The 15 worst user acquisition mistakes you can make

By John Koetsier October 10, 2023

What are the 15 worst user acquisition mistakes you can make? The most awful, horrible, shot-myself-in-the-foot mistakes?

Pablo Gonzales is a performance marketing director for Admiral Media who has worked in performance and digital marketing for over a decade for brands like MercadoLibre and Banco Galicia. A few weeks ago he posted on LinkedIn, saying that he and his team had managed 26 million Euros in ad spend to scale apps over the last 12 months and learned 15 of the worst performance-killing mistakes.

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So, clearly, I had no choice, there was no other option: I had to invite him onto Growth Masterminds and dive into them all. Here are all 15 of the worst mistakes marketers can make in user acquisition campaigns

(Note: if we’re missing some, let us know and maybe we’ll have a chat on the podcast too!)

The 15 worst user acquisition mistakes

  1. Not diversifying across multiple ad platforms
    Just like investing money, Gonzales says, you diversify to protect your investment and to be able to maximize learning. “If you’re investing everything into Google Ads, TikTok … whatever channel it is, then first of all, you have nothing to compare it with. And secondly, if that bucket starts getting holes, then you will lose everything.”
  2. Reducing iOS spend because of SKAN tracking limitations
    “Since ATT was introduced almost two years and a half ago I have seen so many times advertisers and marketers actually stopping or reducing iOS spend … but … it’s usually the best performing operating system … it means that you’re missing big, big opportunities.”
  3. Failing to account for campaigns not meeting SKAN minimum thresholds
    Not getting data under SKAN is a huge challenge, and user acquisition mistakes while using new methodologies are easy. But this is very fixable, especially with SKAN Advanced Analytics from Singular, and with some smart strategy. “You need to actually take care of your campaigns, check the numbers, analyze what are the number of installs you’re getting on a daily basis, and then of course, rework or rethink the conversion volume mapping strategy that you have applied.”
  4. Not consistently testing creatives, copy, and CTAs (experiment, always!)
    It’s tempting to just jump in with both feet and advertise your app precisely how you think it ought to sell. But you might be wrong. People might not think that way. And, you might also miss opportunities. “By testing, you can actually identify which opportunities you can find out there.”
  5. Not having a creative testing approach
    It’s not enough to test. Testing is good, but it’s better to have a consistent creative testing approach that clearly lays out what you’re testing, how much data you need for a high-fidelity test with good predictive value, and what you’ll do based on the different potential outcomes of the test. Having a defined testing methodology is also important because it ensures that tests can be compared against each other in a reasonably apples-to-apples way.
  6. Not aligning ad messaging with the app’s core value proposition
    User acquisition mistakes aren’t only about technology or spending. They’re also about strategy. For example, fake ads or even ads that just don’t hit your core value prop might have great CTR, but won’t necessarily translate to good CVR, monetization, or retention. In fact, if someone feels betrayed by the creative you used to trick them into an install, they’re likely to delete your app quickly — yep, this is me — which will have a negative impact on your retention and CAC.
  7. Over-boosting underperforming campaigns
    Maybe you don’t have enough data. Maybe there’s not enough volume in each of your SKAN campaigns to generate sufficient insight. Fix the problem before boosting the campaign. “There are some self-attributed networks that might be over-reporting revenue or installs or different in-app actions. And if you don’t compare this with any other data sources such as an MMP or your own internal tracking system and reporting system, then you might also think that a campaign is actually working very good and in the end it might not.”
  8. Keeping poor-performing ad creatives running, “hoping” they will turn around soon
    I get it. You love that one creative, or that one call to action. But it’s just not working. The best option is to switch to something that is, even if it breaks your heart.  “I personally like to base my decisions on data. So if you don’t actually change anything, then data is not likely to be improved just because of magic, right?”
  9. Ignoring ad placement data and other breakdowns
    User acquisition mistakes are easy to make because there is so much complexity in adtech. Not all ads are the same. Not all placements are the same either, even on the same platform, partner, or channel. Vertical 9×16 ad units might not fit well in feeds that optimize for a 5x:4 or 1×1 ratio. And other dimensions matter too, not least for double-checking that you’re getting what you’re paying for: “We got attributed install signup conversions for a placement we were not targeting … it wasn’t getting any impressions, but because of Meta’s own attribution modeling based on SKAN, which doesn’t report ad level data … they were assuming that, or attributing install/signup events to a placement that wasn’t getting any impressions.”
  10. Only looking at in-platform reporting (hint: your MMP can be a treasure!)
    As #9 shows, you have to look at different sources of data: especially your MMP. Most reporting sources are at least partially based on modeling, which can be great but can also introduce error. So by checking as many data sources as possible, you achieve a greater opportunity to zero in on the most correct interpretation of reality. “Definitely you need to understand if the trend that you are seeing in one data source is actually following the trend that you see in a different, in another one … if not, then you need to deep dive and understand why there is such discrepancy.”
  11. Ignoring retention & churn rates
    We’re closing in on a decade past the time when a user acquisition expert could just get users, throw them over the cubicle wall, and tell product or live ops that the users are now their problem. “There needs to be a correlation between the product team and the marketing team, because otherwise you will be paying for users who are actually being retained for one day, or they are not converting.”
  12. Ignoring app uninstalls as a feedback metric
    App uninstalls are incredibly important to monitor for marketers, even if you’ve never historically looked at this metric. One of the critical variables: when are people uninstalling. After an update? Right after installing? At the paygate? When they can’t pass a level? Analyzing this can help inform creative strategy, onboarding efforts, major app design transitions, and much more. “You also need to take a look at how many users are uninstalling the app, and when they’re doing: when in the user funnel, the user acquisition funnel.”
  13. Not being aware of the synergies between UA and ASO
    User acquisition mistakes are about more than UA. ASO, or app store optimization, is also critical. Good UA boosts good ASO. And good ASO boosts good UA. But understanding their synergies also helps you save wasted ad dollars spent on unnecessary campaigns. “You might be ranking in the top five for specific search terms. So you need to understand if it’s actually worth it to actually spend money on user acquisition … because if it doesn’t bring any incremental installs or revenue, then it doesn’t really make sense to spend money on those search terms that you are covering through ASO or organically.”
  14. Underestimating the power of ASO
    ASO is powerful, and it’s often the last link in the paid user acquisition chain. Having a strong app store listing page that aligns with marketing strategy, language and creative is incredibly important.
  15. Not analyzing user ratings and feedback regularly
    Ratings and reviews can dramatically impact both ranking and conversion rates in both the App Store and Google Play. Paying close attention to them will help you understand when you might need to add more focus on acquiring more positive ones, which is a form of insurance against poor conversion rates on your app listing pages as well as drops in search ranking.

User acquisition is hard: mistakes are easy

User acquisition mistakes are easy to make because there is literally so much to do, so much to learn, so much data to analyze.

  • You need to build creative
  • You need to design calls to action
  • You need to manage campaigns
  • You need to operate in multiple platforms’ systems
  • You have to learn new jargon, new math, new strategies, and entirely new systems of marketing measurement (SKAN, Privacy Sandbox) pretty much all the time
  • You have to collect data from dozens if not hundreds of systems
  • You have to analyze in-platform data, off-platform data, and your own first-party data
  • You have to Vulcan mind-meld that data into something standardized and normalized that makes sense
  • And you have to do it all quickly, so that you can optimize everything all the time

It’s not easy.

Singular can help.

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