Reduce, Reuse, Retain, Engage: A Start-Up’s Guide to Effective App User Retention and Engagement

A recent study by Adjust discovered that mobile retention had declined in 2016 in comparison to 2015, and that the trend was expected to continue well into 2017. They also found that user engagement for those still using the app had increased.

Additionally, a study by Appboy demonstrated that the average app loses 75% of its new customers by the day after first use, and more than 95% after three months. This is what happens when a brand doesn’t have an effective mobile marketing retention strategy upfront.

What does this mean for your start-up? For starters, it means that the amount of users who continue to use your app may decrease, but your most loyal users will continue to come back. However, this doesn’t mean that retention rates ought to be entirely ignored.

Instead, it simply means that retention rates shouldn’t be the only important way to consider how successful your app is.

It’s important to go into the realm of app development and deployment with healthy expectations, and understand that as consumer behavior and preferences change, so do the metrics you have to use to gauge user interest in your app.

In our contemporary world, considering the importance and pervasiveness of phone-based user engagement with just about every aspect of their lives, a successful app can help you swim, and a poor app experience can cause you to sink. Users are much more likely to engage with a company or start-up through apps than they would with manually entering the website into a search engine.

It makes it so much easier and accessible to engage with every component of your company immediately, easily, and seamlessly.

We’ve aggregated an extensive set of guidelines for ensuring that your retention rates remain solid, and that user engagement increases as well.


1: Craft a Solid Onboarding Experience

Upon downloading an app, users tend to be discouraged if they’re immediately asked to grant permissions for camera linkage, for location services, for newsletter sign-ups, and for push notifications. In short, they hate being bombarded right off the bat with too much information.

If first impressions are indeed everything, then the first impression of your app is crucial to getting people to come back. Start small, with a minimalist approach. The best way to do this is by ensuring that the consumer understands the value of your app upfront, as well as the value of your entire service.

Many start-ups make the mistake of divorcing their app experience from their entire marketing experience, so be sure to introduce them right off the bat to all the services you offer, and what your app specifically does.

Illustrate, in lieu of using intrusive requests for permissions, the value that your app and service will bring into their lives.

Consider how you want users to first engage with your app, and then determine the best milestone that the user can reach before asking them if they want push notifications or want to set up location preferences, or what-have-you. Users are much more likely to come back if they feel like they’re in control of their experience with the app.

You can’t just increase retention with onboarding alone, however.


2: Get to Know Your Users

So you’ve developed a solid strategy for your start-up, you know what value you want your customers to see upfront, you’ve got your products or user objects all lined up and ready to go, and you’ve developed a solid marketing strategy. So what’s next?

Know your audience. We can’t stress the importance of this enough. Users don’t want to be treated as just another consumer – they want personalized messages, non-intrusive opt-ins that let them figure out what with and how they want to engage with your app and company. One-size-fits-all strategies are by far the most ineffective approach to user engagement.

Knowing the preferences, behaviors, and interests of your audience can vastly improve the way you approach your app design, and, ultimately, the larger macro-strategy of your marketing methods as a whole.

There are two ways to do this. For starters, surely you created your start-up with a specific kind of customer or customers in mind. Who will need your service the most? Who is most likely to buy your product? If you want to sell coffee to people constantly on-the-go, then make an app that is easy, simple, and quick to use. If you’re targeting people who love to engage with long-form poetry, then make sure you have plenty of content that’s easily accessible and searchable.

The second way to do this is by measuring the success of your app. This step is absolutely crucial in refining your strategy, updating your content, and fixing what isn’t working with your app.


 3: Measuring User Experience and Refining Your Approach

There’s no perfect strategy for measuring the metrics of your app usage, so we’ve compiled a list of tools and resources for solid measurement. The first step in this process is figuring out what is most important to you. Is it retention? Is it customer engagement? Is it the number of push notifications that are engaged with? Is it the amount of people who have set up location permissions?

Figure out what your company wants to do and what the purpose of your app is, and design your metrics around this. Think long-term, too: Use Lifetime Value (LTV) as a means of measuring the user over time. Defining this will be different for each app, but it’s important to figure out what metrics are quantifiable and how best to determine user experience.

Appsee ( is a visual app analytics tool that allows you to understand where your users are engaging most with your app. Use this to determine which parts are the most engaged with and focus on improving those. Figure out how to deal with the components of your app that customers don’t seem to care for. It can help with user design and your UI by seeing what they’re pinching or clicking on, or where they’re swiping, and so on.

Apptamin ( has a solid blog with touch heatmap tools to figure out how and where users are most likely to go and what the flow of your app is to better figure out the look and feel of your app.

Localytics ( provides solid resources for A/B Testing, another important protocol for figuring out what users engage with. It lets you keep track of sends, opens, conversations and areas where you can boost opt-in rates.

Using these tools, you can refine your approach and create compelling content, constantly. Don’t think it’s a one-and-done situation where you don’t have to constantly refine your message. Refining is also important when making sure that user experience is extremely personalized. Taking a little bit of time to diversify your messages and content can go a very long way.


4: Create a Personalized User Experience

It’s best to monitor every way in which the user engages with your app. Think about location services: if you’ve provided solid onboarding, demonstrated your value, and understand your audience, and you’ve got them to opt-in to location permissions, then you can figure out how to target them based on where they’re at. If you have a retail start-up, and they’re in close proximity to your store, then you can send them special information about deals or coupons.

If you can see they like to go to outdoor events, then you can craft personalized messages encouraging them to get out of their houses and stop by your store. As mentioned above, because users want personalized experiences, they don’t want to feel like they’re just another number.

Create user segments by lumping certain audience users into certain categories, and avoid generic messages. Deliver content that is relevant to users who have been categorized into certain segments. If you want to track users who have bought something, then entice them with coupons and shipping. If you segment users who haven’t bought anything, but view your store, then entice them with new deals and the newest products.

Another important consideration is that you want to be selective about the kinds of content you’re delivering. Just as you don’t want intrusive messages, you don’t want to overload them with information they don’t need. Figure out what they absolutely need to know, and only deliver them that.

Considering the above, some of the best methods for increasing retention and user engagement is by utilizing push notifications. This keeps them engaged, and can remind them about the app if they haven’t used it to come back.


5: Push It

When we discussed the importance of allowing users to opt-in to certain components of your ad after reaching certain milestones, we should have mentioned that push notifications are by no means an exception.

First, decide if you want to utilize in-app messaging or push notifications (or both!). The disadvantage of in-app messaging is, first and foremost, that only people using your app constantly will see it. The advantage of push notifications is to keep users engaged even if they aren’t constantly using your app, and to remind them that they’ve downloaded it if they haven’t been back in a while.

Also important: it’s just as crucial to make it super easy to opt-out of push notifications if the user doesn’t want it anymore. Seriously. You owe your customers that, and they’re even less likely to opt-out if they know that you aren’t making it impossible to do so.

The best way to deploy push notifications is remembering to focus on onboarding, relevancy, frequency, timing, crafting compelling messages, and personalization.

Relevance: You want your push notifications to be relevant to the user and to your brand. Making it personalized is also important. Utilize dates around holidays or a user’s birthday to craft personalized and specifically targeted messages that can remind them of upcoming gift-giving events.

Personalization: Using user segments means that you can establish a certain automatic push notification to those who haven’t used your app in, say, 60 days. Remarketing is crucial to keep people coming back and reminding them of the value of your services (the value they should have seen upfront – the reason they downloaded the app in the first place).

Frequency: You want to make sure that you’re not sending out push notifications too much that users get annoyed, or too little, that they start to forget about your app. Users react very, very badly when they get bombarded with constant ads or pop-ups.

Timing: It’s also important to nail the timing. Don’t send push notifications while certain user segments are likely to be asleep (returning to location permissions, if you know most of your audience is in CT time, you can plan accordingly).

Compelling Messages: Crafting relevant and compelling messages is also crucial. Think about the fact that you can’t rely on images with push notifications, and the copy content of your notification needs to entice the user immediately into responding positively.

Want some more help? RichPush ( and Geo-Push ( are solid tools to help you craft great push notifications for your app.