​​A 3-Part Recipe for Monetizing a Global App

By Daniel Kenny-Godoy | January 25, 2022

Daniel Kenny-Godoy oversees Programmatic Monetization and Ad Ops at Wattpad. With over 12 years of digital media and ad monetization experience, Daniel also co-founded the r/adops reddit community—one of the most prominent ad ops destinations on the internet. At Wattpad, Daniel leads a team of monetization experts that oversaw substantial increases in programmatic revenue across the platform.

Learn more about Mobile Hero Daniel.

Most programmatic demand sources have focused on monetizing supply across leading English-speaking countries. Historically, these have been the most profitable audiences for advertisers and developers. However, in the last few years, the mobile industry has matured through better-quality mobile devices and rapidly-expanding cellular infrastructure worldwide.

This has created new opportunities for apps to scale globally. It has also opened up new monetization channels through in-app programmatic advertising in previously hard-to-access regions of the world. Mobile apps can drive great gains in revenue if they develop a thoughtful approach that combines the right partner mix with the right processes, technology and data infrastructure.

Choosing The Right Partners

Building a sales team to market your app can be time-consuming and costly. To generate ad revenue in a scalable way, work with 3rd party exchange and network partners to monetize your inventory. Partners act as an indirect sales force for your organization, so focus on building the right relationships with ones who understand your business needs. I have listed a few key areas to address when growing your partner mix.

  1. Focus on demand
    Generally speaking, monetizing in leading countries (the US, Canada, etc) can be relatively straightforward. There are many robust partners who bring high-quality demand and revenue to your app. The trick is balancing the geographies you want to monetize with the ones your network partners can tackle. As part of the onboarding process, assess the mix of available products and how they perform across different markets. Where does the demand come from? What percentage is unique? Who are the major buyers and advertisers that they work with? Getting a good sense of how a partner’s offerings fare against your inventory mix is the first step to understanding how well they perform.
  2. Evaluate strategic advantage
    Monetizing international markets often comes with its unique challenges. Network partners with regional offices / sales teams in the countries that are important to you will likely provide the most robust support.Your goal is to develop a partnership that helps your team understand the nuances of the various regions you want to monetize. This can happen through partner case studies, communicating best practices, and highlighting examples of ad executions or benchmarks that guide decision-making at the app level. Popular apps in different regions have unique user behaviors and experiences. Consider these behaviors as you decide the best ways to serve your audience. For example, users in Asia may be more accustomed to having banner ads present while using an app and therefore less likely to complain about them than their South American counterparts. Your partners should help you understand these nuances as you serve different regions of the globe.
  3. It’s all about how you work together
    It is no secret that to monetize at scale, apps need to work with many partners. Although this creates complexity for yield teams, building a consistent engagement framework for partner relationships can go a long way. Develop a clear approach to information-sharing. Make sure your network partners understand how to translate data and findings into a language that matches the business goals you want to achieve. For example, if you measure the performance by separating the performance of leading countries vs the Rest of the World (ROW), your partners should strive to do the same during business reviews. Working in this fashion ensures that everyone is on the same page. Over time, it helps partners develop a deeper understanding of your business practices. For day-to-day communication, maintain shared chats between teams and formalized check-ins. To optimize performance, work with partners to identify bumps and dips and assess the technical health of any integrations. You will likely spend most of your time with top-performing partners given their strategic value and the revenue up for grabs. But also take the time to connect with lower-performing partners. At Wattpad, our process looks a little like this:

    1. Shared Slack / Skype channels with multiple teams provide quick access to account teams. It can be helpful when you are looking for answers or want to facilitate check-ins.
    2. Bi-weekly calls with biggest partners to discuss upcoming features on either side, areas of focus for your app and revenue performance and drivers. Stay on track with a shared document that both teams can use for note-taking and defining action items.
    3. Monthly or quarterly calls with smaller partners that are integrated through lightweight integrations (e.g., Amazon Publisher Services). It is easy to look at lower-performing partners with a “set it and forget it” mentality, but helping them understand what is working for you and what your growth areas are can translate to gains in the long term. An app’s monetization partner mix is likely to change over time, and partners who were once small can grow or introduce new products that improve performance. Making an effort with them can drive insights that grow investments in the future.

