8 Effective Mobile App User Retention Strategies You Should Know About

8 Effective Mobile App User Retention Strategies You Should Know About

The world of mobile apps is full of opportunities. With record growth year after year, developers are constantly thinking about ways to break through the market and gain a foothold. But where there is profit, there's competition, and today, it is harder than ever to grab people's attention, keep them engaged, and retain them as permanent users.

Companies deploy a plethora of strategies in hopes of increasing their app retention rate. Advertising, sending push notifications, gamifying the app's features, creating social media accounts, and more are all examples of methods companies employ in hopes of gaining more mobile app engagement.

It is a confusing environment, and if you are new to the scene, you probably don't know which strategies are worth pursuing and which strategies are just marketing pitches and empty sales words. This blog post is here to fix that by clearly outlining several effective and actionable strategies app developers need to be familiar with. Read on and learn how to increase app retention!

Strategies to Improve User Retention

Improving user retention isn't a simple task. Companies need to take a holistic approach that incorporates more than one strategy. One that is carefully attuned to the app's user base, continuously monitored, and constantly improved upon. This is why this article is going to go over a slew of competent strategies app developers can consider.

Without further ado, here are the most important mobile app retention strategies:

#1 Devise a Coherent, Comprehensive Onboarding Process

Users have more than 10 million apps to browse when they open the Android and iOS app stores. Competition is cut-throat, and if an app isn't snappy, easy to use, and self-explanatory, users will quickly delete it and move on to one of its many competitors.

Getting the onboarding process is crucial to success. Your features, designs, and settings need to be attractive, easy to understand, and straightforward if you hope to retain users.

Sadly, improving the user onboarding process isn't a simple task as it includes many aspects of app design and requires a fundamental shift in approach.

There are a few key questions your team needs to ask:

  • What are your app's unique selling propositions and its most attractive features? How can you quickly bring attention to them?
  • What is the experience of potential users that visit your website for the first time? What about the ones that use the app?
  • Are there particular features, forums, or pages users find confusing and unintuitive? Can you think of ways to improve the experience?
  • Does your app have a comprehensive tutorial? Can users find simple answers to commonly asked questions quickly?

Coming up with comprehensive answers to these questions will give you an idea of optimization and development avenues open to your team! Keep in mind optimizing user onboarding is a continuous process that requires continuous monitoring and improvement to see if your changes are bearing fruit.

Strengths of This Strategy

  • Improvements to the onboarding process are relevant to the experiences of all new users. It is an integral part of the UX.
  • Aside from improving new user retention rates, this strategy also helps convert potential users. A good onboarding experience is key to getting people to try your app.

Shortcomings of This Strategy

  • Improvements to the onboarding experience do little to increase the retention rates of your core user base, who are largely familiar with all the features and options your app has to offer.

#2 Take Advantage of Notifications and In-app Messaging

In-app messaging and push notifications are the premier methods of communication with your client base. Whether it is bringing attention to a new update, advertising a new product, or sending out routine reminders, these are app developers' go-to methods!

In the hubbub of daily life, it is very easy to forget about an app, no matter how useful. The typical user has tens of apps installed on their phone that they never open or engage with. Sending a push notification is an excellent way to remind them your app exists and offers unique features or attractive offers worth checking out. This is one of the most reliable ways to increase app retention and keep existing users engaged.

Aside from being a cornerstone of mobile app retention strategies, in-app messages are also an effective outreach and marketing tool, helping you kill two birds with one stone. By carefully communicating with clients at various stages of the user journey, you can create loyal users who will not only actively use your app daily/weekly but also reliably check out your latest products, features, and updates.

Difference Between In-app Messages and Push Notifications

Though largely identical in function and part of the same strategy, there are minute differences between the two that are important to understand if you want to leverage them to their full potential:

  • Push notifications allow you to get in touch with completely inactive users by sending messages through the operating system's native notification system.
  • In-app messages give you freedom over the style, design, and length of the message and allow you to embed videos, sounds, images, and gifs, which makes them excellent for advertising.
  • In-app messages are less intrusive and can be used more liberally than push notifications, which are subject to OS restrictions and can be turned off by users.

Strengths of This Strategy

  • In-app messages and push notifications are powerful ways of grabbing users' attention on demand. They are flexible, customizable, and reliable.
  • This strategy is universally deployed by large apps and successful tech businesses to increase user retention. This means you'll find a lot of tools, guides, and research that help you create effective push notifications and in-app messages.
  • You can surgically target users with relevant messages and notifications, giving you complete freedom over how you approach different segments of your user base.

