Bringing Them Back for More…

My last few Android posts have focused on increasing your Google Play ranking.  Given Google’s recent changes in ad policy and content/reward gating, today I’d like to talk about what’s next… app engagement.

Here’s my rationale…

Currently (until next month), a low-engagement app is not a monetization problem on the Android platform.  There are a variety of ad networks that allow you to, essentially, make the entire device your app context by displaying some form of notification ads.  Which are, at their core, just external ads.

Notification ads mean your user doesn’t need to engage with your app to engage with your ads.  And, whether you agree with the model, or not, it’s a very effective way for things like utility apps to monetize through ads.  These are apps that could never monetize with banners because they just don’t get the eyeballs.

For example, on one of our lines of utility apps, we currently show just over 3,500,000 notification ads a day.  That’s pretty good.  But because the apps are utility apps, they aren’t designed to be used or opened regularly.  So, even though we also have banners in those apps, they only generate about 200,000 banner impressions daily.

That’s a huge difference.  And it’s compounded when you add the difference in engagement (tap-through) between banners and notifications.

So this line of apps is a perfect example of a market that will be devastated by the new Google changes.  In limiting advertising to the in-app context, they’ve essentially killed the current monetization engine and the associated motivation for developing these apps.

Since we can no longer use our preferred notification networks like TapContext or Leadbolt, what do we do now?

First, let me start by saying that I don’t know the whole answer to that question.  Or even close.  This is new for me, just like it’s new for most developers.  So part of this is experimentation based on reasonable hypotheses.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share what I discover and what I learn.  Some of it will work.  Much of it won’t.

I’m excited to see the kind of creativity this spawns in the Android ecosystem.  It will also be interesting to see how Google enforces some of the murkier provisions in their new developer policies.

I can say that I’ve had a peek behind the curtains at one of the large ad networks, and I’m intrigued.

But regardless of what the ads look like in the future, here’s something I know… Google wants developers to be rewarded for user engagement.  Being present on the device is no longer good enough.

So if the 3 rules of Google search are relevance, relevance, and relevance, I think it’s not far off to say the 3 rules of Android’s future will be engagement, engagement, and engagement.

And if you want to still make money distributing free apps, you’d better be able to keep bringing your users back for more.

The first thing I’m trying is to simply ask my users to come back.  The new rules clearly allow my app to pop first-person notifications to my users.  So let’s start there.

I don’t know which schedule will be most effective, but I’ll start by popping a notification when my user hasn’t used my app in more than 24 hours.  I’ll have some fun with it.  And try some different phrasing.  But the bottom line is that I’ll just invite the user to come back and use the app.

Beyond that, I’m working to create something along the lines of an in-app notification auto-responder.  If you’re from the IM world, that will make at least a little bit of sense.  Essentially, I want to create a directed, ongoing dialog with my users through a series of timed notifications.

Think of it like a tutorial or help system through short notifications.  One day it will tell them about feature A.  The next day it will show them tip B.  And so on.  It will walk them through the entire app 1 notification at a time.

This needs to be balanced with not bugging them so much that they remove the app.  But at some point I have to be aggressive enough to make sure they keep coming back and engaging with my app.

And what happens once I’ve got them back?

Well, I show them what I said I’d show them.  And then they’ll be funneled through an in-app interstitial.  I’m very interested in seeing how well this will work because in-app interstitials also happen to be my highest paying ad types on a per-impression basis.  Especially when I combine them with a high-paying, effective interstitial network (we currently use TapContext).

But the bottom line is, it’s now up to the developer (me and, presumably, you) to find new ways to drive user engagement.  Currently I can focus a significant portion of my energy and resources on user acquisition.  In a few weeks I’ll have to put at least as much effort into user engagement.

For some apps, that’s a natural side effect of the app, itself.  Games, for example, are already mostly engagement-driven apps.

But niche apps, utility apps, many business apps, and a lot of lifestyle apps will have to get better at engagement.  A lot better.  Essentially, if you’re not a social network or a game or a core app, you’ll have to figure this engagement thing out.

In the name of increased engagement, I’m even experimenting with bringing game mechanics to my utility apps.  That’s another story, but it certainly highlights my current focus on bringing users back into my app.

We’ll see how it goes.  And how much of a hit ad revenue takes once the notifications go dark.  In the meantime, I know where my focus will be…

Engagement.  Engagement.  And engagement.