App User Lifecycle

The Definitive Guide to Mobile App Metrics

If you’re overwhelmed by mobile app metrics, you’re not alone.

Almost every app owner I meet starts the conversation with this question: What mobile app performance metrics should I track?

App metrics can quickly turn into a tangled web of nonsensical numbers and acronyms. And even once acronym overload wears off, important questions remain:

  • What’s the best way to track app performance?
  • How do I know if I’m interpreting mobile analytics metrics correctly?
  • Which metrics will actually help me improve long-term app engagement and retention?

Too many apps flop because of this very issue. Poor metric tracking, interpretation, and misinformed business strategies can send the most promising apps spiraling into obscurity.

All the data in the world won’t help you grow your mobile app unless you know how to interpret and apply it.

The good news?

Mobile ROI doesn’t have to be complicated. With the right mobile app metrics in place, identifying problem areas and solutions can be painless.

Your success will depend on your ability to optimize the user experience at every stage. To make your mobile app indispensable, measure these 6 types of fundamental metrics for mobile apps.

1. User Acquisition Metrics

Users are the lifeblood of your mobile app. How many you acquire, how often they come back, and how quickly they experience the app’s value will determine your fate.

You can’t grow your mobile app if you don’t win over new users — and you can’t win over new users if you don’t understand where your current users are coming from.

That means tracking downloads and attributing those downloads to specific acquisition channels. This can be tracked daily, weekly, monthly—whichever interval makes the most sense for your app.

Unless your app is meant to be used seasonally, we recommend tracking downloads daily or weekly. Daily tracking will give you better insights into the impact and run rate of your marketing campaigns.

For example, let’s say a $5,000 Google AdWords investment nets you 125 new downloads over 3 weeks. But the same investment on the Google Play Store nets you 10x that in just 3 days.

Daily download and attribution tracking puts this valuable information at your fingertips, so you know where to invest your marketing resources and can meet lofty new download goals in record time.

Key User Acquisition Metrics to Track:

  • New Downloads – Number of new downloads in a given timeframe (daily, weekly, or monthly).
  • Download Attribution – Which channels are new users coming from? Use this data to optimize marketing spend and improve ROI/customer LTV.
  • Cost Per Install – Total Ad Spend / Number of New Installs Counted by Advertiser’s Server

User Acquisition Strategies

Convert Web Visitors into Mobile Users

This can be as simple as adding a “Download the App” button or page to your website. Encourage web visitors to download your app by offering incentives like loyalty points or a discount on their first in-app purchase.

Launch a Referral Program

According to a study conducted by Nielsen, 92% of people trust referrals from friends.

By incentivizing users who already like your product to recommend it to others, you can rapidly expand your user base and provide powerful social proof to prospective users.

Mutual incentives can also be an effective way to keep current users engaged and attract new users. Companies like Airbnb and Uber use mutual incentives to create a viral loop that turns referral programs into powerful customer acquisition engines.

Images: Airbnb, Uber

App Store Optimization

App Store Optimization (ASO) is one of the most effective ways to generate awareness for your app and drive acquisitions. Higher search rankings, greater chances of getting your app featured, and better visibility all lead to more downloads.

Here are a few ways to improve your ASO:

  • Include search keywords in your listing’s main title. I.e., “TripStar Flights and Vacation Deals” versus just “TripStar.”
  • Spotlight your app’s main features and benefits in the app description, along with eye-catching screenshots of the UI.
  • Include the version and date of last update. Users are more likely to download an app that’s actively maintained and adding new features.

2. User Activation Metrics

Downloads are dandy, but activations fuel growth — and profits.

“Activation” simply means the percentage of downloads that went on to launch the app.

If your activation rate is 85% or above, you’re in great shape. Anything lower calls for a deeper analysis to identify and fix activation issues.

Even seemingly trivial issues can hurt your activation rate:

  • Typos – With tensions surrounding malware and identify theft running high, users are likely to question your app’s authenticity if they encounter typos.
  • Confusing icon – If you have a pizza-delivery app, but the cover icon is a dog eating an ice cream cone, that could hurt your app’s chances of being used. Think Soundcloud: just from the name and icon, you can tell it’s a music streaming app. That’s the kind of clarity that takes your app from download to activation.
  • Requiring lengthy registrations – Nobody likes having to fill out a multi-page registration form to use a new app. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, let users poke around a bit before asking them to create an account — or at the very least, limit the registration process to basic contact info.
  • Ghosting – Instead of going dark after your app gets downloaded, run a welcome campaign to remind the user of all the reasons they installed the app in the first place.

So, how exactly does one track said activations? Here’s a quick and dirty formula to get the job done:

Activation Rate

If we had 300 activations and 500 downloads this week, our activation rate would be 60%. Not too shabby, but room for improvement.

