Crucial or Vanity? Minding Metrics That Matter

by Lorena Bernal
Blog Post

Every business is concerned with monitoring metrics for any app they create. You have goals for the uptake and usage of your app and someone probably has KPIs around them. Vanity metrics

These days, there is more data than ever available to businesses to analyze and gather results. There are dozens of metrics you could be monitoring and it seems that someone comes up with a new “must measure” almost every week.

This begs the question, which metrics really matter?

The truth is, many measures people talk about or even boast about in meetings are purely vanity. They don’t give a true indication of the success or otherwise of your app because really, they’re just a number.

We’re going to look at a few common metrics you’ll see and ask the question, crucial or vanity? First up though, what do we mean by “vanity?”

What is a Vanity Metric?

Vanity metrics are those which on the surface appear to be showing impressive results, but underneath they show the wrong insights and are rarely actionable.

These types of metrics also tend to be easily manipulated. If you’re talking about something such as page views (there’s our first “vanity” metric!), you can easily boost your numbers by increasing marketing spend, however, that number does not indicate how many people are happily using your app.

In short, vanity metrics might sound good in your board meeting or in press releases (SaaS are notorious for boasting of large “growth metrics”), but they don’t provide you with any actionable feedback.

Your Goals

No discussion around metrics is complete without acknowledging the real point behind them; your business must have some specific goals for your app for any metric to truly be meaningful.

Everyone wants their app to be popular and end up listed with the “Whatsapp” of this world, but to do so, you need genuine users who love your product. Whatever numbers you want to put around it, the bottom line of what really matters is that you have enough engaged users, you’re growing that user base and that those numbers are getting you to any financial goals.

Before even thinking about immersing yourself in metrics, have clear goals set so that you know what you need to be looking for. It’s easier to be measuring the right things from the beginning and able to make any corrections early, rather than realize later on that you’ve been on the wrong track.

Common Metrics

The purpose of this post is to help you assess your own measures and decide whether or not you’re looking at the right things. Let’s dig down on a few common metrics used and determine whether they are crucial for improving your business or vanity metrics:

App Downloads

This is a big one. Every app owner experiencing large numbers of downloads tends to get excited about this “growth” and many use this as a success measure. Many online app ranking sites use number of downloads as a key measure too, perpetuating the idea that downloads must be a metric that really matters.

Let’s examine that for a minute. Downloads simply tell you how many people have found and downloaded your app. Nothing more. That number does not tell you how many people are actually using your app consistently. It does not tell you how many of those downloads simply don’t get used.

That download figure is also easily manipulated. If you up your marketing spend or perhaps offer some kind of incentive for download, you can boost your download numbers, though won’t necessarily see an influx of “ideal” users for your app.

Do App Download Numbers Matter?

In short, yes, they do sometimes, but don’t let that be the figure you bet the company on. Moz wrote a piece delving into what goes into “ASO” (app store optimization) and how the rankings in the major app stores work.

Specifically, they looked at the Apple and Google stores, though did emphasize that, just like with Google search rankings, the app stores do not reveal specifics about how they calculate rankings. Instead, what we have are some “generally accepted” ranking factors, which include the following:

  • Download and install counts.
  • Uninstalls (what retention and churn look like for the app).
  • App usage statistics (how engaged an app’s users are and how frequently they launch the app).
  • Growth trends weighted toward recency (how daily download counts changed over time and how today’s ratings compare to last week’s).
  • Keyword density of the app’s landing page.
  • Rating/review volume.
  • Average app store rating.

This means that app download numbers do matter to some extent, as a factor of the full picture. If you’ve got aspirations for how high your app should rank in the app store, then getting downloads up is a factor, however in terms of the overall usage and uptake of your app, download numbers are a vanity metric.

Registered Users

It’s the next step beyond the download, getting people to register to use your app. It’s definitely something to monitor, particularly if you’re the kind of app where downloads without registrations are useless, but is it crucial or vanity?

Well, registered users are one of the vanity metrics raised by Eric Ries in his book, The Lean Startup. Startups, in particular, may be judged on this measure, but it is not something which is actionable, that is, demonstrates clear cause and effect.

So, is registered users purely a vanity metric? Well, we think it’s more like the app downloads metric, in that it matters to some extent as part of a broader picture.

For example, you may have identified your success milestones for your app and getting the user to register is possibly one of the first ones. Mike Cohn points out in his book Succeeding with Agile that if you want to create a “balanced scorecard” of metrics, you will need leading and lagging factors.

Leading factors are available in advance and tell you if you’re on your way to achieving a goal. Lagging factors are measured after you have done something and used to determine if it brings you any closer to a goal (for example, you may have released a new marketing campaign which triggered more sign ups).

Registered user numbers could be a leading factor for your business, depending on your goals. So, crucial or vanity? Maybe a bit of both.

Daily Active Users

This is an interesting one. It sounds like you’re getting there with a meaningful metric, right? Active users should mean that you have engagement and people returning to use your app?

Consider this from Archana Madhavan: “…this points to the real problem with measuring “active users.” Active is a functionally meaningless word. It is whatever you want it to be.”

That is the central consideration as to whether “daily active users” will end up being crucial or a vanity metric; how do you define “active user?”

Madhavan uses the example of a music app which suddenly gets a whole lot of downloads as it attracts some press hype. If your measure of what constitutes an active user is that they’ve logged into your app, the chances are you’ll see a huge spike. Look at what happens though, if you go by the number of people who used the app to play music:

daily-active-users

Source: Amplitude

This example clearly shows that daily active users might only be a vanity metric if you’re defining active by the wrong measure. The key is to define it by the number of people who are taking a key action which indicates they are using and engaging with the app in the way it was intended.

Crucial or Vanity?

For any app owner, marketer or product manager, it can be tempting to run with whatever metric seems to show the most impressive numbers. These certainly sound better in meetings or in press releases!

The key though is to identify specific goals for your app and, from there, determine which metrics will actually be meaningful toward achieving them.

Some metrics may appear to only be vanity measures, but do they form a piece of a bigger picture? It may be that they do matter, but not so much that they should be the main focus for performance.

Koombea builds beautiful apps which will help you reach your business goals. Talk to us today about how we can help you.

by Lorena Bernal
Blog Post