You’ve Built an App: Now What? Part 3: Analytics for Growth



Like many developer teams that have released an app, Ægir Thor Steinarsson and Anne-Marthe Lorck (creators of the BudUp app), are now working on the next two goals of app creation: user acquisition and retention.

Steinarsson said that right now, he is “laying the groundwork”: setting up databases and spreadsheets to track what is happening. “I am taking a scientific approach to it: everything will be calculated. You need to Excel the shit out of this! I am using Google Analytics with collection points like counting every time users download the app, where the users are coming from. We have this set up but haven’t really started using it, but will in the near future. This is a learning process for us, so what is most important is measuring the traction channel. We’re very focused on collecting information.”

The Core Apps Analytics Process

Caroline Ragot, co-founder of Women in Mobile and a mobile strategist at Schibsted Spain, described the complete process for new dev teams when setting up their analytics:

“The basic tool is Firebase. It’s easy to integrate but isn’t as powerful (as paid options), but it is free and the others are not cheap but very powerful.” Ragot said Firebase is one of the most powerful free analytics tools available, especially if it is combined with Google Analytics. Firebase has been designed especially for mobile analytics and Ragot believes Google will keep investing in making it better. She also pointed to Flurry Analytics, which has a free component. Like many developers, Ragot focuses on Android apps first. According to VisionMobile’s Developer Economics State of the Developer Nation bi-annual report, 47% of professional developers consider Android their primary platform.

“If you start doing acquisition, you have to start tracking everything.” She suggested using AppsFlyer or Adjust. “Track everything that you promote, for each campaign for Facebook, you can have a separate link so you can see each specific campaign and how many downloads it gets you.”

Ragot said it is essential to go beyond downloads and track events to see how users from each traction channel are actually using your app. For example, for a job search app, you would want to set up event tracking for signing in, editing a CV, or applying for a job. “That way, you can see the quality of the campaign and whether the download users are doing something in the app. For example, 50 out of 100 downloaders might sign in coming from one campaign, and in another channel, 200 downloads are done but only 20 of those actually sign in to the app, so the quality is actually not so good so you can decide how to invest your money. So track everything with AppsFlyer and Adjust.”

Ragot said once analytics is in place, it is possible to start looking at the data and making sure your funnel is right. Each app has its own engage and customer funnel. For example, for Steinarsson’s BudUp app, the funnel involves creating an event, and attending it with other users who are looking for social company. For e-commerce, the funnel is selecting a product and going through the shopping cart to buy it. For an image manipulation app, the funnel is to add a filter to a photo and share it on social media or publish it.

Ragot said that over time, each step in those processes needs to be included in Google Analytics, so that dev teams can analyze when a user exits without completing the process. “Look at every step. Where do they drop? Was it a UX problem, that is super important. Analytics is for making sure your product is working well. How many downloads and users you have is really vanity metrics,” Ragot warned.

Brenden Mulligan, who is currently working on the app platform Firebase, is the former LaunchKit founder, which was recently acquired by Google. He listed a range of tools that he believes should be the bedrock of an app team’s analytics process. “Listen, learn, listen, learn,” he encouraged. “Analyze user behavior with analytics tools like Firebase Analytics, Mixpanel, or Fabric Answers. Make sure your app quality is strong with monitoring tools like Firebase Crash Reporting or Crashlytics. See what users are saying on the App Store with LaunchKit Review Monitor or App Figures. Set up communication channels through Intercom or Zendesk. Track any press mentions with Google Alerts and keep track of what people are saying on social media. Do A/B testing of different on-boarding flows and critical user journeys using Optimizely and Firebase Remote Config.”

Selecting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Steinarsson said he is interested in two metrics at the moment:

  • Active users vs downloads (“That will be bad now, but we need to set a base”), and
  • Measuring each acquisition channel (“for example, measuring referrals from blogs or from Facebook ads”).

Ragot said new dev teams can even just focus on one metric: “If there is one KPI, according to my experience, that tells you everything, it is “Retention at Day X”. D1 retention is how many people come back to your app in the same day after they install it. I am always looking at D1, D3, D7, D14 and D30. If you put all of your effort into measuring this, you have good analytics that is a mix of retention and acquisition.”

