Scaling ad revenue in 2022: insights from GameHive, By Aliens, Unity, and Singular

By John Koetsier May 17, 2022

It is a great time to monetize apps with ads.

There was almost $300 billion spent in mobile advertising last year alone, and it’s projected to jump to over $400 billion by 2024. Millions of apps have a hybrid revenue model, ads and in-app purchases, while millions more are primarily or completely ad-focused. Business is booming.

It is also a horrible time to monetize apps with ads.

Tracking and attributing ad revenue on apps has always been hard, especially if you want to correlate revenue to user acquisition partners and marketing campaigns. It’s become even more challenging in the past year as SKAdNetwork has made tracking tougher, and Google’s Privacy Sandbox promises to shake up the Android side of the ecosystem in the foreseeable future.

So what is a hardworking mobile monetization professional to do?

Check out our recent webinar, of course, with experts from GameHive, By Aliens, and Unity joining Singular to shine a little light on solutions for the challenges and break through the roadblocks with a few openable doors of opportunity.

Check out the full on-demand webinar here: Scaling ad revenue in 2022

However, we also want to share a few highlights here. Think of it as your 5-minute webinar recap, provided by:

  • GameHive’s growth marketing manager, Hafsa Akhlaq
  • Unity’s partner manager of publisher operations, Bryan Streit
  • By Alien’s ads and monetization coordinator Edwin Asberg
  • Singular’s director of product analytics Lisi Gardiner

Let’s dive right in …

UA and monetization misalignment?

What happens when user acquisition teams and monetization teams aren’t aligned? You’re spending money without making money:

“Without having them aligned, it’s kind of like building a bucket with holes with water,” says Unity’s Bryan Streit. “Everything [is] going … to spill out.”

You also miss opportunities:

“We have situations where our ads monetization managers are able to identify new opportunities for UA campaigns that our UA teams can potentially test out,” says GameHive’s Hafsa Akhlaq. “Things like running a UA campaign in a geo where we have high ads watched per DAU, and it’ll probably be cheaper to acquire users over there.”

And you impair future growth possibilities:

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that, with ad inventory, what you’re selling can become more valuable when you actually grow your audience and add valuable players,” says Streit. “If you’re able to purchase high-value players that are coming back after day seven, and they’re going for in-app purchases, the value of your user base is going to be much more, so this kind of creates a loop where you’re able to buy more valuable users, generate more money, then dedicate more money to the UA campaigns.”

Why do you need granular ad monetization data?

Without granular data by campaign and even cohort, it’s really hard to grow ad-supported apps. You simply don’t have the data to optimize.

“We want to attribute ad revenue back to each UA campaign and really get an understanding of the quality of users we’re acquiring from that campaign and then from that network,” says Akhlaq. “It gives us a better understanding of what we’re doing when we’re optimizing … where to really push or where to scale back, especially when we’re optimizing on the publisher level.”

But averages aren’t enough.

Why? Because ad whales exist.

“By only looking at averages, we will miss and we’re gonna be blind on the extremes,” says By Aliens’ Edwin Asberg. “So we will never know which campaign is performing the best, which campaign is performing the worst, and specific to the user, which users are performing the best and the worst … we wouldn’t be able to optimize our games for those specific targets and specific players, specific behaviors.”

What’s the benefit of instant in-app ad monetization data?

Knowing what happened is good. But knowing what is happening quickly enough and in the right place to be able to use that data to positively influence the future is great. And that’s a key differentiator between those who monetize apps and those who MONETIZE apps.

“What’s really been a game-changer for us and for our clients has been making the switch from having the ad revenue data available offline to having it available via the game itself … being able to pass it through the Singular SDK itself, in real-time,” says Singular’s Lisi Gardiner. “We’ve been able to use this data to build ad revenue SKAN models but also mixed models, including session data and ad revenue data. We’ve also started being able to post back this data to the UA sources. Because it is impression level, we can then, you know, combine it and then send it back to the UA source. And so these things have really changed how our gaming clients are basically optimizing and tackling their growth activity.”

In other words, instant optimization of new user acquisition via real-time ad monetization data that marketers can provide to ad partners to tweak and tune campaign parameters.

And it’s not just about future-focused marketing optimization.

