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A brief guide to measuring mobile app users
What should you be measuring to understand success of your application and improve results and how can you align your app measurement to business goals?
Yesterday my former team at Google announced the future deprecation of “Universal Analytics” and that they will only be supporting Google Analytics 4 in the future. GA4 is the next iteration of analytics and has the flexibility to measure many different kinds of data, delivering an analytics experience that allows businesses to see unified user journeys across their websites and apps.
The focus on users across devices and understanding mobile better is something marketers and technology companies know is the future. With an explosion in mobile application marketplaces and a shift in focus to the small screen measuring and understanding your users on mobile is more important now than ever.
So, what exactly should you be measuring to understand the success of your application and improve results? How can you align your app measurement to business goals? We’ll answer those questions in today’s post.
Apps are a different world than web, and thus require a different methodology and set of metrics. Regardless of the platform(s) your app lives on or the tools you use to measure it, it’s critical to measure three key areas: acquisition, engagement, and outcomes. Next, we’ll outline some sample metrics in each area to help you understand them better and become more effective at measuring your app today.
Acquisition Metrics: Where Do Users Come From?
Acquisition metrics show you how people are finding your app and whether they’re continuing to use it. Similar to top-of-funnel web metrics, your marketing team should be analyzing acquisition metrics consistently to ensure a healthy trend up. Some of the key acquisition metrics to measure include:
New and active users. Measure the number of new and active users who launch your app everyday. This will help you understand if your application and marketing are successful at a high level.
App store traffic sources. Understand which traffic sources account for most new users and in-app conversions. This data will help you refine your marketing activities to focus on the traffic sources that provide your highest quality users.
App versions. Keep track of the distribution of active users over the older and newer versions of your app. Knowing which versions are being used will help you understand which versions of your app need continued support and which are safe to deprecate.
Device overview. Analyze the top mobile devices and OS versions that your app runs on, and optimize the experience for each device.
Engagement Metrics: Is Your App Sticky?
You’ve acquired a massive user base – now what? Engagement metrics help you understand how users are interacting with your app so you can add more of what they like and remove what they don’t. You can also identify potential reasons for attrition before they occur, such as excessive crashing or slow load speeds. Key engagement metrics you should keep an eye on include:
Screens. Determine how users move throughout your application by measuring how they move from screen to screen. This will help show how users actually engage with your application and if they’re successfully getting to the screens you desire.
User behavior. Assess how loyal your users are, how frequently they use the app, and the engagement level of each loyalty group. Understanding this information is critical so you can see which users your application resonates with.
App crashes. Troubleshoot problems on devices and operating systems by seeing trends in crashes and exceptions. Developers need to keep close tabs on app crash metrics in order to understand and fix problem areas.
Outcomes: How Does My App Impact the Bottom Line?
Most importantly, identify the metrics that show the business value your app has created, and amplify the areas that are showing the most value. Has it helped increase sales? Brought in more high-quality leads? This is shown through outcome metrics tracked by your app analytics, and may include such metrics as:
Goal conversions. Set up conversion events in your app (for example, time spent in app, or an in-app purchase, ad click, etc.) to gauge success. Conversion events are whatever you define as success and should be customized based on your business: whether that’s making an e-commerce purchase or completing a lead generation form.
In-app purchases. If selling virtual or tangible goods purchases inside your app, track the number of purchases and revenue generated from them. With the explosion in mobile purchases this is a critical one to watch.
If you are hoping to make it in a big way, remember mobile apps are all about loyalty
While many app developers and marketers think purely about new users and downloads, think about active, loyal users and how to make them happy...
In presenting on mobile app analytics around the world over the last decade, I’ve noticed too many marketers and developers continue to obsess over just acquisition metrics. I’d like to dig in deeper on why I think engagement, specifically loyalty, is a killer metric within your application you should be analyzing as a priority, perhaps even before acquisition.
Before we go any further, I don’t want you to come away from this post thinking acquisition and outcomes that I listed above don’t matter. They do. But mobile apps are nearly useless unless users launch them, use them, and then use them again (save for some specific edge cases most brands want users opening their apps frequently. Engagement and loyalty are key.
Let’s go through some of the reasons why you need to focus time here:
Until you have loyal users, increasing acquisition metrics doesn’t make sense
Say you launch a new application and decide to dial up acquisition tactics. You increase your online advertising spend. You engage a PR firm. You start to attend conferences and network. You put in all this hard work and drive thousands of new, excited users to your application. And then 90 percent of them install your app, launch it once, only to never open it again. This is an all too common scenario for app developers and marketers, especially brands that are creating and marketing an app for the first time. If this happens, you have a loyalty problem, and should dive into the “why” to discover the reasons your app isn’t as sticky as you think it is first. Refine your app, build the right “hooks,” then when you’re confident that relevant uses will stick around (and you have the loyalty data to prove it), make a case to increase your marketing spend. To do so without understanding attrition first could prove a costly mistake.
Loyalty metrics tell you if your app usage is becoming a “habit”
The goal for mobile app developers is really to make your application a “habit” for users. This event can be anything, from when they are bored waiting in line to when they’re seeking a certain utility to when they’re engaging in an activity. I’m sure everyone reading this who is developing mobile apps is working on ones which, in their minds, provide a ton of utility for users. Engagement and more specifically loyalty metrics such as session instances, duration, screens, and conversion rate will tell you if in fact your users agree that your app is a must-use and has become a habit for them. If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board to ensure your app is “sticky” enough to become a habit, or double your efforts on the content front to educate your users on what they’re missing.
No loyalty, no or low outcomes!
As we shared in our previous post on mobile app analytics, outcomes – the business value your app has created (sales, in-app purchases, etc.) – are clearly important to measure. But if your users aren’t returning, you likely will see low or no outcomes from them. Just like on your website, outcomes (or conversions) may not happen on a user’s first engagement with an app. Pending what your app does, this may take multiple sessions. Or, if you sell something within your app or your app generates advertising revenue, loyal users will generate much more revenue in the long term. Also consider how loyal users map to new revenue (a significant portion of word-of-mouth referrals will come from them) and focus on increasing this key audience.
While many app developers and marketers think purely about new users and downloads, think about active, loyal users and how to make them happy. This is the path to long-term app marketing success, and loyalty data can help show you the way there.
As mobile continues to grow in importance, apps will be the new staple in the marketer’s toolbox; like social and web are today. With that, adding app measurement to your team’s marketing processes is critical to getting the most out of your mobile marketing.
Bonus: I previously gave a whiteboard Friday talk for friends at Moz a few years ago on mobile app measurement best practices. It’s been viewed >15K times since then and everything is still relevant today. Check it out below or here if the embed didn’t work in your email.