Thinking Outside the Box

For Steinarsson and his cofounder Lorck, one of the biggest journeys since releasing their app has been the need to shift mindset from developing an app to running a business. “The greatest challenge has been moving away from being an amateur building something and being someone who runs a company and all the skills that go with that,” said Steinarsson. “Now it is out there, there is no hiding anymore and you have to acquire the skills at lightening speed, so that transition is the greatest challenge for me at the moment. Luckily, I have people who are working with me: for almost a year, my cofounder and I have been working together. She understands the pain point we are addressing, so she corrects me when I go off course. I can’t stress enough the importance of working together in a team.” He mentioned having a separate web designer and someone doing content generations for videos, and other outlets as an example of building his team.

“Mobile marketing is a discipline which is creating itself, and is still in process of creation,” explained Ragot. In the same way that once upon a time we would say “webmaster” and think of one person, now we all agree that it would be crazy to have one person managing content, social media, backend infrastructure, API developers, community engagement, and all of the other roles that are required for a scalable, growth-focused web business. It is the same for mobile, she said. As an app grows in its usage, the rest of that team needs to fill out, and everyone has a role in keeping on top of new developments, or testing new ideas.

“It is crazy to think you can have one developer do everything for your mobile app,” cautioned Ragot. “To me, a good developer has to know the 360 overview and what are those other expertise and how they work together but doesn’t need to know everything.”

The beauty of growing that team means that new ideas can spring up and new techniques to encourage user acquisition and retention. Ragot says that as an emerging industry, there are still new methods that have great opportunities for app developers. While Facebook Ad campaigns are now a mainstay in mobile marketing — with cost per acquisition now reflecting a high level of competition — other techniques are still available to savvy dev teams.

“App indexing is the new trend that not many people are using,” Ragot suggested. This requires both a website and mobile app for now although there are plans to make it available for app-only sites. Ragot says the technical integration is not easy, but the idea is that if you have the same search interface on both web and app, then users can open your website on their smartphone browser and when carrying out a search on your site, they are automatically directed to download your app, or directed to automatically open your app and carry out the search there if it is already downloaded. “It is still not fully used, whereas Facebook campaigns are now overcrowded and everyone knows that is the easiest way to get paid acquisition. App indexing is a great way to get organic acquisition — which means free downloads.

Building strategies for user acquisition and retention are the two major tasks for dev teams after they have built an app, and analytics helps understand exactly what is happening and how to keep building traction. From there, new possibilities can emerge that will help you grow your user community even stronger and help you identify novel ideas that may offer you a winning edge.

The strategies listed here work equally well for Android, iOS and Windows mobile apps, but for many developers the need for analytics tools to integrate with the Android platform is of paramount importance. According to VisionMobile’s  Developer Economics State of the Developer Nation  bi-annual report, Android has 79% of mindshare amongst mobile developers and is dominating as the mobile application platform used by professional developers. Based on surveys with over 16,500 developers across 145 countries, this latest study from VisionMobile shows how developers are building apps and thinking through solutions for mobile, desktop, IoT and emerging technologies including VR and Machine Learning. 

We are currently running our new survey and it is sci-fi themed! Would you like to contribute ? Take the survey 



The Science of Mobile Game Marketing

Two years ago, I stepped into the mobile games market when I joined Planeto in Malmö, Sweden. With more than 5 million downloads, Planeto is a leader in knowledge-based mobile gaming. The experience at Planeto has changed me as a product creator and marketer.

Like many of my Scandinavian tech colleagues, I come from the planet where they build mobile phones. One step up the software stack to apps did not seem like a huge leap, especially as Planeto develops games for smartphones. As it turns out, one of the most talented game designers in Southern Scandinavia took me to a planet that was significantly different.

This is part two of a three part series on battle insights by a mobile game CEO.


Living in a World of Algorithms

In my first blog post, I addressed the development of the magical gameplay loop, a process that involves human beings at a very fundamental level working with basic needs like happiness, competition, and the urge to progress. In stark contrast, [tweetable]the marketing of mobile games hardly involves any human beings at all[/tweetable].

The mobile gaming market is at the extreme end of the digital revolution. In other industries, there is an existing physical distribution and marketing channel that gently slows down the product life cycle. There are fashion shows ever so often. There are retailers, who stock up on new items once in a while. In mobile game distribution and marketing, there are no physical inventories. There are just algorithms and a furious pace.

In a world of appfication, anyone involved in product creation and marketing needs to understand the basics of algorithm-driven marketing. That is where we are heading.

Starting with the App Store

Most people find apps by browsing the App Store or Google Play. A close second is recommendations from friends and family. People across the globe discover games in those two ways. It is as simple as that.

