Ads is built on,” says Vargas. “Scalability on Apple Search Ads depends on the search traffic that you use on your search results campaigns … if your keywords don’t have enough popularity, you will face obstacles when it comes to scaling your spend.”

The solution is to pick different keywords … or …

13. Use multiple placements on ASA, including search tab campaigns

If you’re having trouble getting enough scale on Apple Search Ads, try Search Tab campaigns. 70% of App Store users use the search tab, according to Apple, so it provides tremendous reach and scale.

Search Tab campaigns, while they have their own direct performance impact, also boost organic, says Vargas. 

“The results after a few months with the search tab campaigns were just insane,” Vargas says, referencing a specific campaign. “Apart from tripling the impressions, as you can see here, the higher and deeper presence that we caused in the App Store with the Search Tab campaign helped us to increase the search traffic of our brand keywords.  And all these effects created a snowball that decreased the overall cost per lead of the client, which was at the end of the day the main goal of the client.”

It is important to note that Vargas suggests measuring all your campaigns together (Search Tab, Product Page, Today Tab) since doing so will reveal the true impact.

14. Better ASO and better SKAN via Custom Product Pages

You’re probably already using Custom Product Pages for your app, with each one highlighting the key benefits or appeal of your app or game to different audiences with different primary interests.

But it’s critically important to get CPPs right and to do as many as you can, because they’ll boost your conversion rate, and that will both give you better app store optimization (ASO) and improve your SKAN campaigns, thanks to fewer people who visit your app listing but ultimately decide against installing it.

“If you are able to increase your conversion rate on your SKAN campaigns, you can decrease your cost per install. And that means that you need less installs per day and per campaign to get the signals, the data from SKAN.,” says Vargas.

15. ASA for better ASO

Part of the data you get when you run Apple Search Ads is app profile metrics per keyword. That’s a gold mine for your ASO strategy.

If you see that different audience segments, for instance, are connected to a specific set of keywords, and have better TRP and CPI performance, that’s a huge signal about where to focus your app store optimization strategy.

16. Free traffic from in-app events (the social kind)

In-app events mean different things to different people, but the kind we’re talking about here is an actual event. Like a conference or a contest, but virtual, and in your app. 

Example in-app events:

  • Contest in a game
  • Tournament
  • Virtual meet-up in a social app
  • Premiere of a new song or video 
  • Livestream of a new product feature
  • Interactive forum on new features or options

Iit could be anything that you can bill as an in-app event for your app users.

What you get is a free way to create higher reach and impressions on the App Store, because Apple wants to feature these types of events and the apps that host them. If you make them live, you have a good shot at getting featured in your category, or even on the cover of the App Store, Vargas says.

Much more in the full webinar: iOS User Acquisition for 2024

Hey, it’s free and it’s available on-demand. And you can run it in the background, listening to the audio while you get some low-level work or email done.

Check it out right here.

There’s always more context and more content in the full webinar.

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