Finding out what works and what doesn’t in the first version of your mobile app should be your top priority after the app is launched. The mobile app metrics you track can define the next steps for the iteration or how you market your mobile app.
Now, the reason why the focus of the article is on the first version is because the metrics you track at various stages of your journey as an appreneur building a profitable mobile app business is going to be different.
We asked 8 founders and experts about the important mobile app metrics to tracks for the first version.
#1 Don’t get overwhelmed or disappointed by the initial data
Web, Mobile and App Analytics have become so accessible and easy to implement that we have a vast amount of rich data across many important metrics. The down side is… well… we have a vast amount of rich data across many important metrics! Point is, it can be a challenge to interpret all the information into actionable responses. Especially when your app first launches.
Plus, it’s easy to look at your initial data and get overwhelmed, or worse, disappointed – because, let’s face it, unless you have a deep marketing budget, your first few weeks of growth will likely represent a slow crawl.
All that said, my recommendation when evaluating the initial success of your app’s launch is to focus on a few key metrics, and take a blended approach with your data. In other words, don’t just look at the raw numbers – instead try to weave in some context and/or evaluate a few metrics together to get more dimension. That way you’ll have a more complete picture of your app’s initial performance.
To put that into practice, when we first launched our Don’t Leave It! app, we didn’t just look at the raw number of app installs per day; we tried to factor in additional dimensions to try to gauge how hard it was to convince new users to install and use the app. One example of blending data points was to look at the daily app installs, plus click through data for our marketing campaigns, plus the source of the installs – to feel out our conversion rates across different marketing channels. This not only helped us determine where to spend our time, effort and budget, but it also helped confirm that our app can scale.
As an app maker, there are tons of marketing levers you can (and should) pull. Aside from the more traditional channels (e.g. websites, blogs, directories, social media, PPC/search ads, Product Hunt, etc.) depending on your app, you can (and should) also think of some more clever advertising opportunities as well (for example, we printed 1,000 coat rack hang-tags and 5,000 beer coasters because it made sense for us given where our customers will use our app). But, importantly, make sure to have a tracking mechanism for each app link that you post and promote – so you can quantify, evaluate and learn.
Apple and Google both let you easily create campaign-specific URLs pointing to your app, so you can accurately measure your traffic sources. And it’s easy enough to create a quick Google Sheet to organize your specific links (make sure to label them clearly, with notes and references). Important tip: both app stores usually report based on minimum click thresholds, so if you want more granular data, create trackable short links of your campaign URLs through a service like Bit.ly or Goo.gl , to see more accurate, real-time reporting.
Here are a few additional notes about the other metrics we like to monitor early on (but also kind of ignore for the first few weeks):
It’s tempting to look at Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) or Revenue Per Thousand (RPM), but for the first month or so, this data will be distorted and arguably meaningless (i.e. not enough data to give you a reliable average). Unfortunately, without reliable ARPU or RMP data, you’ll have a hard time calculating a palatable Cost Per Install (CPI) for some of your paid marketing channels. We err on the low end, and creep up our CPI as we start to gauge results. But know that at the start, you’re most likely spending exponentially more per user than each new user is worth (at least until you hit your stride and get a base audience).
While bounce rates and app retention will become important metrics, these data points can be misleading or irrelevant when you first launch. Reason is, you’re likely still sharpening your targeting, and finding out who your core and target users are – so your retention data might not paint the right picture. You’re likely starting with a bit of a shotgun approach to goose your overall install numbers, and naturally you’ll be shedding the wrong users on the way to finding the RIGHT users.
Overall, the first few weeks of your app launch will be terrifying, gratifying, nerve-wracking but most of all – exciting. You did it! Your app is now live!
Ride the highs, shake off the lows – and stay positive.
Best of luck!
#2 Track the metrics according to how you make money with your product
So I think the most important metric when launching the first version of you app is really dependent on your business model. Creating and publishing apps is at its heart, a business, and you should pay attention to metrics according to how you make money with your product.
If your app relies on advertisements to make money, then pay attention to the amount of time a user spends in your app. Ads tend to work best when your users spend a significant amount of time in your app. Figure out why your users may be leaving your app early based on metrics such as session duration and session duration per screen and then try and figure out how to lengthen user interaction during that time. For instance, you may want to eliminate as many loading screens as possible, these tend to make users want to simply leave your app and you will likely get less impressions.
If your app revolves around In-App Purchases, then find what screen users spend the most time on in your app, and make your In-App Purchase upgrades visible there. For instance, if you have a note taking app that sells unlimited syncing of notes as an IAP, and your users spend most of their time in the compose screen, perhaps add a banner prompting the user to upgrade to the IAP and highlighting its benefits.
If your app is paid, you need to first get as many favorable App Store reviews as possible. Even if your app is only $0.99, a user will be more wary when pressing download. Be sure that your App Store materials are well presented, and be sure to include video demoing your apps features. Just because you make you money up front, doesn’t mean you should give up on trying to keep your users coming back. Pay attention not just to user count but to your returning daily active users. When you make a product that people like enough to keep coming back everyday, they are more likely to write a review and tell their friends about it, both things that will drive downloads.
#3 Don’t choose the irrelevant metrics
Everyone has data. The key is figuring out what pieces will help your learning and decision-making at this stage of your product.
