5 Methods for Increasing App Engagement and User Retention

Clearbridge Mobile
Oct 12, 2017 · 5 min read

October 12, 2017

It’s easy to assume that user acquisition is the central metric for determining mobile app success, but without active users, high download rates mean nothing.

Mobile app engagement and mobile app retention are two metrics that provide genuine insight into the success of an application. Low app engagement and retention are a recipe for failure, while high engagement and retention equals the opposite.

Engagement — describes how active users are on the application. While this is a somewhat subjective metric, Localytics describes highly engaged users as those that have 10+ sessions per month.

Retention — while again a fairly subjective term, the industry benchmark is the percentage of an app’s users who return to the app within 3 months of their first session.

The average of these two combined determines an app’s “stickiness” — how engaged and loyal users are for a particular app. For those that are concerned primarily with user conversions and/or monetization, the most important objective is to keep users engaged and ensure repeat usage.

Graph via Localytics

The Engagement/User Retention Problem

Achieving sufficient mobile app engagement and user retention rates is a difficult task. In fact, user abandonment (apps used only once and then abandoned) accounts for 23% of users. Although there has been a slight improvement in user abandonment rates since 2015, almost a quarter of users still desert applications almost immediately. Furthermore, if an app is opened only once in 7 days, there is a 60% chance it will never be opened again. The reality is, app developers are up against a competitive market in which users have a lot of choice.

Increasing engagement and retention will lead to more active and loyal app users. The following tried and tested methods will help produce results.

Providing a seamless onboarding experience can help significantly reduce abandonment rates. The more difficult it is to begin using an app — too many steps to sign up, too many information fields, confusing features/functions, etc. — the more likely users are to abandon it.

First impressions are imperative, and user experience is no exception. Apart from ensuring users don’t abandon the app, effective onboarding has been shown to increase user lifetime value by up to 500%. The following steps can help you create an intuitive, frictionless app onboarding process.

  • make logins and account creation easy (reduce steps for signup, offer multiple registration options, etc).
  • don’t overload users with information from the get-go. Instead, offer feature/functionality education as the user gets to those features
  • teach through action to expose gestures/actions needed in the app experience

An example of the seamless onboarding process. Image by Helen Park, Hootsuite

Push notifications have been shown to increase user retention, with statistics showing anywhere from a 56% to an 180% improvement. Users who have opted into receiving push notifications exhibit 88% higher app engagement than those who haven’t.

Push messaging serves very specific and important functions. For one, it helps remind users that they’ve downloaded your app, which is important when you’re competing for valuable real estate on a user’s device. Implemented effectively, it can also help encourage usage through targeting messages based on behavioral data and preferences (more on this below). For applications that serve very specific functions and aren’t likely to drive daily usage, it can help engage users by providing them a compelling reason to return (for example, a discount or promotion on a service/product).

Recommended: How To Use Push Notifications To Reduce App Churn

Mobile personalization is arguably one of the most important aspects of a compelling application. Personalization helps provide a more unique, relevant experience to the user. The more aligned the experience is with a user’s needs and preferences, the more likely they are to continue to use the application.

Apps no longer deliver uniform experiences. Whenever possible, personalize the user experience by using known data to display relevant content and material in the app. Customized content and tailored insights delivers real value to the user.

Including the user’s name on screens and in messaging is an easy way to personalize, but diving deeper to ensure push notifications are hyper-relevant to the particular user is where personalization truly thrives. In fact, push messages that are tailored to user interests have a 54% conversion rate, versus 15% from broadcast messages.

But you need to tread carefully; if you implement push notifications improperly and send users irrelevant messaging or notifications that users deem annoying, they will have the opposite effect.

If you want to drive engagement and retention, giving users incentive to use your app can go a long way. Mobile specific rewards, specialized content access, coupons, special promotions, and other offers will help drive conversions and encourage engagement.

Obviously, the ways you can incentivize users will depend on the nature of the app. For example, apps that use in-app purchasing as a monetization model will benefit from time-sensitive discounts, whereas freemium apps can incentivize users by providing usage-based rewards.

Apps are iterative, whether they are minimum viable products or mature, polished, and fully functional. Regularly updating the app experience with new features and personalized content will help keep users interested and engaged. It’s important to monitor analytics, track user behaviour and listen to feedback to establish what features of the app drive usage. This information is essential to product roadmapping and helps determine what updates are the most compelling and valuable to users.

App engagement and user retention are equally, if not more important than user acquisition. Converting users to loyal, long-term customers will help increase average lifetime value (LTV) and generate more revenue for your app. The above methods can significantly improve user engagement and retention to ensure that your application has an impact in the highly competitive app landscape.

At its core, Clearbridge’s mobile app development process is designed to take the client’s vision and make it a reality. We provide rigorous, deep-dive product definition, strategy consultation, and product roadmapping to create an actionable plan for the design, development, and delivery of the custom mobile app.

Originally published at clearbridgemobile.com on October 12, 2017.

Clearbridge Mobile

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Full stack mobile app development studio. You dream it, we build it.