Introduction

The AppsFlyer Performance Index, which has ranked the best media sources in mobile advertising since 2015, is back with Edition 12. In this edition, we analyzed 580 media sources, 29 billion installs, and over 16,000 apps.

Thanks to our unrivaled scale, we continue to offer the most granular rankings per region, category, and platform across five indices:

  1. The Retention Index ranks media sources by their ability to drive loyal users at scale.
  2. The IAP Index ranks media sources based on their ability to deliver a high share of paying users.
  3. The IAA Index ranks networks that deliver users who monetize best with ads.
  4. The Growth Index lists the fastest-growing media sources per region (excludes the top 10 players in each region).
  5. The Remarketing Index shows which media sources deliver high quality users from remarketing campaigns at scale.

Highlights

  1. A CPI spike, driven by LAT increase and COVID-19-led demand, resulted in a 20% drop in iOS installs among the vast majority of media sources ahead of Apple’s ATT enforcement.
  2. Google continues to grow on Android, and is gaining ground in remarketing, but Facebook’s quality across indices stands out.
  3. Unity Ads climbs to new heights in the gaming battleground.
  4. TikTok For Business shows significant growth in iOS gaming. 
  5. Brave new world: The [future] impact of Apple’s ATT framework.

Click here to read all key findings >>

Methodology

Period
H2

(July – December 2020)

# of Media Networks Evaluated
580

(with a minimum of 50,000 attributed installs)

# of Installs
29B
# of Apps
16K

(with a minimum of 3,000 non-organic installs)

# of App Opens
60B

More about our methodology >>

Rankings

The AppsFlyer Performance Index only includes media sources that met strict conditions on two fronts:

  1. Volume: Based on client adoption and the number of attributed installs, both on a per-platform, region and category level (where applicable).
  2. Fraud: Based on a fraud rate threshold that was calculated per region and per category (a detailed explanation appears in the fraud section). AppsFlyer’s scale in the market enables us to provide the most accurate impact of fraud on the performance of media sources.

The Retention Index

Volume Ranking: A ranking of media sources based on the total number of non-fraudulent installs each was attributed for, and, to a lesser degree the number of apps running on the platform

Power Ranking: We normalized and combined the number of non-fraudulent installs, the number of apps running with each media source, and the weighted retention score (see detailed explanation below). We then factored an additional fraud penalty based on the network’s overall fraud rate for the region in question.

Thresholds: A strict threshold policy based on the number of non-organic installs per app, in addition to the number of apps per platform, media source, category and region was applied.

Retention Score

STEP 1: We calculated the non-organic retention rate of each app per media source and per region. We did this separately for days 1,3,7,14,30, dividing the number of users who were active on the day in question by the total number of users who first launched the app in the selected timeframe. We added two longer term signals — week 8 and week 12 post install — dividing the number of users who were active on the week in question by the total number of users who first launched the app in the selected weekly timeframe.

STEP 2: We calculated the organic retention rate of each app on a regional level, separately for each day over 30 days, and for week 8 and week 12.

STEP 3: We then compared the non-organic and organic retention rates for each timeframe. Using organic retention as a benchmark significantly reduces the impact of a given app’s quality, and therefore offers a far stronger indication of a media source’s performance.

STEP 4: We calculated a weighted average using a retention-based logic; the longer a user is retained, the higher the assigned weight. As such, the day 1 non-organic to organic ratio had the least weight, and day 30 & week 12 the most weight. This weighted average serves as our retention score.

STEP 5: We calculated a network’s overall weighted retention score per platform, region and category in question by taking the retention score of each app separately and factoring the number of installs it delivered.

Fraud

Install fraud rate: We divided the number of a network’s fraudulent installs coming from Device Farms and Bots by its total number of attributed installs.

Poaching fraud rate: We divided the number of a network’s fraudulent installs coming from click flooding and install hijacking by its total number of attributed installs.

Overall fraud rate: We divided a network’s poaching and install fraud by its total number of attributed installs.

Clean installs calculation: We reduced the number of fraudulent installs from each network’s overall install count according to its install and poaching fraud rates (the latter is based on stealing organic or non-organic users of other networks and therefore impacts the install count).

Clean retention score calculation: We reduced a network’s retention score according to its poaching fraud rate (most of this fraud is based on stealing organic users, thereby elevating a network’s retention and engagement levels).

Fraud per region: Because the level of fraud differs by region for different media sources, we used the specific fraud rate for each region in question.

Exclusion: Networks that did not meet our overall fraud rate threshold by region were excluded from the Index in question.

The IAP Index

Volume Ranking: A ranking of media sources based on the total number of non-fraudulent installs each was attributed for, and, to a lesser degree the number of apps running on the platform. 

Power Ranking: We normalized and combined the number of non-fraudulent installs, the number of apps running with each media source, and the IAP score which is calculated by dividing the non-organic share of paying users by the organic share of paying users. We then factored an additional fraud penalty based on the network’s overall fraud rate for the region in question.

Thresholds: A strict threshold policy based on the number of non-organic installs per app, in addition to the number of apps per platform, media source, category and region was applied.

The IAA Index

Volume Ranking: A ranking of media sources based on the total number of ad impressions, and, to a lesser degree the number of apps running on the platform. 

Power Ranking: We normalized and combined the number of non-fraudulent installs, the number of apps running with each media source, and the IAA score. This score is calculated by dividing the amount of ad revenue generated by non-organic users and the amount of ad revenue generated by organic users; in addition, we divided the non-organic IPM (installs per mille) by the organic IPM as an additional factor (although with a smaller weight in the formula than the IAA ARPU ratio). We then factored an additional fraud penalty based on the network’s overall fraud rate for the region in question.

Thresholds: A strict threshold policy based on the number of non-organic installs per app, in addition to the number of apps per platform, media source, category and region was applied.

The Growth Index

We compared the performance of the top 150 media sources in H2 2019 vs. H1 2020. The comparison was calculated by combining a number of factors: install growth, number of apps growth, and growth in share of the app install pie — on a global or regional level.

The Remarketing Index

We factored and normalized the number of attributed remarketing conversions (a conversion occurs when an existing user that has the app installed engages with the remarketing campaign or re-installs the app, and the revenue generated from these conversions (based on all events reported after the remarketing attribution occurs and within its attribution window).

General Notes

  1. Category groupings were based on the following store categories:

    Utility Group: Utilities, Tools, Maps & Navigation, Weather, Photography, Productivity, Video Players

    Life & Culture: Entertainment, Lifestyle, Travel, Health & Fitness, Food & Drink, Music, Social, News, Education, Parenting, Books, Dating, House & Home, Beauty, Art & Design, Medical, Communication, Comics, Reference

    Gaming Casual Group: Casual, Puzzle, Card, Board, Word, Educational, Trivia, Family, Sports
    Gaming Hyper Casual: Apps with at least 90% of revenue coming from ads
    Gaming Hardcore: Strategy, Role Playing
    Gaming Midcore: Adventure, Simulation, Action, Arcade, Racing
    Gaming Social Casino: Casino (not real money)
  2. The global rankings only include media sources with significant activity in at least two of the following regions: North America, Latin America, APAC, Europe and Middle East & Africa.

The Remarketing Index

Industry
Category
 
 

Key Findings

All insights relate to the Retention Index unless stated otherwise

1) CPI spike driven by LAT increase and COVID-19-led demand result in 20% drop in iOS installs among vast majority of media sources

Apple’s enforcement of the AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework in early Spring 2021 is expected to significantly impact the mobile app ecosystem. Because of this, the AppsFlyer Performance Index will be impacted as well, but only in Index 13 (see insight #10 for more).

In this Index 12, covering the second half of 2020 (H2), we’ve seen the beginning of this impact take shape. In what way? The share of iOS in the non-organic install pie has dropped by 20%, while its share in the organic installs pie has remained unchanged, as did the number of apps running campaigns on the platform. For comparison, Android’s NOI share showed the opposite trend, increasing by 6% during the same period. 

A 30% jump in the cost per install (CPI) on iOS in H2 is the main reason behind the significant NOI drop (Android cost increased by only 10%). The rise in media cost for iOS users was driven by two main factors: 

  1. The share of users who enabled Limited Ad Tracking (LAT) increased by 40% from 23% in H1 to 32% in H2 — likely the result of increased talk about user privacy and specifically Apple's ATT framework that was introduced in June. With fewer iOS users to target, the competition over these relatively high value users increases, driving cost upwards. 
  2. COVID-19 led to accelerated digital transformation as more traditional brands entered the app market in force, while existing app players ran aggressive marketing campaigns of their own. A surge in demand quickly followed, particularly in iOS strongholds like North America and Western Europe.