Shortcomings of This Strategy

  • While very powerful when used correctly, this strategy can be easy to misuse to very detrimental effects. Spamming users with push notifications and in-app messages will not only quickly reverse any user engagement you might've gained, but it'll probably result in a slew of users deleting your app and leaving bad reviews. It is a double-edged sword!

#3 Create Incentive Structures that Reward Engagement

People respond to incentives. This factoid about human behavior is the cornerstone of most financial structures of modern economies, and it is something developers can leverage to improve their mobile app retention rates.

Incentives can come in a variety of forms. It can be limited-time discounts, invitations to try out new features or updates ahead of their public releases, or in-app currency for a gaming app. You have complete freedom over the incentive structures you design, and this is what makes this strategy so powerful.

Criteria for an Effective Incentive

  • It must be worthwhile: Incentives will only result in desirable user behaviour if they're considered worthwhile. Users, for example, won't jump through multiple hoops just to get a 5% discount on one product in an e-commerce store. This is not worth the effort for a large segment of your user base. Creating an entire incentive structure around this reward will fail. Always make sure the rewards are proportionate to the ask.
  • Target people at various stages of the user journey: Incentives and rewards meaningful for long-time loyal customers likely won't mean anything for new users who have just started using your app. It is vital app developers design a diverse range of rewards and incentives that can appeal to different kinds of users.

Strengths of This Strategy

  • Creating incentive structures is an industry and market-specific solution that will allow you to deploy processes that best fit your environment and user base, making the strategy highly effective if built on solid foundations.
  • A very flexible strategy that works at all stages of the user journey. App developers can create incentive structures that reward new, returning, and active users in different ways.
  • Creating tangible rewards for your users will increase their trust and loyalty in your brand, increasing customer lifetime value (CLV) alongside the app retention rate.

Shortcomings of This Strategy

  • Creating the right incentive structures requires considerable research, creativity, and an understanding of your users and the broader business environment. It is a powerful tool, but it needs expertise to pull off.

#4 The Right Communication Approach

Users increasingly value communication and transparency. Having reliable communication channels where you can gauge public perception, explain new updates, and build rapport with your user base is invaluable.

But getting access to reliable communication channels doesn't happen automatically. Whether it is social media pages, forums, or changelogs, amassing active followers who regularly read and engage with any channel will require a dedicated strategy, time, and focus.

Communication Best Practices

There are several best practices you need to be aware of when implementing a communication channel:

  • Make sure the tone and nature of the communication fit the sentiments of your user base and the channel you use. Social media pages are usually expected to be more informal while changelogs are more technical and formal. There are no hard and fast rules here, and it is up to the company to set the right expectations.
  • Building a large readership isn't a day's job. It requires a long-term commitment from all levels of the company. Setting tangible and realistic goals and gauging the effectiveness of and fine-tuning your approach through reliable metrics will be key to success.
  • Most of your competitors likely already have fully-fledged-out communication strategies. Researching and quantifying their approaches will help you learn what works and what doesn't. You can then calibrate your approach based on that information.

Strengths of This Strategy

  • App users value reliability and stability, so properly communicating changes and updates will set the right expectations and result in a more favorable reception. It also provides the means through which your engaged users can learn more about the new features, how to use them, and ways to work around any potential known bugs or shortcomings.
  • Having reliable channels to communicate big changes, updates, and new features to your user base will generate excitement and act as free advertisement. Not only will it give a reason for existing users to check out the app, but buzz and discussions will incentivize new users to check out the app!

Shortcomings of This Strategy

  • It can be a challenge to get users interested in communication from app developers. So this strategy runs the risk of being ineffectual, only catering to users who are already engaged with the app and loyal to your company.

#5 Restructuring the UI

The first element of the app users see and experience is the UI. It facilitates all interactions with the features, settings, and tools of the app. It is simply not possible to have a high app retention rate without a properly designed, responsive UI.

A partial or complete UI redesign is a massive undertaking that requires time, expertise, and capital - it is not something an app developer can decide spontaneously. Without properly understanding the elements that work, those that don't, and the common issues users have with the UI, a redesigning project won't succeed. But despite the difficulties and dangers involved, if mobile apps have a subpar, underdesigned, or unintuitive UI, improving user engagement will be nigh impossible.

