7 Mobile App Retention Strategies: From UX to User Engagement

App retention or user retention is essentially one of the metrics that is the sum total of all of your app’s commercial activities. The product and development department is traditionally in-charge of user retention. However, numerous department’s outputs also have an impact on user retention rate. As expected there are a plethora of mobile and app retention strategies one can pursue. We’re going to be breaking them down according to the app’s life cycle. All of these app’s lifecycle/phases working cohesively are crucial to app retention.

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How to Calculate Retention Rate

A visualisation of retention rate.

There are a few different methods to calculate retention rate. For example, rolling retention, range retention and bracket retention rate. However, the most widely used formula is to divide the number of users at the end of a period, by the number of users at the start of a period. For example: Retention rate (%) = (number of users at the end of period x) / (number of users at the start of period x). Obviously, any good retention rate strategy rests upon having a reliable retention rate metric. This should be tracked and consistently measured.

App Development

When we discuss app development, we are talking about two things, that will primarily affect user or app retention rate:
  • Why a product is developed
  • How that product’s development was executed
‘Why a product was developed’ pertains to the product-market fit, the addressable market, the resources your company has to build that app and market barriers to entry. Issues occurring within this stage of the development will be difficult to fix. They will surely harm retention rate. It is important to identify these early on. How a product’s development was executed pertains to the effectiveness of a product’s development. Issues in this phase of the product’s development can manifest as bugs/technical errors and poor user experience. Fortunately, these are much easier to address.

App Retention Strategy #1 Beta Testing and Soft Launching

7 App Retention Strategies From Development to User Engagement
Source: Spark of Space Facebook Page. This Facebook event for beta users was designed to locate in-game bugs.
Beta testing and soft launches are crucial periods of testing and future planning. The methods of carrying out a beta test vary widely. You can develop a beta test strategy that is around testing the ‘why’ we built this product. This will focus on testing the reaction of your app among your test user base, through incentivised questionnaires and using tracking tools such as UXCam. If you’d like to focus on the success of the development, again tracking tools will be useful. Also, having a strategy around finding bugs within the game can speed up fixes on the development side. Many games have perfected this model, by offering incentivised ‘bug-finding missions’ within the game during Beta. Finding bugs will often be rewarded with in-game rewards either during the beta period, or these rewards may even be given out after the app is fully launched. For example, Spark of Space, an RTS mobile game, developed by NetEase Games, launched a ‘bug finding’ mission during the beta testing of their game (see image above). This event rewarded users for finding in-game bugs. The campaign, which was primarily carried out over Facebook,  had over 180 comments. This feedback provided to the developers is invaluable, and can play dividends later for retention rate, upon full release. Through the information collected, not only including bugs, but also market information, the game went on to become ‘Eve Echoes’, which is due to be released in 2020.

App Marketing Retention Strategies

If your app’s marketing strategy is not realistic and effective, this will make achieving app retention, and user engagement difficult. This is a no-brainer. It is the job of the marketing and advertising department/team to properly convey your app’s value proposition, to the right audience, in the most effective way. The goal or end result of that activity should be the correct volume of users and the right users, brought to your app at the right time. When this is not happening, your user retention goals will be hampered. Period.

App Retention Strategy #2 – Align Product with Marketing and Visa Versa

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Source: i3Stars. This shows the stark contrast between GardenScapes’ game-mechanics and gameplay and their advertisements.
Thus, app retention strategy #2 is about aligning the product and the marketing departments. Before we get into what this means, let’s take a look at what it does not mean. You might have seen the game, GardenScapes. I personally have downloaded this app at least once, excited for the gameplay that was featured. However, upon playing GardenScapes, none of that gameplay which was advertised was present. I remember playing the game for some time, assuming that perhaps the in-game function advertised was only available upon further game progression. I was wrong. Thus, I uninstalled the game. Since then, I must have seen at least 15 GardenScapes advertisements. Of course, I never downloaded again. If your marketing and advertising channels are not running effectively, your app’s capacity to achieve a good retention rate will be limited. You cannot keep users that installed the app on false promises. Also, you cannot keep users that are not your target audience, or perhaps were marketed to in the incorrect time (e.g. marketing a ride-sharing app to a user on Friday, when the service is unavailable on weekends). Thus, it is important that the product and marketing team are working in harmony. This of course, is a two-way street. Thus, considering the marketing life-cycle should be an essential ingredient in most app user retention strategies.

