It’s here! Download our 2021 Holiday Playbook now.
Growth

Creative Testing in Universal App Campaigns: Essential Strategies

Monish Selvamuthu
Monish Selvamuthu

Google’s universal app campaigns are a great channel to drive demand and scale in the app marketing space. Unlike other campaigns that can involve varying degrees of effort, UACs are designed to make advertisers’ lives simple. Just provide a few elements, and Google’s machine learning-powered system will automatically optimize ad content, placement, and targeting. A UAC can have tremendous reach, with algorithmically determined audience-appropriate ads appearing across Google Play, YouTube, Search, and more.

But it’s this simplicity that is the problem. Because UACs are automated, marketers have limited control over bidding and no input on audience targeting. As a result, most people see UACs as a “set it and forget it” campaign.

While it’s tempting to sit back and let Google’s algorithm do everything, this approach overlooks a key detail: creative content and ad grouping are key levers we can use to improve UAC performance. 

Here are some easy, low stakes UAC strategies worth trying—no matter how much you trust the algorithm.

Add Video to UAC Campaigns

Video assets aren’t required to start running UACs, so many campaigns ignore them. Instead, brands throw together a few headlines, descriptions, and images and hope for the best. Do it better: If you have existing video content, add it to the creative mix. If you haven’t invested in video yet, a UAC is a good reason to try it. You don’t need an Oscar-worthy film, you just need to show key features or share insights about your brand. This ensures you’re leveraging all available UAC placements, instead of being limited to those that support text and image only.

Remember, too, that UAC goals and performance are distinct from other video ads you may have run. Here’s an example of how this error might unfold: Acme Apps has a YouTube channel with videos that show off their latest app’s UI, plus a clips highlighting the brand’s value propositions and recent growth. However, the in-stream ads they ran last year only resulted in awareness—and Acme doesn’t believe that translates to direct user growth. So, they leave video out of their UAC.

What Acme fails to understand is that using video assets in UACs is one of the best ways to educate and engage potential users, in a format that’s quite different from in-stream or bumper ads. And, since they already have the content ready to link from their YouTube channel, there’s no reason not to give it a chance to perform.

Create UAC Ad Group Themes

It's common for Google app campaigns to have all ad assets crammed into a single ad group. Why? I suspect advertisers assume it’s not worth putting time and resources into a campaign that doesn’t have many levers for optimization. 

But UAC creative structure isn’t really so different from other channels, like paid social or paid search. Just as you would with a Facebook Ads campaign, you should set up buckets of creative assets organized around specific messages or product features. By creating multiple ad groups with clear themes, it’ll be easy to see what moves the needle and what needs to be cut. 

Find Out What People Care About

Along similar lines, you can and should use UACs to test value propositions—and in the process, determine what really matters to your audience. Setting up separate ad groups for different value propositions is a highly efficient way to test ad creative and get a sense of what resonates with different audiences. Not only will this tell you more about current and potential customers, it’ll generate useful data that can inform other aspects of paid acquisition strategy and overall brand strategy.

UI Belongs in Your UAC

One of the unique challenges of app marketing—explaining exactly what the user experience is like—can be solved with UAC assets. Remember how I suggested using video content? There’s no better way to help people understand in-app flows, or what they’ll see if they decide to try the app for themselves. At the very least, you should stock your UAC with clear, detailed images that help people get a feel for actually navigating the app.

Keep It Evergreen

While testing themed creative is important, it’s also important to have an always-on evergreen ad group in your UAC mix, too. Evergreen creative should focus on the big-picture merits of your app, with messaging designed to reach as many potential users as possible. For example, you could use the evergreen group to educate people about why the app matters, or feature a discount or special offer that anyone can use.

Strike a Balance in UAC Creative Testing

As we like to say at Part and Sum, good enough is pretty great. Putting stuff out there, seeing how it performs, and iterating based on the best- and worst-performing assets is always better than aiming for one perfect idea. 

Still, it’s important not to get carried away by testing too many messages and value props at the same time. This is especially important with UACs: Too many variables can disrupt the automation process and compromise overall campaign efficiency. Don’t miss the opportunity to test hypotheses via UAC creative, but do it in a strategic manner. That way, you’ll ensure the algorithm is working for you, even if you’ve sacrificed some control to the machines.