Restructuring the UI needs a methodological approach. The process starts by gathering data on how the current UI performs. Through usage statistics, direct surveys, and focus groups, app developers can quickly identify weak points in the design. Only after collecting enough information should you design whether the redesign will be partial or whole, and once the decision has been made, the company needs to commit to it and see it through.

Strengths of This Strategy

  • An attractive, easy-to-use UI is key to improving mobile app retention rate. While other strategies work and improve your business performance in key ways, ultimately, if the app isn't pleasant to look at and use, it won't see widespread adoption.
  • From creating stylish in-app messages to improving the onboarding experience, the UI experience is vital for several other engagement strategies we've gone over.
  • The app development process is tumultuous and even the most experienced developers make mistakes and miscalculate. A UI redesign is a great way to break away from the past, rebrand, and try to establish a new, better reputation for your app. If pulled off correctly, it has the potential to help you regain the trust of many old users and substantially increase the number of active mobile app users.

Shortcomings of This Strategy

  • Redesigning the UI, especially on a fundamental level, will take considerable time and cost substantial amounts of money. Companies, especially smaller ones, won't have the necessary capital to properly carry this strategy out.
  • Rigorous testing is required to both find UI elements that segments of your userbase find unintuitive/unattractive and design replacements that fix the issue. A/B testing, focus groups, and other means need to be deployed to ensure the new UI elements verifiably increase mobile app engagement.

#6 Listen to Customer Feedback

Unsurprisingly, listening to your customers, their needs, wants, and issues with your app, will help you devise ways to increase user retention. If you don't have a precise read on your app's user base, it can be hard to figure out what is working, what is not, and what needs to change.

Customer feedback can help you learn what traditionally non-vocal members of your user base think about various features and updates. It can help you understand how a new feature will be received. It even is a crucial data set app marketers can leverage to effectively build your brand.

Ways to Collect Customer Feedback

  1. In-app surveys: In-app surveys are an excellent way to understand the sentiments of your core users. They're highly flexible and can include simple questions that ask users to rate a single feature/product on a 1-to-5 scale and in-depth surveys that go into more detail and require written answers.
  2. Email questionnaires: More formal in nature, email questionnaires can give you access to demographics not typically reached through in-app surveys. They can also help you reach users who no longer actively use your apps. Understanding their sentiments will be key to making changes that increase the app retention rate for this demographic.
  3. Focus groups: An excellent way to test your users' reaction to a new update, their reception of a new product, or their openness to certain changes is by putting the questions to a focus group. You have complete control over the size, demographics, and nature of the focus group, which can be very helpful when trying to obtain precise data.

Strengths of This Strategy

  • Surveys allow you to interface with your users in direct ways and ask pointed questions. The data you gather from surveys is larger in scope and higher quality in nature than gauging sentiments through forums and social media.
  • A great way to build trust and user loyalty is by actually making them feel they're listened to. Through routine surveys, your company can be on top of the latest trends and swiftly implement popular features and changes.
  • Obtaining concrete data through surveys helps get the developers, managers, marketers, and investors on the same page about the sentiments of the users and the company's standing, helping create a more unified front when the company goes in a new direction.

Shortcomings of This Strategy

  • Surveys often only capture a subset of your app's user base. If not handled carefully or extrapolated to represent the general sentiment regarding features, updates, and products, it can lead to bad business decisions.
  • Not only do people not state their genuine preferences on surveys often, but there's a lot of noise embedded in the data. Extracting useful information from surveys requires expertise that many smaller companies lack.

#7 Offer High-quality Customer Support

Good customer support is like icing on a cake. It doesn't do much if the app itself is badly designed, lacks features, or has no direction. But if you have a good app, competent support can make the customer experience great, reduce frustration, and substantially increase the app's retention rate.

The importance of customer support is consistent across all studies and surveys that delve into customer behavior. Anywhere from 50% to 70% of customers say they value businesses with good customer support. It is necessary to build a brand, increase app engagement, and create customer loyalty.

Key Areas Where Customer Support Is Essential

Most tech companies have limited resources, and customer support can be expensive, so prioritizing certain areas is inevitable. Here are the areas where support is essential:

New users

New app users can get easily confused when trying to figure out your app, might have trouble registering their account, or may not figure out how to make adjustments to the app settings. And once they get frustrated, they'll never come back. Quality and timely support are key to minimizing bounce rates and retaining users.


