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How To Improve Your App Retention Rate In 3 Simple Steps

With a better app retention rate, you not only ensure increased revenue, but also help your users enjoy your app.

March 29, 2022

When designing an app, most designers primarily worry about drawing in an audience. And seeing the modern app market, and how competitive it is, you'd be hard-pressed not to do so either. Everything from your app design to the marketing involved in it has to be on point so that your app breakthrough obscurity. But, in order to maintain an audience, you also need to take care of app retention. So, we will use this article to help you get a better understanding of app retention and show you a straightforward way to increase your app retention rate in 3 steps.

Understanding app retention

One of the main reasons why people struggle with app retention is that they don't have a good idea of how it works. Most believe that simply designing a good, well-optimized app with gamification elements is enough to keep people returning to it. But, in actuality, there is a lot more you need to do in order to have good retention rates.

You need to have a good understanding of your app, and how often people use it. And you need to understand your audience and which factors convince them to return to your app. So, come to think of it, is bothering with app retention really worth your time?

Benefits of good app retention rates

A study by Hardware Business Review shows that a 5% increase in retention rates leads to a 95% increase in profits. Let that sync in. If you increase your retention rates by merely 5%, you will effectively double your profits. So, even if you haven't dealt with app retention so far, we strongly suggest that you start.

Different graphs showing increase in revenue.
Even a small increase in app retention rate can yield tremendous profit.

The reason why app retention is so effective is manyfold. First, the more you are able to retain your users, the more likely they are to invite other people to use your app. Word-of-mouth is one of the best marketing methods as it doesn't require you to extensively engage potential users. Furthermore, the longer you are able to retain your users, the easier it is to push monetization.

Apps with good retention rates don't have to worry about users leaving them too soon. Therefore, they are able to not rush their monetizations and time them so that they feel natural. Both of these factors have a spiral effect, as the better, your monetization is, the faster your app will grow. And the faster it grows, the easier it is to market it to other people.

Finally, having a dedicated customer base lets you develop your app further and make it much more user friendly. By getting their input you can see which aspects of your app are redundant, and which require further development. Even a month or two of behaviour tracking can show you issues with your app that you otherwise wouldn't notice. A none of this is possible if your users leave your app after a use or two.

Measuring retention rates

Before we go over methods of improving app retention, we first need to give you an idea of how retention rates are measured. As it is with all metrics, you need to measure retention rates within a time period. While it is completely up to you how long that period will be, the most commonly used are 1,3,7, and 30.

  • Day 1 retention is the number of people that come back to your app within the first day of installing it. It tells you how engaging your app is, and whether the customers find it interesting enough to revisit it.
  • Day 3 retention is in a similar token, as your app is still fresh in people's memory. The main difference between day 1 and day 3, is that day 3 relies less on first impressions.
  • Day 7 retention is the number of users that open the app after a full week. After this period, the users are familiar with the app and are enjoying using it, even though they probably haven't experienced all the features.
  • Day 30 retention is the people who have a full understanding of your app and plan on using it long-term.

Simply put, the retention rate is the percentage of users that keep using your app. So, if you have 100 new users at the beginning of the week, and at the end 30 of them are still using it, your retention rate is 30% for that week.

Different metrics shown as a graph.
Make sure you can track retention rates before you start experimenting with your app.

Improving app retention rate

Before we get into specific methods we need to emphasize that you need to have a firm understanding of your app before you attempt to improve the retention rate. Fitness apps, gaming apps, dating apps, news apps... All of these have different audiences. And, which is important to keep in mind, they have a different way of engaging their audience. Good apps know how to balance themselves between being too pushy and not trying hard enough to win the users' attention. So, if you wish to have decent retention rates, you need to understand your app enough to find that balance.

Work on onboarding

App onboarding is one of the more important aspects of app design, especially for first impressions. As we've covered this in a different article, we won't go into much depth now. But, keep in mind that proper onboarding is essential if you want to have a decent retention rate. 

Good designers know that you cannot simply push everything all at once. Quality apps sparse out their content gradually. This helps users learn about app utility. And it helps them not feel overwhelmed with all that the app has to offer. Furthermore, if you introduce your users to your app step by step, they are more likely to return just to see how many steps there are.

Push notifications

This is one of the most difficult things to handle as you need to truly understand your users and their interaction with your app. But, all things considered, you pretty much always have to push notifications if you want people to revisit your app. Ideally, you will find points of interest in your app, and notify users that they should revisit your app for them.

A person setting up notifications on their phone.
A well-made notification system is the cornerstone of app retention.

Almost all apps with good retention rates have some sort of notification to help remind people that they should check them out. But, the main difficulty here is that you don't want to be pushy. As we mentioned before, you need to find the line between being pushy and not notifying enough. This usually takes time and experimentation, as you need to see which notifications are perceived as welcomed. You need to identify when your users would naturally use your app, and when is the time to remind them that they haven't. Remember, you are not convincing them to use your app. You are merely reminding them about the existence of your app, and what they would gain by opening it now. Ideally, your users will feel glad that you notified them and not feel coerced into using your app.

Make sharing easy

If there is one thing that users of all ages and genders go back to on a regular basis, it is social media. Be it Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, a vast majority of users use at least one. Therefore, it stands to reason that the more you can integrate your app with social media, the more likely they are to return to it.

People sharing content on their phones, showing that you need to strive for to get better app retention rate.
The more you can make your app a part of your users' everyday life, the better.

To make this possible you need to consider sharing. First, you need to find an aspect of your app that your users will be willing to share. For instance:

  • Fitness apps - Users can share their score and their personal records.
  • Learning apps - Users can share their level and invite friends to join them.
  • Image altering apps - Post images on social media.
  • Gaming apps - Share and compare scores.
  • News apps - Share interesting content.

Here, again, you need to understand your app and how it can connect to social media. You want to make social media as accessible as possible to your users. Ideally, you will have a good idea of who your users are and what their preferred social media platform is.

Final thoughts

Before dealing with your app retention rate we strongly suggest that you check out what apps similar to yours are doing. In most cases, you can learn a lot by simply installing them and using them for a while. Apps with a good retention plan will have a clear idea of how to draw in users and how to keep their attention. But, don't neglect the amount of emotional intelligence and experimentation required to come up with a good retention strategy.

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