Start your journey to the top of the app store - mobile acquisition basics

About the author

Jeff Chang (@JeffChang30) is a growth technical leader at Pinterest and angel investor. If your startup is looking for an angel investor who can help with all things growth, please send over an email!


Mobile acquisition growth is a must-do for any company who has a product that is an app.

Mobile acquisition growth is a must-do for any company who has a product that is an app. For example, at Pinterest when we started working on mobile acquisition a while back, it only took a few months to increase our app installs by tens of thousands a day and reach the top 20 of the app store. Optimizing mobile acquisition has some similarities with signup optimization where you're optimizing a funnel, but the unique challenges of mobile acquisition are attribution difficulties and more complex user flows. This blog post will talk about how to think about mobile acquisition, tools you should have, and a few strategies you can pursue to increase your mobile acquisition.

The 4 major mobile acquisition strategies

There are many different ways you can get people to download your app. Referrals, paid, SEO, and app store optimization (ASO) are usually the biggest levers. You should consider each of these strategies to obtain mobile users. Here are some indicators that a strategy might be right for you:

  1. Referrals -> Users can be well incentivized to refer others to download the app

  2. Paid -> Users have a good LTV, so it is easy to achieve ROI positivity

  3. SEO -> Product has a lot of web content

  4. App store optimization -> Every app

For all of these strategies, there is a common set of tools that you will probably need, so we will talk about those first.

Tools you will need

First, let's talk about two major problems when it comes to mobile acquisition.

Deeplinking: A technical problem that is hard to solve due to the different combinations of operating systems versions and browsers that handle deeplinking differently. For example, iOS 9 Safari handles deeplinking differently than Android Marshmallow Chrome.

Attribution: After a user clicks your web link to the app store and opens the app after downloading, it is hard to match clicks to app users.

Due to the complexity of these problems, there are a lot of companies who just focus on providing solutions such as Branch, Firebase, Appsflyer, and more. For newer companies, it is a no brainer to use these companies instead of trying to build technical solutions yourself because of the sheer amount of engineering resources you would have to commit. At Pinterest, we currently use Branch. To summarize, these deeplink providers allow you to deeplink on different platforms correctly and send information between web sessions and app sessions.

Next, you'll want real time and daily charts, similar to what's discussed in the previous blog post. It is very useful to split out these charts into each attributed channel (seo, referral, paid, etc) in order to track changes in each. It is also good to track non-attributed app installs because those are installs from app store search or app store rankings download, so a function of your ASO initiatives and app store rank. Segment these by Android and iOS because these are distinct cohorts that have different geographies, conversion rate, LTV, etc. It is important to have good monitoring and alerting on these charts because there are a lot of external factors that can affect your installs. For example, a drop in non-attributed suggests maybe an app store outage. A drop in SEO referred installs could indicate an algorithm change, or just a mobile web feature change. At Pinterest, we've invested a lot in our defensive growth tools in this area and have saved a large amount of install drops by detecting and reacting to changes.

Mobile web as a big optimization opportunity

Because both SEO and Paid usually funnel into mobile web, I'll will focus on mobile web optimizations in this blog post. From mobile web, you probably want them to install the app, but there are some considerations due to the many user flows. Here are the possible ways that a user visiting your site can have increased future usage propensity due to the visit:

Auth Traffic

  • retains better due to feature usage

  • retains better because they downloaded the app

  • user deeplinks into the app and retains better

  • user downloads the app and logs in

Unauth Traffic

  • signs up and becomes an active user

  • logs in and retains better

  • downloads the app and signs up

  • downloads the app and logs in

As you can see, from a mobile visit, there are many possibilities that will increase the number of activated users. This is a data nightmare because to accurately determine the user impact of a mobile web experiment, you have to consider changes in all of them. When starting mobile acquisition initiatives, you don't have to account for all of these since it requires a lot of analytics resources, but this is the end goal. However, you should at least consider raw changes in signups, logins, and app installs, since those are the easiest to measure. Don't just optimize for one metric, such as app installs, but evaluate trade-offs between different metrics. For example, it is usually not favorable to trade a 1000 mobile web signup loss for a 10 app install gain. App vs mobile web activation rates are useful indicators to compare the value of an app vs mobile web signup.

App upsells

App upsells are a huge area of optimization for any product that receives significant mobile web traffic, and the biggest part of the mobile web to app channel. Optimization is usually an ongoing process instead of a one-time thing because of the changing landscape of search engine mobile friendliness rules and mobile user patterns. For example, a few years ago, everybody used to use full page interstitials to upsell their app, but then Google released guidelines saying that this wasn't mobile friendly and could result in penalties, so they are not used anymore. Before building these, make sure you are very familiar with the Google mobile friendliness guidelines and use the tool to make sure your strategy abides by them. That being said, these are some strategies you can try:

Top app banner - show an app banner on the top of the page

Screenshot 2018-04-30 18.14.04.png

App top banner

Screenshot 2018-05-03 17.56.40.png

App upsell on scroll

Screenshot 2018-04-30 18.24.12.png

App upsell on landing

Screenshot 2018-04-30 18.24.28.png

App upsell on click

App upsell CTA copy: We’ve found that copy matters. Try variants such as “Get app”, “View in app”, “Continue in app”, “Continue”, and more!

App upsell value prop: Different value props matter. Try describing your app-only features, how the app is faster, or show off your high ratings

App upsell timing: Upselling when the user has enough intent is important. Try different timing such as immediately, after a few clicks, or after a few visits


Mobile acquisition is a big topic and there are a lot of different strategies to pursue and funnel points to optimize. I hope from this blog post you learned about the 4 major mobile acquisition strategies, the tools you will need, and how to think about mobile web as a driver for app installs. Beyond that, there is still a lot to learn about how to optimize referral loops, ASO, mobile SEO, and more! I will go further in depth into each of these strategies in future blogs posts.

Want some advice with building your mobile acquisition channels? Email me at

Scaling new growth opportunities series

Part 1: Intro to growth engineering

Part 2: SEO - Get started 10x'ing your traffic

Part 3: Signup and login basics

Part 4: Growth monitoring done right

Part 5: Start your journey to the top of the app store - mobile acquisition basics