With less supply because of LAT, and more demand because of COVID effects, CPIs spiked, leaving marketers with far fewer installs for the same budget. For example, CPI hit $3 in North America and $2.3 in Western Europe in H2, leading to a 25% drop in the number of apps with more than 1 million iOS-attributed non-organic installs in H2 compared to H1. On Android, there was a 7% increase during the same time frame.

As a result, no less than 17 of the top 20 media sources were attributed for fewer iOS installs in H2 compared to H1 (meaning it has affected both self-reporting networks or SRNs and non-SRNs). On average, these 17 networks had 25% fewer iOS installs in Index 12! Therefore, as far as index rankings are concerned, networks that rely on iOS were more impacted than others.

2) Google continues to grow on Android, gains ground in remarketing, but Facebook’s quality across indices stands out

In the battle of the giants of mobile app marketing, Google extended its lead over Facebook atop the Retention Index’s Universal Power Ranking: from 69 vs. 68 power ranking score in Index 11 (covering H1 2020) to 69 vs. 64 in Index 12 (covering H2 2020). For more on how power rankings are calculated, read our methodology. 

The search giant’s share in the global non-organic app install pie increased by 15% in Index 12, driven by its continued growth in Android, especially in developing markets and India in particular. Its share in the Android pie remained relatively unchanged in North America and Western Europe, as well as in the global iOS pie. 

Facebook’s share in the pie dropped 10% in Index 12, mostly due to iOS losses (as part of an overall drop in iOS, see insight #1 for more). The social network’s iOS numbers were lower in Index 12, most likely the result of a sharp rise in CPI, especially in strong iOS markets like North America and Western Europe. 

While Google’s success is driven by Android, Facebook’s performance is largely driven by iOS. Therefore, reduced iOS scale in Index 12 did have an impact, contributing to the increased gap in the global power ranking mentioned above.

However, when it comes to quality, the social network reigns supreme. It is ranked 2nd in the average of quality metrics across all of the different indices — a remarkable feat for a media source with such scale. 

Facebook’s retention score was 16% higher than Google’s in Index 12, mostly the result of a growing divide in Android and among non-gaming apps. On the gaming iOS front, Google narrowed the quality gap but Facebook still had the upper hand. 

The social network’s quality was also demonstrated in the IAP Index (In-App Purchase Index, based on the key share of paying users metric), showing it can deliver a high percentage of high value users at scale. Although both Facebook and Google improved their quality score by 20% in Index 12, the former’s number is still significantly higher.  

A look at the Remarketing Index shows Facebook continues to dominate both volume and quality metrics, but when you are so large it’s harder to grow. Google, on the other hand, has significantly increased its efforts in this activity, growing its share in the app remarketing conversions pie by no less than 65% in Index 12 after opening up remarketing to more advertisers as part of the broad release of its ACe product. Most of its growth was the result of major gains in North America and Western Europe. However, Facebook’s Remarketing quality score is a significant 25% higher than Google’s. 

A Retention Index analysis of the Gaming vertical has Google atop power rankings in the Action, Adventure, Board, Card, and Music genres, while Facebook is first in Role Playing, Strategy, Simulation, Social Casino, and Sports. Among Non-Gaming categories, the social network is #1 in Entertainment, Health & Fitness, and Photography, while Google led Finance, Lifestyle,  Social, Life & Culture and Utility Group apps. 

In the IAA Index (In-App Advertising Index), where networks are ranked based on their ability to acquire users who drive revenue from ads, Facebook ranked #2 and Google #3 in Android thanks to higher power and volume scores. On iOS, the gap was larger with Facebook 2nd and Google only 5th. Unity Ads took over the number one spot — see ahead for more.

3) Unity Ads climbs to new heights in gaming battleground

Unity Ads continued its impressive upward momentum in the gaming arena, pulling ahead of its gaming competitors ironSource and AppLovin, and even threatening the Google-Facebook duopoly. 

In fact, the gaming platform took over the #2 position in the Retention Index’s global gaming power ranking, overtaking Facebook. Both its quality score and share in the gaming non-organic app install pie increased by about 10%, with most gains coming from Android. 

On the genre level, Unity Ads held the #1 spot in the power rankings for Hyper Casual, Arcade, Puzzle, and Word; it ranked #2 in Action, Adventure, Card, Simulation, and Sports. 

In the IAA Index, Unity Ads climbed one stop to become the new #1 media source in both the power and volume rankings, driven largely by the fact that its number of apps in this Index doubled. The network’s success in Index 12 is propelled by a #1 position in the global Hyper Casual power ranking — a genre that is completely reliant on ad revenue. 

