“It’s crazy. It’s a real Wild West out there, and it’s a problem that we’re trying to figure out.”
That description of the situation facing developers and publishers of mobile games and apps of all kinds comes from Marcos Sanchez, the vice president of global corporate communications at App Annie. Bringing order to the chaos surrounding user acquisition and discoverability is his company’s primary mission; one that got two new tools this week.
App Annie announced two new additions to its free product offerings, both designed to give mobile publishers more insight into how they spend their time and money promoting their games and apps. The first is Advertising Analytics, an upgrade to the company’s existing Analytics platform that tracks advertising revenue and ad spend across the iOS, Google Play and Amazon app stores.
Sanchez says that App Annie recognized the need for publishers to have easy access to that kind of information after discovering how much effort they were going to just to keep track of their advertising dollars.
“What we’ve often heard is that people are literally downloading data into these spreadsheets and creating these crazy tables,” he said. “There is a very large game publisher that we’ve talked to, they’ve got one whole headcount dedicated to dealing with the spreadsheets from their ad buys. And you can imagine it’s important for these guys. They’re spending a lot of money on user acquisition. That’s their lifeline.”
Adding to the degree of difficulty is that there are a lot of mobile ad networks out there — Sanchez offers that he “can confidently say there are over 100″ — and publishers don’t have the luxury of ignoring some that might turn out to be their best bets.
“The problem is that there’s just a boatload of these mobile ad networks, and you need to spend on them, there’s kind of no way around it,” Sanchez said. “So what we wanted to do was take the product that we had with Analytics and take the unified app store view and apply it to ad networks.
“Advertising is not going anywhere,” he added. “In-app advertising and mobile advertising from a revenue standpoint are going to begin to grow dramatically. IDC has predicted that it may even outpace in-app purchases at some point in the future in terms of revenue generation.”
The Advertising Analytics functions will track data from 22 ad networks, including Admob, Ad Colony and InMobi, though more may be added over time if publishers feel there are top performers that aren’t being included. App Annie users will be able to access the information through their current Analytics dashboard alongside the ranking and download stats they’ve been receiving up until now.
App Annie is also tackling what it’s calling App Store Optimization (ASO) to take some of the mystery out of how mobile users find games and apps among the millions of choices available to them in their app stores of choice.
“This is a whole new thing for us,” Sanchez said. “People charge for it, we’re doing it for free. Finding your app is probably one of the largest problems that folks have right now. Getting it to bubble to the top is the combination of a lot of different things, but one of those things is ASO. It’s that process of understanding what it takes to get your app discovered on the App Store.”
A big part of the process is keyword searches, something that App Annie’s research told it that 80 percent of mobile users do when looking for games or apps. Even when they know what they’re looking for, it’s not uncommon for people to enter a few words in that search box.
App Annie’s new ASO tools tackle keyword searches in a manner similar to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for the internet. Publishers can use them to get rankings of the most popular keywords by category using Keyword Top Charts or flip the process around by utilizing Top Keywords by App to learn more about how people discover their apps.
Other companies have been providing ASO services — just not for free.
“You can do kind of a small amount free and then they start charging you, and we just decided that as part of our freemium model, it makes sense to allow app publishers to have this,” Sanchez said. “It wasn’t a super difficult thing for us to add in, but it has a lot of value to folks, and we want more people on our platform, hopefully moving up the food chain into our Intelligence product.”
The Intelligence he’s referring to is the paid service that actually brings in money for App Annie. It can be thought of as a sort of mobile app clairvoyance, predicting estimates of both revenues and downloads for over 400,000 apps worldwide on iOS and Google Play. Companies have been willing to pay good money (starting at $1000 a month for a single app on a single store) for those forecasts because they’ve proven to be accurate: 90 percent of the estimates end up within 20 percent of the actual amounts and half of the estimates end up within five to 10 percent.
It’s not quite seeing into the future, but it’s pretty close. If Advertising Analytics and ASO prove to be as vital as App Annie suspects, adding the paid service will end up as a natural next step for more app publishers going forward.
“As people sort of start to realize the competitive nature, they start to think, ‘I need more competitive data, I need data I can start to sink my teeth into and understand how to do this,’” Sanchez said. “For us, it’s a great feeder into our paid product.”