How to approach tracking mobile app analytics using Google Firebase

Once a new mobile app is launched the main question that may come to your mind is what’s next? You have probably came up with some great features, interesting content that you put much effort to release. But in order to develop your app further you need to know what is the users response – do they find what you came up with interesting do they revisit your app, what is worth developing more and what not so much.

Define what you want to track

Often releasing an app comes with a deadline, either if it is your own app or you are releasing it for a client, you want to do it within a certain time, you put much effort to develop and test all the features. What you cannot forget is to properly define what app statistics you want to track before to go live to store. After your app is released to Google Play or App Store you cannot add any more tracking without an app update. That is why it is so important to find time along with designing and implementing certain features to think of what specifics of your app you want to measure and what are your KPIs.

Google Firebase as a major tool for app stats tracking

There are several tools for tracking analytics, the basic and most popular up to some time ago was Google Analytics. But hold on – it has been recently replaced. The major tool provided for that purpose is Firebase – a mobile and web application development platform providing many many services and analytics is just one of the most basic ones.

We were all quite used to Google Analytics. If you have an older app which used Google Analytics you have probably received a message from Google saying that your SDK file (SDK = Software development Kit) will no longer by supported starting from October 2019. What you need to do is launch a Firebase project and use a Firebase SDK file instead.

Firebase – basic tracking with no specific implementation

Google Firebase provides a sort of basic wireframe for app statistics tracking. After launching a Firebase project on your app you will be provided with some very basic data automatically. What is totally new is that there are several automatically defined events that are automatically triggered by every app and gathered in your Firebase dashboard.

Automatically collected events

You will be able to monitor some data without any additional coding. The automatically collected events are very basic but can come in useful, for instance first_open when user engages with your app after installing it, or notification_open or notification_dismiss which can tell you about users behavioral response when you attack them with notifications.

Firebase Funnels

Firebase also provides a visual aid for analyzing and comparing events data – Funnels, a fancy name basically stands for a chart that compares events data. They don’t provide any additional information but help data analysis.

The example shows the users response to received notifications – the percentage of notifications opened and the percentage of notification dismissed. You can track it by event itself (event count) or users (several notifications sent to 1 user).

Above of events collected by default Google Firebase provides some basic data about app audiences, demographics, used devices and obviously used platforms (iOS/Android). You can use it to target your users better.

Firebase StreamView

A fun gadget is also StreamView that provides information about is the use of your app live – within past 30 minutes. It provides a  preview of active users, their localization, triggered events, and basic demographics.

Firebase – much closer to Android rather than iOS

What you need to remember is that Firebase is a Google-operated console. It provides much more information for Android devices. Some events are only available for Android-operated devices, this also concerns app demographics which are based on Google accounts used for app downloads. There is some data provided for iOS users but their source is not 100% clear.  

Defining you own statistics

If you decide to stick to basic, automatic Firebase statistic you may quickly discover that the data presented will not provide you with a true market response to your app and specific features that you designed. That is why it is so important to create your own events and parameters for tracking your specific features before you go live with your app. If you decide to add some events later on or maybe rename or change them after you have launched your app, you need to remember that that change will only be available from that point when you release your app update to store. There is no possibility to change historical data in Firebase analytics, that is why you need to think it through beforehand. If you design it well in the beginning you will be able to compare your stats within time and track the markets response well.

Additional data sources – Google Play Console and App Store Connect

One of the most important KPIs while tracking your app is number of downloads. This is not to be traced on Firebase. You will have to acknowledge that for proper statistics tracking you need to reach several sources and Google Play Console and App Store Connect is definitely one of them. This is the only reliable source for verifying how many users are using your app and how many devices have your app installed. Google Play Connect also provides information about uninstalls which is unfortunately not available for App store. You will also find uninstalls on Firebase, but as you can check they are only available for Android devices.

Firebase – basic service for basic analysis

If you decide to use Firebase for tracking your app data you will quickly discover that it  is a pretty simple tool that does not allow complex data cross-reference. To some extend you may even say that Google Analytics, its predecessor, provided more free tools. For instance you may have an event defined by two parameters – client id and promotion id, you can have Firebase track that event providing those two parameters, but if you want to cross check specific client id with specific promotion id (link one to anther) – you cannot – even though Google obviously has that information because it’s stored for your tracking. For that purpose (along many others) you might want to use BigQuery. Big Query is a paid service provided by Google. It allows you to reach for any raw data regarding your app and construct queries for presenting expected results. You pay by amount of Google-owned data you use. If you find this interesting – stay put – a BigQuery article will be coming up.

Looking for other analytics sources

What one should remember is that Google Firebase is just one of many data sources to track analytics. Some data, like app installs, is only avaliable through Google and App store platforms. On the other hand very often specific and more complex data tracking is performed on the backend side where you have full control on constructing queries and more sophisticated analysis can be performed using your CRM system for instance. For that purpose a customized dashboard can be created and automatic reports can be generated on the server side.

If Google Firebase as an open market basic tool doesn’t seem right for you you can also check Flurry Analytics, Countly or Apscience. Read a bit more about it here: