Whaling on the mobile web

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“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Herman Melville’s story “Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life” sold 16,320 copies in his lifetime. “Moby-Dick,” 3,715.

Everyday creative brilliance goes unnoticed. Artists go through their lives unfulfilled. Audiences go unsatisfied because most creators don’t know how to find them.

Unfortunately app stores are not creative saviours. In fact for most developers they’re purgatoryish limbo where success is never achieved but hope is never surrendered. But nobody wants to pull a Mozart and only be famous when their dead, so the act of creativity needs to incorporate the art and science of discovery. For mobile app developers the mobile web is a place you should be sailing. The mobile browser is valuable opportunity. Here’s why -

  • Over 1.2 billion people access the web from their mobile devices. (Source: Trinity Digital Marketing)

  • 25.85% of all emails are opened on mobile phones, and 10.16% are opened on tablets. (Source: Knotice)

  • Mobile-based searches make up one quarter of all searches. (Source: The Search Agency)

  • 95% of smartphone users have searched for local info (Source: Google)

There’s an audience waiting for your app beyond the typical channels and strategies like , Facebook, cost per-install ad networks and grinding away at app store optimization. The usual places that all come with a hefty cost of user acquisition price tag. Despite Flurry reporting that 86.0% of US smartphone internet time was spent in apps in 2013, their analysis of data from comScore and Net Marketshare shows when it comes to spending money, mobile websites are where consumers funnel their funds.

You need to know how these websites align with your audience. Marcus Taylor shared some valuable insight to mobile app marketing. While he highlights some of the usual suspects, these for tips caught our attention -

  • Create a microsite & apply traditional web marketing tactics - Creating a micro-site opens up a whole host of marketing possibilities. If you’ve built an app that sells concert tickets in London, you could build a micro-site and do some SEO around it. If you ranked #1 for ‘London concert tickets’ you’d drive approximately ~8,100 people searching for ‘London Concert Tickets’ to your app per month. (NB: Tapstream customer Hootsuite proved exactly how effective this could be in this case study.)

  • Retargeting - When of the beautiful things about having an app microsite is that you can use retargeting to run ads (on Facebook, Google, or any websites supporting Google Ads) to people who have already visited your app microsite but not yet downloaded it. These ads typically convert very well – as you’re only advertising to those who already know about your app.

  • Leverage other people’s audiences - Guest posting can be an incredibly effective way of driving mobile app installs if done in the right places. The more you know about your target audience and which publications they read, the more informed your guest posting strategy can be. In my experience, it’s far better to go after prestige publications (such as Mashable, The Next Web, Huffington Post etc.) opposed to the more niche publications, unless your app is highly relevant to that audience.The traffic and awareness that one post on Mashable can drive is enormous, and probably equivalent to 10-15 guest posts on smaller sites. Aim high.

  • Reddit, Quora, and niche networks -Reddit advertising is ridiculously cheap. The last time I ran a Reddit ad campaign I paid less than £50 for about 600 clicks, of which the quality was surprisingly high. Play around with advertising or contributing on niche social networks, such as Reddit or Quora. You can also use Google’s display network to run your ads on specific websites that support Google Ads. This can be very powerful when done well. For example, if you have a financial services app, you can run your ads on The FT or Forbes, which not only drives hyper-relevant traffic, but also associates your app with a sense of credibility.

It’s imperative you start exploring the still largely uncharted mobile web and point the audience right to your treasure. You’re not investing a massive amount creative energy and financial resources to have the minnow app. It’s all about the Whale. 

Mobile Retention Benchmarks 2013 - 2014

[Our VP of Marketing, Mack Flavelle worked with our team to put together this report on user retention trends over the last year. Last week it was published on Andrew Chen’s blog. Today we thought we’d repost here.]

As most app developers know, retaining new users is hard and some would say it gets harder every year. At Tapstream we wanted to test that notion so we looked at anonymized aggregates of attribution data collected by our platform as our customers acquire and engage their mobile users. The steep decline of engagement rates year over year was a surprise even to us.

