10 ways to improve your user retention

Since November last year I’ve had the great pleasure of being responsible for user optimization at Yotpo. During this time I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with a large number of tactics to improve our user retention. In this post I’ve covered some of my favorite methods for improving user retention, and covered my thought process, implementation and optimization of these methods.

1. Make it easy and natural to come back

One of the best aspects of Yotpo is almost every aspect of the service can be automated. This is great for providing value to users because once everything is in place the system continuously generates reviews, new traffic and sales for users. From a retention point of view this automation has a negative effect. Obviously our main aim from a product perspective is to generate value for our users but there are still times when you want them to log into your service and take action.

In order to drive more visits to our user admin I needed to find a way to drive users back without harming the automation of the product. The breakthrough came from an in depth analysis that I did on how our users interacted with their reviews. I noticed that often users had a backlog of reviews which hadn’t yet been published on their sites and many hadn’t been pushed to social media (Yotpo helps store owners generate reviews for their products and we provide tools like social share to help them leverage their UGC to increase traffic and sales).

My solution was to leverage the “new review” email we send to users to inform them they have a new review. With the help of our R&D team we created special links which automatically publish a review and/or shared it on social media while still directing the user to their user admin. Below is a screenshot of a new review email.

This change had a massive impact on the number of reviews published on our user’s sites and social accounts (Facebook and Twitter), and increased monthly user retention for active users by 12%.

Takeaway:

I see many services which I’ve lost interest in trying to bring me back with emails which provide me with no immediate value. These emails are easy to ignore and generally perform very poorly. Try and find ways to bring users back to your app or website which 1) brings them immediate value and 2) that is both easy and natural. As a tip try and think of some action which users need to take often in your app and program it as a one-click link and then throw it into an email.

2. Always be learning

Over the last year I’ve been obsessed with gaining information on Yotpo’s user base. I believe that knowledge is power and without actively collecting information on the habits, expectations, pain points, personas and ambitions of your user base you will fail to make significant gains in user optimization.

There are many ways that you can gather information on your user base. What we do at Yotpo is run numerous surveys and track a huge amount of data based on our user’s behavior. I want to cover both of these and show how each helped me improve our user’s retention.

Collecting data on our users with the help of surveys

Surveys have a bad rep but using surveys has been extremely effective for helping us understand major pain points in our user activation funnel. Activated users are way more likely to remain as active users so one of the best things you can do to improve retention is improve your user activation rate. (tweet)

In order to understand where our users were getting stuck I used Intercom to send out emails and in-session pop-ups to users to get them to fill out a basic surveys through Google Docs. The aim of the survey was to understand the main reasons why users weren’t managing to either connect their store to our system or finish installing Yotpo’s reviews widget on their sites. I later switched to using TypeForm as our main survey tool and I highly recommend it.

Once I had enough data I could better understand the problems with our installation flows and provide feedback to our head of product.

Tracking user behavior with Kissmetrics and Google Analytics

I’m a huge fan of Kissmetrics and over the last 12 months we have gone from tracking only a handful of behavior driven events to over 1,000 total events. Everything from page views to activating specific features is tracked. Google Analytics is another great tool which we use mainly for high-level traffic data and marketing analysis. Both Google Analytics and Kissmetrics showed me that the most popular section within our admin is the moderate section. Once this was clear I knew that in order to get maximum exposure for all our communication tools (Qualaroo and Intercom) I would need to set up our pop-ups on this page.

Kissmetrics’s funnel reports also helped us understand which steps in our installation flows were the most problematic. This helped us improve our flows which resulted in more users becoming active and a higher retention rate.

Example of a Kissmetrics funnel report. Kissmetrics is an amazing tool which I recommend all startups use.

Takeaway:

There is always more you can learn about your user base and you should be actively asking and collecting data on your users. Only through data can you find the major issues which are hurting your retention and activation rates.

3. Entice with new features

A great way to get users back to your site or app is by enticing them with a new feature. A best practice is to communicate the new feature as a benefit instead of a feature. In the end of the day your features are meant to provide value so communicate that value through email, pop-ups or however you are communicating with your users.

New feature launches are also a great way to identify which segments of your user base become fully active users as a result of the new feature. Certain features entice different user segments so when you launch a new feature make sure you can easily track usage of that feature and how it affects retention.

At Yotpo we usually have a “multi-layered approach” to communicating the benefits of new features to our users. The first “layer” is a direct email which is usually sent to the entire user base. The second “layer” is an Intercom pop-up which we activate a few days after the email is sent out. The third “layer” is direct targeting of specific segments of the user base with Qualaroo or again with Intercom usually a few weeks after the feature is launched.

