Ad Monetization 10 min read  - December 18, 2019

Start 2020 Right with In-app Advertising and User Acquisition with Insights from Sensor Tower

It's a common perception that ad revenue tends to decrease typically once the new year start. But is that always true? Find out what you can do to start 2020 right for higher ad revenue.

As we are in the midst of the holiday season and gearing up for 2020, what can you do to ensure your app monetizes and grows successfully in the new year?

In this blog post we partnered with Sensor Tower, a leading provider of market intelligence and insights for the global app economy, to explore some of the trends in in-app ad monetization and user acquisition during the holiday season and provide you with some actionable tips you can start implementing today.

As the prime shopping season began in full force in the U.S. starting around Black Friday at the end of November to Christmas time, brand advertisers tend to drive up their advertising spend during this season.

For mobile apps monetizing with in-app advertising, Q4 is generally the peak earning period as advertisers compete amongst each other with high ad bids to win consumers’ eyeballs.

What goes up must go down though. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. After Q4, Q1 of the new year is typically thought of as the post-holiday slump where advertisers pull back their ad spend drastically.

While that is true in some cases, it actually all depends on the ad format. For banner ads, the post-holiday earning slump does indeed exist, as our data shows below. But for rewarded video and full-screen ads, analyzing their eCPM data (the ad revenue generated per 1,000 ad impressions) on iOS and Android tells a more encouraging story.

As an ad mediation provider, we at Appodeal (by Stack) receive ad bids from 60+ ad demand sources (such as Google AdMob, Facebook, AppLovin, and MoPub) and deliver over 9 billion in-app ad impressions per month worldwide.

View the full Mobile In-App Ad Monetization Performance Index (2019 Edition) hbspt.cta.load(5606823, '203eaef8-267b-4028-977a-942ae2c04796', {});

Let’s take a look at our eCPM historical data in the U.S. before and after the peak Q4 earning period over the past 2 years of the three main ad formats (rewarded video, full-screen and banner ads) on iOS and Android devices to see what sort of eCPMs app publishers can expect to end this Q4 with and begin 2020 with in Q1.

Rewarded Video Ads

Rewarded videos are user-initiated ads from which users can earn in-app rewards in exchange for viewing a video ad. Rewarded videos have shown to be very popular with users, advertisers and publishers alike. Thanks to the high satisfaction of users and high CTRs of this format, as you can see below, rewarded videos generates the highest eCPMs out of all of the mobile ad formats.

From our iOS data, Q4 2017 was a very impressive quarter with a 53.6% eCPM increase over the previous quarter. Even with the decrease in Q1 2018, the eCPM was still $2.98 higher than in Q3. This eCPM increase trend continued to the following year, likely due to the increase in popularity and adoption of this ad format.

In Q4 2018, the holiday eCPM boost was a modest 11.8% but what is interesting was that it continued to climb up by 4.5% in Q1 2019.

For this year’s Q4 and Q1 in 2020, as the height of this format’s new popularity plateaus a bit, we predict a modest increase in Q4 to $17.00 eCPM with a slight drop to around $16.75 eCPM in Q1, trending higher overall still than Q3 of 2019.

On Android, we see a similar pattern where Q4 of 2017 showed the most significant eCPM increase by 20.4% over the previous quarter. And that high eCPM sustained itself throughout the following year. As a result, Q4 of 2018 only showed a slight 6.5% eCPM bump to $13.00 before dipping just 3.6% to a relatively high eCPM of $12.53 in Q1 2019.

This year’s eCPM in Q3 performed well but not as well as last year’s. Based off of our October and November data, we predict that the eCPMs for Q4 this year will end with a slight increase to around $12.40, below last year’s Q4. Q1 2020 should more or less match Q3 2019 at around $11.50 eCPM.

For full-screen ads on iOS, we see year-over-year eCPM increase in three years with a decent boost in Q4. Q4 of 2017 had the widest increase of 18% over the previous quarter. Interestingly, the increase continued into the next quarter (Q1 2018) by 12.8%.

The Q4 increase the following year (2018) was more modest at just 8.3% and there was a post-holiday decrease of 6.5% in Q1 2019. This year, the overall eCPM for full-screen ads continued to reach new highs and we forecast the percentage change from Q3 2019 to Q1 2020 to be similar to last year’s historical performance, reaching a high of $9.50 eCPM in Q4 2019 and dropping slightly to $9.00 eCPM in Q1 2020.

