A Guide to Facebook App Install Ads

Facebook may be the social media platform everyone loves to hate at the moment, but it’s rapidly become one of best ways to acquire valuable users for your mobile app. Facebook’s app install ad units, which debuted back in 2012, have been widely praised in the industry and, according to Facebook’s own numbers, around 40% of the top 100 grossing iOS and Android apps were running user acquisition campaigns on the network last year. The app install unit is now delivering more than 263 million clicks in a single month (March 2013).

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Facebook points toward success stories such as retail mobile app Poshmark, which generated three times the ROI with app install ads compared to other channels, and UK telco O2, which reached more than 9 million users with its app, based on three days of Facebook promotion. In Q1 2013 the install ads drove more than 25 million installs in the App Store and Google Play. Of course, the ads are not only benefitting developers – Facebook is now generating 53% of its revenue from mobile ads.
So it’s clear that Facebook is doing something right. App marketers are clamouring for solutions to the problem of app discovery and Facebook, for the moment, is providing a viable avenue where valuable users can be targeted. But how do app install ads benefit app marketers and developers, and what should marketers look out for when running an app install ad campaign on Facebook? Read on to find out.

What are Facebook’s app install ads?

Facebook has a number of different ad types when it comes to mobile, many of which are also available on desktop, such as ‘offer ads,’ website conversion ads and video ads. Facebook also recently revealed its new mobile app engagement ads (allowing advertisers to target existing app users in to increase user retention). But app install ads appear to be the most popular form of mobile ad unit overall, with Ad Parlor estimating 68% of the company’s mobile ad revenue coming from app installs.
Facebook app install ad unit
install ad
As you can see from the image above, the unit is simple and direct, consisting of the app’s title, a small text-based ad message, followed by an image, and most importantly an “Install Now” call to action. Clicking on the call to action sends the user to the relevant app store entry, where they can read the app page and then download the app. On iOS, users are able to install the app while remaining within Facebook (although Android users get sent to the Google Play store and have to travel back after installing).

Facebook “getting it right”

As with many in the mobile ad industry, MobAd CEO Daniel Solden has a great deal of praise for how Facebook has handled mobile ads, saying the company went from “doing nothing on mobile” to “getting it right first time.” Solden says Facebook wisely used the revenue it gained from “taxing” social gaming currency to play a leading role in improving the mobile ad ecosystem.

“Facebook has started cleaning up the mobile ecosystem,” says Solden, “While the industry isn’t nearly as nefarious or “wild westish” as the press point out, it does have certain incidences of ultra-shortermism (such as automatic re-direct ads). Facebook’s first move was to strictly enforce data policies, resulting in banning Kontagent & Has Offers from its MMP. Presumably to secure the sanctity of the data that ensures it can charge high CPMs & achieve an above-average conversion rate, backing out to a similar CPI as other mobile acquisition sources.”

One of the key reasons for Facebook’s success is the actual design of its mobile ads, which blend into the user’s news feed and do a great job at being noticeable without feeling invasive. The units solve the perennial problem of how to adapt to the restrictive screen real estate of a mobile device, without annoying the user. As Solden says, in the case of app install ads, some users actually find them useful.

“While some users initially complained about the frequency, it appears users have grown to accept & even possibly like the ads,” he says. “They can often form a valuable – if not unusual – part of your Facebook experience. Interestingly, Inmobi & other platforms have sought to play copycat and now the mobile world is native first (a horrible buzzword).”

The massive industry shift we’re now seeing toward mobile native ads, which encompasses content feed ads, was kicked off by the success of Facebook’s app install units, which are continuing to set the standard for the industry. But while everyone generally agrees Facebook has been one of the pioneering forces in mobile advertising, what actual benefits do app install ads bring to advertisers and developers?

