Three Steps to App Success

When it comes to mobile apps, user experience is everything. The most innovative and disruptive business model in the world is still likely to fail if the app strategy is not successful.

Despite this fairly obvious fact, all too often businesses launch apps that do little more than gather digital dust on users’ smartphones before being uninstalled. In fact, while downloads on the App Store and Google Play clock in at an impressive 1,500 per second, most of these are only opened once.

The crucial question facing companies that wish to launch apps is clear: how can I retain users? I’ve found that there are three crucial steps businesses must take to ensure their apps are ‘sticky’ and profitable.

As a quick reference, one of the best reads on this subject is Hooked by Nir Eyal (great summary here).

Step one: Hook the user immediately

According to research from web and mobile insights business, SimilarWeb, people will often decide which apps they want to stop using within the first 3-7 days of purchase; so getting the experience right from the outset is critical.

As with anything in the business-to-consumer channel, simplicity is vital. It’s absolutely essential that customers are not required to do anything complicated or time-consuming when they first fire up an app – for every additional step a customer has to take, the more likely they are to disengage.

For example, if you force registration to use an app, it must require minimum effort for the customer. A good rule of thumb is to only ask customers for their email address and password – anything more runs the risk of decreasing registration rate.

It’s also good practice to give customers an upfront demonstration of the value of the app before they register, as this will provide them with additional motivation to stick with the registration process.

Once a user has registered, it’s important to gently guide them on how to use the app. This guidance must be simple and crystal clear. Great apps walk the customer through key aspects of the experience and give them simple, practical guidance. If your user doesn’t understand what to do, then it’s likely you are going to lose them immediately.

Examining some of the most successful apps in use today, such as Uber, Pinterest and Playkids (the world’s biggest app for children), they all include a simple introductory experience that quickly gives customers all the information they need to start using the app immediately. Moreover, the intuitive UX of all these apps means customers have little trouble remembering the lessons from the introductory phase.

Step two: Engage the user

To ensure that an app doesn’t join a list of the uninstalled, you need to give customers reasons to keep coming back. According to the SimilarWeb report, an average app’s usage retention drops to just nine percent after three months, even if it still remains installed on 90 percent of devices.

There are many ways to go about achieving higher engagement, and these will vary from sector to sector. People will come back to retail apps, for example, in order to curate lists of things to buy. For social networking apps, meanwhile, it’s all about that next interaction with family and friends.

Returning to Flurry Analytics, we can see how ‘reasons-to-return’ play out in various sector-specific apps (see the graph in the linked article to see industry standard figures).

Push notifications are a good tool for building engagement with the user as they allow you to proactively reach out to your customers. But use them very carefully! This is particularly true when it comes to iOS, where an app can only prompt a user to give permissions for push notifications once. If this is timed poorly and it alienates the customer, then the communications channel is lost. I highly recommend double dialogues and pre-prompts (where an app asks for permission prior to the iOS request). This enables you to ask the user multiple times to accept push notifications without wasting the single Apple request. It also means you can time the requests at appropriate moments in the user experience.

Sending notification requests once the user is already engaging with the app can maximise the engagement opportunity; after all, if the user has already bought into the app they will be more likely to opt in to notifications. You should pick key moments in the user experience when they are likely to want notifications after having a positive experience and are likely to want to receive follow on notifications. Map through the user experience and think about key moments when your user would want a notification and what additional action you want to drive for the user.

Once permission is secured for notifications it’s essential avoid over-using the channel. Familiarity breeds contempt and this is never truer that when it comes to marketing messages. Fewer, more targeted notifications (based on clear user segmentations and deep understanding of customers) are infinitely preferable to SPAM-style notifications. This includes ensuring messages are sent at an appropriate time of day, when customers will be more receptive to them. If you are mass blasting your customers, you are likely to get most to opt out and have much less success in this channel.

Of course, even if you perfect your notification strategy, the messages will only be useful if the app has actual value to the customer. If the user doesn’t have an incentive to visit the app, they aren’t going to – no matter what notifications are sent their way.

Step three: define why customers should return to the app

Apps will only be as good as the amount of planning that’s gone into them. You must be absolutely clear what you want to achieve from the outset and put in place metrics around these goals. First off, define why people should use your app on a daily, weekly and/or monthly basis. Be clear about what sort of app you’re providing – shopping, messaging, social, etc.

Running throughout the app design should be a credible story: what is it about your business and your app that keeps people coming back?

All successful apps have a well-defined story at their heart. Take Amazon Prime as an example – this app is successful because users know that it will likely have the goods they are looking for, and because it allows for a range of delivery options. Or Uber: users know that a simple press of a button will bring a car to them in minutes without having to worry about getting the cash together to pay the driver. In each case the user knows what the app’s proposition is and finds it compelling.

It’s important to analyse your app and understand the reasons prompting customers to keep coming back. For content providers, how does the app inspire people to keep coming back every day to consume content? Social media companies must consider what value its users get from checking the app regularly? For messaging businesses, it is about immediacy and enabling a customer easy access to their personal network.

An app should not be a bolt on to a business. It is a crucial communications and sales channel, which if designed correctly, can disrupt entire industries. With the SimilarWeb data highlighting the critical first week from download, it is clear that only a considered strategy for long-term customer engagement will win out in the competitive world of mobile apps.

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