iPhone App Promotion: $10K Case Study + Cost Per Install Results (Facebook, AdWords, Twitter, iAds)

iphone app promotion
I recently started managing the iPhone app promotion strategy for a startup in the health and fitness space.

In the first three months our goal was to figure out which advertising network generates the lowest cost per install and highest quality of users. During the this initial test period we spent $10,000 spread over four different ad networks:

  • Google AdWords
  • Facebook Ads
  • Twitter Ads
  • iAds

This post is a detailed case study of the entire testing process including insights and cost per install for each network.

All of the information is published with my client’s permission.

Setting Up Conversion Tracking / Mobile App Attribution

Before we started testing ad networks we had to setup conversion tracking. There are two main solutions for mobile advertising app attribution.

You can setup conversion tracking individually for each ad network. This is what we did for our initial setup. The main disadvantage is that you have to integrate a SDK for each network. This process is tedious and it can take a while to get your updated app live on the app store.

Alternatively, you can pay for an app tracking solution (for example AppsFlyer or Mobile App Tracking) which integrates with all major ad networks. That way, you only need to integrate one SDK which tracks ad performance across all traffic sources.

Further down in our testing process we implemented AppsFlyer. This turned out to be a good decision since it tracks app installs across all major ad networks and also provides useful metrics like user loyalty.

Which Ad Network Generates The Lowest Cost Per Install?

When we started working together, the goal was to find out which of the major ad networks would generate the best performance.

If you want to find out where your competitors are advertising you can use a spy tool like WhatRunsWhere to research 90+ ad networks.

Our most important performance metrics were cost per install, user loyalty and volume (i.e. scalability). User loyalty was defined as the percentage of users who opened the app at least three times after installing it on their device.

We set a budget of $10,000 and a time frame of three months to test four of the largest ad networks.

Here’s an overview of the results:

Cost per iPhone app install

Cost Per iOS App Install – Test Period Q2 2015.

Facebook was the clear winner during our test period. Below is a detailed discussion of each network with additional insights and explanations.

Facebook Ads – Cost per Install: $1.43

Facebook ads outperformed all other ad networks in terms of the cost per install. It also performed well on the user loyalty metric.

We tested different targeting strategies including interest targeting, custom audiences and lookalike audiences. The ads using interest targeting generated the best results.

Facebook offers different bidding strategies that you can play with: “Pay per install”, “Pay per impression” and “Clicks”.

In our case, the setting “Pay per Impression” along with “Get the most app installs at the best price – You’ll be charged for impressions” generated the lowest cost per install.

The screenshot below shows the settings that worked best for us.

Facebook Mobile App Installs

Twitter Ads – Cost per Install: $2.53

Twitter Ads generated the second best cost per install during our testing period. In terms of user loyalty, Twitter installs were on par with Facebook installs.

At the time of writing this article, Twitter doesn’t offer its own tracking solution for app installs anymore. There are a number of external solutions that integrate with Twitter (we used AppsFlyer).

Twitter offers a variety of targeting features and ad formats for mobile installs. Our best performing campaigns were targeting specific Twitter handles and used image cards to promote the app in a tweet.

We also tested keyword targeting in searches and on timelines, however this angle didn’t perform nearly as well.

Google AdWords – Cost per Install: $5.00

App installs from AdWords were not only much more expensive than on Facebook and Twitter, the user quality was also much lower.

Some of our AdWords campaigns generated a cost per install of $2 – $3, however in each case these campaigns ran at a low volume and were not scalable.

We also ran a quick test on AdMob which is also owned by Google. We paused the ads quickly and focussed all efforts on AdWords since it provides access to the same ad inventory along with better targeting and optimisation features.

Check the following blog post for more details on how to promote mobile apps on Google Adwords.

iAds – Cost per Install: $5.36

The main advantage of iAds is that conversion tracking works without any integration since it’s Apple’s in-house ad network. On the downside, iAds just doesn’t have a user-friendly interface.

You can choose between template ads or uploading your own ads. If you choose the latter, you need to create each ad in seven different dimensions. Obviously inconvenient, it’s almost like Apple doesn’t want you to use custom ads.

The cost per install on iAds was similar to Google Adwords. However, the traffic volume on iAds was low and didn’t scale well. This could be due to the fact that the app targets a specific niche in the health and fitness space. Mobile Apps with a broad market (e.g. games) should be easier to scale on iAds.

A Few Tips For Creating iPhone App Install Campaigns

First of all, keep in mind that the results above do not represent industry wide performance. Depending on what kind of iPhone app you promote, your results on each ad network could be very different.

Here are a few points to keep in mind when you launch an app promotion strategy:

– Definitely figure out your conversion tracking strategy in the very beginning. If you are planning on using multiple traffic sources, it’s probably best to use a tracking solution like AppsFlyer or Mobile App Tracking.

– Focus on cost per install and user loyalty. After all, a low cost per install is of little benefit if those users never open your app.

– Try to get into the app store charts. App store charts are based on the volume of downloads that each apps gets. If you combine different promotion strategy and manage to make them go live on the same date, you have a good chance of boosting your chart ranking. If you manage to climb high enough, you can expect thousands of additional app install.

What’s your experience with app install campaigns? Which ad network has performed best for you? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. Marcela June 10, 2015 at 12:58 am #

    Awesome results there with Facebook outperforming all other networks – who would have thought of that few years ago!
    Can I just ask if the audience was global or any particular country? That would also be a factor when assessing different network performances 🙂


    • Stefan Maescher June 10, 2015 at 1:24 am #

      Hi Marcela,

      The cost per install results in the case study are based on US, UK, CA (in other words some of the most competitive English speaking countries).

      After our initial test period, we introduced additional countries and were able to generate CPIs below $1 (for example in Australia and South Africa). However, these results have not been included in the case study.


  2. Abhilash Manapatt July 13, 2015 at 5:22 am #

    Have you done a similar case study US/UK/CA market, using Google Adwords, Facebook ads, Twitter ads for an Android app (health and fitness app) spending $10000?


  3. Andrew Benson July 25, 2015 at 1:28 am #

    Was the app you were promoting a paid app? Or free? If it was paid, what was the price point?



  4. Nick September 14, 2015 at 7:11 am #

    Stefan, What genre of application were you promoting?

    Was it a gaming app, utility, communication, other?

    Thanks for this great information.


    • Stefan Maescher September 15, 2015 at 5:10 am #

      Hi Nick,

      The app was in the health and fitness category.


  5. Sharee September 17, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

    Thanks, Stefan! This is very helpful and confirms some of my own findings so far.


  6. Ajermou Mustapha November 13, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    Great case study Stefan,

    Fb ads is for us as well the best ad network (cost per install/ user loyalty )… we will move very soon to iOs apps and will update this comment.



    • Stefan Maescher January 13, 2017 at 6:36 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, great to hear you are doing well on Fb.


  7. Isabela @ PLD November 15, 2016 at 8:21 pm #

    Awesome results there with Facebook outperforming all other networks – who would have thought of that few years ago!
    Can I just ask if the audience was global or any particular country? That would also be a factor when assessing different network performances


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