As Q4 fast approaches, app marketers are strategizing on how to make the most out of their holiday budgets. While Q4 shows a significant increase in value and downloads, it is also a very challenging period in terms of price increases with no clear path to ensure optimized performance. As holiday app spend is notoriously competitive with higher bid pricing, app advertisers are finding it more and more difficult to scale effectively and make their apps stand out during this period. The aim of this post is to give you the tools to do just that.

Looking at data from last year’s Q4: Mobile app spend running through Bidalgo’s platform saw a growth in value, an increase in purchases and a jump in app installs as the holiday season began to swing into action. Media prices also increased, climbing to an ultimate peak before showing signs of calm towards the end of December and into the subsequent Q1. From October to November our clients witnessed price increases on iOS and on Android as app users jump from Halloween to Thanksgiving, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, From Christmas, Hannuka and Kwanza to New Years.

Drilling down into specific 2017 holiday events we saw an average price increase of 30% on Black Friday, Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday alongside significant increase in conversions but lower average return on ad spend due to the extremely high prices. Christmas day showed higher than average ROAS and a more moderate price increase.

With this data in mind, it’s safe to say that the holiday season can get both expensive and lucrative for app advertisers as competition heats up to capture those precious seasonal users for stronger ROI. Still,  finding the right balance can prove the toughest of tasks – find below Bidalgo’s core best practices to help survive this turbulent season:

Know your peaks: Based on last years data and projected holiday data for 2018, Facebook dictates that the best time to scale starts from early October until the major holiday push on November 15th and then again starting the 2nd half of December.  To combat escalating prices, consider more frequent creative refreshes to address fatigue, and…

…diversify spend to different placements: As prices for popular placements continue to rise during this quarter, app advertisers should use this time to invest small amounts in less competitive environments, ideally ones not targeted by eCommerce. Consider placements with smaller price increases such as Audience Network, Banner & Interstitial Messenger ads. Facebook playable ads are worth testing for games and interactive apps to drive more engaged, higher quality installs. During the holiday period, more substantial placements across Facebook and Instagram feeds can experience up to a 60% jump in ad costs, according to last years figures, whereas other placements which can jump to 29%. With this in mind, it would also be wise to use different creative dimensions to encourage Audience Network and Messenger delivery: both horizontal & vertical. From our experience, it pays to keep video ads above 15 second to have more chance of delivery across Facebook Audience Network. When prices drop towards the end of December, consider using auto placements to take advantage of price decreases. For Facebook specifically, it is suggested to: allocate more budget to Android as this platform famously sees less major price increases; leverage data from worldwide campaigns to scale across APAC and LATAM; and use value optimization to scale across global markets and optimize for lowest cost per purchase for stronger ROAS.

Test out latest channel features: Mid Q3 2016 saw Facebook release App Event Optimization. Mid Q3 2017 saw Facebook release Value Optimization. As both of these events both led to increasing CPM trends during Q4 and stronger results, it makes perfect sense that Facebook’s recently released ‘Minimum ROAS’ feature will create a similar market impact as we step further into Q4 2018. Minimum ROAS has already seen apps adopting this feature attract elevated media prices with improved results. It is critical, particularly over the holiday period, to consistently test new conversion based channel features that allow the targeting of higher value users- from Facebook’s Minimum ROAS to Snapchat’s recent Optimizing for Conversions feature. Bidalgo’s multi channel platform fully supports all new features as and before they are released to market with AI integration for best performance possible.

Start testing early on: The sooner you can start testing your creatives the better. It can take time to find the winning mix of ad creatives, targeting and bid rates. Optimizing holiday creatives both early and often means that you’ll have a stronger chance of success when it comes to holiday spend. Of course, arming yourself with the right tools can alleviate some of this early-testing pressure. For example, using Bidalgo’s Creative AI to understand which ad creatives perform best and why can certainly help put your strongest ads out on the battlefield this quarter.

Gear your content towards the holidays: Work with your creative and marketing teams to push out app content and creatives that represent the season and make sure you are well armed with more than enough creative armory. From our experience it is best to create more than enough ad creatives and test them against your long time performers. Doing this will work wonders for your relevancy score, and keep your ads fresh as you dodge fatigue.

Regarding your app store pages- it is worthwhile to understand what works best for you regarding app store holiday optimization. As the season approaches, some app advertisers start changing their store visuals- this isn’t always necessary but worthwhile trying out to monitor conversion rates.

Update app stores before the shutdown: Previous years have told us that app stores stop accepting updates around December 22- this means that app advertisers are unable edit any content or asset on their app store page during this period. It is essential to factor this into your holiday scheduling alongside regular submission turnaround times which on average can take around 1-4 days, yet increased holiday volume can produce a lengthier wait, even up to a week. To be safe, we advise submitting holiday content 2 weeks before intended use.

Adapt per chosen KPI: If your main holiday goal is to drive installs, it is a good idea to leverage higher conversions and lower CPA just after Christmas – this period attracts a significant decrease in both CPM and CPA and can lead to more conversions when optimizing correctly in the first week on January. As CPA and MAI can prove volatile around this period, it is best to keep tabs on bids or use built in features to avoid crazy CPAs. As per Facebook insights, we advise you to increase budgets on Thursdays to obtain cheaper conversions for MAI-  Thursdays witness peak CVR with lower CPA. If you focused on In-App Purchases, it is best to increase budgets for less expensive conversions- note that CPM and CPA lower while conversions tend to spike during the week of Christmas. If you’re still questioning your allocation per days-of-week on Facebook, we have seen best results during the holiday period when increasing budgets on weekends. If you want to smash this KPI- Sundays tend to have higher CVR and lower CPA.

Prepare for 2019: It’s all too easy to get consumed by Q4 as it often proves the largest quarter of the year, yet don’t let it come at the expense of planning your subsequent Q1. You need to allocate the right amount of time planning for January to stay ahead of the competition, particularly as we have experienced ROAS taking a surge immediately after Christmas across multiple channels.

With the right practices in place, holiday season 2018/2019 can prove an exciting and profitable time. Many thanks to the many Bidalgo product experts who helped contribute to this piece- we are excited to take our best practices and watch your performance soar over Q4!

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