Ideas Tech

Developers need referral tracking for apps

The top app marketplaces lack any ability for a developer to know exactly where their downloads are coming from — an incredibly important metric.

First, I should provide a bit of context: I’m the CEO and co-founder of Circa, a company whose primary product is a mobile news application which can be downloaded from both the App Store and Google Play. My opinions here are based on the last 18 months of being a part of the app ecosystem.

When people visit a website, the detailed information about that visit is easily accessible to that website owner. Referral traffic (meaning how the user arrived at the website) is a core analytic that can be extremely helpful in understanding how people discover your website. For instance, I can tell by using Google Analytics that 40.34% of the traffic to is from social referrer sources. Even further, I can tell that a solid 20% of all the traffic to our website is from Twitter alone.

When it comes to understanding where our app downloads come from, we’re completely blind.

Knowing how people are discovering your app is probably one of the most important things for an app developer to know — it helps you optimize your app marketplace listing, focus marketing efforts, adjust ad spend, and more. Only some of these issues already have solutions and most of the time it’s a pretty ugly work-around. What I’m calling for is a completely transparent understanding of refferral traffic from the app marketplaces.

The premise of this ask is simple: just let developers know how people discovered and subsequently downloaded their app. Was it a search? If so, what was the search term they found the app with? How about a link from a specific website? If developers were able to know some of these basic things, we might gain an understanding of how to better market the application.

Organic vs. paid vs. promoted

Having detailed referral information would really help a company wade through the insanity of the ever-important “launch day” too. In the case of Circa, we’ve done major press around each of our launch events. With both our 1.0 and 2.0 launches, we’ve seen additional downloads as a result of being featured by the App Store and Google Play in prominent locations. But unfortunately we’re completely unable to understand what amount of the downloads were a result of our marketing and press efforts, and what amount was generated by a promotion from within the app marketplace. This issue is further complicated when adding app advertising into the mix, which we have done very little of.

On the other hand…

About the only argument against app referral information that I can possibly come up with is that it would help the “bad” developers game the system even further. Placement within the top charts of an app marketplace can make or break an application so to ensure success, a lot of app developers are turning to ad spend and other “dirty tricks”. Having detailed information about where the downloads are being generated from may indeed help these bad seeds further their goals. However, I think a solution to this would be to enact some form of “trusted developers” program within the marketplaces where certain features are granted to trustworthy companies and developers.

In my opinion, I think it’s detrimental to developers that are working hard at their success in the app marketplaces to not know where their customers are discovering their apps. Even the simple additional of referral traffic analytics would help in these efforts immensely, and I for one hope that Google and Apple are listening to their developer communities.

By Matt Galligan

Hi, I'm Matt. I’m a dad, a Midwesterner living on the East Coast, designer, craft beer & coffee lover, remote work evangelist, and GIF enthusiast.