How To Increase Mobile App Retention Rates Like A Pro

July, 27 2017

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Thanks to improved research on retention rates and increasing awareness of the impact of retention on growth, app publishers are ramping up their efforts to keep hard-earned app users.

Not long ago user acquisition and growth roles were synonymous in most app companies. Today almost every growth specialist has some element of retention in his/her enumerated responsibilities.

A comprehensive retention strategy has its roots in app design, acquisition campaigns, and post-install engagement. Historically, app design and acquisition campaigns have received a lion’s share of attention when it comes to optimizing for retention. Today however, app publishers are increasingly investing in post-install engagement as a means to avoid churn.

It’s only natural that investment in this aspect of retention is on the rise. A robust post-install, in-app engagement strategy speaks to how you guide your users, how you communicate with them, and how you use that critical communication to optimize the app experience towards greater retention rates.

Showing massive downloads without a robust retention strategy won’t cut it anymore. Just ask an investor!

Let’s take a look at some key aspects of building such a strategy.

Break free from app release cycles

You cannot anticipate every outcome. Whether it’s the initial rollout of your app, a design overhaul, or the introduction of a major new feature, predicting user reaction is difficult.

mobile app retention rates

In order to deal with this uncertainty, your strategy for in-app engagement must be agile. You have to be able to observe user behavior and quickly intervene to guide and communicate. In other words, you cannot be reliant on development updates and app releases to implement new in-app engagement tactics. 

As an app retention or growth specialist, you need the ability to design in-app campaigns, target specific users, place those campaigns in your app, and launch them all without development intervention or app releases. Value this independence above all else.

Guide to stickiness

Remember, a solid retention strategy starts with app design. If you designed your app with retention in mind, you are likely to have at least a few key features that you want users to adopt. These are the features that indicate buy-in and increase the switching costs between your app and a competitor.

As a practical example, consider the typical rideshare app. The onboarding experience is likely to be geared towards getting a user to make the first trip, so the focus may be on how to create a user profile and save payment information. However, completing those actions only guarantees you can quickly and easily book a ride, and that’s not a differentiator in the rideshare world. To reinforce the initial onboarding campaign, a retention specialist is likely going to want to try different tactics (tooltips, messages, videos) to guide users towards their app’s sticky features such as syncing your calendar to the app or controlling the in-car experience.

Regardless of your app’s purpose, you have to identify the truly sticky features and guide users towards those beyond the initial onboarding experience.

Respond to feedback in real time

Your app users are your brand’s most loyal customers. Why wouldn’t you want to gather feedback from this group? Asking for feedback while users are in your app can result in extremely high participation rates (in our experience consistently upwards of 20%).

Some of the most effective in-app surveys go beyond asking about the app itself and drill into the overall customer experience. 

Consider a retail bank that wants to encourage usage of in-app remote check deposit as it eliminates costs associated with handling paper checks. 

An in-app survey campaign is more effective if:
  1. You ask at the right time. The target audience included customers that were frequent check depositors but did not use the in-app check deposit feature
  2. You ask the right users. The survey was presented after the customer made a recent visit to the branch to deposit a check
  3. You acknowledge user responses. For instance, if a customer responded that they are concerned about the security of remote check deposit, she was taken directly to information about the secure nature of the feature.

Identify and enlist advocates

Every app publisher strives for great reviews and ratings in Google Play and Apple App Store.

App publishers also love when their users share the app with friends. High store ratings, positive reviews, and peer-to-peer referrals are great for both retention and organic growth. It follows, then, that publishers should be proactive in both identifying advocates and motivating them to take action.

Let’s look at some do’s and don’ts of acquiring ratings and referrals.

Identify your most engaged users by frequency of use, average session time, and in-app feature usage. Emphasize feature usage as it is a better indicator of true engagement versus the more simplistic session count.
Use overly generalized targeting when asking for ratings. Avoid the temptation to ask for ratings from all second time users or all users that register in the app.
Ask for ratings and reviews at the right time. The end of a conversion process in your app - not necessarily a purchase - is often a good time as the user is more likely to be satisfied with the app.
Fall into the trap of asking for ratings and referrals immediately at app launch. Your users are not opening the app to give you a rating. They are opening it to do something. Respect that and ask at the right time.
Find the right context in which to ask for a referral. For instance, if a user gives your app access to their Contacts, that may be a good time. Alternatively, if your app is content-driven, you may ask users to share content they just created or are actively consuming with their network. 
Miss the opportunity to re-target users who declined your request to rate or review. After an appropriate period of time, follow up with these users and solicit more feedback to understand if you have a problem that needs addressing in the app.


There is no arguing that user acquisition will continue to be of paramount importance to every app publisher. But as the data concerning retention rates shows us, gains on the acquisition side can quickly be lost through churn. A solid in-app engagement strategy can be instrumental in bolstering retention rates and increasing overall app growth. For app publishers, the time to act is now!

Written by Dustin Amrhein, VP Customer Success @ Insert

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