There are a lot of different types of apps out there - and just as many potential monetization strategies. Whilst your app might be unique, there are still common flows and common challenges that all apps must face.

In that context, it might be worth looking at how free-to-play games have addressed some of these challenges. They’ve been at this the longest, have more on the line that most, and have developed some best practices that should be applied - or at least considered - by all app developers.

1. Onboarding matters - A/B test it

< p>A lot of apps, especially those in the early stage, are in full-fledged user acquisition mode. This makes sense as you want to quickly build to that important critical mass, but here at Swrve we want our customers to be paying attention at the post-acquisition elements of marketing.


Getting users in the app are not enough. Once the user is inside your app for that first time, you need to make sure you set the stage and convey the value that is going to keep them coming back. For games, a lot of times this was achieved via the tutorial flow. We’ve always recommend to our game customers that they A/B test this initial experience. Space Ape was a great example: they ran a test of their tutorial and achieved impressive results (90% increase in revenue,11% increase in time in app, and a 9% increase in day 1 retention). Those are numbers that would make any app happy.

What this means for our app customers/prospects is that the same tests need to be happening. It might not be a ‘tutorial’ as such but the welcome screen or on-boarding experience should be A/B tested on to identify the right copy, creative, and flow that earns the user’s trust.

And it’s not just about initial experience. Some the questions A/B testing can help you uncover are: What does a successful first time experience look like? What are the ‘sticky’ features that will drive time spent in the app? Who are the type of users we should be targeting? Which ad network is giving me the best users?

2. Target your pushes for better retention

When users do leave for an extended period of time, there are limited options when it comes to bringing them back. One of the most powerful is the push notification. But blindly delivering push notifications to everyone is bad strategy. The best games and apps target their campaigns.

Additionally, creating urgency by tying the push to a limited time event is a strategy game publishers have been using for a while. Juice Box, for example, was able to see a 12% increase in app visits thanks to a push campaign tied to an in-app experience. For apps this means playing off of real world events, or finding features/use cases to highlight.

Personalized messages can also deliver better results than blanket push campaigns. Segmenting your user base against feature use, funnel stage, or time spent in app allows you to tailor different pushes to different groups. We see non-targeted campaigns flop across the industry. Having a real-time segment engine powering your pushes and analytics is crucial.

3. Target your in-app campaigns for better conversion

Similarly to Push, in-app campaigns are powerful tools to market to your existing user base. But again, it is essential to target these campaigns in order to deliver return on investment. We have seen un-targeted campaigns deliver click-thru rates as low as 1%. In contrast, Hothead (a games company) was able to target campaigns at the right segments of users - with significantly improved results. Users who just saw the message spent 40% more time in the app.

Games companies succeed or fail on their ability to get users who have downloaded for free to make a purchase, and as a consequence they work harder to ensure that these types of in-app campaigns really work for them. You should learn from their commitment to targeting.

4. A/B testing your call to action

Having the right push and in-app campaigns are great steps in drawing attention to the desirable user actions. Figuring out the right call to action is the next step to optimizing conversion - in other words getting the user to that state that starts delivering on your business objectives. Figuring out what your call to action should be, and what language, location, color, or font is right for your call to action, is tough.

In traditional development, all these changes (no matter how small) require an engineer and another round of app store approvals. That’s clearly not a tenable solution for a games company, which relies on constantly evolving offers and promotions designed to get players over the line to ‘payers’.

That’s why in the games industry, it’s usual to be able to control all these attributes from a dashboard without the need for re-approval. This allows them to A/B/n test all the different combinations they choose, in order to see what gets the best results - and do so repeatedly and with little overhead.

App companies need to learn the same lessons - and put in place the structures that support constantly evolving offers and calls to action.