Klaas Hermans Lifetime in digital and innovation, ensuring value delivery. I enjoy energizing and motivating teams that create and exceed product expectations.

What is user acquisition? 9 strategies for mobile apps and digital products

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What Is User Acquisition? Strategies For Mobile Apps Andf Digital Products

Working in product sometimes makes you feel like you’re a character in a Dungeons and Dragons game. So let me introduce you to the realm of user acquisition by being your dungeon master.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the city, the adventuring party of app developers gathered around a small café table, eagerly discussing their latest creation. With months of tireless effort and countless cups of coffee, their digital product was finally ready to take Eberron by storm. Excitement filled the air as they brainstormed ways to reach a wider audience, attract new users, and propel their app to the top of the charts.

Little did they know they were about to embark on a journey of discovery — one that would introduce them to the enigmatic realm of user acquisition.

Like many others before them, they were about to learn that building a remarkable product was only the first step toward success. To truly thrive and defeat the competitive landscape, they needed a solid strategy to acquire and engage users, turning casual visitors into loyal customers.

In this guide, we’ll explore the world of user acquisition and examine various strategies that help products make a lasting impact in the hearts and minds of their target audience. From organic growth to paid advertising, from viral campaigns to influencer partnerships, we will uncover the secrets that transform promising products into flourishing ventures.

So grab your coffee, pick your armor, and get ready to uncover the captivating world of user acquisition — a journey that holds the key to unlocking digital success.

Table of contents

What is user acquisition?

User acquisition is the process of attracting and converting new users to a product or service, with the goal of expanding the customer base and driving growth. This strategy involves leveraging various marketing channels, techniques, and analytics to optimize campaigns and achieve a higher return on investment (ROI).

Understanding user behavior, preferences, and needs enables product managers to create targeted marketing efforts that effectively engage potential customers and encourage them to adopt the product or service.

The importance of user acquisition in apps and digital products’ growth and success cannot be overstated. In fact, it is arguably the most critical aspect of any product’s growth strategy. There is a decent chance that your digital product is in a highly competitive market, so user acquisition plays a crucial role in standing out from the crowd. Without a steady flow of new users, you are unlikely to succeed in the long run.

User acquisition involves a range of activities, including marketing, advertising, and promotion. These activities are designed to attract new users and encourage them to use your product. Once they reach their aha moment, you have a great chance to convert them into loyal customers through engagement and retention strategies.

9 user acquisition channels and strategies

So how do you acquire users? Where, when, and how do you reach out to them? This is where user acquisition channels come into play. User acquisition channels are the various methods through which you acquire new customers:

User Acquisition Channels

The effectiveness channel of each depends on a range of factors, such as the product itself, your target audience, and the competition. A successful user acquisition strategy involves a combination of channels tailored to the product and audience.

Let’s have a look at nine of the most common user acquisition strategies:

  1. Organic search
  2. Content marketing
  3. Referral programs
  4. Paid advertising
  5. Social media
  6. Influencer marketing
  7. Events and conferences
  8. Community building
  9. Mobile app stores

1. Organic search

Users find your product through search engines like Google and Bing. Organic search is the most effective user acquisition channel, as users who find a product through search engines are often highly engaged and have a high intent to use it.

Warning: you’d better bring your SEO A-game here if you want to be successful.

2. Content marketing

Focus on creating valuable content that attracts users to your product. Customers are more likely to engage with a product that provides value beyond its core offering. It also helps you be more successful in your organic search efforts, with great content helping you improve your SEO.

3. Referral programs

Referral programs are designed to incentivize your existing users to refer friends, family, and others to use your product. This can be effective because people are more likely to trust recommendations from others.

4. Paid advertising

Prominent examples of paid advertising channels include Google Ads and Facebook Ads. While this strategy can be effective, you need to be clear about the budget you want to allocate, as it can get expensive quickly and the return on investment (ROI) may not be as high as other channels.

5. Social media

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be powerful user acquisition channels. They enable you to provide targeted advertising and allow you to reach specific demographics.

6. Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing involves partnering with influencers to promote your product. It’s similar to a referral program but tends to be more expensive. While it can help you reap the rewards of reaching specific demographics, it tends to be costly.

7. Events and conferences

You might consider attending or hosting events and conferences to acquire new users. This channel allows you to showcase your product and benefits to a captive audience of potential customers.

Attending events and conferences also provides an opportunity to network with other businesses and industry professionals. Hosting one can be particularly effective as it allows you to control the messaging and experience. It is especially useful when your product caters to niche audiences or industries.

8. Community building

Aim to create a community around your product through social media, forums, and other channels. This allows you to engage with users and customers on a deeper level, building trust and loyalty.

As a bonus, building a community enables you to gather insights into what your customers are expecting from your product next and how they are experiencing it.

9. Mobile app stores

Whether your product is a mobile app or a mobile version of an existing app, making your product available in app stores like Apple App Store and Google Play Store can be an effective way to attract new users.

Organic vs. paid user acquisition: Pros and cons

As mentioned earlier, in today’s digital age, you have a plethora of user acquisition channels available to you. As mentioned above, two main categories are organic and paid user acquisition:

Organic Vs. Paid User Acquisition Strategies

Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and you must consider these tradeoffs when selecting your approach to user acquisition:

Organic user acquisition

Organic user acquisition is the process of acquiring new users through unpaid or natural channels, such as search engines, social media, referrals, and content marketing. It is typically a more sustainable and cost-effective approach to user acquisition in the long run but requires consistent effort to create valuable content, engage with users, and build an audience.

While the results may not be immediate, organic user acquisition gives you a good shot at generating long-term traffic and loyal users.

The pros of organic user acquisition include its long-term sustainability, cost-effectiveness over time, ability to build brand awareness and reputation, and potential for building a loyal user base. The cons include the time and effort required to build an audience, unpredictability of results, and less control compared to paid user acquisition.

Paid user acquisition

Paid user acquisition involves acquiring new customers using paid channels such as search engine marketing, display advertising, social media advertising, and other forms of digital advertising. It is typically a faster and more immediate approach to user acquisition that enables you to quickly reach a large audience and generate leads or conversions.

The pros of paid user acquisition include fast and immediate results; control over audience targeting and messaging; ability to test and optimize campaigns; and potential for scaling user acquisition quickly. The cons include higher costs compared to organic user acquisition; potentially unsustainable results if ad spend is reduced or campaigns are not optimized; need for continuous monitoring and optimization; and potentially less effectiveness in building a loyal user base.

Choosing the right strategy

As you can see, both organic and paid user acquisition strategies have their advantages and disadvantages. To determine which one is right for you, evaluate your goals, budget, and resources.

From my experience, the best approach is often a balanced one, where you leverage both organic and paid user acquisition strategies to achieve your goals.

Balancing user acquisition costs with lifetime value

There are no guarantees in life, yet you want to get the most out of every dollar you invest in acquiring new customers. If you spend too much and the average amount you expect to receive from users in return over the time they use your product is not sufficient, you might as well have invested in a sinking ship.

Balancing user acquisition costs with customer lifetime value (CLV) is a critical challenge when looking to maximize your return on investment (ROI) and drive sustainable growth.

Here are a few tips for finding the right balance:

  1. Focus on high-value users — Rather than simply aiming to acquire as many users as possible, focus on acquiring high-value users who are more likely to become loyal customers and generate long-term revenue. This requires a deep understanding of your user demographics, behavior, and preferences, as well as a targeted user acquisition strategy that leverages the most effective channels for reaching these users
  2. Track user acquisition costs and ROI — To understand the true cost of acquiring new users, track acquisition costs across all channels and calculate the lifetime value of users to determine their ROI. This helps you identify which channels and campaigns are driving the most effective results so that you can allocate resources accordingly
  3. Optimize user engagement and retention — Acquiring new users is just the first step in building a successful product. To maximize the lifetime value of your users, also focus on optimizing user engagement and retention through ongoing customer support, personalized experiences, and value-added services that meet user needs and preferences
  4. Test and iterate — User acquisition isn’t a one-off; it’s an ongoing process that requires constant testing and iteration to identify the most effective strategies and tactics for driving growth. By experimenting with different channels, campaigns, and messaging, you can refine your user acquisition approach and find the right balance between user acquisition costs and lifetime value

Optimizing your app store listings to increase visibility

If you have a product that is available as an application in an app store, optimizing your listings is crucial for increasing visibility and driving downloads.