We compared data from May 2013 to data from May 2014. To give you some context, in May 2013 an average app developer would retain about a quarter of their users a day after acquisition.

This is what keeps marketers up at nights: it means that three quarters of their acquired users didn’t stick around even for one day.

But when compared to May 2014, 25.5% retention on day one suddenly started looking very good:


On average only 14% of users stuck around a day after downloading an app. That is less than one in seven users. Those are abysmal rates by any measure.

This is exactly why we at Tapstream created Onboarding Links: to engage new users the moment they run the app for the first time. Reducing the app abandonment rates is becoming a crucial part of user acquisition.

Beyond day one

Another dimension of this data is looking further down the funnel to see how user retention fared at day 7 and day 30 after acquisition.

Again, the results are not encouraging:


Day 7 retention went from a respectable 23% to a measly 10% in May 2014, while Day 30 retention plummeted from 14% to 2.3% – a full 84% decrease.

To put this into perspective, the average next-day retention rate in May 2014 is almost the same (14.06%) as Day 30 retention rate a year ago (14.30%).

The story behind the numbers

What’s causing this dynamic to play out in the mobile app ecosystem is up for debate, but here are the most obvious culprits for why user retention in mobile has dropped 50% in the last year:

Incredibly low barrier to entry so no sunk cost loyalty

It takes about 10 seconds, a smattering of taps and usually zero dollars before a consumer is the proud new owner of your app. But easy come, easy go – there’s usually so little investment in your app there’s no pain of switching. As table stakes for app design get raised (remember when every app used default nave elements and controller views?) the next shiny thing to come along and grab consumer attention really is very shiny.

Incredibly low barrier to entry so no filter on user quality

When you have an expensive product and somebody buys it you can generally assume they did some research beforehand and had an idea of what they were getting into. They essentially self-filter to be loyal users by the time they engage with the product. With apps any such assumptions are out the window – there is nearly zero intent signalling by the consumer, even after they have “purchased” your app.

Disconnect between time of download and first open

There’s often a lack of context when a new user opens an app. This isn’t Christmas morning, unwrapping the box hoping for an NES. Between the moment somebody absent-mindedly downloads your app and opens it for the first time they’ve probably checked Facebook six times, Twitter three, bid on two obscure statues on Ebay and attended a funeral. The likelihood of them remembering the emotional switch that got them to download is reasonably slim.

Forklifting apps and other bad initial experiences

One of the tricks du jour, championed by the Japanese card games and the genre they inspired, is forklifting content into the app on first open. Sure the app itself is tiny, you don’t even need WiFi to get it, but then there’s a six-minute load time the first time you open it. This and other terrible first-run experiences can lead to serious drop off.

None of those explain the drastic decrease in retention over the last year. That may be a byproduct of the explosion in available apps. In fact most people would assume so, considering the huge number of apps available today.

The problem with that theory is that in May of 2013 nobody said

“I really wish there were more than half a million apps available, because I would definitely download and use more”

Arguably the variety of supply already far outstripped the demand.

So the relevant info becomes how many apps are being downloaded per device in May 2013 versus a year later. Are people downloading more apps and that’s why they’re not sticking around, or are they downloading better apps which is why they’re not sticking around?

Lucky for us one of the smartest minds in mobile started looking at that last year.

“Finally, these numbers are accelerating. Apple did 5bn downloads in the three months from December 2012 to March 2013, and then another 5bn from March to 15 May. The lack of precision means we can’t say this was double the rate, but the trend is clear, and it looks the same at Android…”

- Benedict Evans, from his blog.

Assuming Ben is right (and he often is) we can infer a gentle increase in the number of apps downloaded per phone, coupled with a higher quality of apps across the board has meant that the competition in the app store has become more fierce not only in terms of number of animals in the jungle but also the ferocity of those animals. Both of these factors end up driving down user retention in mobile apps versus a year ago.


source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/App_Store_(iOS)

Though this chart ends in 2012 and is iOS-specific we know that the trend continues but only steeper across both ecosystems as seen here and here.

