This post was first published 12/08/20, and was updated on 05/30/21.
As Steve Jobs was known to say “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Certainly not to be taken literally, a tremendous amount of value can be gleaned from embracing the successes (and failures) of your competition. Investing in app competitor analysis can pay dividends on multiple levels, both in generating ideas for you to try, as well as those to avoid.
The old adage “nothing exists in isolation” is especially true when it comes to apps. Understanding your competitors will give you critical insights into where you can improve and what you should be measuring yourself against. It’s important to know and understand the apps competing for the attention of the people you want to join your user base.
So, before you set out to create your next great mobile advertising campaign, here are some expert tips for conducting an effective competitor analysis for app installs. We’ll look at the keys to good competitor analysis, and how you can leverage this to ensure that your app succeeds.
What is an App Competitor Analysis?
It’s essentially a way to evaluate your competitors’ app performance, including what they get right and what they get wrong, and compare it to your own performance. By analyzing everything from their paid campaign strategy to their ASO strategy, and all the factors that affect them, you’re enabling yourself to identify three things:
- What they’re doing wrong, so you can get it right and therefore win over your target users
- What they’re doing right that you’re missing out on, so that you can start to get it right too and therefore compete
- What you’re both doing that could mean you need to start differentiating yourself to stand out from the crowd
In a nutshell, you’re trying to outsmart your competitors to be the best in your field.
A successful mobile app competitor analysis should start first with identifying your competitors. A competitor can be any app that also exists in your app’s category, targets the same (or similar) audience as you, has overlapping features with your app, or appears in the app store search results for the same keywords as you.
Why Do A Creative Competitive Analysis?
Thumb-stopping ads that convert aren’t just born, they’re made. Much more goes into them than simply amazing design and copy. A steady diet of testing is a hallmark of any high performance, high scale mobile advertising campaign. If we want our creatives to perform we must be constantly testing them against ourselves, as well as keeping a close eye on what the competitors in our verticals are up to.
With the arrival of iOS 14.6 and its depreciation of IDFA, our targeting options have become fewer. Add in Google UAC, as well as Facebook Automated App Ads and the reality is abundantly clear that our targeting options moving forward are diminishing and our creatives are becoming more important than ever in your campaign performance.
If we want to get it right we need to test more, and that requires producing a substantial amount of creatives. One piece of creative per campaign won’t cut it. That can require producing up to 20 different types of concepts and executions per campaign in order to find the best audience and messaging. Obviously being able to generate so many fresh and quality ideas is no simple task, especially for smaller creative teams or agencies. One effective method for navigating this challenge is to spy out what others are doing, evaluate their performance, and either adopt or adapt their tactics to suit your needs.
Who Should Perform My Audit?
The task of auditing your competitors’ creatives is not as simple as just assigning it to your creative director or designer. The project is one that requires a solid left-brain/right-brain approach. This is because it needs to take into account the evaluation of both creatives and the analytics associated with them. Sometimes this can be the same person, however, it’s important to recognize that not everyone has that skillset, in which case you’ll want to make the project a team effort if the possibility exists.
Key Factors In Your Competitive Analysis
Ok, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty regarding what you want to be looking at when auditing your competition’s ad creatives, as well as some ideas for what you can glean from them.
Something important to take note of when evaluating a competitor’s ad is not just what it’s saying, but how it’s being said. For example, are they using trust signals in their creatives such as testimonials? Are they pointing to ratings and reviews from the app stores? The value of social proof cannot be understated, have you been overlooking taking advantage of yours? Is there anything about their voice that sounds familiar? Perhaps a tweak to yours is just what you need to stand out from the crowd.
Calls to Action
Analyzing the CTAs of a competitor’s ads is an excellent way of mapping out your competition’s marketing funnel and seeing how they match up creatives to campaign objectives. For example, a competitor ad with a call to action of “install” is a good indication that this campaign is designed for user acquisition. However, an ad with calls to action of “open” or “use app” most likely are the sign of a remarketing campaign. Now that you see how the competition matches its creatives to objectives, you can better strategize how to layer your own ad messaging.
