When Google proudly announced improvements to its Firebase cloud services platform at the I/O developer conference, the advertising and mobile giant unleashed a strategy to fundamentally change how you support your apps. The new Firebase, which includes Firebase Analytics, takes the well-regarded one-stop-shop for app management and supercharges it into a platform intended to help you monitor, manage, measure, and market your app.
From an app analytics perspective, this kind of integrated approach is a huge step in the maturation of mobile as it tries to catch up with the more mature web analytics industry. For brands and businesses, there are many other very specialized app analytics solutions available (more on that soon) — but starting an app project by integrating Firebase, especially on Android, will now be a no-brainer for most.
Firebase, a small startup in San Francisco before they were bought by Google in 2014, originally offered a backend as a service (BaaS) to help app developers host and manage data that powered their apps. This service helps shorten development times for companies that don’t have the data infrastructure already in place to support and manage an app.
It’s a lot more than that now, with what seems a myriad of new features added. There are no shortage of overviews of what’s been added around the web. In this post, I’ll concentrate on what Google calls “the heart of Firebase” — Firebase Analytics.
Measurement: Core to app success and central to Firebase Analytics
At first glance, Firebase Analytics looks like a simple replacement for Google Analytics, in this case directed at mobile developers. As anyone who has tried to measure their mobile apps in GA will know, it’s something we’ve needed for some time: an analytics product designed from the ground up for mobile. But Firebase Analytics isn’t just the mobile section of GA rebranded; it’s a fundamentally different way of measuring your app’s user experience.
Where Google Analytics has traditionally been based on sessions and pageviews, Firebase Analytics is user and event driven. The old GA paradigm of static web pages counted as “hits” in a particular browser session simply doesn’t apply any more — even on the desktop web. And it certainly doesn’t help you gain insight into what your users are doing as they interact with your app.
The focus on the user is key. We want to know what real humans do when they’re using your app. So, out of the box Firebase automatically collects user properties such as app version, device model, gender, age and interests — all attributed to a user object, representing a real person. On top of this, you can add up to 25 additional user properties from information you already know about this person. Because Firebase can also manage your user authentication for you, you know that this combination of data reflects the same person each time.
You can populate up to 500 events, so you can capture exactly how and with what these users are interacting. Want to know the best place to add a button that you know will increase your revenue? Use Remote Config to create random groups that see the button in different spots, then measure the user interactions. And do it all without relying on the user to perform an update.
Understand your audiences — then market to them
You can also segment your user base with any of these dimensions and events using the Firebase Analytics “Audiences” feature. This is not dissimilar to the way you can create segments of your audience in GA, which we’ve had for a while in the web world and is a fundamental tool for any analyst to understand their audience.
The difference in Firebase now is that you can then communicate to these audiences in a tailored way. For example, using Firebase’s AdMob integration you could serve up targeted ads that the user is more likely to respond to or send notifications based on a specific audience’s needs using Firebase Cloud Messaging.
The Audiences feature is even integrated into crash reporting and error reports — so you know exactly what problems are affecting which people on which devices. Meaning that you’ll be able to get a handle on the problem sooner and get a fix out quicker.
Firebase: User data binds platform together
There’s a theme here: Google is not only dangling the carrot of free analytics to get developers and marketers invested in the platform, it’s also made it the cornerstone of the entire enterprise. Data, and in this case user-focused data shared between multiple functions, is the blood that pumps around Firebase’s veins. It binds the platform together.
And Google is making this play because you’ll definitely want to turn on Firebase App Indexing to get your app listed in search results, and you’ll use Dynamic Links to make sure your users are always sent to the right place in your app when they click on a link. And because you’ll get hooked on the insight you’ll obtain from Firebase Analytics, you might just want to explore and use all the other Firebase features. Why buy ads from another network when you have Adwords baked into Firebase? Why, indeed.
Measurement takes planning
No analytics package will provide you with the insights about your app that you need without proper planning up front. As part of ArcTouch’s mobile strategy sessions, we help our clients understand what KPIs matter most for their business, and then instrument the right technology in every app (using tools like Firebase Analytics). Then, of course, we measure and optimize the app after launch to ensure the app is delivering on its promise. Want to learn more? Say hello.