North Star Metrics and the User Journey – What you should be tracking

When it comes to a successful mobile app, functional but friction-full isn’t going to cut it.  But what will help you to take your app from ‘meh to yeah’ is a great user journey and experience, one which flows harmoniously from the point of acquisition to the first time using your app – then beyond to a time when these customers become committed regular users and app advocates.

Happy users are the fruit of the meeting of many elements; seamless cross-platform functionality, a smooth onboarding experience, personalized, relevant messages, content and offers, and the continual meeting of your audience expectations. Underpinning all that good stuff? The gold dust that is data and the monitoring of the insights that it yields.

Data and the user journey

To give your audience what they want, you need to understand them. To do that, you need absolute clarity around the user journey; how did they discover your app, when did they install it, how many sessions do they typically have in a week, what is their purchasing behavior like? The only way you’re going to find out is by analyzing the data that your analytics platform provides, data that will help you to:  

  • Segment your audience so you can give each group of users what they want.
  • Highlight the flaws – and strengths – in your app’s UI/UX/CX
  • Enhance feature adoption
  • Better track KPIs
  • And strengthen your team’s marketing efforts across your entire business.

The big question? Which metrics to measure. Because once you’ve launched your app and it’s sitting comfortably in the apps stores, there are three thoughts that you’ll find yourself chewing over:

  1. How you’re going to get more of your target audience to download your app
  2. How you’re going to get users to spend more time inside your app
  3. And how you’re going to encourage more users to take the actions you want them to take , such as purchasing, subscribing, reviewing etc

… and, let’s add a fourth, how to get them to come back again and again and again … 

As a seasoned marketer, you already know that throwing the proverbial spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks isn’t (ever) a viable option. You need to be measuring the right metrics and acting on the insights that you’re gleaning. The key? Tracking the metrics that will help you meet audience expectations, grow your user base and your reputation, and continually meet your business goals.  

Key Metrics You Need To Start Tracking

Tracking user metrics is fundamental to creating an optimum app experience; only by knowing how your audience behaves can you craft an app that keeps them engaged, provides rich, relevant content, and keeps them coming back for more. Without measuring and tracking app performance, you’ll be forced to rely on information that provides only part of the picture (think total downloads or total revenues generated) and which fails to give you critical insights that will help you to attract, engage and retain users, insights that with app metrics, you will, at last, have visibility of. While there are a ton of metrics that you could track, you’ll initially want to focus on a small set of KPIs which align closely with your app’s goals. Below, we’ve outlined the most commonly used metrics which provide endless insights into how customers engage with an app so you can start crafting an app experience that brings your customers back again and again …

Activation Rate

Whilst it’s easy to get excited about download rates – and they are important – it’s the activation rates that will tell you the number of users who not only downloaded your app but actually launched it.   Most mobile marketers focus hard on getting their users to this point quickly – the sooner a user is activated, the quicker you can get to work on engaging them and lowering churn. If your activation rate is low, – research industry benchmarks to establish where you should be – and users are abandoning your app before fulfilling the key milestones you’ve identified, you might need to revisit your onboarding process and identify where these users are dropping off. A seamless, engaging, frictionless onboarding process is critical to boosting activation rates, increasing retention and enhancing engagement (you can read more about that here)  On the other hand, a persistently low activation rate could also indicate that you’re simply attracting the wrong audience – and you’ll want to review your marketing efforts to explore why. A Kumulos client identified a low activation rate and identified two onboarding events where users were dropping off. By removing these elements from the onboarding process and replacing them with a new frictionless step, the client saw their activation rate increase by almost 30%. 