The benefits of using Facebook’s app install ads

When it comes to app install ads Facebook has clear advantages over other networks. The platform has a huge reach, with a user base in excess of 1.2 billion (Q4 2013), growing 16% year-on-year. Furthermore, despite its desktop origins, Facebook is also very much a mobile platform. Seventy eight percent of Facebook’s US base uses the mobile app daily and the app is installed on 70% of all iPhones. This reach and targeting capabilities puts Facebook at a real competitive advantage over other networks, as Yodel Mobile’s Colin Pritchard explains:

“With increased competition in the app download space Facebook is a great network to help advertisers extend reach into one of the largest mobile audiences,” says Pritchard. “Facebook is becoming very competitive as more advertisers are turning to social networks like Facebook to help drive mobile acquisitions. There is still plenty of volume for advertisers to help you drive additional installs.”

But as we keep hearing, installs are fast becoming a dated measure of a user acquisition campaign’s success, as the app industry rapidly embraces user value as a more healthy metric.  Facebook has a huge amount of audience data that advertisers can use to reach targeted segments that are not accessible on other networks. MobAd’s Daniel Solden says Facebook’s massive userbase, and audience data, ultimately allows developers to target more precisely and therefore attract higher quality users.

“We do see a slightly higher than average quality of user on Facebook,” says Solden “Not just because it’s Facebook, and it’s high spenders, but because it’s targeted and we can target on gender and age and interest. But the rates are high.”

The drawbacks of using Facebook

Facebook’s advantages in the realm of user acquisition are clear, but there are also a few issues to be aware of before setting-up your campaign.
One of the most obvious barriers is Facebook’s higher Cost Per Install (CPI) compared to blind networks. Rates will vary depending on the category the app falls under, such as games or travel. But according to Yodel’s Colin Pritchard, advertisers can typically expect to pay under $2 per user – while iOS users, unexpectedly, drive cheaper installs than Android users.
MobAd tells us advertisers should expect CPIs around $2, which is slightly higher compared to CPIs on blind networks on average. Obviously higher CPI is mitigated by higher value users, but MobAd’s Daniel Solden says Facebook’s rising CPI, over the next six months, could risk making the social network a victim of its own success.

“At the moment Facebook is very popular, and it’s working so well,” says Solden. “But it could become a victim of its own success within 3 to 6 months. When rates rise past the point where gaming, gambling and retail companies can afford it, Facebook will be restricted to the consumer goods and automobile industries. Facebook has a small competitive advantage over its rivals, but that will diminish every day, because when one source does well everyone rushes into it.”

Facebook introduces its app install ads

Facebook could also risk alienating the younger crowd in the long run. Many analysts have mused on the reasons why younger users have been switching to other social apps like Line and SnapChat – suggesting everything from a desire for anonymity to the invasion of baby boomers – but Facebook’s relatively high frequency capping could also play a role in this feared exodus. Daniel Solden says Facebook shows a lot of ads, but the main reason for young people leaving is the loss of “street credibility.”

“Facebook is showing a lot of users a lot of ads,” he says. “So we are starting to see this is putting off the younger audience. It’s starting to become fragmented, with younger people avoiding Facebook, while older people move in. During Facebook’s first three years it was cool, but now since capturing the mass market it’s starting to lose its street credibility. But this is still a small trend, and it will only impact Facebook bit by bit.”

Ultimately advertisers cannot rely on Facebook altogether for user acquisition, as developers need different types of users and Facebook campaigns can reach saturation point quickly. Facebook is also not as popular in Eastern markets, such as China (where it’s almost non-existent), Japan and South Korea, nor is it quite popular in markets such as Russia, Latin America and Africa. So if you’re looking to tap into the wealth of cheap, and relatively decent value, users in emerging markets, you’re probably better off with a specialised local platform, like Jampp or AppFlood.

Using Facebook Mobile App Install Ads: Top Tips

Here are some best practices and tips to help you get the most out of your Facebook user acquisition campaigns.

