Google Ads app campaigns are vital for gaining new and engaged app users. Here’s how to launch one with success.

Do you remember that catchy Apple slogan, “There’s an app for that”?

It was part of a legendary campaign to promote their newly released App Store, which back in 2008, was revolutionary as it introduced a new way of downloading mobile applications (or apps, as we refer to them today).

Apps have come a long way since then — and so have the ways to market them.

Today, software developers take advantage of marketing and advertising platforms like Google Ads and its app campaign options to get the word out about their apps faster and attract more valuable users for increased adoption.

person outside using their smartphone to look at an app

(Image: Adobe)

 How does a Google Ads app campaign work?

By setting up a Google Ads app campaign, software developers can automate their ads to drive mobile app installs and in-app conversions for both Android and iOS users. These ads are eligible to appear across Google’s properties, including the following:

  • Google Search Network
  • Google Display Network
  • The Google Play Store
  • YouTube
  • Discover on Google Search
  • AdMob
  • Google’s search partners
  • Other publishers that host app ads

Google Ads automatically creates ads using the lines of text and digital assets you provide. It also automatically manages your bids and targeting to maximize campaign results based on the conversion goal you set.

So, whether your goal is to increase the volume of installs from new users or drive more in-app purchases from existing users, Google Ads will help you accomplish that with the help of machine learning.

You will still need to manually set other aspects of the campaign, including:

  • Daily budgets
  • Ad group structure
  • Campaign start dates
  • Target locations
  • Target cost-per-install (CPI) or cost-per-action (CPA) 

 Types of Google Ads app campaigns

Google Ads provides three campaign subtypes to choose from based on your campaign goals: app installs, app engagement, and app pre-registration. Each of these subtypes will focus on different actions and bid strategies.

App install

Choosing the app install campaign type means you’re looking to encourage more new users to install your app. Google Ads will automate targeting and bidding using machine learning to help you reach this goal and gain the best value for each download.

App engagement

The main focus of this campaign type is to re-engage existing customers who have previously installed your app. You can also encourage users to take specific actions within the app, such as making in-app purchases.

App pre-registration (not available for iOS)

Before your app or game is released on Google Play, you can run a pre-registration app campaign to capture people’s interest, build excitement, and establish an early user base. 

This can also help you gauge users’ interest to see whether there’s a market for the app you’re developing.

Gaining access to a massive audience while having the ability to reach the right users are some of the most significant advantages of running a Google Ads app campaign. 

By selecting the right campaign type, you have a greater chance of reaching your target audience and being a step closer to accomplishing your goals.

How to set up Google Ads app campaigns

Follow these steps below to start setting up your Google Ads app campaign:

  • In your Google Ads account, click the Campaigns icon .
  • Click the Campaigns drop-down in the section menu and select Campaigns.
  • Click the plus button, then select New Campaign.
  • For your campaign goal, select App Promotion.
  • Select the campaign subtype that best matches your goals. 
  • Choose which device type (iOS or Android) you want your ads to display.
  • In the search field, enter the name of your mobile app, and find the app you plan to promote through this campaign.
  • Name your campaign and add multiple text ideas that will be included in the campaign.

Pro tip: All the text you input will be used in the campaign and will be chosen automatically through Google’s algorithm. The ad text will be rotated regularly to find the best-performing ads, with better-performing texts being shown more frequently than others.

  • Optionally, you can also add other creatives like videos, images, or HTML5 assets as visuals for an interactive video ad.
  • Once you’re done adding creative assets, you can set the locations and languages you want to target.
  • Set your campaign goal, budget, and bid amount.
  • Lastly, set the start and end date of your campaign. If you’d like the campaign to be open-ended, you can also opt to not include an end date.

 Successful app campaign optimization tips & best practices

One of the most significant advantages of running app campaigns in Google Ads is the ease with which campaigns can be set up and run. After initial setup, almost everything is done automatically and requires minimal manual input.

But take note of the keyword here, which is “minimal.”

Before running a campaign, you will need to set up the campaign’s parameters manually. Once these are set, the algorithm will operate within these parameters to create a successful campaign.

To improve your overall likelihood of success, take note of the following best practices and optimizations for setting up and maintaining successful app campaigns.

1. Set up proper conversion tracking

Measuring your success is a crucial aspect of running a successful digital marketing campaign. 

Not only does it help to identify elements that are performing poorly, but also high-performing elements that you can replicate throughout the campaign and incorporate in future iterations.

Tracking app installs and pre-registration activity gives you valuable insights into your target audience’s behavior, which will help identify and attract new users.

There are four ways to set up conversion tracking for your app:

  • Google Play Store conversion data (for in-app conversion and app install campaigns)
  • Third-party analytics providers
  • Google Ads API for conversion tracking and remarketing
  • Google Analytics for Firebase

(Image: Unsplash)

2. Choose the right goal based on your campaign objectives

Choosing the right goal is crucial, as it determines the type of users Google targets for the campaign — which ultimately will establish a large portion of your customer base.