Apple and Google have not disclosed how their search algorithms work, but app marketers suggest the following parameters have an impact:

  1. Title
  2. Keywords
  3. Rating value & numbers
  4. Downloads over time

Title and keyword optimization is a topic on its own. Let us instead explore how rating and downloads can be improved.

Getting Your 4+ Star Rating by Beating the Algorithm

If you have read my first post about the magical gameplay loop, then you already know that perfecting the gameplay loop is crucial to creating a good game. In most cases, a good game does not automatically guarantee a good review. Customers will give you a one star rating for many different reasons: connection errors, strange chat messages from other players, tiny features that they do not like, etc. Often bad reviews do not contain any text – just a single star, a negative impact on your ranking, and a customer that rapidly moves on to the next app.

To avoid the info-less one star review, you need to take the pace out of the rating algorithm by implementing a funnel system that leads customers to the right place. The objective is to get only happy customers, who are willing to spend time on your app, to leave reviews. Unhappy customers, who are also willing to spend time on your app, send you an email with their issues instead. Quite a simple change that actually provides much more valuable info – you may find the details here.

Boom… first small victory against the algorithms. 🙂

Cross-promotion is a Friendly Face in the Sea of Algorithms

Once you have your ratings sorted out, the next step is to drive downloads. By far [tweetable]the easiest and cheapest way to drive downloads is to cross-promote in your existing games[/tweetable]. This is of course not an option for first-time developers, who instead should be thinking of including mechanisms to cross-promote the next game. Never think of your business as a one game business. We have successfully used Appboy in all our products, and it works wonders for us. Chartboost is another option.

Create your own friendly faces!

Living with the User Acquisition Algorithms

If you do not have a successful app already, then you need to follow the painful path of acquiring new users. No friendly faces here. It all comes down to math. The basic equation you need to be aware of is this:

Average Cost Per Install (CPI) < Average Life-Time-Value (LTV) * k-factor

LTV can be calculated in many different ways, but in simple terms, it can be thought of as Average Revenue Per Daily Active User (ARPDAU) * Average retention in days. K-factor is the number of users invited by each new player. If your CPI is $2, your LTV is $1, and each player invites another player (k-factor = 2), then you are break-even.

As such, the concept is simple, but it explodes rapidly. There are hundreds of different advertising channels to use and hence CPI never stands still. ARPDAU is easy to calculate on a given day for all your users, but as soon as you break it down into segments/cohorts (time, advertising channel, segments, geo, etc.) it becomes very complex fast.

Very few developers win in their fight with the UA algorithms. This is truly a scary beast. Experiment with UA, but do not get carried away, until you have a winning formula. In general, nothing is 100% guaranteed. The formula might work for one geographical area and might be totally inoperative for another.

Apple Recognizes the Challenges with Algorithms

Over the last couple of years, the big game developers and publishers have gotten bigger and customers struggle to find new games – however good they are. Apple has been trying to curb the negative side effects of the App Store algorithms by including more editorial content. The aim is to promote quality games by letting human beings select the games that gets most visibility in the App Store. That has sparked an entirely new set of recommendations on how to get featured by Apple. Google stays true to its roots and is still working to solve the quality versus quantity issue with algorithms.

In a market where there are only two relevant stores, I am not sure I feel completely at ease with the thought that the storeowners decide what goes on the shelves. It drives up the bargaining power of those storeowners to new heights.

Optimizing Your Advertising Revenue by Playing Algorithms Against Each Other

Getting plenty of downloads is only one-half of a successful game. The other half is revenue. Most first-time F2P (Free to Play) game developers make the mistake of implementing their own advertising solution with one or two advertising networks. This does not work and it will hurt you badly, if your game makes it through the noise and becomes successful.

You need an ad mediation layer from the get-go – an algorithm that allows you to fight all the other ad algorithms for you. More about revenue options in the third and final blog post of the series.

…and That is Only the Beginning of Mobile Game Marketing

I have not touched on keyword optimization, user engagement campaigns (i.e. how do you convert users from free to paying users), user acquisition tracking, k-factor optimization (i.e. how do you get users to invite other users), and retention funnels. For each of these areas, there are plenty of algorithms to learn and speak.

To make your apps successful you need to take on the algorithms that govern the marketing and distribution of games. As a rule of thumb (and to set your developers’ expectations right), it is reasonable to budget with 50% of a quality free-2-play game development project being on components (in-house or 3rd party) that does not relate to the actual gameplay loop.
We all love to work on the magical gameplay loop – it is truly rewarding – but the right infrastructure components allows you to take advantage of the algorithms. Do not underestimate the power of the algorithms.

