Optimizing your creative assets for Universal App Campaigns (UAC)

Performance marketing is moving to a more algorithmic and AI-based approach.

This is true for several ad networks, and even more for the 2 giants that are Facebook and Google.

Facebook has AEO (App Event Optimization) campaigns. With Universal App Campaigns (UAC), the way to run mobile app campaigns with Google radically changed.

The change is a big adjustment. But some publishers have had their best performing campaigns on UAC since they’ve embraced it.

It also seems that Google has a few tricks up their sleeves, with recent announcements regarding video ads on the Google Play Store, similar audiences and playable ads.

Insights, advices and opinions on Universal App Campaigns from the industry

 

universal app campaigns
The reach of Universal App Campaigns

For insights on Universal App Campaigns and advices on running your own campaigns, here are some very interesting resources:

We’re putting together a detailed guide that summarizes the advices and best practices Google and advertisers have shared so far.

In the meantime, what you need to know for this post (but we encourage you to read the resources above) is that there are different types of campaigns:

  • Install volume – campaigns that optimize towards driving app install volume (can still factor in data from those who have completed target in-app actions)
  • In-app actions (“value-driven campaigns”) – campaigns that optimize towards cost for specific in-app event(s) post install (reaching X level, a sign up, etc.). For this you will need conversion tracking set up, either with Firebase or a 3rd party like Adjust

It is also not recommended to run campaigns optimized for In-App Events straight from the start. This is something you want to gradually introduce so the algorithm can learn more about the type of users you should focus on and improve performance.

Universal App Campaigns strategy timeline
Google recommends to gradually go from installs to in-app events

 

Why creative optimization is critical for UAC campaigns

Creatives optimization is one of the most important levers to play on for UAC, given that Machine Learnings have taken care of a lot of manual placements compared to the campaigns you could run before with Google (Google Search Network, Google Display Network or YouTube ad campaigns).

While UAC has taken away the manual placement and simplified bidding, it has enabled new bidding strategies like in-app action targeting or ROAS targeting. Making advertisers’ strategy more about engagement and what happens further down the funnel.

This also puts an emphasis on ad assets optimization, because this is what you have the most control on when starting your campaigns: ad text ideas, creative image assets and creative video assets.

By increasing the conversion rates of your ads, you can directly improve your performance in auctions and enable your campaigns to back out more efficiently to your target CPIs/CPAs.

That’s why in this article we focus on UAC creatives optimization.

UAC healthy mix creative assets
This is what Google advises. We’ll see that you can also play a bit with what you provide to limit to certain placements

Optimizing ad text ideas assets

The first part of the Ad assets in your Universal App Campaigns dashboard are the ad text ideas.

Ad text ideas

You have to choose 4 short texts (max 25 characters) and value propositions that will be used in ads. This is different from how it worked in the past (Adwords app install campaigns) where you could set as many campaigns as you wished, so make sure you make the most of these text lines and refresh frequently to test what works best.

The feedback so far from advertisers is that texts that focus on benefits rather than technical features typically drive better performance.

When working on these ad texts, you want to keep in mind that they can be used on all types of inventory across the Search Network, Display Network and AdMob.

UAC AdMob Search Network Display Network

Some users might be searching for your app on Google, others might be reading an article related to a keyword you inserted in the Ad text ideas.

In both cases, your App title will be displayed. So 2 things:

  • Your app title should be optimized (thought through) so it works both for organic users in the Play Store (App Store Optimization) and paid traffic (UAC);
  • There is no need to repeat the keywords that are in your app title: it’s best to find complimentary benefits of your app.

As mentioned your Universal App Campaign optimization can be done either focusing on App Installs (Install Volume) or specific In-App Events (In-App Actions).

You need to adapt your Ad text ideas based on the kind of optimization you’re choosing. For example:

  • If a campaign is optimized for Install Volume, putting the focus on benefits that come quickly to users might be best. Something like “Free books & bestsellers!” for example. Note that there is already a download button on the ad so using a text line to ask to download would be redundant.
  • If another campaign is optimized for users that register/sign up, it makes more sense to have something like “Sign up for free today!”. Same here, keep in mind there is already an install button.

