How to get started with UAC – Google’s Universal App Campaigns

4 June 2019 Marketing Paid Media

UACs are still a relatively overlooked channel for app owners, but how do you take all your learnings from other channels and build a universal app campaign that beats your best performing campaigns? In this guide I hope to give you all the information and tools you need to do just that.

An introduction to UAC

Google’s Universal App Campaign is a premium app install product. It allows advertisers to easily get app installs for their app by utilising all of Google’s advertising channels (Search, YouTube, Google Play, Google Display, Google display network). By just adding a target CPI, a dedicated budget and some creative assets, you can run a campaign across all of Google’s platforms and then have it optimised by machine learning. UAC supports iOS as well as Android app (Google Play) campaigns as you would expect.

Since it’s launch to May 2017, UAC accounted for 50% of installs (Google Play) and helped drive over 3 billion in-app events per quarter. In total it had driven over 6 billion installs in total.

So it is literally a BIG deal!

From 2018 Google’s aim has been just to focus on the UAC product and deprecate other app products across the rest of its platforms. In recent news, it appears that the Universal element will be dropped, and the product will be called App Campaigns moving forward.

How does UAC work

Universal App Campaigns work by placing ads across Google’s platforms and optimising placement performance, user segmentation performance, and which queries resulted in high-quality conversions. It also looks at the in-app advertiser data to improve the performance of acquired users to determine retention rates, the value of individual users and engagement metrics to further optimise recruitment and in-app activity. The platform allows advertisers to optimise towards deeper metrics than just a CPI, by offering CPA and ROAS campaigns as well. This allows app owners to deploy campaigns which are optimised towards in-app actions, or in fact in-app action values.

UAC for Actions – CPA Bidding

What do we want a user to do in your app that signals that they are a high-value user? Potential user cases could be:

  • Registered users
  • Leveled up users
  • Purchasers
  • Joined a group
  • Listened to a show
  • Engaged with music or singing

Quality vs Volume

Before you start you need to think about what in-app actions occur regularly enough to give Google a good data set to profile from and the actual value those users have to your business. The deeper the in-app action, the more costly (potentially) the CPA will become, so this is a delicate balancing act that is worth considering before you attempt to set up your first campaign.

UAC for Value – ROAS Bidding

Universal App Campaign for Value is not that different from UAC for Actions, as actions will recruit the most engaged users possible, but value differentiates these users even further by overlaying a potential value returned from users. This additional step requires even more in-app actions, so this may not be appropriate for some new advertisers unless you have already built up a history of installs through the platform.  This bidding strategy can also be optimised towards a particular in-app value. Say for instance we want to optimise towards purchasers, the campaign can not only acquire users that will make a purchase but can also acquire users that are more likely to make a higher value purchase.

So in summary, if you are totally new to UAC you should probably start with a CPI campaign, the once you have enough data then look UAC for actions, and finally once you have built up competence and optimised creative, then finally look at value campaigns.

How to set up a UAC campaign

Step 1

First, before you start building your campaign you will need to decide your daily budget and the amount we are willing to pay per install (CPI), in-app action (CPA), or action value (ROAS). This should be relatively simple if you have historical conversion costs from other advertising platforms.

Step 2

Next, you will need to ad text. Unlike other Google Ad products, there is not one format that you should customise copy for. The whole point of UAC is that it takes advantage of a whole host of placements and formats across Google’s advertising platforms. However, you will have four separate lines of copy no more than 25 characters long. As this copy will be used across different ad formats, it is definitely worth thinking about your messaging and how it will be rendered in different placements. A good place to start is to look at the existing copy assets that we are using for other app install campaigns and adapt it from there.

Step 3

The last task is to add creative assets to support the campaign. Adding a selection of images, gameplay, and app experience assets, as well as any video assets that you think, might be usable. The best recommendation here is to test a small range of existing assets before commissioning your creative teams to roll out the whole set of new images. Start by using the creatives that are doing well on other platforms, as they are more likely to be engaged with on Google’s properties. There is also an option to upload playable HTML 5, but unless you have an existing asset or you are confident you can produce something that will perform, it is probably worth leaving this until later iterations when you have got a volume of installs in the platform.

Step 4

As with other Google Ads campaigns you are then able to overlay your geographic, language, demographic and interest targeting. Interest targeting is probably less relevant here as the machine learning component will find the most engaged users itself, and uses 300 real-time data points to find patterns in user behaviour that would be too complex for humans to observe.

How quickly does the UAC machine learn?

All the optimisations in the machine learning system are informed by conversion data, so you are best off starting with CPI campaigns to get the data flowing, before moving to other types of campaigns. This is useful for a couple of reasons:

Technical Delay

As the machine learning requires conversion feedback it is good to test whether there is a delay in the feedback from the in-app analytics platform you are using. Many in-app analytics companies are now part of UAC app attribution partners including; Adjust, Adways, AppsFlyer, Apsalar, CyberZ, Kochava and TUNE, as well as Google’s own product Firebase.

Conversion Delay

Typically if you are optimising for CPI the time between click and conversion event is fairly short, just a matter of minutes sometimes, but the more ingrained the in-app action you want the user to take, the longer that conversion will normally take to occur within the app. For instance, say you wanted to optimise toward users that make an in-app purchase, it may take the user months of usage within the app before they are comfortable enough to undertake that particular action. Therefore unless we have conversion data flowing regularly through the machine learning component, it is not going to have the data to make the required optimisations.

Bidding & Bid Caps

This is down to the nature of the auction environment unless you are bidding enough to win auctions and send users to the store endpoints, again there will be no conversion data to work from. Therefore the machine learning module component will take longer to have enough data to be statistically robust. In this case, advertisers should start with an aggressive bid strategy and then optimise it down CPIs once you see enough conversion data for your business case.

Conversion Data Threshold   

This is influenced by all the above factors, but essentially there have to be enough conversions that are statistically valid for the machine learning component to learn from. The more complex or deeper the in-app action we want to optimise towards, generally the longer this will take.

Best Practices from Google

  • Conversion volume – Google recommends that you should be generating at least 10 conversions per day for the component to work.
  • Budget – By taking the maximum CPA that you are willing to pay, you can set our daily budget to be at least 10x your CPA or if you are bidding on CPI you will need at least 50x your CPI.
  • UAC for Value – Don’t set your budget less than a CPA or CPI, because it will need at least this amount to take the volume throughput in the system.
  • Always use video – This is because it opens up the YouTube placements as well as Google display network placements.
  • Start with a smaller set of creatives and then build out the campaign from there.
  • Check asset reporting to get insights into what assets are leading to conversions, then iterate and create more assets that are similar to what is working.

My Recommendations

  • I think this is a really exciting platform and app owners should definitely be using as part of the channel mix, especially as YouTube is such a big deal in so many countries.
  • I would suggest that you start with a reasonably robust test budget, as from what I have experienced many clients underestimate how many conversions are required to start making optimisations.
  • Start with a CPI campaign with your existing in-app analytics provider, hopefully, they integrate with Google Ads if not you will need to set up manual conversions.
  • If your test campaigns are successful, and you intend to use the platform more, consider integrating with Firebase, as this will allow you to run all types of action and value campaigns, and integration issues are far less likely within Google product eco-system.

Helpful Resources

If you’d like any of the resources I have compiled around UAC please drop me a line: