Using Pirate Metrics to Analyze Your Mobile Application’s Audience

May 12, 2016

What Makes a Native App Successful?

There are over 200 native applications in the federal government with various download numbers. Are the ones with the most downloads the most successful? Is the one with fewer users who are more engaged more successful? It depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

David Cooper, the Mobile Application Development Lead with the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) and member of the MobileGov Community of Practice, said during a recent DigitalGov University (DGU) webinar, that while vanity metrics such as page views for websites and downloads for apps make you feel good, they don’t tell you anything about how users like your app or site. For that, you need actionable metrics, ones that provide you with the information you need to help improve your app. Downloads won’t give you that information.

A colorful lady pirate LEGO toy against a black background

flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The pirate metrics framework, according to Cooper, is a good way to understand how your product is performing. Coined by David McClure, the “pirate” in the metrics comes from the first letters of the lifecycle stages of the framework.

  • A – Acquisition
  • A – Activation
  • R – Retention
  • R – Revenue
  • R – Referral

One of the things Cooper likes about Pirate Metrics is that it does focus on actionable metrics. Cooper walked listeners through the five stages of the Pirate Metric framework and applied his native app use cases to each of them. I’ve provided the stages and some of the examples he gave below.


How are people finding your product? Promotions are a good to let people know about your product. Facebook or Google ads, blogs and social media are all ways to promote your product. You can use campaign URLs to track who comes in via which method.


How do you get people to convert from being a browser to a user? Onboarding, the term the private sector uses to refer to the process of getting people to sign up for your app cannot be too clunky, otherwise you’ll lose them as repeat customers. Common ways to track activation are through installs/opens per week or how many people are signing up for accounts.


Now that you have customers/users, how do you keep them engaged? How many of the users that initially downloaded your app are still using it 7 days, 30 days later? The variation in users from one month to the next is referred to as your churn rate and you can find hints for why people may not be continuing to use your app by looking at bug/error reports, and the most/least used features in your app.


What is the monetization behavior? This can be difficult to measure in the government; considering a lot of our apps are informational in nature; so maybe track the cost of providing the information via an app versus the cost of printing and distributing information via booklets. You also need to take into account the lifetime value of the customer. Cooper decided to remove on of his apps because it cost too much per user to justify the expense of keeping it up to date.


Do people tell others about your product? Does it go viral via word of mouth? You need to find your super users and make it easy for them to tell others about your product. As it turns out some of Cooper’s best promotion efforts aren’t digital—they partnered with frontline health professionals to recommend their apps as part of veterans treatment programs, and so developed a “prescription pad.” The apps were downloaded much more frequently once doctors were able to include a prescription to download a mobile app rather than try to remember and recite the URL to a patient.

So, how do you accomplish all of this on a government budget? Luckily, with many of the analytics tools you can set up dashboards and then forget about it in the sense that they will automatically collect statistics over time. Cooper also mentioned low/no cost usability techniques such as paper prototyping to gather data.

As Cooper, a psychologist by training, pointed out you can find many low cost and free online training resources as well as various books and YouTube videos (Google Analytics, Google Ventures, etc.) As he pointed out in his concluding remarks, “other people are writing mobile app and websites and are sharing their experiences like I am with you. That is how I learned. A lot of trial and error.”

Watch the webinar to see how you can learn how to use pirate metrics in your agency!

Helpful Training Links Cooper mentioned in his slides:

Learn more about DigitalGov University and register for an upcoming event today!

Originally posted by Jacob Parcell on May 12, 2016

GSA | Washington D.C.

May 12, 2016