Understanding Mobile Engagement: Measurement Beyond the Download
Tracking installs used to be the standard measurement of success for mobile app advertisers. But as anyone with an array of barely touched apps on their mobile device can attest, installation doesn't equate to engagement. In other words, a million downloads are meaningless to marketers and app developers if users aren't coming back and creating value, either through in-app purchases, display ad monetization or even brand recognition.
As the mobile channel evolves, advertisers are quickly recognizing that engagement is the new mantra for the most successful and profitable mobile app advertisers. And engagement isn't only the solution for user monetization, but also determines an app's rank in the mobile ecosystem. Consider Apple's stance on engagement: Last fall it was reported that the company was modifying its App Store rankings algorithm in a move to take usage and positive reviews into account when determining an app's position on the Top Charts list. This decision directly correlated to an explosion of buggy and subpar apps dominating the App Store charts because of a shift to incentivized download campaigns. While this corrected the general malaise within the App Store rankings, it left unsophisticated advertisers searching for options to maximize their return on marketing investment.
Here are some key best practices for moving beyond downloads to measure and understand the most important factor for mobile marketing success: engagement.
1. Define what successful engagement means. At its most basic level, "engagement" refers to how consumers are interacting with an app. Good apps have higher levels of engagement, which means that people actually use them. But depending on the type of app your brand is marketing — Is it a game? Cooking app? A personal productivity app? — engagement might be measured according to different criteria.
For game apps, marketers will want to understand things like how often are users logging in, how long are they playing and, most importantly, how much are they spending on the purchase of "add-ons" like lives, coins or weapons? On the other hand, a personal budgeting app may not be designed to drive in-app purchases at all, rather defining successful engagement as sessions where users remain in the app for a long time and click on display ads. The first step in understanding mobile engagement is to know what you're looking for by clearly defining the actions that create value for your brand and each event leading to up to it.
2. Track events. Tracking installs and stopping there really doesn't tell you much about how a mobile app is actually performing. This means you may very well be wasting money if you're paying publishers for downloads. To measure app engagement and understand how it impacts the performance of your mobile marketing spend, you need to be able to track in-app "events" such as log-ins, game plays, clicks, social media shares, purchases and other actions taken within the app.
This can be done by installing a software development kit from a reputable tracking platform into your app that can capture every meaningful user action. Doing this allows you to slice and dice these metrics at a very granular level. Got a lot of installs where nobody ever logs in again? Time to look at what's going on. Is it a cumbersome log-in user interface or is the app itself just plain boring? Are people using your music app a ton but not opting to upgrade to your paid subscription packages? Maybe your app is giving too much away for free. Analyzing what happens after the download is the key to optimizing the performance (and eventually the profitability) of your app.
3. Find the right balance. While it's critical to move beyond counting downloads to get an accurate assessment of mobile app performance, at the end of the day there still needs to be a balance between quality and quantity. A highly engaging app with only 100 users still only has 100 users. At the same time, however, an app with billions of downloads and not much engagement simply means that you're really good at driving installs, but not so good at actually monetizing your app and getting any value out of all the effort that went into getting users in the first place. The best performing apps strike the right balance between quantity (downloads) and quality (attracting top-notch users that are engaged enough to share, sign up, subscribe and spend).
User actions within an app drive performance and, ultimately, monetization. Successfully optimizing a mobile app campaign demands a tracking and marketing strategy that focuses on engagement over installs.
Michael Wong is director of product at CAKE, provider of a SaaS-based solution for advertisers, publishers and networks to track and manage their digital spend in real time.