 In the IAP Index, Unity Ads held an impressive top 3 ranking in the Android global gaming power ranking in Action, Arcade, Puzzle, and Card, and in iOS in Action and Puzzle games.

ironSource a top 3 player in iOS gaming, drives growth in non-gaming with Aura

ironSource maintained its position in iOS gaming with an impressive 3rd place in the global power ranking, thanks to a 2nd place showing in Arcade and Simulation, and a #3 spot in Hyper Casual, Casual Group and Midcore. In North America, it ranked 2nd in iOS Simulation and Arcade, and 3rd in Hyper Casual and Midcore.

However, its overall share in the gaming pie was down 17%, largely due to losses in Android. In the Retention Index’s global gaming Android rankings, ironSource dropped from 4th to 5th place, mostly with a downturn in Android and specifically in the midcore group where it dropped 3 spots to #7. 

In the IAP Index, iS was a top 5 player in all gaming genres across both iOS and Android (with iOS Action being the only exception). The highlight: a #2 power ranking in iOS Arcade. 

The IAA Index has ironSource dropping two spots in the gaming power and volume rankings to #5, mostly because of its position in the Hyper Casual rankings.

As part of ironSource’s push among non-gaming apps, its Aura arm produced good results, increasing its share in the non-gaming app install pie by 57%, leading the network to improve to #6 in the global volume ranking.

AppLovin sees Android gains but drops to 6th in global gaming power ranking

AppLovin enjoyed a 13% increase in the share of the global gaming app install pie, mostly due to a 15% increase in Android.

The network was down 1 spot to 6th place in the global gaming power ranking with Apple Search Ads taking its position, while it improved its volume rank from 5th to 4th. 

A look at the genres has AppLovin ranked in the top 5 power rankings in 16 segments across iOS and Android. It held a top 3 ranking in Android Hardcore, and iOS Social Casino and Word games. 

In the IAA Index, AppLovin improved its position by one spot in the global gaming power and volume rankings — to reach 4th place in both. The network jumped 4 places in the Casual Group volume rankings and 1 spot in the Hyper Casual power ranking. 

In the IAP Index, the network was ranked in the Top 5 Android global power ranking in Card, Simulation, Social Casino and Word, while in iOS it only held this position in Social Casino.

With the recent addition of attribution to AppLovin’s offering, it will be interesting to see the impact on its media business, and how its clients will react to this mix.

4) TikTok For Business shows significant growth in iOS gaming

TikTok For Business maintained its position in Index 12 with a #6 position in the global volume ranking. It made significant gains in gaming with a 37% increase in the share of the global gaming app install pie and a 55% uplift in the number of gaming apps running on its platform. 

TikTok For Business is one of the only networks that experienced significant growth on iOS (+52% in its share of the pie in Index 12). It climbed five spots in the global iOS gaming power ranking to reach an impressive #9 position thanks mostly to gains in Southeast Asia, Greater China, and Japan & Korea in several gaming genres.

In non-gaming power rankings, the social network went up 1 spot in iOS to #7 and 1 spot in Android landing at #8. On cross-platform category level, it reached a top 5 power ranking in Entertainment, Social, Lifestyle, Health & Fitness, Finance, Photography, and Utility Group.

In the IAA Index, TikTok went up 1 spot in the power ranking to #7 thanks to increased volume. It jumped 5 places in the major Midcore category in North America to #6, and 3 spots in Western Europe to #6 as well.

5) Snap breaks into the top 5 in non-gaming, and holds impressive #4 position in IAP Index

Snap improved its position in the global non-gaming power ranking by 2 spots, breaking into the top 5 for the first time with a #5 position. Its volume rank held at #5 as well. The social network is in the top 5 in most non-gaming regional rankings, including a #1 position in Social in iOS Western Europe. 

In the IAP Index, Snap held its impressive #4 position in the global power ranking thanks to a #1 position in iOS Social, #3 position in Android Shopping, and #3 position in Android Social. 

Snap also enjoyed success in the IAA Index, with a 5 slot jump in the gaming power ranking to #6, overcoming TikTok For Business. Its success in this Index was largely the result of a leap in North America to #9 (up 6 slots!) and Western Europe (up 3 slots).

