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App engagement: what is it and how to increase it

If you want to make money off mobile app development, uploading your app to AppStore and Google Play is not enough. Your product won’t generate revenue if people don’t download it. You can increase the download rate using ASO, paid ads, and other promotion methods. But what if your content marketing strategy works, the product page is optimized, banner ads convert to downloads — but users don’t pay for subscription and delete the app a week after installation?

This is the sign of low app engagement. In this article we’ll explain what it is and how to increase it.

Reading time: 10 minutes

app engagement
Table of contents

    What is app engagement and how to measure it

    Imagine that you uploaded a mobile app to Google Play. During the first month 6000 users downloaded it. But not all these people use your app in the same way. By user behavior, they can be divided into 4 groups:

    • haven’t opened the app since they installed it,
    • installed the app, tried using it for a while and abandoned it,
    • deleted the app after using it for a while,
    • kept using the app after they installed it.

    The percentage of the last user group represents app engagement. It’s not really a metric because you can measure user engagement differently. But in general assessing engagement gives you the answer to one question: ‘How many users find value in your product?’.

    The simplest and most universal way to measure mobile app engagement is measuring it daily, weekly, or monthly. Just use this formula: 

    AU / U х 100

    AU — daily, weekly, or monthly active users, U — total amount of daily, weekly, or monthly users.

    Let’s get back to our example. During the first month 6000 users downloaded the app, and 1200 people used it actively. We can calculate user engagement like this: 

    1200 / 6000 х 100 = 20%

    But which users count as “active”? By default an active user is someone who opened the app at least once within the time period of interest. But there’s a better approach — you can come up with your own activity criteria. For example, you can decide that an active user is the one who performed the target action at least once within the chosen period. For example, if you analyze a task tracker, adding more tasks will be the target action. You can also narrow down the scope of analysis and monitor the use of one particular feature. For example, if you recently added the repeating tasks feature, active users will be those who use it. This is how you estimate if users actually need this function in the app.

    app engagement

    But there are more app engagement metrics — for example, session length and session intervals. It’s more descriptive than active users because “active” is not specific enough, especially if you choose the default criterion or a long time period. Apart from that, apps like habit trackers require daily usage. And mobile games require long engaged sessions without distractions. In these cases session length and session intervals are more informative.

    app engagement

    Another way to measure app engagement is LTV. Lifetime value is a metric that shows how much money you get from one client during the time you’ve been working with them. Unlike the other two methods, LTV shows not only if users like your product but also how good you are at monetizing. And commercial success depends on user engagement. The simple formula for LTV looks like this:

    LTV = Revenue gained during the chosen time period / Number of users acquired during the chosen time period

    But this formula emits users that downloaded the app but didn’t bring any revenue. There’s a more accurate formula:

    ARPU x Lifetime, where ARPU is the average revenue per user, and Lifetime is the average time users stay active in your app.

    LTV as an engagement metric is not always representative enough. But monitoring LTV and values from the formula like Lifetime can help you discover unhealthy trends — like users not buying a subscription after a trial period or deleting games with in-app purchases.

    But what if you calculated app engagement metrics and discovered that the number of active users decreased, the average session interval is 3 weeks, and Lifetime shrank from one year to two months? There are many strategies you can use to increase app engagement — let’s discuss them.

    How to increase app engagement

    Basically, in mobile app development you can do two things to increase engagement:

    • tweak the app itself — like adding new features or changing its UI design,
    • tweak the marketing strategy — like using email marketing tools.

    Let’s take a closer look at methods from both groups.

    Onboarding

    Onboarding is a tutorial that teaches newbies to use an app. This is important for app engagement — users don’t like it when they have to figure out the features themselves. If you don’t explain what this or that button is for, people will keep deleting the app soon after they downloaded it. And a well-illustrated tutorial allows users to make a quick decision if they want to stick to the app or not. 

    If you want onboarding to increase app engagement, follow these three rules: 

    1. Don’t waste time. Onboarding slides should be brief and mostly visual. Give users a quick instruction that doesn’t take more than several seconds of reading time.
    2. Focus on key features. The main goal of onboarding is to introduce users to the app functionality. Show only basic features — users will figure out the rest if they want to. And if you want users to pay attention to extra features, use personalized emails — we’ll discuss that later.
    3. Add the “skip” button. Some users might have had an experience with similar apps before. So don’t bother this user group and allow them to skip the entire onboarding part.

    app engagementThe example of onboarding in Grecha.pro, the produce delivery app for restaurant owners.

    This is how we designed onboarding for Grecha.pro. These slides clearly illustrate how to use basic features and each screen has the “skip” button. 

    Clear UI

    app engagementEnergo is a powerbank renting service, and its app allows users to perform the target action in the nick of time — it takes one click on the map.

    Even the best marketing strategy won’t bring you money if your app’s UI is unclear. And an overloaded menu will repel users from even the most helpful and stable app. That’s why you should maintain balance between the amount of features and the clarity of your interface. Unique features will make you stand out on the market — but at the same time they will overload the UI and decrease mobile app engagement. Add new features only if you can clearly describe them during onboarding — or you’ll get this:

    app engagement

    Push-notifications

    It’s the easiest way to increase app engagement. But if you want it to work, keep these factors in mind: 

    1. Frequency. Users are likely to turn off notifications if they see them too often. Don’t overdo it.

    2. Tone of voice. When you work on engagement, you compete with all the apps on your users’ smartphones instead of similar products on the market. Many push-notifications pop up every day — but users should click on yours. So consider working on a more unique delivery.