Similarly on Android, full-screen ads’ eCPMs have gone up year-over-year. The increase from Q3 to Q4 of 2017 were more significant at 15.9% and the post decrease in Q1 2018 was only 2.5%.

The following year, the increase from Q3 to Q4 2018 was 13%; however, the drop in Q1 2019 was more significant at 20.6%.

View the full Mobile In-App Ad Monetization Performance Index (2019 Edition) hbspt.cta.load(5606823, '203eaef8-267b-4028-977a-942ae2c04796', {});

This year, we forecast Q4 2019 to end with a similar level of increase at $7.40 and for Q1 2020 to decrease at a similar rate as last year’s down to $6.00 eCPM.

For banner ads on iOS, the data shows a more typical scenario that matches the expectations. As we can see, Q4 of 2017 and 2018 had the highest eCPMs as more brand advertisers compete for ad space during the holiday period. Then following in Q1, we see them dropping quite drastically, by 41% in Q1 2018 and by 28% in Q1 2019.

This year, we forecast this trend to remain the same. However, what is encouraging is that banner ad’s eCPMs are higher this year than the previous two. So accounting for the holiday increase, we forecast Q4 2019 to end with an eCPM of $0.840, followed by the post-holiday slump to $0.670 in Q1 2020.

Note that compared to the other formats, banner’s eCPMs might seem low or not significant. However, since banners can be served much more frequently, their overall revenue potentials are on par and sometimes even higher than the other formats.

Lastly, we have banner ads on Android, which, like on iOS, also saw their eCPMs follow what we would have expected. Q4 in 2017 and 2018 saw the highest eCPM increase, by 35% and 12% respectively, followed by a drastic post-holiday period slump in Q1 by 30% in 2018 and 36% in 2019.

Unlike on iOS, however, the eCPMs on Android had not been increasing year-over-year but instead has been decreasing slightly each year. That is why we are forecasting Q4 2019 to end with an average eCPM of $0.60, followed by a post-holiday decrease in Q1 2020 to $0.40 eCPM.

Key Actions to Start 2020 Right with In-app Advertising

So what are some actions you can take to set your ad monetization for success in 2020?

Start monetizing with in-app advertising (if you haven’t already)

In-app advertising technologies have come a long way and advertisers have responded positively by continuing to invest in in-app ads. Recent innovations such as in-app header bidding, for example, had increased transparency and fair competition for ad impressions for both advertisers and publishers. Meanwhile, the roll out of by IAB was another step in the right direction to combat ad fraud. Not to mention, the ad formats themselves and their delivery have been improved to be more seamless. So it's not a surprise to see more mobile gaming apps increasing their share of revenue from in-app ads.

All of these factors contribute to more advertising budget being spent on in-app advertising. AppAnnie predicts global ad spending in 2020 will reach $240 billion, up from $190 billion in 2019. For mobile app publishers and developers, that simply means that the ROI of placing ads within your app will increase.

Here's a handy guide if you're deciding which ad monetization platform to use in 2020.

Incorporate rewarded video and full-screen ads into your app

With more advertisers looking to invest in in-app ads, rewarded video and full-screen ads are poised to be the formats with more ad spend growth. As we saw from the data trends in this post, these two formats saw year-over-year eCPM growth for three consecutive years. Most likely, this trend will continue.

If your app monetizes from banner ads more, keep using them but be sure to diversify your ad placements’ ad formats. As shown earlier, this point is more pertinent on Android since banners’ eCPMs in the U.S. have been trending down year-over-year.

Align your monetization with user acquisition more

More and more mobile app companies are no longer keeping their monetization and user acquisition teams and efforts siloed from one another. Instead, they are being more aligned so that each function optimizes the results of the other. This sort of change is possible now as more data, such as impression and user level ad revenue data, are made more transparent and easily accessible.

By seeing how much ad revenue each user brings in, user acquisition teams can now be enriched with this data in order to get new users that generate positive return on ad spend (ROAS) and track their ad LTV over time.

Prepare for CCPA

As the California Privacy Act takes effect in 2020, mobile app publishers should take preparations to ensure their apps are in compliance with this law. Similar to how the EU’s GDPR law effectively affects users around the world, this California law will likely have an effect on users all across the U.S. Failure to do so can lead to a fine or a lawsuit.

We hope 2020 will be an even better monetization year for you and your team. We wish you a happy holiday and happy new year!