Colors and Backgrounds
With the power to influence emotions and behavior, color is more than just an aesthetic choice when it comes to ad creatives. How is your competition putting it to work in their design elements and backgrounds? Are they sticking to colors strictly from their brand’s style guide? Are they using ones that are inconsistent with their palette for the sake of standing out? Are they using illustrated backgrounds, gradients, or actual photography? All of these are definitely questions worth investigating, but perhaps most of all, are your ads too closely resembling those of your competitors?
What role does text play in your competitors’ ads? Are they using text as overlays on top of the images or videos in their ads or is the media left to speak for itself? On another note, although Facebook lifted its 20% limit on the amount of text allowed on ads we continue to find that ads perform better by sticking to it.
Captions and headlines are an important component of app install campaign creatives. They provide context and are also an invaluable element in encouraging your audience to engage with it. Both typically adhere to certain limitations in terms of characters that you can use when crafting them that vary by platform. With Google the character limit is 90 characters for captions and 30 characters for ad headlines. For Facebook the limit is 90 for captions and 25 for headlines.
However, whereas the 90 character limit for Google marks the maximum you can use, for Facebook it simply marks the number before the remainder of your caption is truncated with the familiar “see more…” prompt. With that in mind, how is your competition utilizing these character limits especially when it comes to Facebook? Also, not to be overlooked are emojis, and how your competitors are utilizing them.
The use of logos in a video ad can be tricky. Do you put it in the first few seconds where it has the best chance of being seen, at the risk of not grabbing your audience’s attention, or do you tack it on to the end where it runs the risk of never being seen? This is a good example of where you can look to the competition and see what they’re doing. Additionally, when it comes to static images, where are they being placed on the image and how prominent are they appearing?
Analyzing your competition’s use of buttons is really helpful for generating ideas for “swipe up” Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram stories. The key item to take note of is in the measures your competition is taking to make these buttons look and feel more native to the app and less commercial. Be it in the way the text is decorated, the message is worded, and more.
Start & End Cards
With Facebook carousel ads you can elect to either instruct Facebook to display your carousel in a set order, or to show the images in order based on best performance. Do you compose your carousel with images that only work in a certain sequence, or do you populate it with frames that are able to each stand on their own no matter where in the order they appear? Looking at what your competition is doing is a good way to get an idea of what works. While it isn’t possible to know exactly for sure what they’ve chosen, you can tell by the flow of the cards in the carousel whether they’ve set the order themselves or turned the reins over to Facebook.
Much like analyzing your competitors’ CTAs, investigating special offers as part of their ad creatives is also a good tip-off as to how they view their marketing funnel and KPIs. How are they incentivizing new users to download the app? What’s in it for an existing user who has gone dormant to come back and re-engage? Additionally, is a special offer something you should be offering if you aren’t already? If you don’t have one, could that explain why your performance is lagging?
Use of Movement
How is your competition using motion pictures? Are they opting for short animated GIFs over video files? What is the average running time length of the video they are using? What aspect ratio are they presenting their creatives? Are gravitating towards a single type such as 1:1, portrait, or landscape? Overall, are they using more static or video, is there anything that stands out about their creative mix?
Where Competitors Are Advertising
Knowing where your competition is advertising is another valuable piece of information to have when it comes to conducting your audit. The benefit you can derive from this investigation is two-fold.
First, as we know, social platforms can differ with respect to both the demographics of its users, as well as the experience one expects to derive there. Therefore, looking into how your competition tailors its message to each respective platform can be helpful in how you do the same.
Furthermore, through the process of seeking out all the places your competitors are advertising you may end up uncovering where users are hanging out that you might not otherwise have thought to check.
