Paid User Acquisition Targeting Tactics that Really Work for App Campaigns

Data led strategies for apps

You’ve got a great app, and you want those people most likely to love it to know about it. 

Simple, right?

If only it was. With over 6,841,000,000 smartphone subscriptions globally, the pool is enormous and your budget is finite. But it’s likely that your target customers share a few characteristics, which means you can narrow that pool so that you direct your budget towards those people more likely to convert, delivering you a much better ROI than if you employed no targeting. 

This is the world of Paid User Acquisition (UA) and it’s this fine tuning of your audience that makes it a key part of any app marketing strategy. The basics include defining your audience by location and sometimes age – fairly standard practice for most app marketers. But here at Yodel we’ve seen some great results with some more innovative targeting options…

  1. Dayparting

You can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of your ads by carefully choosing when you want your ads to be seen. The flip side of getting you in front of your audience at the right time, is that it means that you’re not wasting your budget displaying ads when engagement is likely to be low. 

This could be: 

  • A gaming app running ads during commuting hours, while people are looking for something to do.
  • A B2B CRM app running ads between 9am and 5pm, while potential users are at work.
  • A relaxation app running ads after 9pm, when people might be looking for something to help them sleep.

Ad platforms supporting dayparting:

  • Google
  • Apple
  • Meta  (Facebook and Instagram)
  • TikTok
  • Snapchat
  • Linkedin
Top tip: While you might be tempted to turn off your ads completely “out of hours”, it’s worth considering whether a simple tweak in messaging is the way to go. For instance, if you have a B2B productivity app, your 6pm onward ad could say something like “Still working? We’ve got an app for that”. 
  1. Lookalike audiences

The idea of a lookalike audience is relatively simple – the people who have already downloaded your app share certain characteristics or behaviours, and a lookalike audience finds people who also have those characteristics, as they’re more likely to download.

It’s an easy way of defining an audience, as the data pulled by the platform can be based on the customer list you provide them. But a word of warning, this must be data you own and have permission to use in this way. Purchased contact lists need not apply!

You can take it a step further by selecting “custom” audiences from your MMP (though access to this typically requires a premium add-on). Alternatively, you  can utilise data sources within platforms directly. This means you can get real deep with your targeting, including users who have performed particular actions, such as ‘installed’ users. 

  1. Upload your seed list – this might be fans of your social page or email list. It’s wise to filter your list so that you don’t include low value, low engagement prospects, as you don’t necessarily want to match that type of customer. 
  2. Add a geofilter if required – you probably won’t be interested in similar people who live in Hawaii if you have a UK live event ticketing app.
  3. Keep your audience size nice and healthy – we recommend you don’t get too carried away in fine tuning your audiences, as for app install campaigns, scale and size of audience is essential. That’s why it’s important not to sacrifice your audience size – we recommend up to 50,000 or above in order to successfully gain traction for your campaigns.

Ad platforms supporting lookalike audiences:

  • Meta (Facebook and Instagram)
  • TikTok
  • Snapchat
  1. Interest- and affinity-based targeting

Targeting users based on their interests, passions, and habits can be a powerful tool. This is especially useful during the early days of an app, where you may not have the required amount of customer data to build a lookalike audience, and for awareness campaigns, when you are focusing on the top of the funnel.

Meta provides you with a relatively granular tool for defining your audience, offering you a pre-built audience of users segmented into different categories. They build this up through user data, such as search history, online activity, and (in the case of Meta) user-defined Likes and Interests.

Targeting directly by interest might mean:

  • Targeting Pilates lovers with your Pilates app
  • Targeting bargain hunters with your price comparison app
  • Targeting gardeners with your plant identification app

If you find that the interest directly linked to your app wields a relatively small audience (or you’ve exhausted that audience), you can move on to affinity-based targeting on core social channels for app campaigns. This is very similar, but involves a little more creativity as it requires thinking about other interests or topics that your potential users are likely to also enjoy and show an affinity with. 

Targeting based on an affinity to your subject might look like:

  • Targeting yoga lovers with your Pilates app
  • Targeting supermarket app users with your price comparison app
  • Targeting bird watchers with your plant identification app

Ad platforms supporting interest- and affinity-based targeting:

  • Meta (Facebook and Instagram)
  • TikTok
  • Snapchat
  1. Life event targeting

Targeting users by their age, gender and geography is a common – and often necessary – user acquisition strategy, allowing you to quickly rule out those that are very unlikely to engage with your offering. It’s important for any ad strategy that money isn’t being wasted where it’s almost certainly not going to provide a return. 

Targeting by life event is a step beyond mere demographic targeting but can be a powerful tool if your app lends itself to someone undergoing a significant life event. 

What or who you can target varies by platform. On Google for instance, you’re only offered graduating from college, moving homes or getting married, whereas Meta is broader, including having a baby, newly engaged and retiring. Meta also allows you to specify the time since or to that life event, up to a maximum of a year. 

Targeting based on life event could be:

  • Targeting recent graduates with a job board app
  • Targeting the recently moved with a budgeting app
  • Targeting the recently retired with a gardening app

Ad platforms supporting life event targeting:

  • Meta (Facebook and Instagram)

How to discover your audience for user acquisition

When you’re segmenting your audience based on interests or characteristics, the first step is to research what those characteristics might be. Some of it might be obvious – gardeners are likely to be interested in a plant identifying app – but some of it less so, such as the age, gender, geography or life event a high proportion of those gardeners might share. 

  • Competitor research – look at what similar apps are doing. There will be various clues regarding who they’re trying to reach on the basis of their language, creative and messaging. Tools like and other intelligence tools will give you insight into the channels, keywords and creative your competitors are targeting, providing further information.
  • Quantitative customer research – free tools such as Google Analytics will give you demographic information regarding your current audience, while paid tools such as Flurry will go deeper into things like the Interest category. 
  • Qualitative customer research – interviewing your customers is always useful, and in the case of User Acquisition, is likely to give you insight into the type of person your customer is, which just isn’t possible using data alone. It’s only by talking to someone that you’ll really discover their other interests, what attracted them to your app and why they’ve stuck around – information that can be useful across the company, not just in user acquisition.
  • Industry trends – keeping up to date with trends will give you valuable insight both now and in the future regarding your users. For instance, in the US lockdown saw 18.3 million people take up gardening for the first time, with garden centres seeing a 65% increase in millennial and 44% increase in generation Z customers. While not everyone has kept it up, the numbers are significant enough that the average age of a gardener is likely to have dropped considerably. 

Finding your audience is a fundamental part of maximising your marketing budget, ensuring that you’re not wasting money showing your ads to those unlikely to become a customer. 

But it’s just the beginning. 

You’ve now got to figure out where your money is best spent (luckily we’ve written about this here) for your paid user acquisition campaigns and what your ads should look like (you’ll find plenty of useful tips here). The rest is up to you! 

Smokehouse Yard, 44-46, St John Street, London, EC1M 4DF 🇬🇧

Smokehouse Yard, 44-46, St John Street, London, EC1M 4DF 🇬🇧