Retention Rate

Fact: regular use of your app will improve the relationship between your brand and your audience, turning them from casual users into loyal advocates. Your retention rates are one of these key north star metrics, telling you the percentage of customers you’re retaining and how many you’re losing to the dreaded churn; just over 13 per cent of users are still accessing an app one month after installation, meaning that 87 per cent are not. What’s more, boosting your retention rate by just 5%  increasing user retention by just 5% has the potential to drive between a  25% and 95% increase in profits. Not to be scoffed at! You’ll typically measure your retention rate at 1, 7, and 30 days – but which numbers you use in your metric formula will depend on what you’re looking to discover. You may, for example, want to calculate your retention rate using the first launch as the basis, reflecting the efficacy of your app’s onboarding process, messaging relevance, and that all-important CX; or you might start at the download event which will tell you how efficient – or otherwise! – your app awareness marketing efforts are. Bottom line? No matter how impressive your acquisition numbers are, failure to live up to – and exceed- the expectations of your users means that they’ll uninstall your app if it doesn’t measure up. Monitor your retention rates continually  (and especially after a big change) and act on the insights you glean. RETENTION RATE

Active users

How often are users logging in to your app? How much time do they spend there, and how often do they return? As a mobile marketer looking to grow your user base, visibility of your active users, the depth of their use, and their levels of engagement are crucial to success. Determining the percentage of active users over time (most will want to measure daily active users or DAU; and monthly active users, MAU), alongside their in-app behavior, will go a long way in helping you to evaluate the efficiency of your marketing efforts and the value that your app delivers. Not all apps are meant to be used every minute of every day so you’ll need to establish exactly what an “active user” is for your app. Is it logging in? Placing an order? Subscribing? Once you’ve got clarity around your definition, the metrics your analytics platform provides will provide you with the insights you need to gauge not only the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns but the value you’re bringing to the user experience. 

Click-through Rate

The click-through rate metrics are about assessing the efficacy of your in-app messages, push notifications, marketing efforts, and ad campaigns, and highlighting the impact of the channels that work the hardest for your app. Taking a deep dive into this data will provide you with the insights you need to establish why a specific engagement channel isn’t working, and to lay the foundations that will improve the CTRs of those channels that are falling short. We can’t stress enough the necessity to implement a robust A/B testing strategy when you’re looking to improve your CTRs so that you can identify the optimum subject lines, content, offers, and CTAs for your campaigns both for each audience segment and for the different channels; the greater your CTRs are, the greater the opportunities are for conversions. 

Session length

The session length is the amount of time that a user spends in your app during a single session; the overall time between app launch and closing. Not all apps will be aiming for the same number – if you’re Uber, for example, you wouldn’t expect a user to be active in your app for longer than a couple of minutes (assuming you’ve got your booking process in order!); but if you’re a retailer like say, Amazon, you want your users in-app as long as possible to increase the chance of the user completing a purchase. In order to establish how often a user launches your app and how long they spend inside it, you’ll want to track both daily and monthly app sessions for each active user and determine whether or not users are staying in your app long enough to complete the desired actions, and whether or not you need to take a deeper dive into your insights to identify any issues that might be causing users to exit the app sooner than you’d like.


Your churn rate is the percentage of users – usually paying customers – that you lose over a specified period of time; those who cancel their subscription, or fail to make a repeat purchase within the timeframe that you’ve specified. Mobile apps, legend has it, lose around 77% of their daily active users (DAUs) within the first three days after install, and yet reducing churn by a mere 5% can increase profitability by up to 75%. How do you start reducing churn? Begin with asking for feedback directly from your users, then take a deep dive into the insights your analytics platform is offering up – where are they dropping off? What points in their journey are creating friction? How are they responding to your push notifications? Are you attracting the right audience with your campaigns? Once you’ve established where the issues lie, you can start to address them and create an app that your audience loves.CHURN RATE

To conclude …

You can’t improve what you can’t measure, and without tracking how your audience uses your mobile app, you’ll never be able to deliver the value that they’re seeking..Measuring how your app is used will help you deliver a customer experience that keeps your audience close to you; continually developing an efficient, effective KPI strategy and working with the insights you glen will provide you with solid foundations for growing a successful mobile app long after launch. If your business is new to mobile app analytics and you’d like to find out how they can help grow your app and your business, let’s get the conversation started!