App Retention Strategy #3 – Invest in Quality Users Via an Ad Fraud Prevention Tool

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Source: Interceptd, Q2, 2019 report. This shows the rate of fraud in advertising.
According to major reports about ad fraud, numerous marketers and advertisers are spending money on acquiring fake users. In fact, in H1 of 2019, it is estimated to cost the industry $2.3 billion. Whilst you might be thinking this is a discerning fact, that will fortunately, not affect your retention rate, you’d be sadly mistaken. If you’re spending money on acquiring fake users, that is money not being spent towards acquiring higher quality users. Those users are more likely to engage, and thus boost your retention rate. To further compound this effect, many fake users, such as those produced from bot farms, don’t interact with your app, this will decrease your retention rate. Thus, a good strategy is to focus on user acquisition, that is backed by an ad fraud tool. This will give the product team the best chance to acquire quality users. As you can see from the image above, according to this Q2, 2019 report, up to 34% of the shopping categories’ traffic is fraudulent. Thus eliminating can certainly give user retention rates a nice boost. Pro-tip: If CPI campaigns are delivering a high churn rate, or low retention rate, you might want to consider CPA campaign types. These focus on acquiring users that will perform a certain action. This can be beneficial if there is a known critical point or challenge that prevents the user from progressing in your app. An example could be a dating app, that understands that most users do not get quality matches for at least 24-48 hours. You could focus on CPA campaigns that are set at acquiring users that are active for 48 hours or more. Thus, the user would have overcome that barrier.

Post-install: User on-boarding

There are three main methods of on-boarding, and choosing one, or blend more than one will depend on your app’s goals and also your ability to execute the plan.
  • Benefit orientated on-boarding
  • Function orientated on-boarding
  • Progression orientated on-boarding

App Retention Strategy #4 – Onboard Users with Storyly!

It is important to choose the type that suits your app, based on the critical points and goals of your app. But we don’t need to tell you that. However, what might be news to you is that in-app stories are now possible through Storyly. One of the key functions of in-app stories is the ability to easily choose in-app interactive, engaging content to suit your app’s goals. One of those crucial goals is of-course on-boarding. Take a look at how Kahve Dunyasi – a popular coffee chain in Turkey, on-boards their users, through the help of in-app stories, in addition to the traditional in-app pages / pop up screens.

Post-install: User Experience (UX) and User Engagement

55% of users that use your app within the first week after install will be retained. It is no secret that in-app engagement is the lifeblood of user retention, however, this statistic really illuminates the dominance in-app engagement has over an app’s performance.

App Retention Strategy #5 Engage Users with Storyly!

There are a plethora of ways to engage with your users to help boost retention rates. This includes but not limited to online and offline events, sales, campaigns and promotions, mobile messages, location-based messages and push notifications. Whilst almost every app utilizes all of these third-party tools, one in-app functionality that few apps possess (besides those that have custom built this functionality in-house, such as Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn) are in-app stories. You’re probably using a plethora of effective third-party tools, to push the needle on in-app engagement. However, it is always critical to never rest on your laurels as users typically spend the majority of their time in few apps. Statistia reported that users spend 77% of their time in their top three apps. With in-app engagement being so closely correlated to retention, it is clear that competition to be one of the few loved apps is high. Thus, simply settling for the industry standard third party tools may not be sufficient. This is why Storyly seeks to aid app’s in their fierce competition for in-app engagement stories. This functionality, which users are familiarised with, is engaging and interactive is the perfect recipe to stand out above their competitors. Through being able to upload interactive, two-way communicative content, with familiar and fresh functionalities such as ’emoji sliders’, Storyly enables app engagement, like your users want and expect.

Full Life Cycle Tips and Strategies

App Retention Strategy #6 Invest Time, Money and Resources into Analytics

When evaluating your app user retention strategies, analytics is certainly the first tool that come to mind. However, one common denominator among many companies, whether they be small-medium or large enterprises is that too often, teams do not devote enough time to (or more accurately, do not have enough time and resources to…) devote to analysing data, and re-evaluating the current methods based of those findings. More often then not, a few KPIs are reported on after the fact, such as downloads, campaign performance, YouTube views with a rough summary of what went well, and what didn’t. Often those insights will go into a company pool of knowledge that impacts future initiatives. However, it is not too often that the data and insight affects outputs whilst it is still live. “Marketers who set goals are 376% more likely to report success than those who don’t. And 70% of those successful, goal-setting marketers achieve them.” – Coschedule Whilst it can be challenging to find the time to evaluate outputs, whilst they are live, one method is to plan for that time and plan your strategies to measure, evaluate and reiterate based on that data. Simply writing this down and planning for this can make this goal more achievable.

App Retention Strategy #7 Get to Know Your Churned Users

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CleverTap’s feature that enables their customers to reach out to churned users. Again, a important inclusion in all app user retention strategies. 
Numerous analytics and tracking tools also have re-engagement functionality, to capture or at least obtain crucial information from lapsed and churned users. This should be a mandatory part of any app retention strategy. Users will uninstall your app, and collecting that data is crucial to minimize that outcome from occurring. CleverTap has the capability to reach out to churned users and collect user feedback regarding the uninstall reasons. They refer to this as a “win-back” campaign. 

Evaluate the Full App Lifecycle is the Best App Retention Strategy

Certainly, all of the above mentions can critically impact retention rates, thus it is important to evaluate the full marketing cycle, to identify where the kinks are in the armour. From development, to churn, the whole process must be working in harmony to deliver the right app experience, to the right user at the right time. None of these departments can do this adequately without the support and success of all other departments and teams. Thus, the best strategy is to consider every aspect of your app’s lifecycle to identify any issue that can be fixed in order to give you the chance to calculate the best app retention rate metrics. If you’d like to have a look at how Storyly can transform your app’s experience, get started here

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