About data used to generate this report:

Data was collected by Tapstream for months of May 2013 and May 2014 from over 100M devices. It is anonymized and it includes both iOS and Android apps, spanning many verticals from gaming to travel. The data excludes apps with DAUs of over 1M.

More Of Tapstream To Love


Today we’re expanding the reach of our platform further than ever.

For the first time your campaign data will automatically sync with the freshly released iTunes Connect App Analytics, just in time for iOS 8 release. This is an industry first, and will make both your Tapstream dashboard and the new iTC App Analytics a lot more useful.

We are also working with several ad networks specializing in native ads to provide accurate attribution and performance tracking for this growing ad trend. One of the early partners is Appsfire: “We’re really excited that native ads are taking off,” says CEO Ouriel Ohayon. “Having attribution providers like Tapstream provide direct performance measurements gives our advertisers the data they need to see the value in these new ads.”

Unlike regular mobile ads, native mobile ads trigger app install without leaving the confines of the host app, making tracking URLs irrelevant. This is where Tapstream’s server-side clicks come into play, giving you the same data you get from a non-native ad campaign.

These features are already live in your account - and if you don’t have one, it’s high time to get started for free.

Dylan Jones on the Paid App Ecosystem


There’s no value in free. On the surface it looks like the great free app gold rush is nothing but a race to mediocrity. It wasn’t that long ago paid apps were topping the app store. While most app store revenue is currently coming from free apps, Apple is pushing paid apps in their featured collections. In spite of free apps being today’s business model du’ jour we’re curious if there’s a movement back to a paid ecosystem.

We caught up with Dylan Jones who is part of the team that just launched Battle Group 2 onto iOS. Being a paid game, we recently had a great conversation with Dylan about the state of the paid app business.

Last year Sarah Perez announces in TechCrunch "It’s Over for Paid Apps, With a Few Exceptions". Is she right? Why?

“The industry has proven that the race to the bottom is far from hyperbole. In 2013, developers got a scrumptious taste of a market that proved that the content devs created was worth different amounts to different consumers. Why limit a kid from enjoying the app if he tells his friends or keep an investment banker from pouring money into an experience they view as a fair trade? The free pricing strategy will continue to dominate. However, this won’t mean the quality of the experience will decline, rather the experience of paying will decline. The reality is that we’ve already seen developers shifting resources from goals of solely creating a great product into how to properly ’nickel and dime’ customers.”

Obviously not all apps are created equal, so does this mean more developers are good with mediocre rather than putting the time into creating exceptional? Is there shelf life and demand for exceptional?

“Building an app or a game is like building a sailboat. You’ve got to build the hull and hope it floats. With F2P or free pricing strategies, you’ve now got to sail it, comparable to the journey of analyzing post-release analytics. Some incredibly successful developers just want to build boats, or are most skilled in hull construction and can’t hire a crew to sail it. Thus, we’ll never see 100% of developers embrace this trend of monetization, out of lack of resources or simply moral objections to the “ruined experience” when microtransactions get introduced. Very recently, we’ve even seen Apple itself shift to featuring and highlighting premium games. This change could be as high-level of preemptively addressing concerns held by the European Commision that are quickly growing internationally or as low-level as the increasing education of their consumers in the market.”

Has the consumer come to accept free is ok and good enough?

“Do you want a fast food patty or a locally farmed burger? A question certainly not exclusive to the app space. I know casual iPhone users who played both Flappy Bird and Monument Valley. These days, it takes larger and more experienced teams to gamble on creating a profiting free priced app. Free is no longer associated with a loss in quality, but rather that one must keep pumping quarters into the machine.”

Are apps for the most part simply a disposable feature of our smartphone… almost like razor blades?