6) Apple Search Ads gains iOS ground amid general iOS drop

Apple Search Ads (ASA) held its strong position in the iOS global rankings —  #2 in the power ranking and #3 in volume. Overall, it enjoyed an impressive 34% jump in the iOS app install pie as many other top players lost ground (see Insight #1 for more). 

Its success is driven by non-gaming apps with a #2 position in the global iOS power ranking, compared to a #6 position in gaming (down two spots vs. Index 11), despite an impressive 2nd place power ranking in Hardcore games. 

ASA was a top 3 player in iOS Life & Culture in all regions, dominating rankings in North America with a top 3 position in Lifestyle, Photography, Social, Entertainment, Health & Fitness, and Utility.

In the IAP Index, ASA ranked 3rd in the global power ranking and 5th in the volume ranking (up 1 slot), proving it is able to deliver a high percentage of top quality paying users. On the category level, it enjoyed a #2 power ranking in Role Playing, Simulation, Shopping, and Social.

7) Digital Turbine steams forward in Growth Index

Digital Turbine was the fastest-growing media source in mobile app marketing in Index 12 with a 690% surge in the share of the app install pie. The network was ranked 1st in the Growth Index in no less than 3 regions: North America, Latin America, and Western Europe. 

Its Single Tap solution, which allows users to Install an app from any mobile ad placement in one tap, helped propel Digital Turbine’s growth. This instant download means users don’t have to go through the app stores to download, thereby increasing conversion rates.

Appnext ranked second thanks to an impressive 330% leap in the share of the pie and a 75% growth in the number of apps. Its growth can be mostly attributed to success in India; it also saw gains in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Transsion was the 3rd fastest-growing media source with a 240% increase in the share of the pie, driven by its growth in India and Africa.

8) Duopoly remarketing domination more pronounced than in user acquisition

Facebook and Google continued to dominate the Remarketing Index in Index 12. In fact, their share of the remarketing pie was 22% higher than their share of the app install pie. 

A split shows Facebook well ahead in both volume and quality, although Google gained significant share in this edition, particularly in Europe and North America, and especially in non-gaming. Facebook is far ahead in gaming.  

Remerge climbed three spots to reach an impressive #3 global power ranking position. Most of its success was driven by volume in non-gaming and quality in gaming; on a regional level, its best performance was seen in APAC and Europe, where it ranked 3rd. 

Twitter held its #4 position — mainly the result of success among non-gaming apps where it was 3rd best player.

Criteo also maintained its #5 spot in the global power ranking, although it did improve its ranking in North America Shopping to reach the top 3. Criteo also made the top 5 in Shopping in Latin America, where it enjoyed significant scale, and in the Middle East & Africa. 

RTB House climbed two spots to #6 in the global power ranking, powered by an impressive 3rd place in the global Shopping index — a two-slot climb compared to Index 11.

9) Smaller networks show their quality in the IAP Index

The IAP Index is based on one of the most important metrics in app marketing: the share of paying users. We can see that other than Apple Search Ads, Snap, and Facebook, most top players in quality scores are smaller networks that prove they are able to deliver high quality users: Mistplay, Blind Ferret, Moloco Ads, Applike and Aarki.

10) Brave new world: The [future] impact of Apple’s ATT framework

Apple’s enforcement of its ATT framework in early Spring 2021 will heavily impact the mobile app marketing ecosystem. If we narrow it down to the context of The Performance Index, what effect will it have on the rankings?

While the effects of Apple's changes are still unfolding, there are already a number of interesting questions coming to the surface:

  • Will budgets shift from iOS to Android, and if so to what extent? Which networks would gain from such a shift and which would lose?
  • What will be the effect on the cost of media on both iOS and Android? And will we see a pricing gap form between opt-in and opt-out users?
  • Will iOS volume drop further, or will alternative solutions (contextual targeting, predictive analytics, incrementality, media mix modelling, web-to-app) make up for the loss in IDFA?
  • Will the walled gardens gain more strength thanks to their 1st party data? Will it compensate for the expected loss of downstream event optimization efficiency?   
  • Will there be sufficient volume for a Remarketing Index for iOS traffic (based on opt-in iOS users and other available CRM identifiers)? Are we going to see a new category of players like Braze in this space as re-engagement via owned media rises in importance?
  • How significant will the drop in attributed paying users be on iOS assuming down-funnel events will not be captured as much by SKAdNetwork’s limited window? How would this affect the IAP Index? 
  • And what about the continued effects of COVID-19?



Stay tuned for Index 13 for all the answers!

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