For most growing mobile apps, the ratio of first-time App Launches to Total App Launches over a rolling 30-day period is between 5% and 15%.

Key User Activation Metrics to Track

  • Activation Rate – Number of Activations / Number of Downloads x 100
  • Download to Launch Rate – Number of First-Time Launches / Number of New Downloads
  • Install to Registration Rate – Number of New Registrations / Number of Installs
  • Average Cost Per Registration – Total Ad Spend / Number of New Registrations

User Activation Strategies

If activations are lackluster, consider these strategies to 2x or 3x them in a matter of weeks.

Create onboarding materials. A catchy email or push notification campaign that highlights the top 3 benefits of using your app or highlights top features can be key in activating new users.

Incentivize activation. Sometimes users need a little monetary motivation to spend time with a new app. To boost its Kindle app user base, Amazon offered existing customers a $5 Amazon credit for downloading and signing in to the Kindle app.

Image: Amazon

Offer in-app exclusives. If offering a monetary activation credit is more than your marketing budget can bear, consider offering in-app exclusives instead. This could include specialized content or early access to new features and products.   

3. User Retention Metrics 

Once you’ve convinced someone to download and launch your app, the retention game begins.

According to Harvard Business Review, winning a new customer is 5-25x more expensive than retaining one you already have. And improving retention rates by a mere 5% can boost your profitability anywhere from 25 – 95%.

That’s what we’re after.

But with so many things vying for their attention, keeping mobile app users engaged is a constant battle.

The average app loses over 77% of its daily active users (DAUs) within 3 days after install.

Just look at that steep drop-off:


Image: Andrew Chen

So how can you keep users coming back to your app? Get actionable user data by tracking retention cohorts.

(WAIT! Before the fancy terminology scares you off – “cohort” is just a fancy word for “group.”)

Instead of lumping all your users into one bucket, breaking them into separate groups—or cohorts—and watching how they behave over time can help you identify factors that influence user retention. With cohort analysis, you get valuable insights into your onboarding flow, app quality, user experience, and product/market fit.

We recommend tracking two main types of cohorts:

  • Acquisition cohorts – Group users by their acquisition date (day, week, month, etc.) to pinpoint exactly when users are disengaging with your app.
  • Behavioral cohorts – Group users by behavior (feature use, session flow, purchase frequency, etc.) to illuminate your ideal user journey, along with common friction points that lead to user churn.

By learning which cohorts have better retention rates, you can uncover possible reasons why. Did you launch a new marketing campaign that day? Offer a promotion or discount? Release a new feature? Add a video tutorial to your product tour? Apply successful tactics to your other users to improve retention across the board.

Customer Lifetime Value

If your goal is to monetize your app, this is an important metric to keep tabs on. Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) is simply the monetary value a customer has netted you to date. Having this data handy can help you build tiered loyalty programs to retain your most valuable customers.

To ensure your app stays profitable, your Customer Lifetime Value needs to eventually exceed your Cost Per Acquisition—the average price you pay to acquire a new user.

Let’s Talk User Feedback

The only way to truly know what your users want is to ask them. Requesting user feedback is the best way to identify and fix friction points before users ditch your app.

According to respected research firms like Gartner, from a competitive differentiation standpoint, the customer experience is becoming more important than the product/service you deliver.

The best way to pave a smooth customer experience is to ask users for candid feedback.

Make it easy for users to tell you what’s working for them and what isn’t — and let them know you want to hear what they have to say.

Ask for feedback (and include contact information) in your release notes, and feature a feedback button prominently within your app. 1 Second Everyday and Zomato do a great job of this:

Images: 1 Second Everyday on the App Store, Zomato

It’s also important to know when and where to ask for feedback so you don’t damage the user experience. For instance, don’t ask for feedback in a new user’s first session, or when someone’s in the middle of completing a purchase.

And when users do send you feedback, be sure to thank them for sharing their thoughts — even if the feedback is negative.

Key Retention Metrics to Track:

  • N Day retention= Percent of total users that launch your app on a specific day
  • Customer Lifetime Value = Annual revenue generated from customer X x Average number of years customers are retained – Initial cost of customer acquisition
  • Net Promoter Score = [Number of Promoters (rating of 9 or 10)— Number of Detractors (rating of 0-6) / (Number of Respondents) x 100]

Retention Strategies

If you’re having trouble getting feedback and retention is suffering, consider trying these tactics.

Run a contest. Sometimes a little friendly competition is all it takes to re-engage users. Fitness app Camp Gladiator drives re-engagement by creating challenges that users complete to earn swag:

Image: Camp Gladiator on Facebook

Deliver loyalty perks. Reward points, special discounts, and exclusive access all give users a reason to keep visiting your app. Camp Gladiator cleverly gives users points per workout that can be used for branded merchandise.