The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when it comes to measuring metrics, is choosing a metric that’s not relevant at this stage of the growth. Different KPIs are important at different steps of your app’s life. As a founder, it is your job to identify the right metric for the phase that your startup is in right now.
Think of your business as a very tall building with many floor levels. Each level has its risks and difficulties. Many times founders tend to care about problems from higher levels while ignoring the underlying risks at the current level of their app and as a result, measure the wrong things.
Do not try to stop a fire before it has started.
This mantra is especially viable if you’re a bootstrapped business or your resources are limited.
For example, if we put that in terms of analytics, why would you want to set up systems to track retention rates if you don’t have any customers? Or measure team response times if you don’t have any support tickets?
I choose to follow a progressive system to identify the importance of metrics. This system of selecting KPIs is remotely based on the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) marketing funnel. At each stage, I focus only on 1 or 2 metrics.
- First days to a week after I launch a product I track the top of the funnel metrics like unique visitors and sessions.
- Once I’m satisfied with the number of top of the funnel visitors the product gets, I put focus on optimizing the visitor to trial signup conversion rate. This usually happens by optimizing the landing page: adding demo videos, testimonials, case studies, answering user objections through better copy, making our pricing as clear as possible, etc.
- Next stage is all about activation or delivering customer value as quick as possible. With HeadReach that usually is pretty quick. From a couple of minutes up to 3 days. For other apps, the “Aha!” moment takes longer so take that into consideration when evaluating that stage. Activation metrics are very different for every startup. With our case, activation metric is the number of searches and email credits used.
- At that phase, we track how many trials convert to paying customers.
- At the last phase, we track retention rates.
Use cohort groups to keep on using this gradual approach to metrics even after your launch.
At the end of the day, I believe founders should keep their life easy and focus on just 1 metric at a time, at least in the first few months after a launch.
I highly recommend that all entrepreneurs read the Lean Analytics book to make smarter decisions when tracking metrics.
#4 The more time a user spends in your app the better
It’s easy to jump for joy when you see you’ve received millions of downloads but don’t be fooled. Vanity metrics such as app downloads, registered users and pageviews aren’t always what they seem on the surface. App downloads may be the result of fantastic marketing efforts, registered users may come from a simple sign-up flow and page views could be users desperately trying to understand the product. If you’re looking to measure success, you need to measure engagement.
Simply put: the more time a user spends in your app the better. Users tend to spend the most time in the apps they value the most. Successful apps accurately measure the amount of time a user spends in their app and where they spend it. Using this data, they can then develop their app to keep users engaged for huge amounts of time. Snapchat are continuously finding ways to keep users staying for longer… did you think Snapchat’s dog filter was just for fun?
It’s not just the time spent in your app that you should measure, it’s how often people are coming back. Not only can you see the value users are getting from frequent interaction, you can map your users behaviours and design changes that will prompt even more usage. With this data, you can time push notifications for between sessions or improve popular features to increase engagement.
Without engaged users your product won’t be successful, so every metric you measure and decision you make should be user focused. They will shape what your product becomes.
#5 Keep your app simple
When building the first version of Halfdollar, my goal was to keep it as simple of a product as possible while still showing purpose. In doing so, I could measure what I believe is the most important metric during this phase, learning what your users want and need. Gathering this data by talking to the users helped determine the direction that provides the most value to the audience I want to reach. The lesson here is to communicate and keep an open mind.
#6 Metrics depends on the type of the app
That highly depends on the type of app. I’d say, define the One Metric That Matters Most (OMTM) to your business – sign ups, downloads, purchases – and then look at your funnel. It depends on what type of business you are in, transactional, SaaS, gaming, etc.
In the beginning when you launch, you’re probably going to be most concerned with attention generation – you want people to learn about you. So what would probably matter to you here is how many people are you activating in your funnel – how many are signing up, registering, pre-ordering, etc. These early adopters will hopefully give you enough to work with to gain an understanding of how close real users are or will be to your idea of how you’d like them to behave using your product. So look at who downloads and installs your app, who uses it and how often. What’s your churn rate? How do people rate it and what do people have to say?
#7 Keep eyes on retention rate
From performance metrics like app crashes, API latency, app load per period, network errors, etc. to user metrics and business metrics like devices and OS metrics, geometrics, etc. are all that matter. But the one that could help your app kick start rapidly is engagement metrics.
First impression matter! You need to make sure users enjoy using the app (session length), and they’ll come back to explore more (session interval) since as new platforms coming up like Chatbots, you need to keep your eye on retention rate more than ever!”
#8 Use every possible channel to gather feedback
Every app is different, in terms of usage and metrics. In the first version, the key thing to test for is something I can’t describe better than “success.” By the time I get to a first version, I’m testing every aspect of the experience, from interface to visual design, to copy, and it’s time to shut up and watch. I generally use every possible channel to solicit feedback–encouraging replies to welcome emails, requesting feedback in the web or mobile app, visitor recordings, user research (silently, to measure first impression, new user experience, etc.), and I’ve even gone so far as to include my iMessage phone number in the app itself. Do people understand and intuit the purpose of the app, and are they able to find their way to an “aha!” moment, without a single word of instruction? Most often, you’ll fall short, then make changes, and users will inch closer and closer to success.