“We’ve got to be careful when we generalize apps, while it’s tempting to group such an expansive space of experiences together, such dialogs turn undescriptive and lacks practical use. The answer to this question quickly changes depending on the category. Poorly executed note taking apps vs incredibly visceral interactive narratives will spread the spectrum. For every forgettable throwaway app I download, there’s 2 life-altering-habit-forming apps I can’t live without.”

As a developer what are the 3 biggest reasons I should create an app people will pay for?

“Personally, as is often the case with game developers, I create so that others walk away with a meaningful experience. If that’s your goal with premium games, you can hopefully avoid distractions that break player’s engagement like ads or paywalls. The last thing you want interrupting the emotions you are trying to convey is one of anger during a needed cash grab.”

Why make a premium app one that’s ad free, spam free, all about kick ass content and a premium user experience?

“I’ve enjoyed the F2P space for the psychological rooted approach to design. However, there’s something to be said when a creator can focus on the core of the product. People want entertainment, even just sitting on the bus commute, they want to spend their time engaging in content and not dealing with interrupting ads. While the race to the bottom is a common one, some developers benefit from circumstantial less risk with going premium that includes a marketing plan or feature. One of the bigger benefits of premium pricing is the instant trust from the consumer who knows that the business has been attended to, and it’s now smooth sailing.”

There’s no simple answer to this free versus paid quandary. It’s a lot like comparing commercial TV and Radio to PBS or NPR, filler taking up space between commercials versus dialing into premium programming with negligible interruptions. As a developer know your audience, deliver value and it could be the difference between mining diamonds or chasing Fools Gold.

Each developer needs to figure that out for themselves, but for the industry as a whole it’s not going to be absolute either way. Beside the thin sliver on the high end of price (training apps etc that can go for $10.00 or a lot more than that) there will as Dylan points out always a certain number of developers interested in focusing on their expertise- building great apps, not doing behaviour economic trigger design to drive monetization.

Distribution is at least one order of magnitude on free apps, but that doesn’t mean it’s remotely easy, so if you haven’t “solved” that the value of going free may be wasted on most apps.


Mobile App Growth Tool For Websites


Tapstream is the only mobile analytics company that tracks mobile web visitors as they move into the app. With our tracking, mobile developers can see how many of their mobile web visitors end up installing and engaging with the app.

Today, Tapstream’s website tracking is getting a substantial upgrade. Now, our customers can see not only the number of visitors per each tracked web page, but also the number of clicks to the app store from those visits.

This gives mobile marketers a full-funnel view of how their website drives app installs and revenue:

  1. Number of website visits
  2. Number of download clicks
  3. Number of app installs
  4. Total revenue from each web page

Combined with our Onboarding Links that personalize what users see when they first start the app, Tapstream customers can now get more users from their website, and substantially reduce churn of those new users.

Tapstream’s Website Install Tracking is absolutely free, sign up today.

How A Top Recipe App Drives Growth With Onboarding Links


A Delicious Partnership

As one of the top recipe apps on iOS with 15 million monthly unique users, Yummly continually looks for new ways to improve the app on-boarding experience for new users in order to increase engagement, reduce abandonment, and grow its user base. When Ethan Smith, Yummly’s VP of Product heard about Tapstream’s industry first Onboarding Links, a new partnership was in the making.

From Mobile Web To In-App

Yummly properties boast over 500,000 recipes and the company wanted to actively transition users from browsing recipes on the mobile web to viewing content through the Yummly iOS app.

In order to drive new app downloads, Yummly began showing interstitials to mobile web visitors as they moved from recipe to recipe. Initially the results weren’t good as new users would download the app and immediately lose the recipe they were looking at only to be funnelled into the apps default first run experience. Frustrated new users would have to ‘re-find’ the recipe they were just looking at on the web. Engagement fell and abandonment rates skyrocketed.

The main challenge Yummly faced was figuring out how to actively drive new app downloads from its mobile web property while ensuring high engagement rates, low first day abandonment, and a great experience for new users.

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