The Singular ROI Index: The World’s First Ranking of Mobile Ad Networks By Return on Investment

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Mobile ad spend grew at an impressive clip in 2016. Media sources like Facebook, Google AdWords and Twitter continued to serve as crucial sources of growth for mobile marketing teams across the globe.

As one of the leading data products for marketing intelligence, Singular helps mobile marketers at companies like Lyft, Zynga, Postmates and Match Group track and uncover insights about their most effective ad channels. After a surge in spending in Q4 that capped off a big year for mobile ads, we could think of no better time than now to take a step back and publish our industry report, The Singular ROI Index.

Drawing on data from over 1,500 apps owned by Singular customers and spending in more than 1,000 mobile ad networks, The Singular ROI Index aims to provide marketers with greater transparency into the mobile advertising market and to highlight the 20 mobile ad networks that drove the best performance for marketers in 2016.

We measure performance by ranking the ad networks driving the most revenue into mobile apps at the lowest cost to marketers, also known as ROI (or revenue divided by spend). Also factored into an ad network’s performance score is its market adoption as measured by the total ad spend it attracts. (See below for more details on our methodology.)

The Singular ROI Index is the first of its kind. While past research has measured ad network performance using metrics like user retention and revenue per install, it has neglected a major part of the picture: the cost associated with driving such engagement. Providing mobile advertisers with revenue or conversion data without cost data is similar to reporting the earnings of public companies or dividends paid to shareholders without accounting for the price at which investors purchase the stock.

With this index, we hope to unlock industry data that informs smarter spending by mobile marketing teams and a greater understanding of the ad channels driving their success.

Highlights

Facebook, Google AdWords and Apple’s newly launched Search Ads emerged as leading networks for mobile marketers in 2016. On Android, AdWords was the top performing network in the first half of 2016 but was overtaken by Facebook in the second half of the year. On iOS, Apple Search Ads burst onto the scene in Q4 and quickly became a favorite of marketers and an effective means of driving high ROI, surging to the 10th best-performing network on iOS. In addition, a number of smaller networks made their way into the rankings and, in some cases, outperformed industry giants.

Key Findings

Facebook Overtakes AdWords on Android

While AdWords was the top-performing ad network on Android in the first half of 2016, there was a changing of the guard in the second half of the year as Facebook surged into the top spot on Android, bumping AdWords into the #2 position. Facebook also beat out AdWords in terms of total ad spend in 2016 on Android.

Smaller Networks Outperform AdWords on iOS

In 2016, AdWords was the third largest recipient of mobile ad dollars on iOS, behind Facebook and AppLovin. Yet in terms of ROI, AdWords underperformed 18 mobile ad networks on iOS, including lesser-known networks like Fyber, Mobvista and CrossInstall.

The average cost (or CPI) of AdWords was found to be roughly the same as other leading networks on iOS, while the average revenue from users acquired through AdWords was found to be comparatively lower. The discrepancy between the amount iOS advertisers spend on AdWords and the revenue those dollars are driving suggests a market correction could be around the corner for AdWords on iOS.

Apple Search Ads Burst Onto the Scene

Apple Search Ads publicly launched in September 2016 and in a very short period of time emerged to deliver the 7th highest ROI on iOS in the second half of the year and the 10th highest ROI in 2016.

Sponsored ads atop app store searches struck a chord with users, generating extremely high conversion rates compared to other ad networks. Search Ads generated on average a 3.34% conversion rate (installs/impressions), compared to ads on display networks (.018%), social networks (.132%) and search networks (.051%).

As Search Ads grew to become the 23rd most popular ad network in terms of total ad spend in 2016 (despite only launching in Q4), the average cost of Search Ads rose steadily from $1.31 CPI in September to a Q4 average of $2.52. The cost of Search Ads is now roughly on par with the average cost of ads on display networks ($2.21 CPI), and is cheaper than the average cost of ads on social ad networks ($4.40) and search networks ($6.45). Search Ads continue to drive high-spending users into apps at a relatively low cost, giving marketers a particularly good bang for their buck on iOS.

iOS Ads Drive 1.3X Higher ROI than Android Ads

While it’s well-known among marketers that iOS users spend an average of 4X more in apps than Android users, no research has ever factored in the amount advertisers typically spend to acquire those users on iOS ads vs. Android ads. According to Singular findings, users are about 1.65X cheaper to acquire through Android ads compared to iOS ads. Yet iOS ads drive 1.3X higher ROI than Android ads -- meaning for each dollar a marketer spends to acquire a user on iOS, they can expect to get back 1.3 times more revenue than if they had spent that dollar on Android.

Singular found that in roughly 70 percent of cases where an app had both Android and iOS campaigns running in the same ad network, iOS ads had a higher ROI than Android ads, while in 30 percent of these cases, the ROI of Android ads outperformed ads on iOS.

Fyber, Motive Interactive, Mobvista Among "Low-Spend" Networks Driving Top 20 ROI

Singular's analysis of over 1,000 ad channels uncovered a host of lesser-known networks that ranked relatively low in terms of total ad spend they attract, but relatively high in terms of the average ROI they provide advertisers. As more advertisers execute ROI positive campaigns on these channels, Singular predicts they will attract more and more ad dollars.