App Vanity Metrics can turn ugly

Oct 23

App Vanity Metrics can turn ugly

Over the last few years the inexact science of ‘growth-hacking’ and the challenge of getting Apps discovered amongst the million apps in the App/Play store has been the dominant activity.

Some of the growth-hacks work initially and occasionally if the App is truly great (or cash supported – I’ll do a later post on that) plus added Techcrunch magic the apps growth is seeded.

But much of the time the methods just provide a great support (smoke and mirrors) for press releases and management reports. We’ve found in talking to a lot of App owners that reporting “Installs” on the board report or management dashboard is de-rigueur.

The down-side of this is that if you have a leaky bucket then you are reporting old and irrelevant data. This is called Vanity Metric: a term popularized by Eric Ries of “lean startup” fame. A vanity metric will get you by for a while but does not last long.

If you come from Natasha’s world of data-driven marketing, the standard metric has been for decades “Actives”. Without getting caught up on whether “Active” converts to revenue (a marketer must always be showing the funnel leads to increased lifetime value (LTV) or ARPU), being able to track and report actives is important.

Important – really?

  • Its important because its an important feedback that your users see enough utility in the App.
  • Its important to understand how your Viral Loops (if any) are performing.
  • Its important to know what response rates to a campaign or a push are having in terms of engagement
  • Its important because it can relate to an email campaign (or some other media like TV or in-store promotion) you may have run
  • Its important because if you neglect churn and just focus on paid acquisition you are wasting your marketing budget. Its very standard knowledge that cost of retention is much lower than cost of acquisition
  • Its important for the marketer’s/product manager’s career because it keeps you focussed on retention and churn.
  • Its important because the “Installs” vanity metric is becoming very well understood at the management level and you don’t want to experience that ugly moment when you are asked for “Actives”


I’ve seen speakers at meetups or conferences tout millions of downloads in first week but refuse to share “Actives” – that speaker instantly lose credibility because the audience is their peers and much more savvy on the topic than their managers.


The Right Way to think about Actives

Its usually not pretty when you start to think Actives, the numbers might seem low – but thats good news! As they say: “the first step in solving a problem is…”.

For App marketers the “the first step in solving a problem is measuring it”. Once you’ve got a baseline then you can target activities to improve it.

Facebook’s director of growth Alex Schultz talking on retention in games

Credit: Techcrunch

At StreetHawk, we think that not all apps need to measured on the same X-axis:

  • measure actives weekly (a sliding window of all unique users over 7 days)
  • measure actives monthly (MAU)
  • measure which actives by cohorts (too complex to answer here but a subject of a future post where you measure based on some event, commonly a version or install date)
  • measure based on your app natural cycles:
    • I use a wonderful app called “TripView” (IOS, Android). Most users would never open this App use on weekend so I’d measure weekdays separately (not average all days as equal).
    • If you have a sports app, then clearly you will be more interested in the utility provided to the users over the competitions cycle – don’t sweat it if the App has low usage on Tuesdays.
    • measure what happens when you make a change in the App
    • measure what happens when you segment and target users with a push or in-app. (I’ll post later how StreetHawk makes this a snap)
    • Your management will accept you are not Facebook and that its usually nonsense to report daily actives. (DAU)


Once you’ve got this baseline in place you can start to increase the retention curve. We’ll talk about that more in a future post.


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