A New Measurement Model Needed For Mobile Apps

Only 10 years ago, web design and success in the web economy for brands was measured in how long you spent online with a brand.

Statistics about dwell time, time on site, bounce rate, conversion, and ultimately engagement, became a measure on whether your site or service made the mark. We even invented a fabulously rich vocabulary to describe openly the tricks we were going to use to keep people there: touts, spotlights, heroes, calls to action.

Even brands “brave” enough to concentrate solely on more modern transient channels such as Instagram go for long-lived measurement. And who’s to blame? The agencies; we are at fault.

We told brands that the longer people stayed, the more people would spend.

Then came mobile platforms powerful enough to run a web browser. (Let’s ignore WAP decks and other so-called innovations.) The smartphone posed a problem for already-online brands that had spent harshly on desktop websites: How can I make the most of my considerable web investment and also own mobile, too? Uh-oh.

Agencies and technology companies went away and quickly returned with two opposing solutions.

  • Reuse all your content, but use our “templates for the mobile web” technology to make it a marginally better mobile experience using some kind of intermediary magic.
  • Utilize equally magic Javascript and style sheets to make everything one size fits all.

The latter technique matured to become what we call responsive design, but both methods relied on foisting all of a brand’s content onto their public. That’s all the content that the brand had spent the previous 10 years amassing, crafting, and tweaking. (Sure, there was a brief interlude where there was an attempt at repurposing content for mobile, but that proved just too difficult for anyone to really bother with.)

Let’s reflect for a moment on Google’s AMP initiative, which effectively reinvigorates the “templates for the mobile web” initiative to create a Google mobile web walled garden.

And yet still, web page success was measured by how long someone had struggled to find their way around a two-inch screen without going off and doing something else. Success then?

As apps emerged, the same wisdom perpetuated. Create bigger apps with more and more content. Make them big and impressive to download and fill them with leaky data APIs, rich content, and screen upon screen of options and choices to demonstrate all the thought and consideration that had gone into building it.

And all along I think we all knew this wasn't really what people wanted.

Just because “people only use 10 apps” or whatever the perceived statistic is, this doesn't dictate that these few apps need be bloated, confusing, and unwieldy. (Goodness knows what they stuff into LinkedIn to make it so big!)

The attitude this perpetuates is still measurement. “How many data points can we add to our new app” echoes in workshops, and creating something in an app just to service a data point is happening all around us.

Success is effectively measured in how long you can trap your consumers in your app while throwing sales opportunities at them in the hope they convert, and if they don't you have a dozen data points to derive an insight—maybe.

Regardless of how we measure these things, it will come as no shock to anyone that what we really want is utility when we are mobile, whether on an app or the web. They can be sales-orientated, but they need to have utility first.

However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Apps need to be responsive and contextual, just not that sort of responsive. Contextually responsive apps and mobile websites need to know my need and act accordingly and appropriately. The new pattern for apps should not concentrate on layout being responsive, but it should be about the needs of the user.

As the app learns more about the individual, the more the app will offer, eventually offering solely what the user needs in an individual context. The apps we all talk about as shining examples of this are known to all, whether the purpose be finding a taxi or finding a soulmate. We all talk about them, but how many agencies persuade brands to be as brave?

Single-service apps are now measured as successful based on the least time spent using them, time to mentally check out and move on, and the transparency of what you get.

By all means, measure how many times apps are used and which sites are visited, but take into consideration how they are least-used too and whether they offer reusable and effective utility. By all means, add some lifetime value stuff in there as well.

In short, we need to introduce a new measurement paradigm, which is essentially a “lack of engagement index.” Who’s going to be brave enough to propose that first?

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