User Retention In Mobile Apps: Best Practices

May 17, 2016

Building a good mobile app is much more than actually writing the code and publishing the resulting product to an app store. Rather than that, it’s a nearly endless process of iterating and evolving your app, so that it would meet your customers’ requirements at any given time.

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In today’s economy, app creators are engaged in the tightest competition possible for users’ attention, and for a place at their home screens. With that in mind, there’s no wonder that the user retention rate has become equally, if not more important in the world of mobile than the number of the app’s actual downloads.

With understanding of the importance of having as many users return to your app repeatedly as possible, it’s quite surprising to see the actual average user retention rates from the real world. Here’s how things look on Android, according to Quettra:

Average retention curve for Android apps

What this graph basically means is that only 23% of the average app’s users will return to it three days after the install—and only 4% will in three months.

Things look a bit better for top-rated apps from Google Play, though:

Retention curves for Android apps

Even the best apps ranked as top 160 at the store would lose from 25% to 50% of user in the first day, while in three months only 19% to 51% would still use them.

If you think things look much better for iOS applications, think again. According to the data released by AppsFlyer, an average app on Apple’s platform still loses up to 95% of users within the first week:

iOS retention rate

Apparently most of app creators these days struggle to answer the main question of user retention: why would a user come back to our app? There are as many possible answers to this question as there are app users, but it’s still possible to outline a number of best practices that can help boost your retention rate.

Check them out, and make sure you’ve not missed any of possibilities to incentivise your users to open your app again and again.

Analytics is key

Before we get to the actual user retention hacks and tricks, here’s one thing that is fundamental for building a good app that appreciated by users. Understanding your users’ needs and problems is key for developing a healthy relationship with them, and the best (and perhaps only) way to do that is by tracking and analysing their behaviour.

We’ve recently taken a close look at all kinds of analytics tools for mobile apps—check it out if you haven’t yet. There’s a great many of offerings—free or paid, simple or fully-featured, on-premise or cloud-based,—that can get your analytics up and running in mere minutes. Just make sure you think of it before releasing the first version of your app to the public.

Onboarding experience

The first minutes, or even seconds after the user launches your app for the first time are crucial. The way you introduce the product and its features to the customer, known as onboarding process, can engage the user and ensure they’ll come back to the app—but also can ruin the whole experience.

There’s a number of strategies and ideas on how to build your onboarding flow, but the main thing is quite clear: make sure you’re showing the user the value of your app right away. Be it content or a service of any kind, the user has to see exactly what they will be getting after signing up—if possible, it’s always good to actually give them the functionality or content to use/consume as early in the process as possible.

Don’t overload your users

While you definitely need to explain the users what value they can get from your app, make sure you don’t overwhelm them with information. If your app has a desktop relative, don’t ever use it as a reference: the screen of a mobile device is small, and you need to focus on what’s really important.

Minimalism is often a good thing in mobile apps. Present your customers with a clear reason to keep using your app early on, and show them only relevant content afterwards. Don’t forget putting a straightforward call to action where appropriate—a typical user won’t go exploring deeps of your folded menus to find what they need.

Don’t push too hard

Push notifications are proven to be incredibly important for user retention. People who opt-in for push notifications are 25% more likely to keep using the app than those who don’t, according to Apptamin’s data. In addition to that, those who opt-in for notifications open the apps twice as often.

Push messaging's impact on app user retention

However, overdoing push notifications can backfire in the worst way imaginable. Appiterate’s survey of mobile users discovered that annoying notifications are the top reason for uninstalling an app, followed by complex registration and freezing.

Make it stable

Speaking of freezing, this one deserves a separate paragraph. However beautiful and useful your app is, no one’s going to keep using it if it crashes every other minute or shows spinners for each operation. Take your time to test the app before release, for you’re unlikely to be given a second chance if you ruin the first impression.

If you’re looking for a good way to remove the annoying spinners from your app, check a post: Do Not Let Your User See Spinners.

Gamification is your friend

Application of game-thinking in a non-game context, or gamification, shows great results when used for customer retention in all kinds of contexts, including mobile apps. There are very few types of apps where elements of gamification wouldn’t be appropriate, so you definitely should think about ways they can fit into your product.

The key elements of gamification are achievements and competition, which make customers want to keep using your app. If you’d like to learn some fundamentals of the idea of gamification in general, consider joining a Coursera course that will start on May 23.

Strong content

It sounds kind of obvious, but is still worth reiterating on: if your app provides users with content, make sure it’s strong and relevant at all times. Of all kinds of applications, those for mobile devices require the highest degree of personalisation, while lack of thereof is a sure reason for the user to hit the uninstall button.

While thinking through your content strategy, don’t forget that app building is an endless process, which means that the content you provide the user with will require regular updates. Bear this in mind, and take a good care that the quality of content does not deteriorate over time.

Know when to ask

Having a high rating and positive reviews in the app store is very important, as it directly influences the likelihood of the app being discovered and downloaded. The obvious way to get rated more often is to ask the user to take a minute and show their love by giving your app as many stars as they deem appropriate.

While reaching out to users in this situation looks like a no-brainer, it’s very important to choose the right moment for it. If the popup asking to rate the app breaks their flow, they’re likely to either ignore the plea—which would be a good thing in this case,—or go ahead and leave a negative review. You definitely don’t want that to happen.

Judging by the data obtained by IPG Media Lab, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your gamification mechanics, and ask users to rate the app at moments of unlocking achievements and receiving rewards. According to the survey results, customers are 40% more excited at this time; in addition to that, getting rewarded is a natural end of a flow, which makes it a great moment to talk to your user.

Power to the people

However perfect your app could seem to you, there’s always a backlog of issues that need to be addressed and features to be added. Prioritisation of those is something that needs to be thought through, as simple ways like working on them in the chronological order don’t really work.

An important piece of advice here is to try and work on the issues reported by actual users first. There could be problems you see in your tracking tools, or features you want to add right now, but it’s always beneficial to think about your real customers and their needs first. Although this rule definitely has exceptions, they’re much fewer than one would think.

Use alternative channels

User retention is all about talking to your customers and keeping them engaged. To achieve that, it makes perfect sense to connect to them through all possible channels—first of all, social media and email. In addition to that, it could be appropriate to keep in touch in messengers via bots, which are all the rage these days.

As many other recommendations in this post, engaging users through alternative channels can be done in connection with your gamification elements: reward customers for subscribing to your Facebook page, or provide them with exclusive content via Twitter or email. Where relevant, coupons could be used as incentive for users to provide their email addresses. Be inventive!

Let’s wrap it up

If there’s something we’d like you to take away from this set of user retention best practices, it’s that you must know your users and always be thinking about them.

Tracking and analysing the way your customers interact with your app is the key to understanding their needs and eliminating all kinds of issues that can arise. In addition to tools like heat maps and user flow trackers, think about having real people come in and give your app a try, so that you could witness the interaction in person and ask about their experience.

Also, just don’t overdo your marketing efforts, and don’t do stuff just for the sake of it. Excessive notifications, irritating pop-ups asking to rate the app, as well as useless email newsletters and Facebook posts are a sure way to make people wince when when they hear your app’s name. You’re better than this.

In other words, whatever you do, make your decision-making process user-centric, and think in advance how any changes you make to the app can influence your user experience.

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