Here’s what the tracking looks like:

Image: Camp Gladiator on the App Store

While it might take a lot of check-ins to earn the points needed to make a purchase, it’s a nice, low-cost perk that keeps campers coming back for more.

Google agrees that incentives drive retention, too:

Image: Google/Ipsos

Add new features and content. New features and fresh content can go a long way toward retaining users.

To stay with the Camp Gladiator example, the company recently added a CG Fit feature to their app. While the original app tracks participation and reward points, it wasn’t tracking physical progress.

This new feature tracks the positive physical change the workouts produce, and provides helpful meal plans and tips to help users achieve their fitness goals faster. Talk about a killer way to drive app stickiness while helping users achieve their personal fitness goals!

Image: Camp Gladiator

Contests, loyalty perks, and fresh content are just a few ideas to get your retention engine revving. For more, check out this comprehensive Guide to User Retention.

4. User Engagement Metrics

New users are great, but engaged users are even better.

Multiple studies confirm a strong link between engaged users and revenue growth. Put simply, engaged users buy more.

Sadly, half of all apps are used just 10 times before they’re abandoned.

Tracking engagement trends can help you identify your app’s “golden window” for conversions (however you’ve defined conversions for your app). For instance, according to our data, 95% of users who completed an in-app purchase did so the same day they added the item to their cart.

So if you don’t re-engage a potential buyer within 24 hours of them adding an item to their cart, you’re unlikely to make the sale.

Monitoring user engagement can also help you identify friction points. For example, let’s say users engaged with your app Day 1, Day 3, and Day 7 after installing, but then stopped. That could signal a hiccup in the user experience. Or worse, that they forgot about you.

How you track engagement will depend on how frequently users are meant to engage with your app, but here are a few user engagement metrics to consider:

  • Daily Active Users (DAU) – Number of users active on your app in a given day.
  • Weekly Active Users (WAU) – Number of users using your app in a given week.
  • Monthly Active Users (MAU) – Number of users accessing your app in a given month.

Once you have this data in hand, you can use it to calculate your app’s stickiness.

For example, if you have 3,000 DAU in the month of June and 9,000 MAU in that same timeframe, then your stickiness ratio is 33%.  

The whole purpose of tracking these app engagement metrics is to determine: (1) if your users are performing key activities within your app, and (2) how frequently they’re using your app.

For example, an ecommerce app could track these two user engagement paths:

  • App Launched ⇒ Search  View Product ⇒ Exit
  • App Launched ⇒ Search ⇒ View Product ⇒ Purchase

Ideally, you want to identify one to three key flows within your mobile app that you want users to take, then use conversion funnels to track those flows over time.

Key User Engagement Metrics to Track

  • DAUs/MAUs (depending on your app)
  • Daily/Monthly sessions per DAU to gauge how often people launch your app
  • Session length
  • CTRs for push notifications, emails, and other messaging campaigns

A Word on Reachability

Your ability to connect with users via different channels is an important mobile app metric to watch. Ask questions like:

  • Are users opting out of push notifications?
  • How many users do I have an email address for?
  • What’s my push notification click-through rate?
  • Is my email bounce rate higher than my industry’s average?

Tracking reachability per channel over time, and comparing those trends to your daily app installs and activations, is critical for creating effective engagement strategies that keep users coming back for more.

Engagement Strategies

If you find engagement is much lower than you’d like, try these tactics for boosting mobile app engagement.

Send a friendly push notification. This works wonders, especially in the ecommerce space. A simple abandoned cart reminder can improve conversion rates by as much as 29%. (For best results, send the reminder within 24 hours of cart abandonment.)

Retrace your steps. If you have a cohort with an abnormally low retention rate, follow the data. Ask questions like:

  • How did we win these users in the first place?
  • Where did we lose them?
  • Can we win them back with what worked initially?

Something as simple as a discount code, new feature or product notification, or bug fix can do the trick. And a tool like CleverTap’s Flows can show you precisely where in the user journey people are engaging more with your app, or dropping off.

Give & tell. A little philanthropy goes a long way toward winning goodwill from users, especially among millennials.

If you’re thinking, “Sounds great, but it’s not in the budget” – hold up.

You don’t have to donate millions of dollars to make a difference. Something as simple as sharing a company park cleanup day can be surprisingly effective in winning back disengaged users.

These are just a few basic ways to track and improve mobile app user engagement. For a deep dive, explore this meaty article on reducing mobile app attrition.

5. User Conversion Metrics

Whether it’s a new registration or a purchase you’re chasing, conversions are the holy grail of marketing.

Conversion Rate

For example, let’s say you sent a push notification offering a 10% discount on in-app purchases today. If the promotion went to 8,000 users and 400 of them used the discount code, your conversion rate would be 5%.

Tracking conversion rates on marketing campaigns gives you insight into which messages are most likely to move your sales needle.

Once you have baseline conversion rates in place for your company, you can run A/B tests to optimize your conversion rate and find out which messaging resonates with your users.

Funnel analysis is an effective way to learn where customers are converting — and where they’re dropping off. For instance, by tracking conversions for each acquisition channel, you can learn where your best users are coming from and optimize your marketing resources. 

Funnel - Converted Customers

If you’re thinking, “Great, but how do I track this without 17 spreadsheets?” don’t fret. This tool makes tracking and analyzing conversion funnels a breeze.

Key User Conversion Metrics to Track:

  • New user conversion rate
  • Returning user conversion rate
  • Cost per conversion

Conversion Strategies

First ask yourself: what types of conversions are important for your business? Purchases? Subscriptions? Ad impressions?

What do you want users to do when they come to your app?

To improve your conversion rates, you need to think like a user. Launch your app and pretend it’s your first time. What annoys you or slows you down? Make moving through the funnel as easy as possible. Remove unnecessary buttons or links, simplify your registration process, and streamline your UI.

Next, look for big drop-offs in unexpected places. For instance, it’s common to see users drop out of the checkout process when it’s time to enter credit card details. But if you’re seeing an unusual drop off where users add their shipping address, there could be a UI issue or bug that’s causing problems or preventing users from moving to the next step.

6. User Churn Metrics

This is the part no one likes—tracking uninstalls.

Even the best apps don’t retain 100% of their users. Some churn is normal for every app, and “acceptable” churn rates vary by industry, but most app owners lose 80% of new users in the first 90 days.

Image: Statista

That said, if your uninstall rate is through the roof, you need to figure out what’s wrong ASAP before your whole user base bails.

How to Track Uninstalls

Track daily churn, or at the very least weekly churn, using this formula:

Churn Rate Equation

Pro tip: Compare daily uninstalls with the number of daily downloads and daily activations to get a net result of your mobile app growth.

Let’s say roughly 10 users uninstall your app each day, but 35 new users are activated each day. That still represents an uptick of 25 users each day. But if those numbers were reversed, you’d have a serious churn problem on your hands.  

Performance Issues That Lead to Churn*:

  • Bugs – 80% of app users ditch buggy apps after 1-3 uses.  
  • Latency – 49% of app users expect screens to load in 2 seconds or less.
  • Battery drain – 36% of mobile app users report heavy battery usage as a reason for uninstalling an app.

Even more interesting, the same study found that mobile app users prioritize quality and star ratings over price when selecting apps.

The takeaway? Performance trumps price.

Key User Churn Metrics to Track

  • Number of uninstalls

Re-engagement Strategies

Remember, sometimes “goodbye” is really “see ya later.”

A solid re-engagement strategy can help you win back lost users. Here are a few pointers to get you started:

  • Re-targeting ads. Whether on a search engine, website, or social media, re-targeting users you’ve lost with a discount or valuable feature update can help you win them back.
  • Surveys. You can’t make everyone happy, but we all have blind spots. Sometimes users leave because your app has performance issues or it doesn’t meet their expectations. Asking for feedback is key to finding issues, fixing them, and then communicating that progress back to old users.
  • Discounts and exclusives. A recent Google study found that 38% of app users would re-engage with an app if offered a discount, and nearly 25% would return for exclusive or bonus content.
How to Spot Your App Uninstalls From a Distance

How to Spot Your App Uninstalls From a Distance

Learn to identify the tell-tale signs of uninstall long before it happens — and how to keep more users from churning.

Download the ebook

Track Mobile App Metrics Like a Pro

As the mobile app marketplace continues to expand, marketers must work smarter than ever before to capture and retain user interest.

With Statista predicting mobile apps will generate $189 billion annually by 2020, the payoff could be well worth the investment.

Remember, these are the 6 types of mobile marketing metrics you’ll want to track:

  1. Acquisition – Number of new downloads, as well as cost per acquisition  
  2. Activations – Number of users who downloaded and launched your app
  3. Retention – Number of users still using your app
  4. Engagement – Number and frequency of people still using your app
  5. Conversions – Number of people who perform a desired action
  6. Churn – Number of users who uninstalled your app

While needs will vary by industry and app, we recommend tracking and comparing week-to-week changes in these categories.

Luckily, there’s a tool that makes tracking, managing, and applying insights from mobile app analytics easy. See how CleverTap can help grow your mobile app by scheduling a demo with our mobile marketing experts.

The Intelligent Mobile Marketing Platform

See how today’s top brands use CleverTap to drive long-term growth and retention.

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