It’s also important to understand that the texts will be mixed and matched. This means they should be able to work by themselves (provide a clear value proposition) but also when combined together.

Using punctuation (if number of characters allows) can help give more sense to the ads when the texts are combined. Example:

  • Ad text idea 1: “Healthy meals delivered.”
  • Ad text idea 2: “Easy and free sign up!”
  • Potential combinations (Google chooses those): “Healthy meals delivered. Easy sign up!” or “Easy and free sign up! Healthy meals delivered.”

UAC Image assets tips

Google lets you upload up to 20 images that will be used to create ads for the Google Display Network. There are many possible image types and dimensions, because there are many placements possible.

Universal App Campaigns Images Types Dimensions

Google recommends to upload a lot of image creative types. Fullest asset mix is best – try to upload as many as possible.

In her live presentation “How to deal with Adwords UAC – Hands On” on the excellent Facebook Group Mobile Marketing Experts, Maria Brigida Deleonardis from Free2Move explained for example that the banners (“Banner 1” and “Banner 2” above) tend to be more “magnet for clicks” and bring less conversions.

The 3 formats that works best in her case are 320×480, 480×320 and 300×250. So she uploads only these ones. Be careful using this technique though: the campaign might auto-generate an ad for you using your text lines for the other sizes.

Taking this concept further, Maria indicates that if you do not upload any image assets at all then you kinda “trick” the algorithm to focus on search traffic. It’s almost as if you “opt out” of it. It will reduce your impressions by a lot, but in her case increased the CTR as well as the post-install ratio for her in-app actions optimized campaigns.

Our contacts at Google however indicate that this is not the best strategy: forcing the campaign to run badly on one network is limiting its potential and inevitably going to decrease the overall campaign performance. If the ads are auto-generated, you also do not control your brand messaging as well as you could.

Below a few other tips straight from Google regarding image assets.

UAC Images advices

Optimizing your video creative assets for Universal App Campaigns

The first thing to know is that if you do not upload any video asset, Google will most likely automatically create a video using your Play Store screenshots/elements. This results in a video where you do not control the messaging (or quality), and where the quality will most likely be lower than what you could create yourself (or have an agency specialized in video ads like us create).

We might be biased…But both Google and the advertisers shared that videos are the ad creatives that tend to bring the most valuable users. Videos indeed help better depict your value proposition and anyone who downloads the app after watching a video has a better understanding of your product and therefore will be more likely to be an engaged users. So we of course recommend to create and use videos that target your audience, have the right messaging and have better chances to perform. Instead of relying on what is created automatically.

Where your UAC video creatives can be displayed

Just like for the UAC image assets, uploading different kinds of videos (in this case with different ratios) opens new placements.

For Universal App Campaigns, you can upload videos in 3 ratios:

  • Landscape 16:9
  • Square 1:1
  • Portrait 2:3

The good news? These ratios are also supported by Facebook so if you’ve been using video creatives on FB you can test them on UAC very easily.

Regarding the actual resolutions, Google does not share a best practice on this though. Here is what we typically use for our clients at Apptamin: 1920×1080 (landscape), 1080×1080 (square), 1080×1620 (portrait 2:3).

So where are these videos displayed?

Admob

On the display network (via the AdMob ad network), all 3 ratios (16:9, 1:1 and 2:3) might be displayed.

If you don’t have all the ratios, the ads either “adapt” the creatives or they will just not be displayed at all. It’s important to understand because 70% of all video ad views on Admob are on devices held vertically.

In terms of adaptation two things can happen if you only provide a 16:9 video (landscape/horizontal) and the orientation of the user’s device is in portrait (vertical):

  • Google will show other information below the video

A UAC landscape video ad via AdMob

  • Google will use its “auto flip” technology to transform the landscape “original ad” to a portrait ad. It uses machine learning to turn a landscape video into a portrait video based on what it believes to be the main content of the frame.
    UAC Landscape video auto flip

This is useful but it’s best to upload your own portrait 2:3 video ads: you are maximizing the chances of the ad being displayed. Because it is meant to be a portrait ad the user experience is also more immersive (and better) and should lead to better CTRs Installs (or post-install conversions).

Also, neither you or Google can ever know what the ad looked like when it is served using AutoFlip because it just shows as an impression against the landscape placement.

