Organic App Installs: Unpacking the Enigma

Organic app installs are all too often equated with free or un-attributed installs. The truth is that they are by no means un-attributable (and rarely completely free). 

Effective mobile marketing should aim to attribute each and every install. Below, we will explore the enigma of organic installs; their relationship with inorganic installs, and how to measure their correlation for heightened marketing performance.

The True Meaning of Organic Installs (and Why It Matters)

While organic app installs are those that arise without directly being attributed to a specific install source, that does not mean that organic installs are synonymous with “free’’  “un-attributable’’ installs. A better definition for organic installs is: installs that are not purchased nor tracked through traditional performance marketing software and techniques. 

In other words, these installs do not come from nowhere. All installs have an origin, and more often than not, their source will be related to a paid marketing campaign. In this sense, the traditional division of paid/inorganic versus free/organic would be more accurately reframed as performance marketing versus everything else.

That distinction matters because effectively marketing an app requires a precise understanding of how customers come to use it. Marketers need to understand which aspects of their marketing strategy are worthwhile and which should be adjusted. The valuation of campaign sources should take into account not only the directly attributed installs (i.e. affiliate links, in-app ads) but also the indirect installs that result from them (i.e. word-of-mouth recommendations following an affiliate promotion or in-app ad campaign). 

The Synergistic Benefits of Inorganic and Organic Installs

The difference between a run-of-the-mill and top-drawer mobile marketing campaign often lies in the marketers’ ability to understand the synergy of paid and organic installs. This understanding allows marketers to maximize performance potential by adjusting the elements of their strategy that are underperforming.

Using a median average, every 100 paid installs will result in 40 supplementary organic installs. Though when factoring in virality, that number can be 100s or even 1000s of times higher. Beyond these initial extra installs and a heightening of app awareness, paid user acquisition and organic user acquisition can create a long-term positive feedback loop. Below are a few examples of how that can work in practice.


  • Downloads in the App Store

A crucial component of App Store Optimization (ASO) is the number of downloads an app receives. As a result of achieving downloads from paid performance marketing campaigns, apps receive a higher ranking in app stores as the algorithm factors in their popularity. Having a higher ranking in the app store, in turn, vastly increases the number of organic installs.

  • Reviews and Ratings

In a similar case of an ASO feedback loop, paid campaigns will result in more app store reviews. This is especially true when users are encouraged or rewarded for doing so. Cost-per-Action (CPA) campaigns can even use reviews or ratings as their chosen performance metric. Just as in the previous example, having high numbers of positive reviews and ratings will shoot an app up the app store rankings and result in organic views. 

  • Virality

Viral installs are sometimes deemed to be a third, distinct category from organic and inorganic. In reality, they are usually tied to both. Say a macro influencer is paid to promote an app, the app will likely receive an immediate boost in what are usually deemed to be paid inorganic installs. If additional influencers share the campaign or should that viral campaign resurface in a second wind much later, it is less clear whether these should be considered as organic or inorganic. What is clear is that inorganic, organic and viral installs are intrinsically linked. 

It is evident in each of the examples provided above that the organic installs were not “free” as they still benefited from paid campaigns. In many cases, they can also be attributed with what many will consider a surprising degree of numerical accuracy. To do so, marketers need to grab their shovels and dig deep into data.

How to Measure the Effect of Paid Campaigns on Organic Installs

The K-Factor

Mobile marketers have a few techniques to measure this synergy with enough accuracy to be helpful for campaign channel optimization. The most well-known measurement is the K-factor. While the K-factor is often simplified as “the measure of digital virality” it also includes word of mouth and untracked referrals.

As a simple formula, it is:

K = i * c 

“i” being “invites sent per customer” and “c” being “percentage of conversions per invite”. 

Or as a more developed formula:

Y = F(X)

“Y” being organic installs, “X” being paid campaigns, and “F(X)” being some function of “X”

By multiplying invitations by conversions, the formula calculates campaign effects on users who download an app outside of direct advertising.

Enabling VTA

While not as comprehensive as measuring the K-factor, enabling View-Through Attribution (VTA) as well as Click-Through Attribution (CTA) helps marketers to build a more holistic picture of the efficacy of their ads. Users do not always immediately click an ad and yet those ads still lead them to search the app store for the app that was advertised to them. By studying performance data and providing realistic lookback windows, VTA allows many installs falsely labelled as “un-attributable” to be attributed with significant precision.

Basic Uplift Testing

Measuring organic uplift differs in technique and complexity across apps, categories, and operating systems. It involves a highly similar methodology to those used by contemporary TV marketers to measure non-addressable TV ads. That is to say, working out a baseline and then measuring corresponding spikes and trends.

As a formula, it can be understood as: 

Organic Uplift = (Total Installs – Organic Baseline – Measured Installs) / Measured Installs.

A comprehensive overview of attribution is necessary so that resources can be allocated to the channels achieving conversions. While they may not be as straight-forward to attribute as their inorganic counterparts, organic installs are a crucial puzzle piece and seem far less enigmatic once their true nature is understood.

Anica is a Product Manager, based in the Berlin Office. When she is not in the office, you will find her either sketching or reading, preferably with a giant mug of tea wherever there is a sunspot.