Mobile startups all face the same problem: how do you balance growth with app stability? After all, everyone wants more users, but when that hockey stick growth finally happens, unless your company is prepared, your end user experience might suffer.

This post is the second in a series about problems you’ll encounter when scaling a mobile application. The previous entry was about an app’s architecture. In this post, we’re addressing the tools a mobile team should use, including:

  • Product Analytics
  • Attribution For User Acquisition
  • Real-time Monitoring
  • Ad Server

Note: some of these tools are not specific to mobile companies, but for this post, we’re limiting our focus to their use in the mobile space.

Product Analytics

Product analytics is about understanding how users engage with your app. Marketing’s job is to get users to download the app, but once those users arrive, they won’t necessarily stay for long. According to Statista, in 2019, only 32% of users returned to an application 11 times or more.

Thus, another key reason for using product analytics is to study user behavior for the purposes of retention. All the user acquisitions in the world won’t mean much if you can’t keep users around, so mobile teams should use tools to help reduce user churn.

Who uses product analytics tools?

Product managers rely on product analytics to steer their decision-making. The job of a product manager is to determine what features get built. They take in feedback from user research, sales requests, engineering, executives, design, and customer support feedback. They have the incredibly difficult task of deciding what features will provide the most value for the business and organizing a timetable so engineers can allot their time accordingly.

What are the main features of product analytics?

Product analytics is all about measuring events. Some examples include user flows, or the paths a user takes throughout the app. Do users log in, view a product page, add it to cart, and then leave the app? How many users view a few product pages and then leave? Which product pages do they tend to leave after viewing? Are there patterns in how users experience the app that lead to more versus fewer purchases?

Another important part of product analytics is user segmentation. What information describes your best users? Do they tend to use the same device? Use the app around the same time? Do they live in certain parts of the world? What actions do they take in the app?

Funnel analysis involves understanding where users drop off in desired user flows. If you notice a large number of users never finish the onboarding process, perhaps your app is not revealing its value to new users quickly enough. If users add items to a shopping cart but don’t complete a purchase, then there might be issues during the purchase process.

Cohort analysis is a form of user segmentation, where you examine a subset of users grouped by shared characterstics. A common example is tracking new users by acquisition date, so you can study how app usage is affected by marketing or product changes.

Retention analysis has to do with studying how often users return to your app. Do users tend to stop using the app after a certain number of sessions?

What are some examples of product analytics tools?

Amplitude, Mixpanel, and Heap.

What are some key questions that product analytics can answer?

  • What are the characteristics of your most engaged users?
  • What do users actually use the app for?
  • How long does it take users to engage with the most valuable feature in the app?
  • How many users return to your app daily/weekly/monthly?
  • How many users complete a critical event?

Attribution For User Acquisition

Mobile attribution is about tracking where users learn about your app and connecting them to the key actions in their journey towards becoming customers. In other words, attribution is a marketing tool to learn what made new users come to your app. Was it a Facebook ad? Was it an ad in another app? Did it take interaction with multiple ads before the user downloaded the app? Attribution is about measuring advertising and marketing endeavors to learn which were the most successful.

The importance of attribution stems from how complex the online ecosystem has become. Customers engage across more touch points, which means tracking how a customer finds their way to your app is an involved process. You can track email marketing, website clicks (either ads or blog post links), in-app or in-video ads, and other media.

Who uses mobile attribution tools?

Marketing teams use these tools to understand which campaigns are working.

What are the main features of mobile attribution?

One feature is understanding which sources of traffic lead to app installs. You want to understand which channels of user acquisition work the best in the long run. Another feature is covering in-app events (or post-install events) to learn which users are high-value users. That way, marketing teams don’t just go by the sheer number of users a traffic source delivered, but also how valuable they are in the app. Which users spend the most time in the app? Which users spend the most money in the app? Apps differ in what form of engagement they value the most, but attribution can identify how the most valuable users discovered the app.

What are some examples of product analytics tools?

Braze, Branch, Kochava, Appsflyer, and Adjust.

What are some key questions that mobile attribution can answer?

  • Which touch points led to the most app installs?
  • Which marketing campaign resulted in the highest-paying users?
  • How many touch points did users need before installing the app?
  • Which ads worked and which didn’t?

Real-time Monitoring

Real-time monitoring is about knowing how your mobile app performs when it is in production. Performance will vary depending on the user’s location, device type, device health, network health, number of other apps running, and many other reasons. If you want your mobile app to reach a huge audience, you must set up monitoring to know how the app performs, where it is crashing, and what steps you can take to improve it.