Square videos also tend to perform better than landscape video for the Display Network.

YouTube pre-roll ads

The other main place where your ads can be displayed is of course YouTube.

Just like your Google Play Store promo video, the ad video creative for YouTube ads should be a landscape video. If you do not have a landscape video, then your ad most won’t be displayed to YouTube users.

You can ask your Google account representative to make a UAC campaign video only, however there is no way to display on YouTube only or push more towards YouTube vs. Admob. To access the YouTube inventory, bidding higher is definitely necessary. In the past (pre-UAC), YouTube bids needed to be about 3 times higher than for the Search Network.

YouTube bumper ads

YouTube bumper ads are unskippable 6s ads that are displayed during a video a user is watching.

At the moment Universal App Campaigns do not place any video as bumper ads but it might come later this year. The methodology to measure engagement will be different (a bumper ad view corresponds to a click for example).

Google Play Store video ads

On March 15, AdMob/Google announced that they are beta testing video ads on the Play Store. This is something that will be available to developers (starting with game developers) via Universal App Campaigns as well. As for the other placements, it will use machine learning to better target potential customers

The ads are landscape and will be “click-to-play” (no autoplay). It of course does not need to be your Google Play Store promo video: it can be any videos that you upload as a video creative in UAC.

Video ads on the Google Play Store

Creative considerations for UAC videos

The advices Google gives below are pretty classic for app install ads. In other resources Google advises to grab attention in the first 2-5s: when users click within the first quarter of the video, conversion rate tends to be highest with lowest CPI. You get it: grab users’ attention.

Universal App Campaigns Video Creatives Google Advices
Some advices from Google on your video creatives

Different creative themes

Another advice is to upload different creative themes (gameplay vs. cinematic for example), both so you can get a sense of what works best and also because depending on the video placement some creative themes might resonate better than others.

Beyond the themes, you can also try different video styles: live action video vs. animation for example.

Different lengths

You also want to upload videos of different lengths while remaining between 15 and 30s. You can technically upload videos with shorter lengths however it is not advised until the bumper ad format is official.

The placements will not be different when you upload different lengths, but it is a way to test which creative works better.

For games, 15s videos generally work better but Google still recommends to upload different lengths.

For non-games, here too you should upload as many variations as possible. If your brand is less known, some extra seconds can help you better communicate what your app is about.

When your videos are longer, you should still start strong and quickly make clear what you’re expecting users to do via a call-to-action.

Video messaging in line with your campaign optimization (Installs vs. In-app actions)

Once you start allocating budget to in-app actions campaigns (optimized for in-app events such as reaching X level, signing up, etc.) keep in mind that what you eventually want new users to do is reach that action.

This is why you should adapt ad creatives to the actions you want them to do. Just like we talked about in the ad text ideas section. Talk about the benefits (or excitement) that they will get once they get there. Or a specific promotion for the in-app action you’re optimizing for (example: use code WINE10 for your first wine bottle purchase).

What we mentioned above about uploading as many variants as possible is especially true for UAC campaigns optimized for in-app events: you are giving more “input” to Google’s AI algorithm to optimize (hopefully, faster and at a lesser cost). Both advertisers that have had success with UAC and Google say that you should use all 20 video slots that you have.

Design for sound on and off environments

Google estimates that 95% of YouTube ads are watched with sound on.

sound on YouTube

So even if your videos will not only be placed on YouTube (cf. “Where videos display” section) it is highly recommended to leverage sound in your UAC video creatives. It improves significantly brand awareness, ad recall and consideration.

That said, do not forget users that have sound off or on low volume (let’s say, playing a game on a subway). So make sure the video can also be understood with the sound off. Like for Facebook feed ads, use copy or subtitles.

Showing your brand early on

Despite your best efforts to keep them engaged, several users won’t stick around for the entire video. This is especially true when they’re given a way to skip the ad after 5s like on YouTube.

That’s why it’s important to show your brand really early on in the video. So within the first 5s, make sure your brand is shown in the video. It can be showing your app icon but also done through showing your brand in the app/product.

Using the UAC Ad Assets Creative Report to optimize

So what happens when you start running your campaigns?

