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A Quick Guide to Google (Universal) App Campaigns

December 9, 2021
Paid Search
7 Min Read

A Quick Guide to Google (Universal) App Campaigns

Google App Campaigns — formerly Universal App Campaigns (UAC) — flips a lot of traditional marketing tactics on their head. Instead of spending hours creating, targeting, and optimising specific campaigns, you can let Google’s algorithms do much of the heavy lifting. And those algorithms can really deliver the goods. 

For example, TrueMoney was able to reach 1 million mobile app installs while reducing cost per install (CPI) by 60% and campaign implementation time by 50%. 

The upside is obvious: a tech giant’s AI is helping you convert and taking care of most of the tactical side of your mobile app marketing. However, that also means getting App Campaigns right requires a different skill set than traditional digital marketing campaigns.

To get the most out of App Campaigns, marketers need to learn how to effectively “teach” the AI and structure their budgets. If you get it right, you’ll save time marketing your app and increase conversions. To help you hit the ground running, in this article we’ll provide a crash course on Google App Campaigns and explain how to create the right feedback loops to get the most out of the platform.  

Google App Campaigns: A crash course

Google App Campaigns automate the process of creating and displaying ads for mobile apps across a variety of channels.

App Campaigns will use text and images from your app’s Play Store or App Store listing to construct ads, but there’s still some manual configuration required. Specifically, marketers need to configure:

  • Target cost per install (tCPI) or target cost per action (tCPA)
  • Max daily budget
  • Target locations and languages
  • Goals 
  • Headline ideas and descriptive text
  • Optional ad assets (images, videos, and HTML5 assets)

From there, App Campaigns assembles ads, picks where to display them, and optimises based on your budget and goals. 

Channels Google may display ads for your app on include: 

  • Google Play Store
  • YouTube
  • Google Search
  • Google Display Network
  • Google Discover

The secret sauce in all this is Google’s world-class ability to target ads. But remember the machine learning algorithms that make the magic happen need time to learn before they can optimise effectively, so you won’t get the best results immediately. 

How long will it take? Google says after about 100 conversions, App Campaigns can optimise your ads and bids. 

Pro-tips for creating your first App Campaign

Frankly, the process to create an App Campaign is one of the simplest aspects of the platform. Google’s article on How to create an App campaign covers the nuts and bolts well, so we won’t reinvent the wheel here. 

What we will do is tell you how to set your campaign up for success in the process. Here are some pro-tips to keep in mind when you get around to creating your campaign: 

  • Add the optional assets: You can add up to 20 videos, images, and HTML5 assets to your campaigns. While adding assets is optional, make a habit of doing it for each campaign. At a minimum, aim for 10 images and 1 landscape video, but max out if you can reasonably do so.

  • Mix up your asset formats: Remember, your ads may show up on a variety of channels. Having assets in different formats (e.g., portrait, landscape, 320x480 pixels, 320x50 pixels, etc.) can improve your overall ad quality, as Google will have options that work well on a wide range of devices and ad locations. 

  • To begin, choose a daily budget that is 10 times your tCPA or 50 times your tCPI- Tweaking and experimentation are important, but if you’re just getting started 10x tCPA or 50x tCPI are good starting points. They should lead to enough volume for the algorithm to learn while limiting your risk of overspending. 

Developing an App Campaign strategy 

At this point, you should be up to speed with the basics of App Campaigns. Frankly, if you stopped reading here chances are you’d still see a decent conversion rate eventually. The algorithms really do a good job given a little time. However, developing an App Campaign strategy that’s aligned with your broader marketing strategy can supercharge your results. 

Fortunately, a quality App Campaign strategy isn’t rocket science, we’ve found that the 3 tips below can help marketers get the most out of the platform. 

1. Pick the right goals


When you create an App Campaign, you need to tell Google what to optimise for by answering a simple question: “What do you want to focus on?”  

You can optimize for installs, installs for users likely to perform a specific action, in-app activity for existing users, or even target return on ad spend (tROAS). There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here as the right goal depends on where your app is at in the product life cycle. 

Here’s how to view the potential optimizations and pick the one that makes the most sense for you.

  • Install volume (All Users): If your primary goal is to get your app in the hands of as many users as possible and build brand awareness, focusing on install volume makes sense.

  • Install volume (Users likely to perform an in-app action): For many apps, only a small subset of users are profitable. Honing in on installs by users likely to take a specific action can help you target users more likely to engage with your app. Be careful with being too narrow here and selecting an action very few users perform. Focusing on low-frequency actions can hamstring the AI’s ability to learn and optimise.

  • In-app actions: Once you’ve built a large enough user base, driving app engagement can become more profitable than driving new installs. If you’re just making the transition from driving installs to a focus on actions, we recommend taking an iterative approach. 

Start with basic high-level actions like opening the app or completing an account, and build towards conversions like in-app purchases. Think of it through the lens of the marketing funnel. A user who installed your app may still be near the top of the funnel, and you need to nudge them along before optimizing towards higher intent actions.

  • Target return on ad spend (beta): tROAS is still in beta at the time of writing, but it has plenty of potential. A focus on tROAS tells Google to optimise for a specific return. For example, if you have a daily budget of £500 and set tROAS to 25%, you’re looking for a £125/day return.

    The risk with tROAS is there is a tradeoff between return and volume that’ll you’ll need to balance. To use this beta feature, contact Google and get it added to your account. 

2. Budget strategically

Strategic budgeting with App Campaigns is all about giving the algorithm enough time to optimize and then leaning into what works. 

As a rule of thumb, start with the 10x tCPA or 50x tCPA we mentioned earlier as a baseline. Then, after about 100 conversions, take a look at the results. 

If you want to drive more volume, increase the budget by about 10% and track results over the next few days. Conversely, if you want to increase ROI, lower the budget a bit, watch the results, rinse and repeat until you hit an ROI you’re comfortable with. 

If you started with a campaign for installs and are transitioning to a campaign for actions, don’t immediately kill the campaign for actions. Instead, slowly wind down the budget by ~10-20% every few days until your actions campaign gets off the ground and consistently hits tCPA numbers. 

3. Don’t try to outsmart the AI

It’s impossible to overstate this one: don’t get caught up trying to over-optimise

A lot of this seems simple because it is. To get the most out of App Campaigns, you need to trust that the AI will handle the tactical side. Err on the side of broad targeting and letting campaigns play out. Too much tweaking or specificity limits the “learning” in machine learning. Here are some specific “don’ts'' to keep in mind:

  • Don’t frequently change or end campaigns before they have time to mature (~100 conversions)
  • Don’t attempt to optimize for low-frequency actions  
  • Don’t set budgets below ~10x tCPA or ~50x tCPI early on

Final thoughts: App Campaigns and your overall marketing strategy

App Campaigns are an excellent way to market mobile apps efficiently. You don’t have to spend much time on tactics and can focus on your broader strategy and goals instead. 

If you’re just getting started with App Campaigns, it can be hard to understand exactly where it fits and how much of your budget you should allocate to the platform. A straightforward approach is to consider how much you spend on the marketing channels App Campaigns ads are displayed on and start by allocating a portion of that to App Campaigns. Track results and scale up or down based on performance after a month. With a bit of experimentation, you’ll eventually find the sweet spot that makes sense for your app. 

Alternatively, engaging with a marketing consultant who has experience with mobile app marketing and Google App Campaigns can help you design a strategy that makes sense for your app. If you need help structuring your campaign strategy, hire from Traktion’s network of vetted and proven growth marketers who have the expertise to help you hit the ground running.

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