Last week, I spoke at the annual Huawei Connect Europe conference in Paris, discussing major trends in the cross-device consumer market. Apps were the hot topic of the show: everything from messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat and the challenge they pose to carriers, to mobile gaming (which is becoming an increasingly heated market), to streaming media apps like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, to cloud-based productivity services like Huawei’s own cloud solutions. And of course, any discussion about apps inevitably leads to a discussion about metrics— specifically, which metrics matters most. Looking beyond mere download numbers is key—and a topic I addressed broadly at last month’s ARF Maximizing Mobile Creative conference last month – and my talk at Huawei Connect Europe allowed me to take my argument one step further, and examine the importance of differentiating key metrics when it comes to cross-device behavior on apps.
Download a copy of my full presentation, Cornerstone Digital Trends in the World of Cross-Device Consumers.
While the consumer internet started with web sites and portals like Yahoo! in the 90s, apps are now what is driving revenue and user engagement across digital devices. And the rise of apps correlates with the emergence of mobile operating systems and a range of devices that now includes smartphones, tablets, wearables, streaming media devices, smart TVs and hubs for connected homes. This represents a vast audience: according to Verto Content Watch Data, there are almost 700 unique apps in the U.S. alone which have at least 1 million monthly unique users. And American adults (ages 18+) spend more than 10 billion hours total with mobile apps in any given month.
Which Metrics Matter for Your App?
My presentation aimed to trigger new types of thinking around the metrics that matter for your business; different metrics matter for different use cases and business models. Using Verto Analytics’ own data, I highlighted several options that all app publishers should take into consideration.
1. Mobile games: measure downloads, retention, and game play dynamics
For example, if you’re a mobile game publisher who monetizes games based on paid downloads, optimizing for downloads—and focusing on those as your key metric—makes a lot of sense. But that only covers a fraction of the mobile games marketplace. Instead, if your game monetizes on in-game purchases via a free-to-play model, you should instead focus on your retention metrics (benchmarked against your peers) and game play dynamics, based on Verto’s in-app behavioral metrics for in-game purchases.
2. Advertising: measure users and their profiles
Conversely, if you sell advertising to brands, you must instead consider your unique daily and monthly users and their demographic, behavioral, and psycho-graphic profiles—these both contribute to the reach you can provide to your clients.
But one thing remains universal: all mobile app publishers can benefit from the holistic use of data. For example, the industry has long focused on the importance of download numbers. However, according to Verto App Watch data, for a typical app publisher, 1000 downloads may only lead to 50-200 active users that remain after the first 30 days—and even fewer users who can actually be monetized. And, as shown below, while the average U.S. consumer has 71 unique apps (system apps excluded) installed on their devices at any given moment, only 25 of those apps are used monthly, 18 are used weekly, and 7 apps are used daily. Looking far beyond the download means measuring and understanding actual usage (users, time spent, sessions) should matter to all mobile app publishers, regardless of business model.
Mobile vs. PC: The Value of Mobile as an Advertising Channel
Mobile apps are used differently than desktop applications: sessions tend to be shorter, users constantly multi-task (jumping from one app to another), and user attention spans are shorter, resulting in shorter time spent in app. It is easy to track the traffic coming from apps that are running on the background of mobile devices, and quantify user traffic and time spent. However, this is a poor proxy for actual user engagement; instead, it’s important to have validation that consumers are actually using a given app on the screen by measuring foreground activity on a second-by-second basis.
To take a practical example, while total user time spent is greater on mobile devices than on PCs, a different picture emerges if one counts only the active time spent per user, as seen in Verto’s Content Watch data that compares PC and mobile usage time on the foreground between U.S. and Chinese users (below). Due to active business usage and longer sessions, PCs still dominate smartphones or tablets (when these two mobile device types are separated) in terms of active time spent per user per day. Interestingly, Americans spend more time per day on PCs than Chinese users, but for smartphones and tablets, we see the opposite effect – Chinese users spend more time daily with mobile devices than American users.
Herein lies one of the most interesting observations on mobile and its value as an advertising channel: even though mobile engagement has not yet exceeded PC engagement across the total market, the channels have very different numbers in terms of the hour-by-hour reach. Although time spent with apps on mobile devices is lower, mobile devices are used much more frequently; users tend to regularly check notifications or jump into apps throughout the day, which adds up to hours of use. This higher frequency means that most mobile properties can claim high user reach on an hour-by-hour basis.
As a simple example, we analyzed UK digital consumers and found out that 10%-15% of the UK’s monthly online user base (those who use the internet at least once a month on any device) can be reached, per hour, during daytime working hours via desktop and laptop PCs alone. However, when mobile is added into the mix, the audience grows considerably: one can reach a net audience of about 50% of all UK online users; depending on the time of day, the mobile-only reach can be as high as 35%-40%, which is 3-4 times larger than the PC reach.
This differentiation is crucial when it comes to monetizing audiences via advertising. Advertising is increasingly important for big apps and games, as the competition grows for consumers’ wallets. Game publishers should be able to inform potential advertisers on the potential reach that can be acquired via their mobile properties. Likewise, if you sell advertising to brands, you must be able to convey the impact of different user behaviors that occur across devices—and their subsequent effect on audience reach.
An Integrated Approach to Mobile App Metrics is Vital
If one only analyzes monthly data instead of daily or hourly data, if one only focuses on downloads and not actual users or time spent, or if retention metrics are overlooked in favor of simple incoming user volume, you won’t have a full picture of your mobile app business—and neither will your advertisers or marketers. We as an industry (analytics companies, advertisers, platforms, mobile publishers), must consider a future with more metrics in mind instead of merely looking at downloads.