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Loyalty & Retention

App Uninstalls: 2016’s Most Underrated App Marketing Metric

Alex Walz  //  April 5, 2016  //  6 min read

One year ago, we published The Five Mobile Marketing Metrics That Matter Most. One year ago, the mobile app industry was quite a bit different.

Over the past year, the industry has seen some pretty remarkable changes. From Google introducing its new Mobile App Indexing API, to Apple’s Search APIs, to ‘Mobilegeddon,’ there’s a lot to keep up with in the ever-changing world of mobile app marketing.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the conversation around metrics. By and large, the typical mobile marketing reporting dashboard looks the same as it did years ago: Revenue is king, downloads are queen, and app store optimization is a one-and-done game of keywords.

But are these the metrics that really speak to mobile marketing performance in 2016? Can a static dashboard do justice to a dynamic industry?

The answer to both these questions is a resounding no. From what we’ve seen over the past 12 months, we’ve realized that some traditional mobile metrics have become watered down to all but insignificance. Worse yet, an over-reliance on these metrics may cost you missed opportunities and a sacrificed return on investment.

To better guide your mobile marketing decision-making, we’ve identified six alternative metrics that speak to the current state of the mobile app industry.

The most important mobile app marketing metrics of 2016

Over the course of the next six weeks, we’ll feature a new metric each week and shed some light on its use cases, the limitations of the traditional app marketing metric off of which it builds, and the reasons we believe it should make its way into every app marketer’s toolbox this year.

The first in this six-part series deals with a metric that we talk about a lot on the Being Apptentive blog. It’s a metric capable of producing tremendous insights; yet, by and large, it’s a metric that continues to be underrated and underutilized.

We’re talking, of course, about app uninstalls, and the improvement this metric makes on its more frequently cited reverse, the install.

Update: We’ve concluded this series.

Check out all six installments with the links below. Or, download the complete series in pdf form.

1. App Uninstalls | 2. Return on Ad Spend | 3. Message Quality | 4. Customer Lifetime Value
5. One-Star App Reviews | 6. % of Customers Engaged


Part 1: Prioritizing app uninstalls over installs

Traditionally, installs (or downloads or registrations) has stood out as the chief KPI of any mobile app marketing campaign. Yet, with everything we now know about an app’s retention, usage, and monetization, installs are no longer the be-all, end-all that they were in the early days of the App Store.

In 2016, we say farewell to installs and welcome in a more powerful metric: app uninstalls.

Where installs fall short

At its core, installs are an acquisition metric. The figure tells you how many people have discovered your app and proceeded to download and subsequently install it. It’s a pretty straightforward metric and provides some considerable (albeit assumptive) insights into competitive advantage and sustainability:

  • If you have more app installs than your competitor, you’re in good shape.
  • If you see an upward trend in installs, your app is showing healthy growth.

Mobile app installs as an easy marketing metric

App installs make for easy analysis.


The only problem? App installs aren’t big-picture. They fail to capture any data on the cost or the value of an install. With more information, the statements above can just as likely produce a negative result:

  • Your competitor has more active and loyal customers, even though your app has seen more installs.
  • More customers are leaving your app than installing it, making overall customer growth negative even though install growth is positive. Alternatively, you’re paying more to acquire customers in the form of paid advertising than you’re collecting, thereby generating a negative return on your growing installs.

The problem with factoring app uninstalls

Add customer churn to the mix and that app install analysis goes from simple to deceptively simple.


In other words, app installs alone don’t provide enough information to make any meaningful analyses.

How app uninstalls provide a better indication of an app’s health

A better metric for indicating an app’s overall sustainability is the antithesis of an install, the uninstall.

While installs are an acquisition metric, uninstalls are a retention metric. They tell you how many of your mobile customers discontinue using your app each week and whether this trend is growing or diminishing. Unlike acquisition metrics, which can be assumptive or downright faulty, retention metrics provide indisputable evidence into the long-term sustainability of your app.

A note on language: In this installment, we’ve used app uninstalls synonymously with churned customers. In reality, most churned customers will discontinue using your app without taking the time to uninstall it.

To demonstrate the difference between using installs and uninstalls to assess an app’s health, consider the following scenario, taken from our previously published research on the data behind customer acquisition and retention for mobile games.

For example’s sake, assuming you’ve orchestrated an acquisition campaign, either organic or paid, capable of bringing in 100 new players a week for one month.

From an acquisition perspective, this would be a strong campaign. You would measure a growth of 400 customers at the end of the month (100 installs/week x 4 weeks). Not too shabby.

From a retention perspective, the results look a little bleak. True, you have 400 new installs; but few of those new players will continue to play your game 24 hours after the install, let alone at the end of the four-week period. Instead of the promising 400 new customers measured above, you would measure 92 new customers by month’s end to account for the dwindling retention rate. The math here is a little more complicated, but it essentially discounts for customer churn at the end of each week:

(100 installs in week 1 x 4-week retention) + (100 installs in week 2 x 3-week retention) + (100 installs in week 3 x 2-week retention) + (100 installs in week 4 x 1-week retention) = 91.66 new customers*

*Not accounting for churn of players who installed your app prior to the acquisition campaign

The result looks like this:
The retention problem with adding app uninstalls to installs

If your acquisition campaign was a paid one, this new uninstall-based ROI measurement carries an even stronger burden: As only one in four players will continue to use your game at the end of the month, your cost per install is essentially 4x greater if you only intend to measure loyal or profitable installs. In future installments of our New App Marketing Metrics series, we’ll see more on how this factors into our measurement of your return on investment.

With app uninstalls and each of our proposed metrics for app measurement in 2016, it’s important to recognize that app marketing metrics are most effective when used in combination with other metrics. Used alone, uninstalls can’t provide all of the information we need to address the assumptions in install measurement. Namely, they can’t speak to the return on investment of a paid acquisition campaign. However, when used in tandem with other metrics like ROI or LTV, which we’ll cover in-depth in future installments, we can address such questions with confidence.

Until next week

Chief mobile app KPIs

And with that, we wrap up our first installment of our six-part series on the new app marketing metrics. Stay tuned as we highlight a new metric each week for the next five weeks, or get a running start on your competition by reading up on all six metrics today in our brand new eBook The New App Marketing Metrics.

We wish you all the best as you update your performance measurement for 2016, and we’ll see you next week as we shed some light on the Voice of the Customer and how to move beyond the vocal minorities to capture representative and actionable customer insights.

> Update: Continue on to Part II of this series: Return on Ad Spend: A New Metric for 2016’s Mobile Ecosystem

About Alex Walz

Apptentive's resident wordsmith, Alex can frequently be found cranking away at eBooks or scrawling down ideas late into the night from a local coffee shop. He's an avid traveler, coffee connoisseur, and tech enthusiast, and he shares his thoughts on each over Twitter.
View all posts by Alex Walz >

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