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The holiday season is prime time for global shopping, and consumers now have more choice than ever when considering purchasing gifts for the loved ones in their lives. Increasingly, more people are turning to mobile to get their presents purchased: more than 1.1 billion global mobile users downloaded a mobile shopping app in the third quarter of 2019, an all-time high for the category.

What’s more, both direct-to-consumer marketplaces like Amazon and traditional big-box retailers like Walmart and Target have seen significant boosts in the past month, spurred by Black Friday deals available on mobile. The top 10 Shopping apps received 527,000 new installs on Black Friday alone, indicating there’s a market for users looking to shop at the right price.

But if you’re not at the top of the heap, how do you stay ahead? With the rise of mobile ads, there are more ways than ever to strategize your paid user acquisition strategy. In combination with compelling deals, your app can see a critical boost well into the New Year.

The holiday season brings amazing opportunity for ecommerce companies to connect with shoppers looking for the perfect gift, and there are some important ways for you to optimize your company’s advertising and grow your user base.

Ad Network Analysis

For ecommerce companies looking to drive paid users through advertisements, there are many options to choose from. The Top 50 apps in the Shopping Category in November 2019 leveraged nine ad networks to serve creatives -- a mix of more traditional mobile networks as well as social platforms. But when it comes to impact for shopping apps, it seems that social networks are the most popular: Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat were in the top five ad networks leveraged by Shopping apps.

One ad network on the rise in November was the new offering developed by the social platform TikTok. A favorite among Gen Z mobile users, the network markets itself as uniquely positioned to reach younger adults as they continue to grow their purchasing power.

When it comes to the Top 10 best-performing Shopping apps, a handful of ad networks stand out among the rest. Pinterest was the top ad network sought out by high-performing Shopping apps, as the primary ad network leveraged by a third of them. Instagram and Adwords followed, further reinforcing that major Shopping apps are looking to social platform advertising to reach potential consumers.

For ecommerce companies looking to get ahead, it’s best to invest in a paid strategy that targets networks best designed for potential customers. Although there is still plenty of opportunity to be found in more traditional ad networks, there may be value in delivering a comprehensive strategy to the social ad networks where more investment is taking place.

Ad Creative Analysis

While investing in the correct ad network is important to engaging with the consumer base you want to grow most, simply placing an ad will not suffice. Developing compelling creative is necessary in order to engage and convert users to app install -- and the top ecommerce apps are taking novel approaches to catch the eyes of potential consumers.

Pinterest’s unique ad unit, the Promoted App Pin, delivers high value for ecommerce brands due to their organic surfacing with users already engaged with target attributes on mobile. In November of 2019, the top Promoted App Pin creatives focused critically on activity-focused product features. These creatives highlighted a craft, hack, or design idea that could be leveraged with products available for sale. This kind of ad closely mirrors the typical content found on Pinterest, and therefore positions itself as friendly and engaging to users of the platform.

Another high-value platform, Instagram, uniquely delivered engagement for video ads: the top Shopping creatives on the platform in November 2019 were 60% video-related. These videos focused on several details, from lookbooks and product deal alerts to walkthroughs of the app UI. While there isn’t one set route for success, developing a video ad on Instagram is a great way to promote engagement through the platform.

Instagram’s top full-screen creatives for November 2019, which are static ads, highlighted particular products -- often in a flat-lay style that is common to see in user-created Instagram posts. These ads were also more likely to highlight high-value items, such as game consoles or luxury shoes, and promote an associated deal alongside them. In a way, these types of ads could be no different from advertising a sale in a storefront window, as mobile brands leverage static ads to promote their most jaw-dropping deals. But, instead of luring consumers into the store, these ads are pushing a fresh app install.

In short, while selecting the proper ad network that reflects your target consumer’s demographic does go a long way in creating an effective paid campaign, drilling down and modeling ads based on creatives that receive high traction can also significantly boost conversion. Taking cues from effective advertisers on the top networks will give your team the jump start to a winning strategy.


The holidays present a unique opportunity to strike while the iron is hot and deliver a high-quality paid user acquisition campaign. If done right, the conversion could lead users further down the sales funnel. However, there is a finite window for achieving explosive results, as interest in deals and sales wind down in the middle of the first quarter.

That said, a comprehensive mobile ad strategy is a year-round task, so get your hands dirty right now: mobile shopping is only going to become more ubiquitous, and it pays to be on the leading edge.

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