That said, you can choose between two primary objectives for each campaign: install volume, which optimizes your bids to get the highest number of total installs for a target cost-per-install (CPI), and in-app actions, which optimizes for cost-per-action (CPA).

  • Install volume. Choose install volume as your campaign goal if you want to attract as many new users to your app as possible. This is an ideal goal if your app is newly developed or you’re struggling to get users to install your app.
  • In-app actions. If you want to increase engagement among users who have already installed the app, choose in-app actions as your campaign goal. This is ideal for apps with a solid user base and looking to maximize the value derived from each user interaction. This is also great if you offer a free app that has optional in-app purchases you rely on for revenue. 

Whichever campaign goal you choose, Google recommends setting a high enough budget to allow its algorithm to gather enough campaign data to optimize your performance goals.

For install volume, the recommended campaign budget is 50 times your target CPI, while your recommended budget for in-app actions is more than 10 times your target CPA, or at least 100 conversions for both.

3. Diversify creative assets for each campaign

In the Google Ads app campaign kitchen, Google is the chef, and the creative assets are the ingredients.

As the chef, Google will make full use of its ability and complex algorithms to create the best dishes, which are the ads used throughout the campaign and its ad groups. 

But while the chef has the ability to transform any ingredient to make the best dish possible, the quality of the dish they produce will ultimately depend on what’s in the pantry.

In the same way, the quality of your ads will depend on the creative assets you add to the campaign library, aka your creative pantry.

For each campaign, you are allowed to upload the following:

  • Up to 20 static images
  • Up to 20 videos
  • 10 text elements
  • HTML5 assets (for responsive and interactive ads)

Like in our example above, the more assets you offer Google, the more effectively it can create high-performing ads for different platforms, increasing the likelihood of a conversion considerably. 

For the best results, diversify the type of creative content that you upload and ensure it is all high quality. For example, Google recommends uploading at least one portrait image, one landscape image, one portrait video, one landscape video, and a wide range of HTML5 assets.

4. Test out different bids to optimize your bidding strategy

Your target CPA or CPI is one of the most critical elements of your app campaign in Google Ads. The amount that you set for your bid can impact campaign performance significantly

However, your current target values may not be getting the results you need. For example, if you set it too low, you may not be giving the algorithm enough room to test out different inventories, so you won’t be getting any inventory on YouTube.

A high enough target value may be able to get the desired results. But set it too high, and the algorithm will see it as a sign that you’re willing to acquire clients at a higher price. Your campaign can also get a “budget limited” status. So, you also wouldn’t be getting placements on YouTube.

Why is securing YouTube placements necessary?

Because you may not be getting enough placements on Google Search with the limited amount of searches for keywords related to your app. Meanwhile, the Display Network can be scalable with enough inventory, but profitability can be difficult to achieve at scale.

Unlocking YouTube placements gives you access to tons of traffic. Because it’s one of the most competitive channels, you will need to set a high enough bid to secure placement, but not too high that you’re losing profits.

You will need to test out different bid levels to find the right balance.

5. Give the algorithm sufficient time to learn

The Google algorithm takes time to collect data and learn how to optimize your campaigns, so patience is key. 

This learning phase usually takes about a month (or longer for in-app campaigns), during which it learns about the right type of users to target, the best creative combinations to use, and the most effective platforms for ad placements.

It is critical to the success of your campaigns that you avoid interrupting this process to allow it sufficient time to collect meaningful data and learn. Otherwise, you could end up hurting your campaign.

While testing out different bids can be beneficial to your campaign, it is vital that you only do so after a sufficient amount of time to ensure the learning process is complete.

For best results, avoid adjusting ongoing campaigns like your bids, budget, placements, and creative assets until after the second or third month.

After that period, you can work on systematically making adjustments to optimize your campaigns based on target metrics and goals.

The takeaway

Google Ads App Campaigns are among the most powerful tactics for app promotion. They utilize Google’s entire ad network to help your app gain traction online and reach your target customer base.

If you are planning to launch a newly developed app or are dealing with less than stellar engagement numbers for a current one, running Google App Campaigns could greatly benefit your business.

While Google App Campaigns are relatively easy to use, you could still encounter some challenges when trying to set up and optimize them. In that case, experts can lend their assistance. 

Want more help implementing the tips and strategies above or just want to take your digital marketing to the next level? Let’s connect.

This article has been updated and was originally published in February 2023.

Abigail Beene

Abigail Beene

Abigail Beene is an SEM manager at HawkSEM. With more than 5 years of experience in digital marketing, including paid search and paid social, she has worked in a variety of industries, including B2B, tech, real estate, property management, and education. She enjoys staying active, baking, and going to the beach.