Interested in part three of the series on mobile gaming? Read about Business Models here

News and Resources Platforms

The Three Waves Of Mobile Marketing

With over one million apps in the Apple and Google stores, you‘d think that app development has become business as usual. As we enter 2014, the making of apps is a sought-after commodity. But [tweetable]the marketing of apps remains part art, part science[/tweetable].


App marketing and advertising took off early in the history of the app economy. The freemium model (generally speaking, apps that are free but monetize through premium upgrades, in-app purchase items or advertising), took place a couple years after. On the App Store, in-app purchase items (IAPs) were only introduced as of late 2009. On the Google Play Store, they had to wait until 2011.

Since the freemium app model started making a name for itself, the parameters and requirements of app advertising and user acquisition have been in constant evolution, strongly influenced by transformations of the app ecosystems. In particular, app publishers, marketers and other stakeholders have constantly needed to adapt to the evolving policies and barriers enforced by Apple and Google.

In fair consideration, many of the steps the two companies took were also in reaction to the evolution of advertising techniques and practices within their ecosystem. The dynamic is therefore mutual.

Looking back on the brief history of app marketing, there are three main phases or “waves” of app marketing, presented in the table below. Each phases has distinguishing features in terms of business objectives, marketing strategies and practices, technology focus, transparency standards, platform regulations etc.

The three waves of mobile app marketing:

1st wave 2nd wave 3rd wave
Timeframe 2009 – 2011 2012 – present 2013 – present
Goal Volume through top chart position Volume with a focus on the price of installs Volume with a focus on the quality of installs
Marketing strategy Incentivized Downloads Shift to quality: Non-incent ROI-positive media buying
Pricing Methods
  • Flat fee
  • Cost Per Click
  • CPM
Cost Per Install
  • Cost Per Action
  • Cost per Reengagement
  • adjusted CPI (aCPI)
Technology focus None
  • Install attribution tracking
  • In-app analytics
  • Post-install, in-app event tracking
  • Programmatic buying
  • Deep linking
  • (Cross-device) Retargeting
Tracking technology
  • iTunes Connect
  • UDID matching
  • MAC Address
  • openUDID
  • Fingerprinting
  • Platform-specific device identifier (IDFA, Advertiser ID)
  • Social Media login
Level of platform regulation and transparency Low Medium High
Market dynamics Emergence of new “pure” players Growth, stronger positioning of existing players Consolidation, M&A activity, older players start getting involved
Advertising formats Banners, editorial advertising, incentivized Interstitials, video ads Native ads

I’ll discuss these three waves along their most important characteristics.

The first wave: the early days, focus on volume

The early days of app marketing date back to 2009. They were characterized by the emergence of the Apple App Store as the main platform for user acquisition. [tweetable]Publishers mostly relied on the top chart rankings to gain visibility[/tweetable]. This led many of them to resort to the so-called burst campaigns, either incentivized or natural such as editorial app “boosters” and blogs. These campaigns generated large amounts of downloads in a short period of time in order to climb the app store rankings.

In this context, performance models, whereby advertisers only pay for the installs generated, mostly served for incentivized campaigns, and burst campaigns were often sold on a flat-fee basis. For the burst campaigns run on a Cost Per Install (CPI) basis, downloads were accounted for using iTunes Connect data or at best UDID matching. Consequently, there was neither technology focus nor need in terms of tracking. In short, user acquisition was not data-driven.

During that time, many pure players, such as Tapjoy, Flurry, or AppGratis, entered the space, as it was a land grab with low barriers to entry. Platform regulations were still relatively lenient, as the tenants of the ecosystems didn’t wish to curtail their growth. For instance, incentivized downloads were still allowed by Apple until April 2011.

The second wave: focus on quality and performance tracking

The second wave of app marketing started around 2012. The volume remained the main marketing objective, but CPI-based campaigns gained momentum and performance marketing started becoming widespread. More generally, a discrete shift towards more quality tracking in advertising campaigns was taking place.

In terms of regulation, Apple tightened its grip on a fast-growing ecosystem and cracked down on players accused of taking advantage of the top chart ranking algorithm. In April 2011, incentivized downloads were banned and in October 2012, Apple enacted clause 2.25, forbidding “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store”. This led to the ban of several of app discovery services, the most famous being App Gratis which was pulled from the Apple’s store in March 2013. App publishers themselves suffered the consequences of these restrictions, such as Animoca who, in January 2012, saw all their apps removed by Apple under the allegation that they were using bot farms to generate fake downloads.

