In this new article of our AARRR metrics series, we’ll show you how to measure user activation as well as its importance in product analytics. Activation is one of the most overlooked metrics because it is often considered to be part of acquisition. Activation is the process by which your new visitors or users engage meaningfully with your product for the first time.

While acquiring new users is great, if they don’t actually do anything with your product, then you’ve just spent or invested resources without achieving any corresponding value. For this reason, activation is treated distinctly from acquisition.

Meaningful engagement is at the heart of activation. What does this mean exactly?

Well, it’s up to each product designer to define the meaningful interactions that drive a user to engage with a product. The meaningful interaction at the point of activation is often referred to as the “wow effect,” when a user is so awed by what they can do with your product that they feel won over by your value proposition.

The steps leading up to the activation event often make up an onboarding process, a series of steps by which the new visitor or user is educated about the value proposition of the product just before experiencing it herself. You may have seen this in mobile applications in the form of a few screens you read and flip through before using the app or as a guide that appears while you engage in your first interactions with a product you haven’t previously used.

As you can imagine, activation points can vary significantly from product to product. Airbnb might consider activation in many different ways depending on what they believe has meaningful value: a search, browsing a certain number of results or even reserving a flat for the first time. For Uber it might be ordering a ride for the first time or it could be completing a first ride altogether. It’s up to you to define what interaction is meaningful and use the associated event to measure its efficiency.

Activation funnels

Activation is measured similarly to acquisition, through funnels. For products that are built with an acquisition step, the first step of the activation funnel is the acquisition event. For products with no acquisition phase, the first activation step is the same as the first step of the acquisition funnel, the visitor’s interaction with your marketing channels through backlinks or search engines.

Activation, like acquisition, is measured as a rate — the ratio of the number of visitors or users that complete the funnel versus the number that have entered it. The success of activation strategies is due in large part to two main factors.

The first and most important is your value proposition. Is the value you provide to a new visitor or user compelling enough for them to pursue it? And if so, is there an interaction or a sign that the experience was appreciated? You’ll know if the value proposition is strong enough from qualitative feedback like app reviews, user interviews and user testing, but you can also figure it out by evaluating if users return to use your product again.

The second relates to optimizing the steps in your funnel and reducing drop-offs. There are few rules for optimizing the steps in the activation funnel. Sometimes removing steps and shortening the funnel work; other times lengthening the funnel to ensure your new visitor’s comprehension before proposing the activation event can help. The best products do well at communicating the value proposition while making it easy to see and feel how the product works the first time.

In our next article about the AARRR metric model, we’ll talk about referral, the metric that represents how well your product performs at using existing users to recruit new users

Want to learn more about how to implement product analytics for your company? Download our paper, “The 3 components of behavioral analytics for products.”