What is Mobile App Analytics?

August 21, 2015

If you’re still trying to get a better grasp of digital analytics—mobile app analytics specifically—this blog post is for you!

I recently joined the team at Analytics Pros after four years in the digital marketing world, and I’ve been rapidly expanding my knowledge of digital analytics in my new role as Director of Marketing here at AP. The learning curve has been steep to say the least, and in a rapidly evolving industry definitions are fluid rather than fixed. In an attempt at analytics self-education, I recently pulled together a glossary of sorts, definitions of all the products, services, and offerings known to big data. There’s SEO and SEM, Machine Learning, Predictive Analytics, and Data Visualization—just to name a few. The glossary has been a handy tool as I continue to get acquainted with this industry. In all my searching, however, one phrase came up short. My query for “What is mobile app analytics?” yielded unimpressive results. So for practice (and with the help of my mobile-expert colleague, Vincent Lee) I’m taking a stab at what I’ll call a working definition of mobile app analytics.

Why Mobile App Analytics?

But first… why?

A lot of people can tell us why mobile app analytics. Users are spending an average of 37 hours each month in app—that is a 63% increase quarter over quarter. There are subscription services apps, dating apps, payment apps, finance apps, mobile-first travel apps, and mobile-first transportation apps. The ability to measure mobile activity has never been greater, or more important.

A quick survey of the marketing landscape shows tremendous growth in companies built for and around mobile. There’s Tune—the “mission control” for mobile and one of the fastest growing companies in Seattle. Then you’ve got MixPanel—a mobile analytics tool recently valued at $865 million. And we can’t forget to mention Localytics and the recently acquired Flurry.

Last, but not least: Google Analytics and Google Analytics Premium allow for you to track mobile user behavior with ever-growing sophistication. Google Analytics is more than web analytics—it’s really about tracking how visitors interact with content, on the web and on mobile—both for iOS applications and for Android applications. Whether you’re tracking unique users, pageviews, or ecommerce events in your mobile app, Google Analytics has the capacity to help you better understand user behavior and then optimize that user experience.

(If you’re interested in screen naming best practices for mobile, we’ve got seven. And if you’re interested in measuring mobile app push notifications, we’ve got you covered.)

Mobile App Analytics, Defined

But I want to take one step back and define mobile app analytics, which might prove difficult given the flux not only in data analytics, but in mobile specifically. To borrow from a broader definition of web analytics, mobile analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of mobile data for purposes of understanding and optimizing mobile app usage.

That seems simple enough, right? But this is a relatively flat definition that fails to take into account the material differences between web and mobile. Are screens and pages actually equivalent metrics? How do sessions differ between these two platforms? This definition also doesn’t describe how we actually collect the data and the larger, more diverse marketing and analytics mix that mobile requires. What is the right lens through which to interpret mobile data? How do mobile app companies best leverage data to better understand their users? And lastly, how do mobile app marketers use data to create something of value for their users?

Mobile Data Analysis and Insights

Google Analytics for Mobile Apps lets you measure the full value of your app across all key stages, from first discovery and download to in-app conversions. As your understanding of users matures, the better you can tailor your app to meet their needs. And you can do this through things like tracking their behavior (purchases, events, or even time spent in-app), real-time reporting, audience segmentation, and ecommerce tracking—all with app-specific data.

Below you’ll find a few Google Analytics reports that will help you make data-driven decisions for your mobile app—both for marketing and product optimization.

Behavior Reports Overview

The Behavior Reports Overview allows for quick reference to the behavior of users in the mobile app. In Google Analytics, behavior describes what your users are actually doing in the mobile app. Two metrics that help describe user behavior are screen views and events.

Screen Tracking

The Screen Tracking Report allows us to understand what our users are actually seeing on their screen. With this report, we can see how the users’ relationship with screens changes overtime. For example, if we made some UI changes to an onboarding screen, we can use this report to see if more or less users are exiting from this screen than before.

Event Tracking

While the Screen Tracking Report describes what our users are seeing, the events report describes how the users are interacting with the UI. Mobile analytics is highly event driven. Because we decide what we want to track as an event, many of our interesting insights can come from this report.

Custom Dimensions & Metrics Tracking

While Google Analytics provides many helpful dimensions and metrics, you may sometimes be interested in understanding information specific to your app. Custom Dimensions and Custom Metrics allow for us to do this. Custom Dimensions and Custom Metrics may be defined in the Google Analytics Admin tab under the Property section.

We can use Custom Dimensions to segment data in ways specific to our app, and use Custom Metrics to count information. In the above example, we would be able to segment the data by the user’s favorite color to help understand how favorite color affects the user’s behavior in the app.

Enhanced eCommerce Tracking

Last, but certainly not least, is our enhanced ecommerce report. This helps us understand what our users are actually purchasing in our apps. Enhanced ecommerce is a powerful feature. It allows us to attribute internal promotions to conversions as well as which product lists are highest performing. Enhanced ecommerce is definitely something to look into if your app conducts sales of any kind.

Mobile-First Marketing Strategy

As the ubiquity of mobile phones grows, more and more of the consumer experience will be mobile or in-app. But here’s the thing: Great marketers start with the customer regardless of medium. Forget mobile or digital or point-of-purchase or out-of-home; do you understand your customers? Do you know how they are shopping, playing games, traveling, etc. vis-à-vis your mobile app? Measuring user behavior is essential for mobile marketing—especially as the mobile app market continues to saturate.

The data leads the path, but as marketers, analysts, and BI strategists, it’s about figuring out the behavior behind the data. Data, mobile or otherwise, only gets us partway there. Intuition and inference are equally important in gathering insights that lead to action—especially when it is at times hard to create a clear and useful attribution model for mobile app downloads and usage. A truly optimized mobile app experience is just as much about understanding human behavior as it is about testing and analytics.