As we mentioned above, performing a competitive analysis is equal parts creative and analytic assessment. As such, there is also some performance data you should be gathering about your competitors’ ads as part of your audit. Some of the metrics to be looked at include impressions, click-through-rate (CTR), and clicks. Only by looking into these numbers can we get a better understanding of an ad’s actual efficacy.
Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases gaining access to these insights requires a subscription to enterprise-level tools, something we’ll discuss in the next section. Agencies like Moburst often have access to these tools already.
Additionally, the duration of how long an ad has been running (or was running) is an excellent indicator for which creatives your competition has tested and deemed to be effective. Obviously, the longer the duration the ad has been running, the more likely it’s working well since the advertiser has continued running the campaign.
Hunting For & Gathering Your Data
From imagery to engagement, pretty much anything you want to find about your competitors’ ads is available online. Some of this information can be collected using free resources, while others require premium tools.
Free Ad Intelligence Tools
As the leading platform for social ads it’s no surprise that Facebook Ads Library is an absolute must-use resource for conducting your competitive audit. Best of all, it’s free. In short, the Facebook Ads Library can show you any ad, either currently active or going back to May of 2018, for any Facebook page. Therefore, pretty much any qualitative information you are looking for about your competitors’ ads is all at your fingertips. Furthermore, with Facebook Ads Library you can even see how much your competitors’ Facebook pages have spent on advertisements, and even the duration of time they’ve been running. It truly is a treasure trove of data.
Unfortunately, one area it does lack in is being able to access conversion and other performance data, which require premium third party tools in order to ascertain. However, as far as being able to inspect everything about the actual creative of your competition’s ads, Facebook Ads Library has everything you need.
Good to Know: Twitter’s Transparency Center is a great resource where you can learn about Twitter Ads that are either currently running or have run on their platform.
Paid Ad Intelligence Tools
While free tools like Facebook Ads Library and Twitter Transparency Center can provide you with all you need when it comes to evaluating the qualitative aspects of your competitions’ ad creatives, they do fall short with respect to the data gathering. Therefore, if you want to dive deeper and acquire more granular details of every piece of creative content captured, such as device type, impressions, which publishers spend the most on advertising campaigns each week, and more, you will need the help of paid ad intelligence tools.
These powerful resources tend to be expensive depending on your plan, and require a high level of experience to get the most out of them. As you’d expect from an award-winning mobile marketing agency such as Moburst, we’re experts in all they can do (including some proprietary tactics and solutions of our own).
Documenting Your Findings & Bringing It All Together
Once you’ve completed the gathering of your information, be it qualitative or quantitative, it’s time to complete your analysis. A key element in this process is to construct a tracker document. This way you’ll be able to view screenshots of all the elements discussed earlier along with the insights about the ads your competitors are running. By doing so you are now in the perfect position to take note of what you are doing both differently and the same.
Finally, with all these new found insights and ideas generated by your audit, you should be fully stocked with plenty of new ideas to test yourself and see how well they perform after you put your own unique spin on them.
Why Do An ASO Competitive Analysis?
There are over five million apps in the app stores, so you need to be doing everything possible to get yours to stand out. One of the best ways to do this is with competitive analysis, as keeping your eye on your competitors means you can optimize your app to be better than theirs
The app stores provide great opportunities to explore competitors’ strategies and incorporate learnings from these into your own approach. For example, take Uber and Lyft on the App Store. Uber uses sophisticated colors and graphics, as well as lifestyle imagery and subtle text. On the other hand, Lyft has tried to differentiate itself with more eye-catching colors, bold text and with screenshots only.
How to Find Your Competitors
The easiest way to find your competitors is to search the app stores for the keywords and phrases most relevant to your app. The top five search results for each relevant keyword can be considered competing apps, and you should add these to your list of competitors to research further.
If you’re stuck on which keywords and phrases are most relevant to your app, you can use the keyword tools in ASO tools such as AppTweak, App Follow or App Radar. Or for a much simpler (and cheaper) option, you can just imagine what your target user base will be searching for.