Technology-wise, the growing popularity of performance marketing encouraged the rise of efficient attribution tracking solutions, in order for advertisers to trace downloads down to their respective sources. Among the tracking technologies which then emerged, the most popular are fingerprinting as well as single, platform-specific device identifiers (Google’s Advertiser ID and Apple’s Identifier For Advertisers – IDFA). As of today, [tweetable]fingerprinting remains the only legitimate solution enabling mobile web tracking[/tweetable].

Publishers also started becoming more data driven by integrating in-app analytics solutions such as Localytics to analyze usage, retention, engagement, virality and monetization metrics. Similarly, a focus grew on measuring the quality of the users through the estimation of customer lifetime value (LTV). However, this was at this time mostly performed to understand the user journey and improve the user experience, not yet (so much) to optimize user acquisition campaigns. In other words, [tweetable]performance stopped at the install, as in-app and attribution tracking remained distinct from each other[/tweetable].

In terms of market dynamics, the wave of new entrants stalled as existing advertising players consolidated their positions and stronger regulations prevented the use of shadier advertising tactics. The second wave was pioneered by ad networks (inmobi, AdMob, Leadbolt), affiliate and cross-promotion networks (AppFlood, Chartboost, AppLift), mobile agencies (Fiksu, Somo Global).

The third wave: focus on lifetime value and ROI

The third wave of app marketing started in 2013, is currently unfolding and will probably define the mobile landscape for at least the next two years. This third wave is distinguished by a massive shift towards quality, with, in particular, the growing realization by mobile advertisers that acquiring users, even at a low price, makes no sense if these users are not retained, engaged and finally monetized.

This global shift to quality has generally been embraced by advertising companies, app publishers and platforms alike, all with various consequences.

First, platforms themselves are taking on and driving the trend, and introducing heightened regulation. In 2013, Apple modified its ranking algorithm to take into account more in-app, post-install qualitative factors such as retention and engagement metrics. Google, too, started enforcing harder restrictions on its developer policies when it banned spammy user acquisition techniques such as push notifications or icon drops on the Play Store.

Naturally, it is app publishers and advertisers that are driving the largest part of the shift. Indeed, increased competition as well as rising CPI prices has made it an impediment to track and optimize user acquisition campaigns more accurately, and to allocate marketing budgets towards the best-performing channels. Technically, this means tracking post-install events, connecting them to the acquisition source, and finally linking attribution tracking to in-app metrics.

Early assessment of the LTV of acquired users now enables advertisers to quickly assess the quality of the various acquisition channels used. This in turn allows them to optimize and fine-tune the campaigns by allocating budgets to the traffic channels offering the highest user quality (users whose LTV is higher than their cost of acquisition – CPI).

On the whole, if the first wave focused on volume only and the second on price-weighted volume, the third wave is characterized by quality-filtered volume.

In the wake of this quality shift, new pricing schemes appeared: for instance, [tweetable]Cost Per Engagement (CPE) now allows advertisers to pay for actions taking place after the install[/tweetable], such as game tutorial completions, or first purchase.

More quality and more regulation also go along more trust and transparency. In the specific context of the relationship between advertisers and user acquisition networks and other partners, this means that networks have been more willing to share information about their traffic sources, while advertisers have been less reluctant to share more in-app data about the users generated.

In terms of market dynamics, the third wave is characterized by increased M&A acquisitions as older, established digital and online companies start acquiring pure mobile players. This way, in 2013 we saw, among others, retargeting company Criteo buy out mobile tracking company AD-X, Twitter snap up mobile ad exchange MoPub and, in gaming, Japanese telecoms firm Softbank together with GungHo acquire Finnish mobile game publisher Supercell. There were also a couple of mobile-only deals, such as the acquisition of Jumptap by Millennial Media or the merger of mobile gaming services company Playhaven with mobile analytics provider Kontagent.

As the third wave of app marketing is still forming, other data-driven approaches are emerging, such as real time bidding, retargeting and cross-device targeting. Reactivation and re-engagement campaign techniques are already taking into account quality factors and focusing on post-install events.

For developers, it can be of great help to keep this history of paid mobile user acquisition in the rear-view mirror as they strive to understand and adapt to its new challenges.

– Thomas

[Thomas heads up content marketing at AppLift, loves scrutinizing the developments of the mobile industry and collects photo apps on his iPhone the rest of the time. He can be contacted at]