For many years, app retention was overlooked, and acquisition was seen as the holy grail in terms of success and growth in the eyes of mobile app developers. Only recently has this perspective shifted, and studies are beginning to reveal the importance of maintaining a healthy retention rate for the overall success of a mobile app. We now understand the value of gathering insights on what’s happening after the install, all along the user lifecycle, and how this affects the bottom line. Not only does retaining customers cost less than acquiring new ones, but it can also be used as a trust signal around how well your brand knows its customer base.

Retention is a great indicator of how well customers are receiving your customer experience.
The industry benchmark is described as the percentage of an app’s users who return to the app within 3 months of their first session.

By day one, apps typically have a 21 percent retention rate; by day 90 the average has fallen to 1.89 percent.

Below, we’ve covered ten retention boosting practices you can implement to improve the health and stickiness of your mobile app.

1. Easier Onboarding

First-time user experience is imperative, and providing a seamless onboarding experience can help significantly reduce abandonment rates. A study in 2015 showed that a staggering 25% of users abandon an app after just a single session. The more difficult it is to begin using an app – too many steps to sign up, too many information fields, confusing features and functions – the more likely users are to develop what’s known as decision fatigue, and abandon your app altogether. Don’t overload your users with information from the get-go, and make account-creation simple by reducing the amount of steps needed to signup. When users are onboarded effectively, their lifetime value increases upwards of 500%. Learn more about effective onboarding techniques here.

2. In-App & Push Messaging

If an app sends you a valuable message, it enables the app to be top of mind and keep users coming back. A study by LeanPlum shows that apps can increase retention by 20 percent simply by sending push notifications. Push can also serve specific functionalities. For one, it reminds users that they’ve installed your app, which is important when you’re competing for valuable real estate on a user’s device. Implemented effectively, it can also help encourage usage through targeting messages based on behavioral data and preferences. With promotional offers, it can help provide a compelling reason to return to your app.

But haven’t we been lead to believe that push notifications drive users to uninstall? This is false, and there is no evidence to suggest that push causes app uninstalls. In fact, when push is implemented effectively, it actually increases retention and can save mobile teams significant spend.

In-app messaging, on the other hand, refers to a rich, visual notification that appears at key points of interactivity within your app. The goal here is to guide users through the app and lead to specific actions of user engagement. In-app messages are one of the most forceful tools you have to deliver that personalized mobile experience, because they respond to actions a user is currently taking, leading to increased session time and engagement.

3. Personalization

Personalization helps provide a more unique, relevant experience on a case-by-case basis, and today’s app user expects nothing less. They want interactions to be tailored to their preferences, location, and in-app behavior. The more aligned the experience is with a user’s needs and preferences, the more likely they are to continue to use the app. Consider these ways in which personalization can be used to better your users’ experiences:

Behavior-based. Send a message based on a specific action taken by a user. For example, if someone adds an item to their shopping cart but forgets to check out, you can automate a push the next day, reminding them to complete the purchase.

Optimal time. If a user checks your news app each morning, the app can send a notification headlining a new story in that time frame. Studies have shown that retention rates improve 7x by day 30, when push notifications are sent within a user’s optimal time.

Location-based. Geotargeted messages, like sending promotional offer when a user is approaching your business, is a great approach to personalization that will drive engagement and conversions.

4. Incentivization

A recent study revealed that more than half of users will download apps primarily to receive discounts and special offers. If you want to drive engagement and boost your retention, providing special incentives to use your app will go a long way. Coupons, loyalty programs, mobile rewards and exclusive content will help drive customers to your app for an experience they can’t get elsewhere.

5. Iteration

Stale content deters customers from coming back to your app, making app iterations imperative to user retention. A study of the top 10,000 apps in the App Store showed that the top 100 apps update 3x more frequently than the rest, oftentimes every 1-2 weeks. Whatever rich content you provide, whether it be a promotion, event update, a message to your loyalty program users – give customers a reason to return to your app. As they come to expect fresh content, they’ll get into a routine of regularly launching your app to see what’s new.

6. Define and Track LTV (Lifetime Value)

User LTV is a metric used to define a user’s value over time. This is determined on a case-by-case basis, that must correlate to specific events or actions in your app. These events, called proxies, can be sorted along the user lifecycle, including things like a user’s first purchase, completion of a tutorial, or leaving a review. Identify which key proxies matter most to your brand. Then, segment user acquisition campaigns by channel and track to see which channels attract high LTV users. By doing so, you’ll not only increase the efficiency of your campaigns, but you should see a lift in retention.

7. Predictive Marketing

Consider predictive app marketing as the point where data and action collide. This approach to marketing will take all of the rich data you have about your customers and their behaviors in your app, and leverage it to drive personalized engagement in your marketing channels. You’ll first need to look at both historical and real-time data to get a holistic view of user trends. You can then proactively identify the user data that inspires relevant campaigns sent at the right time to the right people. Predictive marketing also provides visibility as to which campaigns are falling flat and which lead to higher conversion. Understand which users are at risk of churning by looking at historical data cues and real-time behavior, and respond with appropriate content that gets their attention and reengages them before it’s too late.

8. Remarketing

While push notifications, in-app messaging, and personalization are vital tools to keep in mind regarding retention, it’s also important to realize that nearly 50% of users will opt-out of push notifications. As a marketer, this means engaging with users outside of your app must be done through other means. Ads, email campaigns, and social media used effectively will keep your app at top of mind for your users who may have lost interest, and increase the likelihood of them returning to your app.

9. A/B Testing

Continually experiment with messaging strategies via A/B testing. Vary your time, frequency, content, segments, and CTAs to discover which channels garner the most engagement. A/B testing will allow you to pinpoint which parts of your marketing campaigns are most successful in terms of driving users to your app. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to bring together the highest performing pieces of your various campaigns into one cohesive strategy.

10. Omni-channel Experience

Too often, we see apps that are separate and exclusive of the rest of the marketing strategy, which can often create a disconnected brand experience for the user. Instead, leverage a multi-channel approach – coordinate messages across push notifications, email and social media to complement, not compete against, one another. Omni-channel marketing provides a continuous user experience across all channels users use to interact with your brand, which is vital considering that the average American uses 4.3 different devices to access the internet. Don’t stunt the potential of your mobile app by isolating it. Ensure that your user experience is consistent no matter where they choose to engage with you, by making your mobile app a seamless extension of your brand.

Implement one or all of these practices, and observe the positive change you see in the retention of your users. Most importantly, keep in mind the significance of continually engaging your users throughout their lifecycle, as acquisition is no longer the key indicator of a healthy app. Retain your existing customers, boost loyalty, and build a supportive user base over time with a mobile app that complements and embodies your brand.