Who uses real-time monitoring tools?

The primary users are mobile developers and engineering teams. They use monitoring tools to find and fix bugs and examine app health. Mobile managers use monitoring tools to check an app’s stability across releases, to ensure that newer versions don’t suffer performance setbacks. CS teams could use monitoring tools to look up user sessions and triage issues before contacting engineering. QA teams could use monitoring tools to check that features are working as expected before deploying to production.

What are the main features of real-time monitoring?

There are many features, and not all tools will provide all of them. But they include:

  • Performance monitoring - the percent of users affected by crashes or errors, the success of specific user flows (e.g. startup, registration, log in, purchase)
  • Crash reporting - most frequently occurring crashes, stack traces, separation of crashes by type (unhandled exception, ANR, OOM, user termination, etc.)
  • Logging - breadcrumbs, device health logs, developer logs
  • Infrastructure monitoring - network endpoint health, which network requests are slow or have connection errors, frequency of network requests
  • Alerting - notifications on new events or when events exceed certain thresholds
  • User session lookup - see what the users experienced when they used the app

What are some examples of real-time monitoring tools?

Embrace, Firebase, New Relic, and Bugsnag. Few platforms contain all the above features.

What are some key questions that real-time monitoring can answer?

  • What is the crash that affects the most users?
  • Are certain user flows in your app failing or running slower than expected?
  • Which network endpoints experience the most errors?
  • What caused a crash that a user experienced?

Ad Server

Ad servers are used to incorporate ads into your mobile app. At a certain point, you’ll probably want to monetize your app, and in-app ads are a great way to do this. AdTech is a field that incorporates many different things, including ad servers, ad networks, and ad exchanges.

It can be very confusing to understand the differences between these entities, but in general, you need an ad server to choose which ad will appear for which user. The ads themselves can come from direct sold, ad networks, or ad exchanges.

Who uses ad servers?

Marketing teams use ad servers when they want to monetize their apps by allowing in-app ads. They use ad networks or ad exchanges to buy ad space (or inventory) when they want to promote their own mobile apps.

What are the main features of ad servers?

Ad servers (and AdTech in general) offer companies the ability to run dedicated campaigns and track their performance. When purchasing ads, this includes features like real-time bidding, targeting inventory (by device, geography, or user details), sending custom creative (such as A/B testing and switching future ads to the most successful option), and retargeting (sending ads to user who have already seen your ad before).

When monetizing your own app, ad servers allow you to decide which types of ads you want to run: push notifications, video ads, overlay ads, in-app banners, rich media ads, banner ads, full-page interstitial ads, and more.

What are some examples of ad servers?

There is a lot of overlap in AdTech platforms. For example, many ad servers are also ad exchanges or ad networks. But when we think about mobile advertising, the big players include Admob, Facebook Audience Network, AdColony, and Unity Ads.

What are some key questions that ad servers can answer?

  • When running ads, which ads deliver the best return (e.g. CPC, CPM, total number of conversions, and CTR)?
  • When hosting ads, which ads earn the most money (e.g. banners, interstitials, video ads, etc.)?
  • When A/B testing ads, which ones have the most engagement?
  • Should your strategy involve a combination of purchasing ads from networks and exchanges?

Summing It All Up

When scaling a mobile app, there are many areas that you will want to have tools for:

  • Product analytics help product teams evaluate user behavior and engagement.
  • Attribution helps marketing teams understand which campaigns and touch points are delivering the highest-value users.
  • Real-time monitoring helps developers and mobile engineers examine app and infrastructure performance, including sending alerts on crashes or network problems and providing crash reporting to help find and fix problems.
  • Ad servers help marketing teams buy or sell ads and track their performance.

As your app and your team grows, the importance of good tooling cannot be overstated. Every tool is different, and you should pick ones that meet your business needs. Something to consider is having a single company framework of tools that everyone in the organization uses.

We covered this concept in a previous post, but it can save time and money by allowing the resulting data to be accessible across your organization. For example, CS teams with access to a monitoring platform can triage issues by looking up user sessions before bringing the issue to engineering.

Scaling a mobile app is incredibly difficult, and we hope you’ve found this post helpful. By giving your teams access to the right tools, they can be better prepared to handle the challenges that growth entails.

Who We Are

Embrace is a mobile monitoring and developer analytics platform. We are a one-stop shop for your mobile app’s performance and error debugging needs. If you’d like to learn more about Embrace, you can check out our website or visit our docs!