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Optimize Your User Acquisition Strategy with a Soft Launch

This article originally appeared on App Annie. Tal Shoham is the VP of International Business Development at ironSource. 

It’s all too common for app publishers to simply launch their app and hope for the best. With over two million apps in both the Google Play and iOS app stores, you can’t afford to take any chances when the goal is to stand out from the crowd. In our experience at ironSource, a soft launch is absolutely critical to long-term success.

In a soft launch, you have the opportunity to release your app to a specific and restricted audience. This lets you test the waters, iron out any issues, and optimize your app for user experience and revenue generation before millions of users get their hands on it.

Here are three reasons why you should soft launch your app, plus our recommendations for a successful implementation. 

1. Test for your ideal user in other markets

Before opening up your app to the marketplace, consider who your ideal user is — where do they live? How much disposable income do they have? Are they male or female, young or old?  

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Test the lifetime value (LTV) and acquisition costs of users across geographies and demographics that match your ideal user. App developers looking to build a user base in the United States, for example, typically do a soft launch in Ireland, the Netherlands and Canada. These users behave similarly to those in the US but are more affordably priced.

Or, if you’re strapped for cash, stick to Singapore and the Philippines. The people in these countries are well-versed in English but are cheaper to acquire. Bear in mind, however, that since they don’t have the purchasing power of US users, spending behavior might differ.

Your first test group can also help you evaluate ROI and the effectiveness of your acquisition channels. Do users from social and search ads generate the most revenue, or do you get better results with cross promotion? How much did they cost to acquire, and can you find alternate channels? Test your campaigns by incorporating various traffic sources into your UA strategy.

2. Add to your audience insights

You’ll be able to learn a lot about your audience during a soft launch. Pay attention to where users show the most — and least — engagement. Retention is the key metric here.

First, focus on your onboarding process to discover where users drop off. How long does it take before a player arrives at your main offering? How much explanation is needed for someone to start actively engaging with your app?

Then, begin testing other parts of the app flow. When do people begin running out of coins (if it’s a game)? What percentage of users complete the sign-up process? Which features aren’t they using?

This first test group will help expose technical bugs and design flaws, and also show you how well your ideal user might interact with your app.

3. Confirm monetization modeling

Critically, a soft launch can help you find the right balance between monetization and retention. Be sure to test everything regarding revenue, from the prices in your in-app economy to the ad units you display.

For example, it’s important to include more high-engagement ad units such as rewarded video into your advertising mix, and see how they stack up against banner ads. You can also test fill rates and eCPMs (effective cost per thousand impressions) across different networks to ensure the best possible revenue for your app. The most efficient way to do this would be to integrate an ad mediation solution, which will allow you to plug into and test multiple different ad networks with only one SDK integration.

In addition to optimizing your ad-based monetization strategy, it’s wise to test various in-app purchase price points, as well. This way, you can identify the sweet spot where users are comfortable spending regularly on in-app goods.

Final steps before a soft launch

Before launching, you’ll want to confirm which metrics and features you plan to monitor during your soft launch. To summarize, you’ll be able to gather invaluable feedback on:

– App performance (including potential bugs)
– New app features
– Overall media mix
– Advertising creative and brand messaging
– Budget expectations
– What users like — and don’t like

It’s important to go through every variable with a fine-toothed comb during a soft launch so there are no surprises when you release your app into the global arena.

As you narrow in on a version of your app ready for official release, you should see less and less variance in data. Once your data shows you’re ROI positive, the consistency should signal you’re ready for the real thing. Remember, even once your app goes live, you’ll always need to continue tweaking, adjusting and A/B testing.

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