    3. Benefit. Users should have a reason to click on your push-notifications, and unique delivery is not enough. For example, you can invite users to onboarding. According to Braze, this approach decreases the number of abandoned apps by 71%https://medium.com/@BrazeTechnology/mobile-acquisition-costs-are-a-serious-problem-but-engagement-can-be-the-solution-1fe08dcf23b2 And on later stages you can use push-notifications to:

    • suggest bonuses, discounts, and special offers,
    • remind users of incomplete actions like missed classes or layaways,
    • tips and tricks on how to use the app better,
    • introduce new features.

    app engagementHere’s an example of a Netflix push-notification with a CTA. Pay attention to its delivery — even if a user doesn’t like TV shows about drug lords, they will still click on it thanks to the intriguing message.

    4. Personification. Push-notifications build a dialog with users — they ask a question or suggest something, and the users’ cue will be the target action. One of the ways to make this dialog more lively is to do first name terms. Don’t use last names — messages like “Hi, Smith!” are irritating. And personification doesn’t work with nicknames — notifications like “Hi, KittyCat31!” look odd and unnatural.

    Emails

    Email marketing is not the most obvious way to tackle low engagement. Branded letters are usually perceived as spam. If you send too many emails, you will lose subscribers. So, if you want to increase mobile app engagement, don’t send emails unless you have an important reason like:

    • onboarding;
    • introducing new features;
    • re-engagement.

    Let’s take a closer look at these three types of emails.

    Onboarding letters

    We’ve already discussed in-app onboarding screens. But let’s imagine the situation: someone downloaded the app, created an account, and abandoned it for days. This user won’t see the in-app onboarding — but we can send a welcome letter and encourage this person to look through it. For example, this is how Mood Potatoes welcome their new users. Let’s go through it.

    app engagementIn this success story Mood Potatoes explains the benefit from using mood trackers. It’s interesting that instead of scientific argumentation the CEO of Mood Potatoes is talking specifically about her own experience with the product. 

    In the end of this letter we see another CTA which is a suggestion to invite friends to Mood Potatoes.

    app engagement

    What’s good about Mood Potatoes is that they talk to you like a person, not a brand — despite several calls-to-action, this letter feels friendly and personal instead of straight-up advertising.

    But welcome letters don’t have to be that wordy — take a look at this email by Lyft:

    app engagement

    There’s nothing extra — Lyft only thanks us for registration and gives the link to the in-app onboarding. 

    Introducing new features

    Users rarely monitor app updates. One of the exceptions is Instagram — its functionality keeps changing drastically with every new version, so users have to learn about new features by themselves.

    app engagement

    Introducing new features via emails affects app engagement in two ways:

    • it reminds users of the abandoned app,
    • it increases session length because users will go explore the new feature. 

    But an effective email should explain why this feature is convenient and how it will affect user experience. If you just make a list of updates, users won’t see any value and app engagement won’t increase. 

    A good example is how Notion introduced their database grouping feature. The letter is not too verbose and it has a screenshot that shows where you can find this feature in the menu. And it has a link to the app itself so you could test this feature right away.

    app engagementAn example of a new feature introduction letter — this is how Notion announced their database grouping tools.

    Re-engagement

    If a user abandoned the app a long time ago, push-notifications are ineffective — they are probably disabled. In this case sending the “We miss you” email is more effective. Take this letter from Duolingo as a reference.

    app engagement

    But for greater efficiency send more personalized letters. Everyone has different reasons to abandon your app. Use that and try segmenting users — for example, add a feedback form to the app or include asking for a reason in the subscription canceling scenario. You can also segment by demographic data. For example, if you noticed decreased engagement in users of a certain age or gender, chances are, your app doesn’t meet their needs.

    Gamification

    Gamification is using game mechanics in non-gaming apps. It takes different shapes from competitions between users to karma points, level-ups, and bonuses, material or in-app medals. An interesting example is Habitica.

    app engagement

    Habitica is a task tracker with RPG mechanics. In this app users create characters and unite into guilds, earn in-game coins and ability points for completed tasks, and compete with each other by accepting challenges. This gamification model increases app engagement, mainly, session length.

    But if you want gamification to increase engagement, you have to prove users that in-game achievements are valuable. There are different ways to add extra value to new levels and points, such as

    • using game points to show real-life progress — like in apps for learning foreign languages or coding, 
    • adding the competition mechanic — users will set a goal to be better than their friends;
    • adding real gratifications for game achievements — like gamifying a loyalty program.

    A good example of the third model is Starbucks. This coffee-to-go franchise launched Starbucks Dash, which is a gamified loyalty program for regulars. After each purchase users receive stars that can be exchanged for rewards such as free food or drinks.

    app engagementHow to gamify a loyalty program? Ask Starbucks.

    But what’s next?

    App engagement is a product health indicator — and you never stop working on it. App engagement metrics not always measure commercial success but affect it indirectly. For example, if a user bought a monthly subscription but became bored with your app, they will unsubscribe and you will lose money. A healthy lifestyle is a lot of never-ending work — so is keeping your product healthy. We didn’t show you all the possible methods to increase engagement. But at the early stages even a decent onboarding is enough to retain users.

    Should you monitor engagement if you released an MVP? Yes. Monitoring engagement metrics helps you discover possible issues with UI design, app mechanics or onboarding — and resolve them before you get to the final release. And if you don’t have a product to test yet, Purrweb is here to help. Our team builds MVPs with React Native so you could go to market in just 3 months. We take care of each project from idea to app stores. And yes, you still can choose the font for onboarding slides or the gamification model. 

    We’ll be happy to work on your project — tell us about your future app in the contact form below.

    Editor
    • Anton Kiryukhin
    Designer
    • Anastasia Miklashevich

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