Mobile UA post iOS 15 – From Campaign Optimization to Funnel Optimization

Before iOS 14.5 a UA team’s methodology was proven, repeatable, and straightforward. But iOS 15 is muddying the waters - in order to succeed in mobile UA, the mindset needs to shift to Funnel Optimization

In order to succeed in mobile User Acquisition post iOS 15, a significant mindset shift needs to occur, transitioning from campaign optimization to funnel optimization. 

In this article, we’ll cover the past and the future of successful UA for mobile apps and games.

The past: Before iOS 14.5

Before iOS 14.5 (remember that!?) a UA team executed a proven and repeatable methodology that was pretty straightforward. 

An average UA team would basically identify advertisement channels that were appropriate for the type of audience they were trying to reach. As Facebook and Google got approx 65% of all mobile ad spend dollars, it sounds reasonable to think that the average ad network mix for that team was about the same, relying on Facebook, Google and then multiple ad networks like Vungle, AppLovin, Ironsource, Unity, and more. 

After identifying these networks, the UA team would set up a direct line of communication with them and create hyper-targeted campaigns such as AEO (app event optimization), VO (value optimization), and various lookalike campaigns. 

The UA team would report to these networks “events” that signaled to the networks the users they wanted more of (let’s assume users that made the most in-app purchases), then allowed these networks to optimize the campaigns accordingly. 

The UA team would then feed a very large amount of ad creatives to the networks, who would continuously test which one worked best against the goal of getting the highest volume of high-value users. 

The UA optimization game then changed to identifying the campaigns that generated the most ROAS (also measurable through an attribution platform) and shifted more spend towards these campaigns. 

But what was lacking from that optimization game was a deep understanding of who the users installing were, but more importantly, why they were installing, and based on which creative and marketing messaging.

The above was done in a “black box”. The UA team assumed a role similar to an investor, allocating budget towards high ROAS campaigns and hitting their KPI numbers, always trying to minimize CPIs.

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    The change: The 2021 mobile UA awakening

    These days, the work that the ad networks performed for the UA teams of pre-iOS 14.5, is mostly impossible. 

    Yes, some networks are still using fingerprinting techniques to try and perform the same way they did before, but as Apple declared war on fingerprinting, it’s just a matter of time until they’re able to enforce it. Apple doesn’t really have to enforce it in a way that actually tracks all instances of fingerprinting. 

    Once Apple decides to use deterrence, they just need to pick a few developers that take part in the fingerprinting scheme, remove them from the App Store, and then make the cost of employing that practice extremely expensive. Even with a low probability of getting caught, it would lead to a collapse of that mobile business as the app would be removed from the store. 

    So, if you listen to the ad networks and what they’re proposing to make UA dollar performance better, you’ll understand that they’re suggesting moving to broader campaign targeting and investing in intelligent user-centric, motivation-led creatives to attract high-quality users. 

    Here is Facebook’s report on the topic dubbed The Big Catch (as in catching high-quality users from the ocean of broad campaign targeting). 

    Evidently, this changes the role of the UA team from that of an investor allocating budgets, to that of an explorer and a traditional marketer who’s finding new audiences, and learning how to convince them to install your mobile app or game product. 

    That is going to be the only way to continue executing UA strategies that will lead to the profitable growth of your user base.

    The future: Mobile UA using context to drive UA

    So what does it mean to look at things more like a “funnel”?

    We’re arguing that for the longest time (in my personal view, it was the longest of any industry in the world) the mobile industry had struck an unwritten deal with the ad networks. The deal was, “we’ll give you our user’s personal data, and you’ll find more people like them.” 

    This has caused some marketing skills to apostrophize (researching audiences and what motivates them to install) and disproportionately caused other skills to develop beyond any other industry (data-driven models and mathematical methodologies to optimize ad spend across many different sources). 

    In the future, we will all need to invest a bit more in creativity and user research in order to continue to produce above-average ROAS. 