For example, if your app is a recipe sharing app, your users are likely searching for “recipe app”, “recipe sharing”, “best recipe apps” and that sort of thing. You get the idea.
Google is also your friend here, as typing those exact keyword phrases into Google will also feed you results of the relevant apps out there. Those apps are your competitors.
Just be sure to remember that you have different competitors in each local app store. So your competition in the US might not be the same as your competition in Australia.
Key Factors in Your ASO Competitive Analysis
Now it’s time to delve into the ins and outs of what to focus on when doing a competitive analysis in the ASO realm. It ranges from how the app itself functions to how they’re approaching their app store pages. There’s lots of inspiration to be taken from it all.
Untapped potential is where competitors are missing out on a market or segment that provides an opportunity for you to capitalize on. For example, you might find that competitors haven’t localized their app pages, and therefore you’ll be able to steal the march on them when it comes to a more diverse geo set.
Some apps focus so much on a particular segment (for example Snapchat with Gen Z) that it leaves an opportunity to engage with an audience that is looking for features offered by a particular app, but just isn’t being appealed to.
App Store Rankings
It’s important to pay attention to which keywords your competitors are ranked for in the app stores, especially those in the top ten. An app’s rank directly correlates to the position in which it appears in the search results when users search for a specific keyword or keyword phrase. This is one of the factors ASO optimizes for, and it’s influenced by the app store algorithms.
Highlighting which keywords your competitors are ranking in the top ten for puts you in a better position to determine which are relevant to your own ASO that you should be targeting. It also helps you understand which keywords and phrases people are using to search for apps similar to your own.
You should check out your competitors’ app content. Download and install their apps to discover how their functionality compares to your own. Just as important is the content of the app page, too. The metadata, keywords, screenshots and app store preview video that your competitors use can give you valuable information and inspiration.
Ask yourself the following questions: what style are the screenshots? What keywords and phrases do they use in their app name and description? In what style is the app description written? Do they address their target audience effectively?
Most importantly, think of the features in your app that are missing or lacking in competing alternatives. These should be your key selling points throughout your app marketing strategy.
ASO tools such as AppTweak, App Follow, App Radar, etc. can give you crucial data about your competitors’ keyword rankings in the app stores. This data can be used to help you establish which keywords you should be focusing on in your app competitor analysis.
Reviews and Ratings
Study the reviews of your competitors’ apps. What are users complaining about most? What features do they appreciate most? These can teach you quite a bit about what your audience expects and values.
Low user rating on competing apps can be a great opportunity to implement a smart app rating feature in your own app so as to shine above the competition.
The update rate of your competitors’ apps is an important factor, but no less important than the content of these updates. Read the release notes to discover what new features and improvements your competitors are adding to their apps. That way, you know exactly what you need to keep up with and what you can be doing to set yourself apart where they’re missing out.
At Moburst, we are no strangers to conducting analysis on the creatives of our clients’ competitors. In our opinion this is one of the most important steps in generating higher performing assets both organically and for user acquisition ads. A properly conducted audit can be effective in developing original new concepts, uncovering fresh new approaches, as well as providing a significant source of financial and time savings.
Paid app install campaigns and ASO are the most widely utilized methods available to marketers looking to acquire users for their app. As a result, the chances are very likely that your competitors have already spent countless hours and budget creating assets, running campaigns, testing and conducting conversion optimization. In other words, they’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for you, providing an extensive supply of concepts for you to work with. Now all that’s left to do is sift through them, identify the best performing ads, keywords and beyond, and you’ll be left with a ton of tested ideas that you can leverage for your own campaigns and strategy.
- When it comes to mobile app install creatives and ASO, staying on top of what others in your vertical are doing can go a long way in your success.
- Conducting an effective competitive analysis requires the ability to evaluate creatives, ASO and analytics, so make sure whoever you choose is up to the task.
In short, never stop learning from your competition. Take note of their behavior and leverage their experiences, using both their successes and failures to your advantage.