Tips and examples for building a strategy that works for your business

Jakob Kalbfell
Mar 15, 2018 · 8 min read

Conversions are one of the topics app companies discuss the most, and it’s naturally very important to Android developers. Developers optimize for conversions, and it’s the desired outcome from building a quality app or game, fostering user engagement, improving retention rates, and minimizing churn.

However, conversions are a complex and multi-dimensional subject. It’s tricky to get all the factors that influence conversions right. Just consider all the moments during a day where conversions are possible: turning off the alarm, checking the news, reading the weather, emails, messages, tweets, snaps, arranging dates, learning languages, working out, organizing transportation, shopping, buying gems in a favorite game, and more. Each of these interactions could be a conversion for an app or game developer. These conversions (which usually result in revenue) influence a variety of strategic business decisions, such as product innovation investment, staffing, market development, user acquisition, budgeting, and the underlying revenue model.

I’ve found that the key to increasing conversions (rates, absolute numbers, you name it) is a multi-dimensional approach: look at direct measures that will optimize your conversion funnel and all the items that impact, or are affected by, the conversions that matter to your business.

At Google Play, we’ve found that effective conversion optimization comes from focusing on three pillars: the basics, the organization, and the product. I’m going to discuss these along with examples from two successful partners: ASOS, a large multinational e-commerce player and leading destination for fashion-loving 20 somethings, and Blinkist, a startup in the education space, providing bite-sized key insights from bestselling non-fiction books.

1. The basics

Effective conversion optimization starts with a clear definition of what constitutes a conversion and the KPI to measure it. Then the prioritization of conversions into primary and secondary tiers, and understanding the correlations and interdependencies between conversions. These create the foundations on which you will build your optimization efforts.

As an e-commerce player, ASOS optimizes for “order completion” rather than conversion rate. Here’s why: in e-commerce conversion rate is defined as the orders divided by visits. So, if company A receives 5 orders from 10 hourly visits and company B generates 6 orders out of 20 hourly visits, using the measure company A is achieving the better conversion. However, company B gained more orders. Therefore, it makes sense to optimize for and maximize both the visits AND orders KPIs at the same time.

ASOS places importance on context. Rather than focus on the conversion rate as a single metric, ASOS defines a set of engagement metrics aligned with the customer lifecycle, such as active installs, monthly visits, frequency of visits, and session duration among others. These metrics are constantly monitored and optimized. The metrics (considered secondary KPIs by ASOS) are also prioritized based on their impact on the primary KPIs, such as revenue, product engagement, and brand awareness. This prioritization ensures that any optimizations are alignment with top-level, strategic business goals.

By way of contrast, Blinkist gains the majority of its revenue from subscriptions. In this business model you might expect monthly, quarterly, and yearly subscriptions sales would be the core conversion measure. Yet, in a similar manner to ASOS, Blinkist doesn’t look at conversion (or conversion rate, for that matter) as the only KPI of value. Their holistic approach looks at a set of user journeys, that start somewhere inside or outside the app, and eventually culminate in a subscription purchase. In their opinion, a conversion is the outcome of a great experience along the user journey. During this journey a person will encounter micro-conversion moments, Blinkist then optimizes these moments independently or as a set (for example, along the entire user journey), to check for interdependencies and correlations.

Blinkist uses “proxy-metrics”, predictive values used to identify the cause and effect relationships influencing conversion. Anything someone experiences along their journey — the layout and content of the Play store listing page, the app onboarding flow, the first content discovery, the first step in the upsell funnel — all matter in the optimization process.

2. The organization

The more complex your definition of “The basics”, the more important it is for your team to adapt to ensure you can best optimize the conversions you define as relevant. This adaptation includes structure, workflows, process coordination, and planning within functional teams as well as methodologies for collaboration between workgroups and teams. Without a proper organizational setup, your conversion optimization efforts may be inefficient or fail.

Aligned with their approach of defining core conversions and KPIs, Blinkist reflects the sample set of user journeys they monitor in their formal structure. A reorganization in 2016 saw the establishment of two teams, each dedicated to stages of the user journey.

The first team, “new user activation and conversion”, focuses on how to activate new users and help them understand the value of the product (eventually leading them to subscribe). The second team looks at “subscriber engagement”, with the goal of converting new subscribers into lifetime customers. Each of those teams is staffed equally, with engineers, a product manager, a designer, and a QA specialist.

The advantage of this setup is that, despite having two teams working on different stages of the user journey, the teams are focused on the same overarching business goals. This enables Blinkist to work on both strategic themes simultaneously. If they had adopted a traditional team structure this might have been tricky, as the demands of prioritization and resource planning can force teams and organizations to focus on a single approach.