Tooling and Processes

For apps with a large percentage of international traffic, default dashboards won’t provide enough information to understand what really drives performance. Performance will differ across various markets. Look at metrics beyond revenue — such as request volume and fill rate. A performance drop in a specific market (like the US) can have an outsized impact on revenue without impacting other metrics. Build dashboards and reports that give visibility into the performance of your app. Break it down by what drives revenue. Here are a few best practices from our experience:

  1. Get To Know Your Tech
    Designing a robust ad tech stack takes time to get right. It starts with developing a deep understanding of how everything functions. Acquire a solid understanding of how your mediation system is designed. I encourage my team to get very familiar with the documentation—the goal is to become experts on every tool, system and partner we work with. If features are available from a partner that we are not using, it is still valuable to know that we have access to it.When we first set up mediation using Mopub, we utilized their “Segments” feature to build pricing for each partner. We also assigned different CPM floors for the groups of countries we wanted to optimize. Over time, as we added more segments, our approach slowed down the system. Given how the feature worked, we had to assign pricing at the individual ad-unit level, which was cumbersome and prone to error. The Mopub team at the time recommended reducing the number of segments in the system.This unfortunately did not make sense for our optimization needs. As a team, we took a step back and assessed our options. We realized Mopub had an alternative approach and that we could migrate from segments and set up lines that bundled ad unit targeting and country grouping. By harmonizing the naming conventions of the line items, the data was presented in a cleaner fashion when reporting or analyzing the results. Moving from segments to network line items allowed us to approach optimization and pricing adjustments globally in a scalable manner. We also saw strong gains in performance across our inventory—which not only surprised us but our Mopub team as well!
  2. Design Architecture for Scale
    You can set yourself up for long-term success by doing the right work upfront. When architecting ad-serving infrastructure, start by asking the right business and technical questions. This way, you can set up systems to get the information you need while anticipating new features or metrics you may require in the future. I ask the teams I work with questions like; “How do you want to sell our inventory?”, “What metrics do we want to track?”, “What else might we want to do in the future?” I encourage my team to use consistent ad unit / campaign naming conventions and develop scalable reporting processes. This helps to analyze the state of the business based on the dimensions important to us. It also saves time cleaning up reports and adds more “thoughtful” complexity to our systems over time. For example, partner line items in Mopub may look something like this:Order Name: Programmatic_Android_300x250_IndonesiaLine Item Name: Android_Inmobi_1_300x250_Indonesia_[inmobi ad unit id]

    The naming of the line item in this case separates the platform, partner name, priority, ad format, geo and the ad unit id. Building things this way assists with troubleshooting (ids can be found more quickly). It also makes it easier to adjust pricing when working through different systems and partners.

Understand Regional Differences

Audiences across the world behave differently and carry different expectations of the apps they use. As you test and build what works for your app, think about cultural norms, access to technology and user behaviors. Invest in the right experimentation tools and systems to better understand the impact of decisions related to ad experience.

Reporting on how users in different regions react to your experiment is vital to deciding how you roll out a new ad experience. Are users in a particular market more likely to complain? Does it take more time for them to familiarize themselves with your new ad experience? Does the revenue opportunity justify making an investment?

With any data from an experiment, it is important to confirm your hypothesis through direct user feedback. We found that using a combination of user interviews, app store reviews, tickets and social channels can go a long way in validating whether your direction is right. In the long run, consider developing a robust scorecard on user sentiment that keeps track of how things develop over time.

For more guidance, keep users top-of-mind and be thoughtful about the limitations of those in difficult-to-monetize regions. We found heavier ad experiences (like video) can pose usability problems for users on slower connections or more inexpensive devices—so we invested in lighter-weight ads with less friction.

The best path to success is to keep an open mind about what you can do to support a global audience. Always take a systematic approach around experimentation and data.