Takeaway:

Make sure you create a full product marketing campaign for each new feature or feature set that you launch and leverage the information you have on your user’s behavior to communicate your message effectively. Launching a new feature is a great opportunity to increase all your user optimization metrics as well as learn new, valuable insights into your customer base.

4. Encourage users to get more from the service

There is often a big gap between how the average user users a service compared to how they should be using it. This obviously depends on the complexity of your product and your market but I’m sure most founders would agree with me that most of their users aren’t getting the full benefits they could out of their service. As a general rule, the more value a user gets out of your product the more likely they are to be retained. (tweet)

There are many ways you can encourage users to get more out of your service. Below are just some of the ways we do it at Yotpo.

  • Our optimization experts have one-on-one phone sessions with users to get them fully activated. They walk them through the product and provide explanations on many of the customization options.
  • We have an amazing support team which helps users improve the way they are using the Yotpo service.
  • On the Yotpo site we have a number of case studies which highlight how different areas of the service helped specific users reach their goals. We actively market these case studies to users.
  • We use Qualaroo and Intercom to drive users to features which user’s haven’t yet activated.
  • We use onboarding drip campaigns to market the benefits each of our features provide users.
  • We use tool tips to provide explanations on specific settings in order to help users understand the value of using the specific customization option.
  • We have written numerous guides which cover our features in depth. The guides cover how to find, use and customize the specific features, and each guide has its own FAQ.
  • We created a number of training videos which cover usage and the benefits of specific features. We use these videos in our product marketing.

An example of a company which uses this concept extremely well is Zapier. If you have a look at the posts on Zapier’s blog you will quickly notice how each post is aimed at highlighting how their users can improve their lives by connecting different services to their tool. There is a never ending list of benefits you can get out of Zapier and they highlight that brilliantly with their blog posts.

Takeaway:

Help your users use your service/product better and you will see an increase in retention. Leverage your product marketing, customer support and actual product to educate users.

5. Personalize the experience

At Yotpo we use a service called Vero for most of our email communication. What makes Vero special is that it allows you to leverage all your user data in your email campaigns. Not only do we use over 50 data points to determine the logic behind our drip campaigns, but we also use many of these data points within the emails themselves. The name of the user, his or her platform, and store domain are just some of the user specific information we use to personalize our campaigns.

Using personal information is not the only way to personalize the user experience. Simply sending relevant messages to relevant users at relevant times is a way to make the user experience more personal because the user will be able to relate to the actual message.

Another great way to personalize communication with your users is to put a real person behind the communication. Whenever possible we prefer to add a small image of the person who the email is coming from and a full email signature. When replying to our emails, the reply is sent straight to the person who sent the email so they can reply. We don’t use no-reply addresses unless it’s very specific system based messages.

Takeaway:

Use the information you have on your users to personalize your communication with them. Try and add a face to your communication (usually a community manager or the actual founders) so your users feel they are engaging with a real person. Your user data should also determine which messages to send to who and when. Be smart about your communication because if done poorly it will harm future efforts to drive action from your users.

6. Get them to WOW ASAP

Value is, has and will always be the name of the game. One of the best things you can do to keep your visitors coming back is to show them the value you bring as soon as possible. The reason this is so powerful is because the average Internet user today has little patience and is simply not willing to wait around to see the value you are promising. Another reason showing them your value is so critical is because nine out of ten times there is an alternative to what you are offering and switching to one of your competitors is usually painless. Trust and understanding are fundamental to retention. Showing your value within a short time period after joining your service helps build both trust and understanding. (tweet)

Many startups simply don’t provide value to users, or at least not enough for them to stick around. If you feel you are in this category there isn’t anything I can do to help you with your retention other than recommending you go back to the drawing board. If you aren’t in this category but the time period between signing up to your service and receiving value is longer than you’d like, check out the list below to help you “fake it until you make it”.

  • If you communicate your value through some kind of dashboard (with graphs, tables, metrics etc) then create a demo version which has values for all the different metrics (instead of the zeros which is what new signups see). A bonus tip is to use a walk-thru tool to explain each metric so users can understand what information they will get as long as they are patient.
  • If you communicate your value through email then send a fake “value” email to new signups which shows them what they can expect to receive in the near future.
  • If new signups get some kind of account management then make sure your account managers are spending some time on the value users will receive and what they can expect.

Yotpo as a product is really good at getting users to that WOW moment really quickly.