First, you want to give some time (so yes, money too) to each of your campaigns. Less than a week is definitely not enough because the algorithm needs a bit of time to adjust and optimize (especially for In-app actions campaigns).

On the MobileDevMemo Slack group, Jorge Canga from Lab Cave said that “It takes the algorithm around 2 weeks for Android games and 4 weeks for iOS to show the best CPIs”. The people we talked to at Google mentioned 3 weeks as often being the sweet spot (but it does vary depending on bids and budget: the more Google can front load bids and budget to test more and higher quality inventory, the better).

You can start seeing the performance of the different assets in your Ad Assets creative report.

Google UAC creative report
Universal App Campaigns Ad Assets report

In there, you’ll find two main types of information for each asset:

  1. Performance grouping: Best, Good, Low, Learning;
  2. “Typical” conversion information like number of Clicks, Impressions, CTR, Average CPC, Cost, Conversion, Conversion rate and Cost per conversion.

When making your decisions, you can not only look at one or the other: the creatives are served on all different types of inventory that inherently perform different from one another. For example a video can show on Admob or YouTube, and those platforms convert very differently, so you can’t just compare CVRs or CTRS in isolation.

For performance grouping, the most important is to understand that the performance Google indicates is relative to the performance of all the other assets. And based on lifetime assets.

This means that you can have 3 creative assets that perform very well yet have one indicated as Best, one as Good and the last one as Low. So as long as you have not reached the 20 videos limit, be careful about discarding the Low assets.

This is why it’s of course also critical to look at the conversion metrics as well, so you can get a better sense of the assets’ performance. And remove some with confidence when they are not working well.

Unfortunately you can not know where your video assets are displayed and the performance you get regroups all the video placements (Admob + YouTube).

However you can get some post-installs insights for the events you’re tracking for each creative. For this, you have to add columns for conversion data in your ad assets report, and then segment > conversions > conversion action.

You have been running video ads before the full UAC Migration? Try this.

Here is another interesting tip from Maria in the webinar mentioned earlier (on the Mobile Marketing Experts Facebook Group).

It only works if you were running video campaigns before UAC became the only way to do mobile app install campaigns. Going to your attribution partner (Adjust for example), you can look at your YouTube campaigns inside UAC from before the switch. Open the specific Campaign/Tracker you want to explore, and from there you can find a YouTube video id.

Take this YouTube video id and use it in a YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXXXXX

This will allow you to know which video was used, and therefore compare the performance on YouTube only for each video not only for installs or a specific event but also things like Daily Active Users, Monthly Active Users, etc. And leverage the learnings to optimize future videos.

Using YouTube Analytics to optimize UAC

Despite the fact that you can not get “advanced” insights for each video anymore, one additional source of information you can leverage is YouTube analytics.

The new videos that you add to your Universal App Campaigns are YouTube videos. If you upload them as unlisted videos (which we recommend) then you can analyze different engagement metrics for each ad.

You can for example look at the audience retention for each video and understand when users drop off in the ad: the first few seconds, or later on.

YouTube Analytics Retention

What would be super interesting to know is of course when people convert the most during the video, but this is not possible.

Conclusion

App install ads are clearly evolving to take more into consideration what happens after the download, and that makes Facebook’s AEO and Google’s UAC really interesting.

It also changes the way advertisers work and approach their campaigns, including when it comes to creative assets.

It’s really important to understand well where and how your assets are displayed, so you can optimize them to improve performance. Different placements lead to different creative considerations when producing your videos. With UAC your videos can be displayed on/via:

  • Admob
  • YouTube
  • YouTube bumper ads (upcoming)
  • Google Play Store video ads (in beta)

Once your campaigns are running, a critical part of the optimization you need to do as an advertiser is analyzing the ad assets creative report and updating assets based on performance. For video optimization (and future video productions), taking a look at the YouTube analytics of your creatives can also help.

Have you been running UAC campaigns? Share your insights and questions on best practices and creative optimization in the comments!

Sylvain Gauchet

Hi there, I'm Sylvain and I'm one of the co-founders of Apptamin. Apptamin is a creative agency specialized in app videos (video ads, app store videos, etc.) where we find engaging ways to present mobile apps and games so our clients can either increase their conversion rates or improve their user acquisition.

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