While a wealth of analytics tools gives us increasingly detailed views into how users navigate through our systems, services and apps, there’s no metric that tells you how your users were feeling at the time. In fact many of the terms that we measure for technology services, such as bounce rate, retention and number of pages viewed, all act as a stand in for how users were feeling – and one emotion in particular: frustration.
Frustration is the silent killer of technology businesses. It’s the feeling that causes users to close the screen, or worse delete the app, without giving you any idea as to why. Sometimes frustration can build over time, meaning that a series of frustrations can lead to a developer mis-attributing the source of lost users. Of course you can survey your users, run user tests and look to your app reviews for indications as to how people felt about your service, but by the time someone has become frustrated or annoyed it’s unlikely they want to spend additional time providing feedback.
However there is one metric that, at least in the mobile app world, can often be a strong indicator of the building level of frustration of your users – and that is time.
Coming from a web marketing world, where “time on page” was a key metric that web owners tried to optimize for, not against, it’s a fairly significant change in thinking. But with such limited real estate on a mobile app screen, there’s not a huge amount to occupy a user’s time on functional pages – such as screens to sign up, options, invite or settings. Increased time spent on these screens can signal that something is overly complicated, difficult to understand or generally frustrating for the user.
There are a number of tools that help app developer measure time spent per screen, although all have limitations and a fair bit of set up required. The one that gives the best indication is Google Analytics for Mobile:
However to get an accurate reading for this metric, Google requires a lot of advanced set up, including detailed naming of all of the screens within your app. Additionally, Google is great for looking at average results across your whole audience but has significant limitations for drilling down into your audience – it’s much harder to see who is having trouble with your app screens and the range of times it takes different segments of your audience to move through your app.
An alternative is Mixpanel which doesn’t allow you to see the average time that users spend on a specific screen, but does allow you to see the time it takes for user to move through a series of predefined steps in, say, a sign up funnel.
Like Google, Mixpanel requires some initial set up, but allows for much greater segmentation of your userbase, to determine which subsets of your users are taking the most time to get through your app. For many independent developers, however, Mixpanel’s higher costs can be off-putting.
Regardless of how you measure the time that users spend on various screens within the app or service, this us an often under-utilized metric that tells you quite a bit about how frustrated or confused your users are. If a screen that takes you 15-20 seconds to pass through has an average use time of over a minute, your audience could be missing the point, unable to find a button or unsure of what to do.
Using time as a proxy for frustration in your app or service can help highlight places where you’re causing users to fall out of love with your product, even if it’s not the place where they give up on your app entirely.