Most apps' primary source of revenue is product purchases or service subscriptions. To maximize profits, this process needs to be as simple as possible, and part of this is providing support that can immediately guide potential buyers through the process.

Core users

Every company, app, and service has a core set of users that have been dedicated to the business for years. These users are loyal to your business, represent a stable source of revenue, and can freely advertise for your app through word of mouth. Keeping them happy is important. By pinpointing who your core users are and providing adequate support, you keep them engaged and happy.

Strengths of This Strategy

  • Having competent customer support is a strategy that works for various types of apps operating in entirely different sectors. It is close to a universal strategy that simply works whether you have a language learning app or an e-commerce app.
  • There are very few strategies that instill customer loyalty as effectively as proper customer support does. Both fast, helpful and slow, unhelpful interactions with support teams are memorable and will determine how your users view your company.

Shortcomings of This Strategy

  • As previously mentioned, implementing proper and timely customer support can be exponentially expensive, and even large Fortune 500 companies often outsource it or rely on AI. This strategy should only be adopted after careful budgeting.

#8 Use Third-party Tools

High user retention is a cornerstone of success in the digital age, and its importance has spawned a vibrant and growing industry that provides tools and services that help app developers improve mobile app engagement rates.

App developers have a plethora of services and tools to choose from. Programs that help collect user data, services that aid in creating more effective communication channels, and tools that can help you target users with unique offers: If there are ways to gauge and improve user engagement, there are almost certainly tools that can make your job easier.

Strengths of This Strategy

  • Third-party tools have pre-established routines, features, and strategies that take a lot of complexity out of increasing mobile app retention rates. No reason to reinvent the wheel when there are hundreds of excellent third-party tools that get the job done.
  • Third-party tools can complement other strategies your company deploys, resulting in a more competent and more flexible overall approach. Releasecat, for example, can help you write, design, and send push notifications and in-app messages on the fly making strategies built around these features more productive.

Shortcomings of This Strategy

  • If you are a medium to large company with established development and business processes. Integrating third-party tools won't be simple. It requires careful consideration, testing, and employee training to ensure the company's productivity doesn't take a permanent hit.

Are Your Strategies Bearing Fruit? Measuring User Retention

Once you start deploying strategies to increase retention rates among your mobile app users, you need metrics that help you measure their effectiveness. Increasing retention is a very complex process that companies don't get right immediately. It is a continuous process of devising a strategy, observing how it works in the real world, slightly or substantially improving on it, deploying it again, and so forth.

But herein lies another problem developers often face: How do you measure user retention? Retention is an abstract concept. No one metric can fully measure or encapsulate it. We've compiled a list of the most important metrics app developers can look to, to measure retention:

Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Active Users

Daily active users (DAU), weekly active users (WAU), and monthly active users (MAU) are three adjacent and equally important metrics. As their names suggest, they measure active users over various time spans.

Usually, how many users are actively using your app is a good window into seeing how many users engaged with your app, and this is why it is a vital metric that virtually every app developer tracks.

Despite its usefulness, however, DAU, WAU, and MAU data is sadly too crude to present the complete picture. It doesn't make a distinction between new and returning users. It doesn't take into account those who bounce off of the app quickly. This is why this data is often supplemented by other metrics.

Bounce Rate and Churn Rate

Bounce and churn rates are two similar yet distinct metrics that give important insight into app retention and engagement.

The bounce rate measures the percentage of users that immediately bounce off of your business website and app after visiting/using it only once. Higher bounce rates indicate several things including a poor onboarding process, unappealing UI, and unintuitive features. Lowering the bounce rate is one of the cornerstones of increasing an app's retention rate.

The churn rate is the percentage of existing users who stop using your app over a specific period. A high churn rate indicates inadequate customer support, poor features, and other core issues. Raising the churn rate is usually more time and capital-intensive vis-a-vis raising the bounce rate, but it is equally as important, especially if you want to gain a loyal customer base.

Mobile App Usage Metrics

There are several app usage statistics and metrics that give you deeper insight into user behavior. These are important to construct a more complete picture of your users and learn how different types of users and demographics engage with your app.

App usage metrics include time spent using a specific feature, impressions a certain product gets, interaction rates of certain in-app messages, and much more. In fact, there are no specific set of usage metrics universally used by all mobile app developers. Rather, your company needs to define meaningful usage metrics, find ways to track them, and collect the data over substantial periods of time.

- Releasecat Team

Releasecat Team


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