Mobile advertising trends: Google leads in scale, while Facebook dominates quality

Mobile advertising trends: Google leads in scale, while Facebook dominates quality

Google and Facebook continue to dominate globally as the top two media sources in mobile advertising, especially in terms of user retention and in-app purchasing, according to new research.

AppsFlyer, the global attribution leader, today released the 12th edition of its Performance Index, ranking the top media sources in mobile advertising.

In this edition, Google extended its lead over Facebook at the top of the Retention Index’s Universal Power Ranking: from 69 vs. 68 power ranking score in Index 11 (covering the first half of 2020) to 69 vs. 64 in Index 12 (covering the second half of 2020). For the 12th edition, AppsFlyer analysed 580 media sources, 29 billion installs, and over 16,000 apps.

Key points from the Performance Index: 

  • The advertising duopoly – Google and Facebook continue to dominate globally as the top two media sources in mobile advertising, especially in terms of user retention and in-app purchasing.
  • Facebook dominates quality – Facebook is well ahead of Google in both volume and quality, however, with a retention score 16% higher than Google’s. Though, Google gained significant share in this edition, particularly in Europe and North America.
  • Snap makes the top 5 – There are also some notable brands moving up the ranks, with Snap breaking into the top 5 for the first time in the global non-gaming power ranking (now standing at #5). The social network also holds the #1 position in Social in iOS Western Europe.
  • TikTok rises up the ranks – TikTok Ads is also one to keep an eye on (currently at #6 in the global volume ranking), making significant gains in gaming apps in particular – with a 37% increase in global gaming app installs.

20% drop in iOS installs among vast majority of media sources

While Apple’s ATT framework won’t be enforced until early spring, AppsFlyer’s Performance Index shows it is already causing shifts. The share of non-organic installs (NOI) on iOS dropped 20% in the second half of 2020 (compared to the first half of the year). The decline was widespread, impacting the rankings of 17 of the top 20 media sources on iOS.

At the same time, the share of organic installs in iOS 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% over the same period.

A 30% jump in the cost per install (CPI) on iOS in H2 2020 was a key factor behind the significant drop (Android cost increased by only 10%). As a result, mobile app marketers generated fewer installs for the same budget. The rise in media cost for iOS users was driven by two main elements: an increase in demand due to accelerated digital transformation caused by Covid-19, and a decrease in supply due to a 40% rise in the share of users who enabled Limited Ad Tracking (LAT).

For iOS strongholds like North America and Western Europe, CPI hit $3 and $2.3 in H2, respectively. This led to a 25% drop in the number of apps with more than 1 million iOS-attributed non-organic installs in H2 compared to H1 in these markets. On Android, there was a 7% increase during the same time frame.

“The increase in end users enabling Limited Ad Tracking (LAT) is likely due to the growing attention around user privacy in general and Apple’s privacy changes in particular,” said Shani Rosenfelder, Head of Content and Mobile Insights, AppsFlyer. “Networks that rely on iOS were impacted across the board, as were the advertisers using them.”

“Given the significant changes within the advertising industry over the last year, including calls for more stringent consumer data privacy regulations and Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework announcement, it is not surprising to see the Performance Index data reflect a similar story,” said Gal Ekstein, General Manager EMEA & LATAM at AppsFlyer. “To successfully navigate these changes, it’s imperative that brands work with the right measurement partner, so that they can continue offering an exceptional user experience, while also complying with end user privacy requirements.”

Google continues to grow on Android, Facebook’s quality across indices stands out

In the battle of the giants of mobile app marketing, Google extended its lead over Facebook on top of the Retention Index’s Universal Power Ranking.

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 Android remained relatively unchanged in North America and Western Europe, as well as in the global iOS rankings.

Facebook’s share in the pie dropped 10% in Index 12, mostly due to iOS losses (as part of an overall drop in iOS). However, when it comes to quality, the social network reigns supreme. It is ranked second in the average of quality metrics across all of the different indices.

Facebook’s retention score is 16% higher than Google’s, 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 has the upper hand.

Facebook continues to dominate the remarketing index, though Google has also demonstrated impressive growth and has significantly increased its efforts in this activity, growing its share of app remarketing conversions by 65% in the second half of 2020.

Unity Ads established its dominance in the gaming battleground

Unity Ads pulled ahead of its gaming competitors ironSource and AppLovin, gaining ground on the Google-Facebook duopoly.

The gaming platform took over the #2 position in the Retention Index’s Global Gaming power ranking, overtaking Facebook. On the genre level, Unity Ads hit the number one spot in the power rankings for Hyper Casual, Arcade, Puzzle, and Word.

In the IAA (In-app Advertising) Index, which ranks networks based on their ability to drive users who generate revenue from ads, Unity Ads became the new number one media source in both the power and volume rankings, once again overtaking Facebook. The network’s success is propelled by a number one position in the global Hyper Casual power ranking — a genre that is completely reliant on ad revenue.

In the IAP (In-App Purchase) Index, where media sources are ranked based on their ability to drive a high share of paying users, Unity Ads held a top three ranking in the Android Global Gaming power rankings in Action, Arcade, Puzzle, and Card, and in the iOS Global Gaming power rankings in Action and Puzzle games.

To access the full version of the latest AppsFlyer Performance Index, please visit: