Marketer’s Guide to Mobile App Advertising

By now, it’s no secret that mobile advertising is taking over with estimated advertising revenue reaching nearly $76 billion this year.

In fact, mobile search ad revenue is expected to outpace desktop as soon as 2019 and mobile display ads may already have surpassed their desktop counterparts this year.

And that makes sense because while mobile web and search advertising are great opportunities, 85% of mobile time is spent in apps.

But before you can just jump into the nuts and bolts of how you can advertise in mobile apps, you and your team need to ask yourselves an important question…

To App or Not to App?

Do you need a mobile app of your own, or are you better off leveraging the existing network of apps?

You should really only consider developing your own app if you truly believe it will make your customer’s lives easier or better in some way. Localytics and Hubspot put together this simple flowchart to help you decide if your brand would benefit from an app of its own.

You also need to make sure you have the resources to not only have the app developed but maintained as well. You’ll need to update it as technology changes and bugs are found. If you don’t have the time or money to do it right, you should stay away from this option.

For most businesses, a mobile-ready website will work well enough. Remember, an app is only really an effective marketing channel if it’s being used. If your customers don’t need or want it, they probably won’t want it wasting space on their phones.

However, you can still leverage the massive network of apps that already exist through paid placement. Let’s take a look at your best options, regardless of which way you go.

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Owned App Advertising

If you do decide to launch your own app (or you already have one), it does open lots of new doors.

The best part about building an app is that since you own the application and information inside, you can do pretty much anything you want with it. So please, don’t let this guide limit your creativity, but here are the most popular types of ads you can from your app natively…

1) Push Notifications

Push notifications are an obvious choice for advertising because they allow you to grab the user’s attention by sending a notification straight to their phone. Alongside their most important messages–text messages, calls, Instagram likes…

Statistics say that nearly 70% of people enable push notifications for their favorite brand’s apps and that in 2014 the open- and click-through-rates for push notifications were double those of email.

With a push notification, you can send users straight into your app to perform a specific action and even better you catch their attention at just the right moment.

The average American checks his phone 47 times a day, that’s about once every half hour that they’re awake. Getting yourself in their notification tray means you will probably be seen very quickly, unlike emails which may be buried for hours, days, or even forever.

2) In-App Messaging


This works similar to push notifications, but are served to users inside your app. Think about every time an app has asked you to rate them or provided you with information in an in-app pop-up.

These messages are a much less intrusive since they won’t display until the user opens the app. The goal is to grab users when they’re at a certain emotional state or performing a certain action, rather than based on a specific time like push notifications.

Whereas push notifications are designed to grab your customer’s attention and draw them into the app, in-app messages are designed to capitalize on their engagement and deepen it. So it’s important that your pop-ups are well designed and fit organically into the flow the user experience.

3) Inbox

Think of this as your app’s email feature, where you can deliver important information to them, unrestricted by screen space or character limits (but remember people’s attention spans aren’t the longest, especially on their phone).

You may even want to allow users to respond to your messages, answering and asking questions or letting you know what they think.

4) Your App

And don’t forget the app content itself! Your marketing team should take part in these discussions. Just like a website, your app can be used to deliver useful, engaging content that strengthens your brand relationship.

You choose what products or services to promote and where to promote them inside your app. Don’t miss this opportunity to strengthen your relationship with as well as cross-sell your existing customers.

Paid App Advertising

Whether you build your own app or not, you’ll still probably want to include some paid advertising in your mix as well. This will help you reach new customers and provide additional touch points for existing users.

Just like Owned App Advertising, there are always creative ways you can make it work. Like partnering with specific complementary brands that have apps to reach their customers through promotions or content.

Creative marketing is always great, but there are also two simple ways to start getting lots of exposure without much effort.

1) Social Media Apps

While 85% of mobile traffic is in apps, Marketing Land also found that 80% of that time is usually spent in the user’s top 3 apps.


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Facebook owns 3 of the top 10 most used mobile apps and Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest following in the top 25. While the individual apps may change from person to person (and demographic to demographic), it’s safe to assume one, two or even all three of those top apps are social.

The other great thing about social platforms is their easy to integrate with the existing (or new) social campaigns that you are running. For example, you can run your Instagram, Facebook mobile, and Facebook web ads all from the same campaign. For some formats, you can even use the exact same content.

Check out our other marketing guides for help launching your social campaigns:

2. Display Networks, like Google’s

Google is well known not only for advertising slots but for having the largest network of third-party sites you can advertise on automatically. But did you know that network includes over 2 million apps too? Apps on Android, iOS and even Windows smartphones.

And just like the social apps, you can manage all your Google Display Network ads from inside your regular AdWords account.

Google breaks these down into four categories: Text, Image, Call-only, and Mobile App Promotion ads.

But when you break it down there are really 7 options to choose from:

  1. Text ads work the exact same way they do online, and can even be run from the exact same ad. But the rest have some enhanced options and features for mobile devices that are worth checking out. 
  2. Banner ads are still the most popular type of image ads on mobile. The display at the top of the app while open and work just as they do online (although the required image dimensions may vary).
  3. Interstitial ads take image ads to the next level with full-screen exposure. These ads are usually displayed turning transition screens (like a new level on Candy Crush). They tend to have a higher CTR, but that comes at a higher cost than the less-engaging banner ads.
  4. Call-only ads are a special ad type if your goal is to get the customer on the phone, say with a sales rep or with a dynamic robo-secretary. They look and work similar to standard text ads, but with a twist. Instead of sending people to a landing page, it launches their dial pad with your number already plugged in and ready to go.
  5. App install ads are for those looking to drive new users to download their app. They are special because they include a download CTA that will take users directly to their respective app stores (depending what type of device they are using). 
  6. App engagement ads are more like retargeting campaigns. Targeted at existing users based on their previous behavior inside your app. Instead of a download link, you’ll need to provide Google with a deep link into your application. This allows users to engage with your ad and jump straight into it, launching a specific feature or page inside the app. 
  7. Universal app ads are the easiest way to set up app install ads; while not technically they’re own format, they’re worth discussing here. The difference is that rather than making your own ads from scratch, Google will just ask you for some text suggestions. They then combine them with the content on your app store’s listing to automatically generate and test ads on your behalf across their entire network.

All of these ad types can be run across AdWords Search, Display and YouTube networks, which claim to reach 90% of internet users. The only exception is app engagement ads, as it seems the YouTube Network isn’t ready to deliver deep links to apps just yet.

If you’d like, you can get more specific by targeting select categories or even specific applications where you’d like your ad to display.

And it doesn’t stop there. If you need to target customers based on their device you can do that too. You can go as broad as tablets, phones, or desktop. Or, if you’d like, you can target devices more specifically–by OS, brand, even model. That allows you to tailor your profile to different buyer personas or target markets.

As an obvious example, you could run specific ads for waterproof Samsung S8 cases and only serve those ads on S8 devices. Then copy that ad to create one specifically for S7 users, etc.


There are options to get in at every level. From ten-dollar Facebook Ads all the way to fully custom built apps, and everywhere in between. Mobile and tablet usage continues to grow year after year.

If you’re targeting younger demographics, this only becomes even more important as they lead the pack in mobile adoption.

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