Here are some best practices for optimizing app store listings:

  1. Keyword research — Conduct keyword research to determine which keywords your target audience is using to search for apps. Use these keywords throughout your app listing, including the title, description, and tags
  2. App title — Use a clear and concise app title that includes your brand name and relevant keywords. This will help users quickly understand what your app does and improve your app’s discoverability
  3. App description — Point out the benefits and features that make your app unique in the app description. Make sure to use relevant keywords throughout the description and use bullet points to make it easy to read
  4. Screenshots and videos — Showcase the benefits and awesome features of your app using high-quality screenshots and videos. Make sure to use captions and annotations to highlight important features and benefits
  5. Ratings and reviews — Encourage users to leave ratings and reviews of your app. Respond to feedback and make updates to address any issues or concerns
  6. App icon — Use a unique and memorable app icon that reflects your brand and the features of your app. Make sure it stands out among other app icons in the app store
  7. Localization — Consider localizing your app listing for different languages and regions to reach a wider audience
  8. App Store Optimization (ASO) tools — Use ASO tools such as Sensor Tower, App Annie, and Mobile Action to track your app’s performance and optimize your app store listing

User acquisition is critical for the success of digital products, with various channels available for reaching potential customers. Both organic and paid user acquisition strategies have their advantages, but a balanced approach is often most effective in achieving business goals.

Using analytics to track and optimize user acquisition efforts

Analytics play a critical role in tracking and optimization, especially when it comes to user acquisition efforts. They help you identify the most effective strategies and tactics for driving growth and maximizing ROI.

Let’s explore some of the ways analytics can be used to track and optimize user acquisition efforts:

Monitoring user acquisition metrics

Analytics tools allow you to track key user acquisition metrics such as cost per acquisition (CPA), conversion rates, and retention rates. Monitoring these metrics over time helps you identify trends and patterns in user behavior, allowing you to optimize your user acquisition strategies accordingly.

A/B testing

A/B testing involves comparing two versions of a campaign, website, or user interface (UI) to determine which one performs better in terms of user acquisition metrics. Tracking user behavior and engagement with each version helps you make data-driven decisions about which version to use going forward.

Attribution tracking

Attribution tracking involves assigning credit to different marketing channels and campaigns for driving user acquisition. Analytics tools help you track user behavior across different channels and campaigns, allowing you to determine which ones are driving the best results.

User segmentation

One of the most common questions PMs ask is, “Who is this for?” This is where user segmentation comes in.

Analytics tools enable you to segment your user base based on attributes such as demographics, behavior, and preferences. With this information, it’s easier to tailor your user acquisition strategies to better meet the needs of a specific segment and drive more effective results.

Case studies: 3 successful user acquisition campaigns

To demonstrate the success of these strategies, let’s examine a few examples of successful user acquisition campaigns.

These case studies highlight the importance of having a user-centric approach to user acquisition, leveraging multiple channels to reach and engage users, and offering unique value propositions that resonate with their needs and preferences:


Headspace’s user acquisition strategy focuses on content marketing and strategic partnerships.

The meditation app partnered with brands such as Nike and American Airlines to offer meditation exercises to their customers. This approach helped it reach a wider audience and establish itself as a leader in the meditation space.


Continuing with the meditation theme, Calm’s user acquisition strategy also focuses on content marketing and partnerships.

The company partnered with brands such as Harry’s and Birchbox to offer free subscriptions to their customers. This approach helped it build a loyal user base and establish itself, like Headspace, as a leader in the meditation space.


Duolingo’s user acquisition strategy focuses on gamification and social media.

The app offers a gamified experience that encourages users to learn languages through a series of challenges and rewards. It also leverage social media to encourage users to share their progress and compete with friends.

Duolingo’s efforts have led to over 500 million downloads worldwide.


User acquisition refers to the process of acquiring new users for your digital product and is critical to its success. User acquisition channels, which are the methods through which you acquire new customers, include organic search, social media, referral programs, paid advertising, content marketing, influencer marketing, events and conferences, community building, and mobile app stores.

You can choose between organic and paid user acquisition strategies, with organic user acquisition being a more sustainable and cost-effective approach in the long run. In contrast, paid user acquisition is a faster and more immediate approach that can quickly reach a large audience and generate leads or conversions.

The best approach is often a balanced one, where businesses leverage both organic and paid user acquisition strategies to achieve their goals.

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Klaas Hermans Lifetime in digital and innovation, ensuring value delivery. I enjoy energizing and motivating teams that create and exceed product expectations.

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