According to Statista, 2.8 million apps exist in the Google Play store and 2.2 million reside in the Apple App Store.  While leading app markets are saturated with innovative and practical digital solutions, TechCrunch estimates that people use just 9 apps daily and 30 apps monthly on average.  Furthermore, 24% of users will abandon an app after one single use.

High download rates ultimately mean nothing without an active app user base.  While user acquisition used to be an app marketer’s key metric for determining the success of a mobile app, times have changed. Presently, app retention metrics have taken precedence over app acquisition numbers.  Since it is crucial to build a workable retention strategy, we’re offering an effective guide to follow in order to ensure that users are engaging with your app.

UX Design: First Impressions Are Important

One of the primary challenges in app retention is UX design and the umpteen choices available to a user. For every Uber app, there’s a Lyft, and for every Tinder, there’s a Hinge.  New product users can ultimately be thought of as “strangers.”  It’s crucial that, when these strangers open your app for the first time, they are met with a good first impression.

A frictionless app onboarding process is analogous to a warm welcome or a strong handshake.  In fact, when users are onboarded effectively, their lifetime value increases upwards of 500%.  An app that requires too many steps to sign up, has too many information fields, or possesses confusing features and functions will cause disgruntled users to abandon it.

Signing up can often be a barrier to app adoption, so the process should be fast and easy. When an app user is first asked to login or create an account, steps should be reduced to the bare minimum and multiple registration options should be made available if necessary.  Giving users the option to sign in through existing social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, or Google is an effective way of easing the sign-in process and even building user trust.  Postponing the sign up process to a later stage in the app is also a good strategy to improve the initial experience.

The process of describing an app’s key features should be equally simple. By showing users how to complete a desired task by utilizing callouts and highlighting key buttons, users can quickly and effectively understand how to navigate the app.  Teaching through action exposes gestures and actions needed in the app experience and eliminates confusion and the boredom of reading text-heavy instructions and explanations.  Progress indicators, demonstrating how far along the user is in the onboarding process, should also be used to provide a sense of movement and build-up.

Furthermore, many apps require data access or messaging permissions in order to provide the user with the best experience and value.  Studies show that 60% of users say they have chosen not to install an app after discovering how much personal information the app asked for.  Therefore, to avoid making users jumpy, apps should only ask for the essential permissions up front and nothing else with a quick line explaining exactly why such access is crucial.

Good app onboarding means trimming the fat and creating a streamlined and quick process. When done poorly, users may fail to understand how the app functions, grow frustrated, and possibly abandon the app for good.  Efficient, to-the-point app onboarding provides users with a solid first impression and ultimately leads to better retention rates.

Push Notifications Can Work Wonders

A user’s device is like a valuable piece of real estate, and push notifications serve to remind users of an app’s existence.  Through targeting messaged-based behavioral data and preferences, push notifications encourage usage and boost retention rates anywhere from 56% to 180%.

While push notifications are a statistically effective strategy to keep users engaged, users should be provided with an opt-out option to avoid angering or inconveniencing those customers who would prefer a notification-free experience.  For users that want to be notified, only strategic and contextually relevant messages should be delivered.  Sending too many notifications to users who don’t find them useful may lead them to opt out of notifications or even stop using the app altogether.  Therefore, the amount of push notifications is less important than the value that they can provide.

Furthermore, users are three times more likely to engage with push notifications when the messages are personalized.  Therefore, it’s important for app developers to pay attention to a user’s activity within the app in order to determine what content the user might find most relevant.  One machine learning algorithm called Optimal Time analyzes individual app usage patterns to automatically send a push notification at a time when the user is most likely to open it.  Optimal Time push notifications result in a 6.97% increase in retention over the first 30 days.

Customization will help a user develop a strong relationship with an app and rid them of the sense that they’re on the receiving end of a non-specific broadcast.

Overall, users receiving push notifications exhibit 88% higher app engagement than those who opt out of the experience.  When leveraged properly, push notifications are a significant way to increase retention rates.

Using Incentives and Rewards to Lure Users

Positive reinforcement is an effective way of enticing mobile app users. To add value and excitement to an app, a variety of different incentive and reward strategies can be implemented.  Coupons, special deals, discounts, exclusive services and offers for app users, promotions, and other offers tremendously increase app engagement and retention.

The Starbucks app is a prime example of a successful rewards program.  After getting 30 stars by buying 30 coffees, a user achieves Gold status and subsequently gets a reward for every 12 stars.  By centralizing the entire app towards achieving loyalty points in the form of “stars,” the app has created an effective loyalty loop where users keep purchasing more coffees to use up their points.

Obviously, different types of apps require different reward and incentive strategies.  The gaming app, Clash Royale, offers a clever incentive system that encourages users to interact with the app on a daily basis.  After winning a match, a Clash Royale player earns a chest.  Once earned, chests have a 24-hour lifespan until they expire.  Since players can still play Clash Royale without the chest rewards, the system does not restrict gameplay.  However, the potential rewards encourage players to keep logging in day after day.

Rewarding users pays off.  After launching an incentive-driven retention strategy and referral model, Airbnb’s sign-ups increased by 300% per day.  By rewarding both new and existing users, Airbnb’s large user base boasts impressive retention rates.  Overall, promoting user loyalty through means of positive reinforcement is an endlessly successful retention strategy.

Stay Relevant with Fresh Content

 You’ve probably heard the adage “Content is King.”  70% of companies say it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than acquire a brand new one, meaning that app developers should introduce new content on a regular basis to keep users interested and intrigued.  Consistent updates should also be launched to help to ensure that an app remains modern, up-to-speed, and perceptive to user feedback.

The Starbucks app is once again a terrific example of this retention strategy.  Aside from offering users rewards with every coffee purchase, the mobile platform features a variety of engaging content.  Through partnering with Spotify, users can use the Starbucks app to find out what songs are playing in a Starbucks store or listen to curated playlists on the go.  By being creative and introducing content that isn’t even necessary related to the company product, the Starbucks app has experienced tremendous success.

Ensuring that an app possesses quality content also means making sure that it is bug-free.  Since only 16% of users will try a failing app more than once, functionality is crucial to positive retention rates.  Therefore, before launching an app or an update, developers should rigorously perform both a security and performance check to guarantee that users will be satisfied with the final product.

Engaging apps possess quality content.  Creative features and timely updates keep users interested and satisfied and may also lead to benefits such as press mentions, high app market ratings, and a wider user base.

Overall, heightening retention rates has enormous benefits. A report published by Bain & Co states that a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by a staggering 75%.  In addition, Gartner reports that 80% of a company’s future revenue comes from just 20% of its existing customers.  An effective retention strategy is therefore crucial, and following our guide ensures that app users will remain active and engaged.