Takeaway:

Getting users to your “wow” moment is important for retention because it builds trust and understanding. Think of ways to shorten the time period between signing up to your service and seeing your value, and if needed “fake it until you make it”.

7. Tie in their whole world AKA build integrations

Building integrations between your tool and other popular tools is not only a great way to increase signups but is also a great way to improve retention. Everyone has a handful or more services they use regularly and are in love with. For me its Gmail, Pocket, SoundCloud, Twitter, Facebook, Buffer, Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, Zapier and Evernote. Building integrations with popular services helps tie together the entire online world of users and compounds the value you bring to them. On a psychological level integrations are very powerful because the interactions between your app and say Gmail for example will create a powerful association in the mind of the user. When the user is using Gmail he may remember your app and return to it. If your integrations are very powerful then you can expect to see usage rise dramatically.

If you are thinking about building integrations with other apps but aren’t sure about it then speak to your users and ask them how your app could be more useful. If you hear the name of another service come up a few times then consider building an integration with it. I would also advice that you check out IFTTT and Zapier and try your best to integrate with these services.

Takeaway:

Building integrations with other popular services can help compound the value you bring users and tie together their online world. Being integrated with other popular services will increase the chance of your app being in the mind of users and this will increase usage. Integrating with IFTTT or Zapier is a great way to support integrations across hundreds of apps.

8. Dominate your market with content marketing

Yes, your marketing activities will have an effect on your retention. We are inundated with distractions in our lives and even if you are doing a great job providing value to your users they may forget about you. If you’ve made the smart decision to adopt content marketing then it will be more likely that your existing users see your name out there and be reminded that you exist. If you’re using a mix of product and value-orientated content in your content strategy then your existing users will also see new and interesting ways they can get value from your service which will lead to more of them coming back.

As a bonus tip, try and register your existing users as subscribers of your blog. Users which subscribe to your blog via email or RSS will receive all your blogs content and be more engaged with your brand as a whole. If you plug your product in your posts (this should only be done once in a while) then your subscribed users will be more likely to use your service. A tool like Qualaroo is great for doing this, especially when connected to your email subscription service via Zapier.

Takeaway:

Content marketing is great for exposing both potential and existing users to your brand, product and value propositions. If you have a long-term marketing strategy which aims to dominate your niche from a content marketing perspective then be assured that the added exposure of your brand will result in an increase in retention.

9. Become obsessed with onboarding

A well executed, optimized and effective onboarding plan is one of the best ways to get new users activated and should be a major focus of whoever is responsible for retention and activation in your company. Remember, users which are activated will be ready to receive the value you provide, which in return will result in a higher retention rate.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Yotpo’s onboarding flows in the past 6 months and covered a few aspects of it in a recent talk I gave at a growth hacking conference in Tel Aviv. If you are just getting started with your onboarding flows then check out the post which covers the strategy, approach and tools we use at Yotpo. If this post isn’t enough then check out the list of resources below which provide a few interesting case studies on how to approach and implement a strong onboarding plan.

Takeaway:

Onboarding users in a smart and effective way is a great way to get more users to your “wow” moment which will result in an increase in retention. Experiment with Qualaroo, Intercom, Vero and other tools to improve your onboarding plan.

10. Use smart product marketing

Marketing your features to your user base just for the sake of it is the wrong approach. Today we are blessed with powerful analytics and data related tools which can help you communicate about your product in a smart, relevant and optimized way.

Features for the most part can be divided into three categories. The first are the features which stand on their own and provide direct value when used. An example of this is the retweet button on Twitter. Each time it is used it provides value to the user. Another example of this is the forward option in Gmail. The second group are features which provide a lower level of value to the first group and often add value to the first group. Examples of this would be folders in Gmail, being able to pick a room for an event on Google Calendar, or the calendar option in Buffer and Hootsuite to schedule posts in the future. The third group are features which have much lower usage but provide value as a stand alone feature. In this category you have all the exporting, customization and invite options we are all familiar with. Once you have categorized your features into these three groups you can better market them to your users in a relevant and timely fashion.

I recommend a tool like Intercom which can send timely messages to users based on events. Let’s say a user which does X a lot will find value from Y. You can have your R&D team send an event to Intercom each time a user performs X 5 times in a certain period. You can then set up an in-session pop-up or email that is sent out the first time (or every time if you choose) the event occurs.

Adding relevancy and correct timing to your product marketing will do wonders for your usage and retention metrics. (tweet)

Takeaway:

Categorize your features as described above to better understand when and how to market your features. Once you’ve identified your supporting features then use your users’ behaviors to market these features in a timely and relevant fashion. Intercom is a great tool to help you with this.

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