It’s also about live ops for existing users: optimizing their game or app experience and therefore also positively impacting retention, revenue, LTV, and ROAS all at the same time.

Because there’s an “ad journey,” just like there’s a customer journey.

“It gives us, essentially, the power to evaluate each player differently, their specific player behavior, and then also spot any irregularities or areas for opportunities,” says GameHive’s Akhlaq. “Are we showing them too many ads? Are we not showing them enough ads … all of this just comes together for us to really tailor the user ad experience … we want players to have the best journey inside of our app. So when they come in, if they’re more likely to watch ads, we give them the opportunity to do so. If they’re not going to watch ads and instead they’re more likely to make a purchase, that we then offer them more enticing bundles in the shop. So it really just allows us to tailor the ad journey, something that we’re continuously taking a look at and working on.”

Bringing the product team into acquisition and monetization conversations

There’s another big team that’s critical to solving for quality user acquisition, health levels of monetization, and optimal customer retention. And that’s the product team, which too often doesn’t have a say in acquisition or monetization mechanics and particulars.

That might be key in, for example, choosing ad formats:

“When it comes to ad format, we make sure that they’re non-intrusive as possible,” says Akhlaq. “For example, inside Tap Titans 2 we have a fairy ad placement that kind of flies across the screen. And you know, to someone else, it might be, like, ‘Okay, well, that’s a bit disruptive,’ but when you take a look at our app, it’s actually very native to the actual gameplay, and it’s something that gets a lot of traction. So it’s something that works well with our players.”

Planning is essential, but so is reviewing performance.

Including how users reacted to ads on multiple measures of that experience, not just revenue.

“We always look at control metrics [and] engagement metrics: retention, session time, etc., because even if our success metric is pretty positive in that specific test but any control metric is pretty low, we discuss with other teams as well the decision to take after that test,” says By Aliens’ Asberg. “So basically, we’re not going blindly with the result of the metric as we’re evaluating, but we see also the impact on other aspects of the game, in this case, the experience of the user.”

Interestingly, By Aliens doesn’t just do that via hard data. The team also uses an ancient tool of marketers: surveys.

While not technologically sophisticated, there’s no better way to get affinity and emotional response insights from users or customer than simply asking them. And, of course, parsing their responses intelligently.

Also: it’s important not to treat every user the same.

“When talking about ARPU and user retention, it’s really all about LTV,” says Unity’s Streit. “And that’s where understanding user base and really understanding the segments and the cohorts within your user base becomes incredibly important. So if you have an IAP whale user, you do not want to give them the exact same experience as someone that’s been in the game for 90 days and that’s never made an IAP purchase. Those are two completely different users, have two completely different play styles, and they deserve two separate experiences to really tailor the game experience to how they play the game.”

When ATT hit, the sky did not fall

While the world changed significantly for mobile marketers on iOS when Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency and SKAdNetwork, the sky did not fall. And mobile growth did not become impossible.

“It changed everything. It also didn’t change everything,” says Streit. “The users are still out there. They didn’t go anywhere. It’s just our ability to communicate with the users has changed a little bit. So developers have had to learn how to best deliver the ATT prompt and manage those data flows, but the basis of providing a good ad product experience in the game remains the same.”

Marketers and developers also had to learn how to deal with different kinds of people in their apps with different levels of data and insights.

And recover from some initial disasters.

“We saw a huge drop in our CPMs. We saw a huge drop in our ads revenue,” says GameHive’s Akhlaq. “Then we were able to figure out some ways to kind of mitigate some of those impacts and get back on track. We found that splitting out our traffic into personalized and then non-personalized setups, and then having different setups, essentially, allowed us better optimize and capture impressions at all price floors.”

And SO MUCH more

There’s a lot more I can’t add in this blog post. Fortunately, the scaling ad revenue in 2022 webinar is available on-demand right now.

Check it out to learn more about:

  • evaluating ad partners
  • pros and cons of mediation platforms
  • programmatic vs waterfall vs hybrid monetization models
  • why some publishers are sticking with waterfall set-ups
  • keys to optimize your ad monetization waterfall
  • ad placements and formats to watch
  • segmentation and monetization

Plus, each webinar panelist adds their own top tips for mobile app monetization, and we answer live questions from the audience. Check it out at the link above.

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