    This calls for us to open that black box to start creating funnels that match creatives and messaging (on ads and on App Store product pages) with real audiences. 

    When lifting the lid, what we see is this:

    Mobile UA post iOS 15 - From Campaign Optimization to Funnel Optimization - 1

    What UA really looks like in practice is tens (or hundreds in some cases) of millions of impressions of ads happening across social apps, mobile games, apps, and the mobile web across multiple websites. 

    Different ad creatives are being shown in each inventory slot, and the end result is that a lot of traffic is reaching our App Store product page, albeit with a very different mindset. 

    Let’s wear the mobile game hat for a sec (I love you, app people). 

    • Does a user that lands on your product page after playing an in-depth hardcore RPG game or a casual word game really come with the same mindset?
    • Are they really going to be motivated in the same way to install your game? 
    • Or are there going to be different motivators that’ll work for each user?

    We need to see the real funnels our users are coming from. The overall impression quality any UA operation is going to receive is going to be lower, as these networks have much less power to find the high-value users among the ocean of ordinary ones. 

    In order to influence that high-value user, you can’t just rely on the network to target them for you, you’ll have to “catch” them in that big ocean. 

    And the way to do this is by understanding who they are, and the context they’re coming with. 

    The end result of such “funnel mapping” will be as follows:

    Mobile UA post iOS 15 - From Campaign Optimization to Funnel Optimization - 2

    Instead of just “campaigns” you’ll have funnels that are going to be grouped according to the contextual source these users are coming from, such as Word games, or Trivia games. 

    You’ll have a funnel you’ll be able to focus on, increasing more spend (by targeting advertising more for those apps) and learning about the audience of “Trivia game players.” You’ll discover which type of messages should work for them at the ad creative level, as well as on the App Store product page level. 

    As you’ll be able to create up to 35 custom product pages per country, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t “mine” your broader UA impressions for more install conversions. How? By uncovering the true contextual funnels these users are going through, and matching your marketing messages to each one. 

    The alternative is easy to imagine.

    When UA traffic becomes broader, and your messaging doesn’t adjust, you might have a good conversion rate for the Trivia audience and if you happen to convert them, they justify probably just a fraction of your overall UA traffic. As the rest would convert pretty poorly (because you’re using a Trivia audience messaging on your App Store product page), your overall UA performance KPIs will be much lower. 

    The only way to recover these KPIs would be by 

    • adjusting and tailoring the right message to each funnel
    • finding new valuable and larger audiences
    • and understanding the mobile ad networks will not do this for you.

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      In the words of Facebook:

      “We often see games advertisers use lookalike audiences and value optimizations to great effect.

      But over-reliance on some tools or approaches can, in turn, mean over-reliance on a relatively

      narrow audience. By continuously using the same optimization tools and same lookalike

      audiences, advertisers risk limiting themselves to the players they’re familiar with, which can in

      turn limit growth.

      There are a variety of levers you can use to expand this audience pool. Some rely on different

      auction strategies, like new optimizations, placements or targeting. But you can also use ad

      creative as a lever to reach and convert different audiences. Also, as gaming advertisers look

      to diversify their strategies in response to an evolving ads ecosystem, motivation-led creatives

      provide a future-proof solution.

      The Facebook Ad Auction is effective at serving the right people for the right creative. So, by

      providing it with new, differentiated creative built with the Big Catch, you can expand your

      reach. And expanding your pool expands your growth potential.”


      If this sounds tough to achieve in practice, I invite you to take a peek at our new technology (gain early access here) that’ll allow you to identify your top funnel opportunities, manage, monitor, and analyze them so you can keep crushing your UA KPIs in the post iOS 15 era.

      Jonathan Fishman
      About Jonathan Fishman
      Jonathan is Storemaven's VP of Marketing. Before joining Storemaven he spent ten years commanding tanks, working on Wall St., consulting high-growth companies, and exploring Black Rock City. In his spare time, he likes building things from wood, listening to Frank Zappa, and spending time with his daughter.

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