5 Questions to Ask About Mobile App Tracking

In the past year, it seems like half of my clients have decided it’s time to launch mobile apps, so I thought I’d write a post about tracking as it relates to mobile apps. Since this is unfamiliar territory for a lot of people, I’m going to frame this in terms of five questions that tend to crop up during the planning process.

1. Do We Really Need an App?

OK, I lied — this question actually does not come up nearly enough. And I know that by the time you’re thinking about how to track your app, this is probably a settled question. But I have to admit, some of the mobile apps I’ve worked on seem to me like a poor use of resources.

Does your app allow people to do something they couldn’t just do on your mobile website? Is your audience really that into you that they will download and install and use your app? If you can answer yes to both questions, then please proceed! Otherwise, I might gently recommend devoting your resources to improving your mobile website instead.

2. What Tool Should We Use for Mobile App Analytics?

Both Google and Adobe have very functional software developer kits (SDKs), and there are also a number of dedicated mobile tool vendors out there that are worth considering. Personally, I see a lot of value in having your app data in the same place as your Web data, so if you already have an analytics platform on your website, then probably just go with that.

One thing that neither Google nor Adobe does very well is integrate with the app stores. Google, of course, integrates fine with the Android store, but not Apple; Adobe does not natively integrate with either one. There are third-party tools that can bridge the gap, but this is a significantly limitation of the big guys that is worth considering.

3. Are the Mobile SDKs Hard to Implement?

Well, that depends on how much customization you want, which I’ll talk about in a minute. But the basic implementation is pretty painless for all of the tools I’ve worked with. You will need a developer who’s familiar with mobile app development (which, one hopes, you already had lined up) as well as someone who’s familiar with your analytics tool and set up; fortunately, these do not have to be the same person.

4. What Reporting Can We Get?

One interesting aspect of mobile app tracking is that the primary KPIs are often quite a bit different from the KPIs on your website. For instance, on websites, traffic source reporting is one of the most scrutinized reports, but apps don’t really have traffic sources.

On an app, the most important KPIs tend to relate to whether people are actually using the dang thing in the first place. All of the leading tools provide good reporting around these kinds of metrics: launches, first launches, screen views, crashes, etc. Far more than for a website, the important questions to ask have to do with whether people are using your app — and coming back.

5. Should We Customize the Tracking?

Well, that really depends. As usual, added complexity increases your development time. Obviously if you have a critical headline KPI like revenue, you will want to know that. But I also think it’s important to keep in mind that the goal of most analytics customization is to understand what people are doing on your site (or app) so you can improve the user experience and your conversion rates.

Since app development tends to operate on much slower development cycles than websites, I think it’s more important than ever to ask yourself whether you want to track something because you need to know, or just because you can. Plus, if only 3 percent of your audience is going to be using your app anyway, how much development and analysis time do you really want to put into it?

So that’s my take on mobile app tracking. Hopefully I don’t come off as cynical: there is definitely a lot of potential in the app space and a good app can be a thing of beauty. At the same time, I think it’s important to keep perspective. Building an app can be a stressful process, so let’s try to keep the analytics portion of the project as stress-free as possible!

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