Discovery Is in the Details – Using Analytics to Understand Mobile App Performance

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In our mobile world, apps are an indispensable tool for marketers to connect with customers and generate sales leads.

The proof is in the numbers:

Clearly, mobile proves itself a vital sales channel – and its importance is only going to grow. So, it follows that when an app doesn’t perform well, your company leaves money on the table. After all, abandoned shopping carts are purchases that weren’t made. Articles that go unread represent missed opportunities to nudge users further along the sales funnel.

When we say “perform well,” we’re not only talking about design, technology and communications issues. An app may not deliver its full potential because users expect it to do certain things in certain ways, but it doesn’t. They may have trouble understanding what they’re seeing on certain devices, but not others. While users may open the app with a certain intent – say, to read an article or buy a product – if the app’s operation doesn’t align with the user’s expectations, the channel breaks down.

What analytics tell you

In many ways, the role analytics plays with mobile apps isn’t that different from its role with websites, says Ben Yurchak, president of KnowClick, an analytics firm in Bryn Mawr, PA. However, because mobile is more technology-focused, “the ability to measure behavior and how users accomplish certain things is more important,” he says. (See video below. Start the free 30-day trial.)

To do that, marketers need to understand the user’s intention and satisfaction with the app. The intention piece, which Yurchak deems “critical,” can be measured in various ways – from surveys to brief questions built into the app itself.

As important as intent is, more marketers and developers say they want a deeper understanding of how users actually interact with an app. While many already include analytics tools in their products, they rarely provide much detail beyond which controls users most frequently touch and how they navigate.

“We’re looking at a global level, not a detail level,” says Bob Weber, president of the mobile and web developer Weblications in Princeton, NJ. “Most people want to understand what’s going on and get ideas on what to develop going ahead. We’re looking at functional events more than behaviors.”

Tracking more closely for more granular data

That spotlights a weakness in the way a mobile app’s performance is measured and analyzed. While studying functional events can tell you the effectiveness of a particular control, it doesn’t provide any intelligence about what the user expects to see or expects to happen after taking a particular action. This leaves a gap in the designer’s and developer’s knowledge, which can have a direct impact on, for example, how many purchases are made or shopping carts are abandoned. Plugging such gaps can improve the app’s effectiveness.

When users try something and nothing happens, that’s an indication that they expected a result, Yurchak says.

“If people are tapping a particular area of the screen even though nothing happens when they do, that says you have to figure out why,” Yurchak observes. At the minimum, it tells developers they need to intervene, so if users tap too many times in one place, the app will present some kind of direction or help.

Having the ability to track user sessions in such detail also helps both marketers and designers understand what aspects resonate the most. For example, it’s important to know that users who access one particular section upon opening the app make more purchases than users who access a different section, or that users who follow one navigation path abandon shopping carts more frequently than those who follow a different path. As Yurchak says, if many users have the same issue in the same place, chances are the problem is with the app, not the user.

Weber also points out that studying user behaviors may identify issues that go beyond the app. He can envision scenarios where shopping card abandonment is more a comment about price than the application. In those cases, the app may not provide enough information to address the problem, but at least you can remove one factor – an ill-performing mobile channel – from your work to identify the problem.

Tools like heat maps and the ability to replay user sessions can be particularly valuable in assessing how people are proceeding through the purchase sequence, examining a product, and then deciding whether or not to buy it. They help analyze user behavior in its totality by looking at what they’re doing as well as what they’re not doing,

Such data will “definitely impact the ongoing development process,” Weber believes. “While at the high level, analytics can show you if an app isn’t performing well, being able to see things in more detail can help explain why it’s not.” That, in turn, helps developers improve the user experience so that the app delivers as it’s supposed to.

Start understanding mobile app performance today

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