Ads and App Monetization: Three Things You're Still Doing Wrong

Aurelie Guerrieri

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Do you feel like you have app monetization under control, or is it that thing that keeps you up at night? Do you constantly worry you might be doing it wrong, letting it eat up your time and resources as you blindly try to figure it out?



Missed monetization opportunities come down to what publishers are not doing. Publishers are often unaware that highly converting monetization moments come from identifying when a user is completing organic or utility-based actions.

Other revenue missteps come from not properly planning for the complexities of scaling and internationalization.

Here are three monetization pitfalls for publishers to avoid and ideas on how to turn them around if you may have already fallen.

1. You Are Relying on Programmatic Real-Time Bidding (RTB) Too Much

RTB programmatic for publishers was supposed to be the end-all-be-all of in-app advertising. The theory was that by selling via programmatic in a transparent system, publishers could build relationships with advertisers, earn greater critical path methods (CPM), and have control over ad placements, thereby ensuring user satisfaction and lifetime value. From the advertiser's perspective, this was great because (supposedly) RTB makes it easy for buyers to pick and choose the highest returning impressions.

But the feedback that I am hearing from many publishers about RTB is that they are either seeing high eCPMs with poor fill rates or if they set their floor price too low, they get low eCPMs and high fill rates.

Why? Because advertisers, unfortunately, do not yet have the right tools and data they need to justify competitive bidding at scale.

Advertisers and agencies look at programmatic buying as a trendy, must-have marketing channel to quickly spend budget with the hope of high conversions by using the latest ad tech. Yet, most of the time, programmatic buying results in adding limited value. Adding limited value stems from two big problems with RTB right now:

  • There is a limited availability of mobile programmatic inventory, making a full-fledged targeting strategy across large media plans less than feasible.
  • Publishers lack the proprietary data about their audiences that increase the value of their placements to advertisers.


Eventually, I expect a handful of players to emerge in the RTB space that can enable publishers to leverage their audience and provide better tools to advertisers to jump into auction-based buying. Until then, RTB should play only a minor role in your overall ad strategy.

2. You Are Not Finding Moments of Utility

Great native calls to action are found in behavioral moments of utility. These calls to action catch the engaged user in the act of doing something they do every day and offer a better way to complete the task or get value from their effort. If you want to get my attention, do not make me change my natural behaviors. Instead, compliment them.

Apps are an important part of our lives. They are with us 24/7, and we rely on them to learn, go, communicate, buy, and share. We are constantly opening, closing, tapping, and swiping our apps. Some of these behaviors can be good opportunities for non-intrusive engagement. Consider something as simple as a lock screen.

Can you believe that, on average, people check their phones 150 times a day? That is a huge number and a massive amount of engagement. Keep in mind that the "unlocking" behavior that takes place when a user is looking at their phone happens before they even get to their app.

"Unlocking" is untouched screen real estate right there in front of the user as they are doing something natural. There is another technology related to this "unlocking" called app locking, which is a simple way to put a lock screen on top of a specific app rather than putting a lock on your entire phone. These app locks are typically used on email or messaging apps where people are storing personal information.

We have a product called AppLock that lets users lock their favorite apps, capturing a moment where the user is truly engaged with their device. Users install and use AppLock because it is useful to them. In exchange for providing that utility, we get millions of inventory opportunities to capitalize on every day. The result is a product that is an ad and an ad that is a product—a good example of creating opportunity in utility.

3. You Never Made a Scalable Plan for International Monetization

Most app publishers are (or try to be) global from the get-go. Yet, it is challenging to find the best monetization solution in each region as demand sources and preferred ad formats vary significantly. To scale apps globally, you need access to major brands that local consumers can easily identify, trust, respond to, and engage with.

If you are in India, you would ideally want to advertise in Flipkart. In the Middle East, you will want to showcase in the likes of Souq. Building and maintaining these relationships is complex and expensive. You need partners on the ground level of each market that you want to enter. Each region has brands that local users will consider "premium." You will want to work with these brands to deliver universally higher eCPMs and better fill rates.

This need for local market knowledge and partnerships is especially pronounced in the realm of direct sales. Publishers do direct sales deals to be able to share data with advertisers in a way that is more controlled and ensures a premium inventory. Yet this requires a local sales force. If you have a local sales force producing in volume, you also need an ad operations team to manage a variety of ad formats and tracking standards. Direct sales can create a lot of expensive headaches.

Developing the in-house competencies to manage this foreign market permeation is not realistic for most publishers. This type of development is expensive, complex, and distracting. Those factors are why identifying the right partners is vital.

One Last Thought

Monetizing apps at a global scale is difficult. A complex landscape of DSPs and local brands combined with advertiser's delay in adopting emerging sell-side methods are part of the problem. But it is absolutely worth taking the time to get it right.

As a publisher, you have other things that are at the core of your business, like turning out great products. Keep your energy and engineers focused there, and find a handful of key partners with feet on the ground in global markets to handle the other stuff.

Aurelie is the founder and CEO of Akila One, a growth-focused consultancy helping CEOs of digital companies like IAC Applications, Deloitte, Rakuten Viber, Cheetah Mobile, and many others scale their businesses from 50 to 500.

Earlier in her career, she ran Cheetah Mobile's global B2B marketing and business development organizations, was instrumental in building QuinStreet toward its IPO, and brought SendMe to $120M annual mobile revenues. McKinsey-trained, she holds an MBA and an MSc in Engineering Chemistry.


This article was originally published on Adotas.

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