To mitigate the risk of having two teams working on different business themes, communication is key. Blinkist put in place mechanisms to foster collaboration between teams, such as formal weekly check-ins between teams and use of state-of-the-art tools and systems. Additionally, Blinkist implemented an organizational structure they call the Blinkist Operating System (BOS), which helps employees work together more naturally and freely, with a clear and formal structure around the company’s purpose and goals, rather than job titles and hierarchies. ASOS, despite being significantly larger than Blinkist, follows a similar approach but in a multi-layered process more suited to its organizational structure. Their core app stack uses a micro-service architecture. This allowed ASOS to create platform teams for each service — such as payments, product, and subscription services — to better focus on the customer experience at each of these points. Then they complemented these teams with frontend teams that look after iOS, Android, and web.

Stitching the efforts of these teams together are the product buckets. These buckets represent the main phases of ASOS’s customers’ lifecycle and experience at each stage:

  • Discovery, which includes the attraction of new and re-engagement with lapsed customers, along with ways of helping customers make an informed purchasing decision.
  • Fulfilment aims at creating a smooth and frictionless experience.
  • Retention includes all the activities that aim to maintain post-sales engagement, and deepen relationships with customers.

Making this structure work, as with Blinkist, involves:

  • Extensive formal collaboration across all stakeholding teams, to align top-level business goals and team-level targets.
  • Flat hierarchies that support top-down and bottom-up communication.
  • A culture that encourages employees to think outside of the box (of their functional silo).

3. The product

The last pillar supporting a successful conversion optimization strategy is the one that developers have the most experience with: optimizing, testing, and iterating a product or specific features to increase conversions.

Typically this includes testing core app or game mechanics, design, navigation, UX and UI, in-app promotions, and communication with various user segments. This pillar also includes optimizing outside your product, including activities such as marketing promotions, email newsletters, or paid user-acquisition campaigns.

This pillar, being the operational arm of growing conversion, builds on the first two pillars, as a robust KPI framework and aligned team workflows are essential to its success.

Most businesses treat conversion optimization experiments, both inside and outside their products, in a holistic and synchronized manner — not by running isolated tests.

At Blinkist, they conduct broadly-scoped experiments on parts of the user flow (within one of the two core themes), rather than small nudges to isolated elements of the flow. This doesn’t mean that smaller optimizations don’t matter to Blinkist, but they’ll usually be part of larger optimization projects. So, rather than conducting 10 small A/B tests more or less independently, Blinkist now conducts large experiments consecutively, measuring the outcome of each experiment against the top-level metric, that is, proceeds per user. Interestingly, Blinkist often tests the “riskiest” hypothesis first. This is because, if the risky tests fail they provide the most valuable learnings for further testing but if they succeed it’s a home run.

ASOS takes a similar approach, with experiments needing to incorporate two dimensions:

  1. The impact of the variants on the tested metrics.
  2. The impact on the top-level primary business metrics.

ASOS used this approach to assess a test that aimed to increase Add-To-Basket (ATB) rates. Two variants were tested and both increased ATB rates, suggesting a successful test. However, neither had a measurable effect on the primary top-level KPI of “orders”, indicating that while more products were added to baskets no additional revenue was generated. As a result, both variants were dismissed and different tests, with alternate approaches, were initiated.

The main reasons for taking a holistic approach are summed up in these 3 lessons-learned by Blinkist:

  • Testing a large-scale hypothesis tends to be more valuable, as the results typically have a more extreme positive or negative impact.
  • Changing the entire flow (or significant parts of it) can change the core mechanics of your app or game, opening new possibilities for future optimization initiatives.
  • Constantly questioning your original setup and past decisions enables you to stay on top of your users’ ever-changing preferences and expectations.

Remember these key principles to improve conversions

Looking at insights from our example businesses, and the theories many companies have put into practice in their app or game businesses, it’s clear that driving conversions is a complex endeavor. There are many conversion types, influences, and factors that determine the success of optimization efforts. To successfully drive conversions in the Android apps and games ecosystem, there are five key principles that can help you be smart about tackling this business-critical goal:

  1. Approach conversion optimization holistically, and don’t try to maximize just one KPI.
  2. Optimize for long-term success, not short-term wins.
  3. Focus on the problem from a user perspective, not on the product from a management perspective.
  4. The more you test and experiment, the more you learn. Test and iterate at large and small-scale, but always focus on the bigger picture.
  5. Align your teams with your chosen approach, and make sure they collaborate and communicate across their functional silos.

To learn more about how to approach acquisition strategy and improve conversion rates, watch the panel discussion from Playtime EMEA 2017.

What do you think?

Do you have thoughts on driving conversions using a multi-dimensional approach? Let us know in the comments below or tweet using #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.

Google Play Apps & Games

Tips, trends, and industry thoughts for app and game developers building businesses on Google Play.

Jakob Kalbfell

Written by

Business Development @ Google Play

Google Play Apps & Games

Tips, trends, and industry thoughts for app and game developers building businesses on Google Play.

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