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 



You’ve Built an App: Now What? Part 1: User Acquisition

user acquisition

Developers are makers. They solve pains, entertain, enlighten, and enhance productivity. Building an app can be an exhilarating experience and the joys of shipping can linger for… about ten seconds. Then comes the question, “I’ve built an app, now what?”

“Building an app is incredibly hard,” said Brenden Mulligan, former LaunchKit founder, which was recently acquired by Google. “But getting people to use it is an even bigger challenge. Once an app is released you start getting so many signals of how it’s doing, and it’s important to have the right infrastructure set up to receive and learn from those signals. Things like user activity, app store reviews, churn… In addition, devs have to be thinking of the next feature, or bugs they need to fix.”

Earlier this year, Ægir Thor Steinarsson and Anne-Marthe Lorck built an app to resolve what they were seeing as a common pain point.

“I am a fairly introverted person, and I am a bit disconnected from social groups: I’m studying with people much younger than me, I live in a foreign country. I mostly felt content in my day to day life, but also that I was missing out: I would end up repeatedly cancelling stuff I did want to do, like go to a concert or even a museum, because I didn’t know who to invite,” said Steinarsson.

“We did interviews with about 40 people and found others were experiencing social isolation as well,  we asked people to give it a pain grade on a scale of 1 to 5 and we started seeing everyone giving it a high pain point (3 and above). That turned out to be the main theme rather than the exception.”

Steinarsson and Lorck created BudUp as an app to solve that: users can register an event (a concert, movie, dinner party or other activity), and specify the number of people they hope to attend with.

The app was released on the Google Play Store. Android is the main mobile platform for professional developers, according to VisionMobile’s State of the Developer Nation quarterly report, which found that Android accounted for 79% of mobile developer mindshare.

For the BudUp team, while they have plans for an iOS app, for now their focus is all about traction: to get user downloads. As they ramp up their user acquisition, Steinarsson wants to make sure he has data systems in place to know what is happening and to monitor the user experience.

Knowing what to measure and using the free tools that can help developers do that quickly is crucial, said Caroline Ragot, Co-founder of Women in Mobile and Mobile Strategist at InfoJobs, a company of Schibsted Spain.

Ragot says there are two tasks to focus on after building an app: the first is acquisition, which is really about marketing an app.

The second task for a new app is to focus on retention. Ragot says retention is about marketing and the product working together. Analytics underpins an understanding of both these tasks.

Focusing on Acquisition: App Store Optimization (ASO)

Increasing user acquisition for your app starts with app store optimization. 30% of downloads occur after someone has searched by keywords in Google Play. So getting noticed within the app marketplace can already drive up user downloads before looking at any other type of promotion.

Ragot says there are three components in app store optimization:

  • text
  • icons
  • Screenshots
  • Review and rating.

Building off the experience of websites in getting noticed, app store optimization makes an impact. Ragot suggests thinking what people will search for when looking for your app, and making sure that those keywords are included in the application title text. “Put the keyword close to your brand,” said Ragot. “When I have done that for app projects, within about two hours I have seen apps move from a ranking of 30-something to a ranking of 8.”

After ASO, the next task is to make sure your icon looks appealing. Don’t believe this is important? Ragot suggests doing a simple app search for something like ‘clock’: “You will see that there will be some you don’t want to download just by looking at them.” In the Google Play console, there is a function to allow developers to A/B test their icons. Ragot suggests testing several and seeing which icon design drives more downloads for your app.

Screenshots are also important. “It’s like the landing page for your app. When visitors arrive, they need to understand what your app is about and it should inspire them to download. It is your first touchpoint with a user,” Ragot explained.

Finally, reviews and ratings make an impact. App stores like Google Play use metrics of downloads and active users as part of their search ranking algorithm, and reviews of apps makes a significant impact on helping encourage searchers to download.

Organic and Paid Acquisition

“The two big acquisition buckets are organic and paid,” said Mulligan, who recently talked about how to optimize app launches with First Round. “Ideally, an app can attract users organically. To do this, there are a lot of ways to optimize a launch to be more successful in initially attracting users. You need to make sure your product name is short and your tagline is clear and concise. You need to figure out what good acquisition looks like for your product and track it from the beginning. You need to bake in marketing hooks that let users share with others how they’re using your app and invite their friends to join them. When the time is right, you need to target the relevant reporters to cover your product and post it to sites with good lead generation like Product Hunt. And the whole time, make sure your line of communication with your early community is very open so you know what’s working, what’s not, and how to change your product to boost your acquisition.”

Other acquisition ideas include Facebook ad campaigns, which Ragot cautions can be expensive, but suggests it is still a good idea to dedicate a small budget of a few thousands dollars to encourage initial traction. Ragot also suggests focusing on social media by encouraging downloaders to share that they have downloaded your app and encourage their networks to do the same.

Steinarsson and Lorck will next focus on content marketing: getting featured in blogs, in particular. They believe when starting to acquire users it is important to do things that don’t necessarily scale in order to maintain an initial personal contact with potential users. They will target several content domains and see in which ones they get traction and focus on those segments to start.

When starting with acquiring users, it can feel like everything is an opportunity cost: choosing one strategy means not investing in another. Setting up analytics to quickly identify what is working is crucial to being able to do more of what works and quickly identify where effort is wasted. Ragot, Mulligan, Steinarsson and Lorck all agree: setting up analytics for acquisition and retention is essential.

And while their strategies are universal across mobile platforms, all three have focused on how to build acquisition with an Android app, reflecting the dominant position of Android in the mobile app developer’s mindshare. According to VisionMobile’s State of the Developer Nation report, 80% of those building apps professionally target Android.

In our next part, we will look at how to retain users once they have started using your app and in part three, we examine what analytics techniques for acquisition and retention to have in place and what free tools to use.

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