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Unlock mobile app growth, retention, and engagement with triggers

Spencer Zeke Depas
Jul 21, 2018 · 8 min read

This is the first part of a series looking at the book Hooked and applying it to mobile apps. To maximize your apps lifetime value you need great retention. Hooked explains how you can do this by creating habit-forming products. I highly recommend you give it a read if you are working on a product.

“When successful, forming strong user habits can have several business benefits including: higher customer lifetime value(CLTV), greater pricing flexibility, supercharged growth, and a sharper competitive edge. ” Hooked — Nir Eyal

A part of creating a habit-forming product are triggers. There are two types of triggers, external and internal. The ultimate way to increase mobile app retention is to have internal triggers. The majority of us use Facebook, email or another app daily. These services probably no longer require external triggers for us to use them daily. I check my email without seeing a notification. We go to these products naturally. They have internal triggers, which are triggers that happen in the mind. Before you have internal triggers you need external ones. Below is a list of external triggers falling under the categories of earned and owned for mobile apps.

Triggers you have without your app being installed

External triggers are essentially different ways users can find and enter your app. The more the better. Some of these triggers have a double benefit as they will either encourage existing users to use your app or they will entice new users to download your app. These triggers can also make a user reinstall. Below are some good ways to create triggers that can affect people who do and do not have your app.

“new habits need a foundation upon which to build. Triggers provide the basis for sustained behavior change” Hooked — Nir Eyal


Deep-linking is the ability to link directly to specific in-app content from anywhere. These links can be placed anywhere like social media or in an article. Many of the features here use deep-links. I recently had a look at one of my apps and found that up to 15% of app launches were from deep-links. Deep-links are an invitation to see specific content in your app. If deep-links are well constructed and are shown in a relevant place they will attract both new and old users. They can increase engagement by prompting a specific action in your app. If you would like to add deep-links to your project you can have a look at my deep-link packages. If you are a developer Have a look at this guide on deep-linking outside of facebook.

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QR codes

A QR code could be placed at a bus stop. It could deep-link into a bus app for the specific bus stop information. What is cool about a QR code is they are physical deep-links. They can be used in the digital world and the real world.


A community relating to your app can trigger the use of your app. This could be, a Facebook group, a Reddit sub, a Meetup, an Instagram account ect. You could create a new community or leverage an existing one. You need to create a connection between the community user and your app. Does the user see your content and think of your app? You need to create that connection.

I created a Facebook group that provides daily vocabulary. If a user finds a word they do not know in the group they may be triggered to use my vocabulary app. The group is branded and connected with deep-links. One tap on Facebook and you deep-link into relevant content in my app. The group prospects new users and nurtures existing ones. Driving growth, increasing retention and engagement.


You can run ads to trigger users to download your app. You can deep-link in to add special deals, promotions or to change your on-boarding.

Communication Triggers

You can email, direct message, comment, social media posts, talk in person, call or snail mail your users. If you have an email list, you can give an update on what is happening or tell your users about a new update or a competition that is happening in your product.

User-generated triggers

Your users can also create triggers for you. A good example, is them sharing a game high score on social media or sharing some branded content like a Prisma picture. This will attract new and old users. You want to make sure you have branded and shareable content.

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Collaborate with people in your field that you do not have a conflict of interest with. I recently reached out to Random Kid who I found on youtube. I asked if he could do a review or incorporate my app into his Vocabulary content. You could also collaborate between other apps or other forms of media. Have you ever seen a twitter or facebook button in an app that is not Twitter? When you click on it it takes you to twitter. You could find a mutually beneficial situation and incorporate your app into someone else’s and vice versa.

Make a library

Create a library for other developers to use. This library would connect to your app. An example of this would be something like Uber integration or showing a twitter feed in another app. The library needs to provide value. Companies need a compelling reason to add your library.

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Create content for youtube, Instagram, art, posters, medium posts, Snapchat, or a full feature movie. There are multiple Lego movies and Lego apps. Every time there is a new lego movie it will potentially trigger old and new users to come back to a Lego app. This can be applied to all forms of media. Creating a relevant piece of content that is targeted towards your users can motivate them to use your app.

Firebase app indexing

This can make your app available when your user searches on google. They can then deep link into your app from Google search. Check out a video here to see an explanation.

Triggers when your app is installed

These are triggers you can implement when your app is downloaded. People use apps in different ways and they will not be exposed or interested in the same triggers. You have to decide what triggers are most relevant. Anything that makes the user think of your app I am calling a trigger.

Marshmallow text selection feature

If you highlight any text, in any app, you can import it to within your app. Something cool about this is not too many apps are doing it. If you add this feature you can be one of the few apps that do this. Maybe it will give you a feature monopoly. This is a Marshmallow and up feature. You can find a tech tutorial on how to do this here.

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This is in Chrome for Android but you can access my app from Chrome

Sharing to your app

A not so cool equivalent of the marshmallow text selection feature is to just enable the share feature within your app. This works the same but you have to press the share button and compete with all the apps in the share list which can be large. You can not control which apps are on top of the list. I have the share feature in an app and it has 1/16th the shares to the app compared to the marshmallow Text selection feature.

Lock screen

Displaying information on the user’s lock screen. Every time a user locks their phone they will see XYZ. I think this will become less and less relevant as lock screens are being unlocked faster and faster with biotech. Soon I think we will have no lock screens.

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Widgets take up real estate on the user’s home screen. Every time they are on their home screen they will see your shiny content. This should make your users think of your app frequently.


What is the difference between a notification and a push notification? A notification is handled on the device and is not triggered externally. A push notification is triggered externally and can contain information that you enter remotely. You can use the external data and deep-link into relevant content. Both Notifications and Push Notifications are powerful ways to trigger users to use your app.

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Add your app to other platforms

You can add your app to other platforms to increases triggers from other places like Android tv, watch apps, Android auto, Google Home, android things and more.

Follow me on twitter I have a goal to get 40 followers

Updating your app

A little bit of a hack. When you update your app, the user may see that an update has happened. This will show in the user’s notification tray. This can trigger the user to check out what was in your update. Consider you are one of many competing apps on a users phone. I think the user will be more likely to open the recently updated app. There is a small variable reward. You may think, what could be in the new update? I would love to see a study on this. It might make sense to have smaller updates so the users see your app update more frequently.

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Quickly add deep-links to your project


Having more triggers results in more ways your users will think about, find and enter your app. The best triggers are the ones that promote usage for new users and existing users. In one of my apps, over 15% of app launches are from two types of deep-links (app share and Marshmallow Text Selection). A 15% increase of app launches is a significant amount. Imagine if you added many external triggers.

Triggers are only a part of creating a habit-forming product. If you would like to read the next article in the series please follow me on medium or join my mailing list to stay up to date.

Triggers cue the user to take action and are the first step in the Hook Model” Hooked — Nir Eyal

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