Segment your ads

Segmentation plays a significant role in delivering an effective CPI on your Facebook app campaigns, says Yodel Mobile’s Colin Pritchard. Facebook’s platform allows you to easily duplicate the ads you are running and create new advert sets. It is best to break out to sets into 3 key areas, says Pritchard, the first being by geo-targeting, age group and operating system. Colin says the reason for breaking out advert sets in this way is to allow you to control your campaign budget and bids per advert set so you can up weight and down weight investment based on their performance, this will help you deliver better overall results for your campaign.

Be wary of Power Editor and tracking

MobAd’s Daniel Solden says Facebook’s Power Editor – the platform’s bulk ad editing tool – can often have a mind of its own and sometimes accidently overspends on campaigns. He advises users to always double-check the settings each time they upload new ads, as occasionally things change without you noticing. Solden also says problems can occur between tracking technologies and Facebook, which can directly affect your campaign. So be careful and watch out for anomalies.
Facebook’s Power Editor can be unstable at times, so be careful

Test, test, test

Following on from the above point, the importance of testing cannot be underestimated and Facebook gives you a great deal of variables to play with, such as different OS versions, device types, connection types, creative, different demographics and much more. Get creative with testing, try using different images in different campaigns targeting the same audience and change your creative every few weeks. Also keep an eye out for tech changes, such as Facebook allowing you to buy ads on non-Facebook inventory.

Tweak to improve CPI

Facebook cpm/cpc rates have gone up dramatically in the last year or so. This is in a large part due to Facebook’s success as a mobile acquisition channel, but Daniel Solden says it’s also a double-edge sword. Although cpm/ cpc have gone up – because Facebook has increased the mobile ad-size, introduced video, and has high quality audience data & user engagement – CPIs have gone up slower, and in some cases CPA goals have decreased. Solden says ways to help get the lowest CPI is to utilise Facebook’s data – e.g. gender, age, interests -, run lots of different creative to capture user’s attention (increasing CTR rates), and regular refreshes to prevent user-blindness.

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Lots of creative

Advertisers should get inventive when it comes to creative and not rely on simple screen shots or artwork.  A good example is Supercell’s use of Google Maps images in a campaign for Clash of Clans. The use of Google Maps meant the ad didn’t look like a typical mobile game advertisement and made users pay more attention.

Video ads

Facebook recently rolled-out video ads on mobile and, while they are mostly used for branding, they could be worth considering. Video ads may work well for game developers who want to entice gamers with glimpses of cool gameplay elements. But remember, video ads are not going to be much use for users who are not on WiFi or 4G connections.

Check your images

Facebook has strict guidelines on how much text appears in ads as the company believe too much text looks like spam and makes adverts appear low quality. Colin Pritchard says advertisers must therefore pay close attention to the images they are using. “With Facebook’s app engagement ads Facebook will only allow you to have 20% text in your image creative,” says Pritchard. “If your images contain more than 20% text they will be disapproved. Facebook measures text in images by a grid system where it divides the image into 25 tiles only five of which can contain text. Facebook has a text overlay tool you can use to test your images before you upload them. Make sure the headline and body of your ad coveys what you want.”
Clash of Clans got creative with app install ads and it paid off

Have a clear call to action

Your ad must have a clear call to action; a simple ‘click to install app’ or ‘install app now’ can make all the difference in increasing your install conversion rate. Put this call to action within the first 100 characters of the text and make sure your text is distinct from other news feed content.

Don’t just rely on Facebook

Solden warns that CPIs are slowly starting to rise on Facebook and it’s wise to start testing other channels now. He also says, depending on your budget, you can run out of users to buy relatively quickly and reach saturation point. Not everyone uses Facebook and it’s important to buy different types of users, especially in emerging markets.


Facebook’s app install ads are a clear winner for advertisers and developers, allowing you to buy valuable users at scale, with highly targeted ads. The format has been a hit with both advertisers and users, pushing the mobile ad industry toward native ad formats and less intrusive practices. But as we’ve learned, Facebook does face challenges with rising CPIs, a lack of traction in emerging markets, and growing apathy among younger users. It’s important to therefore keep testing other channels and anticipate the possibility that, as prices increase, Facebook’s love affair with app advertisers may not last.

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