Most developers have one thing in mind when they build a mobile app: Getting users to download it.

But ironically, that mindset is why the majority of apps fail.

Make New Customers, Keep the Old Ones

Acquiring new users is only one half of the growth equation. The other half? Retention.

If you're not keeping your old users, then bringing in new ones is like trying to fill a leaky bucket with water. Your app never actually grows because you're constantly bleeding users as fast as you can acquire them.

But to address retention, you need to dive into the data and understand what parts of your app keep customers hooked throughout their lifecycle.

Here are five key metrics that can quantify how customers interact with your product and tell you what separates users who churn from the ones who stick around. That way, you can double down on what works and scrap the rest.

1. Day 1 Retention

Retention curve for android apps

Most users who delete an app do so within the first day of downloading it. While the best apps only lose about a quarter of their users in the first day, more than 70 percent of the average app's users are lost in the same time frame.

After that steep drop off, most apps retain their remaining users at roughly the same rate. The difference is all in that first day. That means keeping more users on day one will shift your entire retention curve up and pay dividends throughout the customer lifecycle.

The takeaway is simple. You need to track first-day retention religiously to make sure you're nailing the first-time user experience.

2. Your App's Aha! Moments

From your customers' point of view, the Aha! moment is when they first get the core benefit your app delivers and understand how it will become a valuable part of their day-to-day lives. From your point of view, it's the early customer actions that correlate with better retention. You need to build your onboarding flow around getting users there as quickly as possible.

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For instance, Facebook's growth team had one simple goal for new users: Get them to connect with seven friends in ten days. (Image Source: UX Archive)

The data showed users who hit that milestone had much higher retention rates than those who didn't. Connecting with that many friends was when new users understood Facebook's value as a social network.

You need to pinpoint the actions customers take in your app that lead them to stick with it. Come up with hypotheses for what those actions might be, find the users who have taken them, and measure their 30-day retention versus the average.

If retention is higher for those users, you're onto something. Dig a little deeper to determine the number of times users have to complete that action to maximize retention. Voila! That's your Aha! moment.

3. Retention from Day 30-to-90

Retention typically levels off around the 30-day mark, but only if your app becomes a consistently valuable part of users' day-to-day lives.

No matter how many people are willing to download your app and use it for a week, if they're all gone by the end of the month, then it didn't deliver anything they really needed.

That's why you need to measure how many users stay with your app long term. Look for big drop-offs in the 30, 60 and 90-day range to see when customers start to feel your app is no longer delivering value.

Those are the points in the customer lifecycle you need to actively try and keep users engaged.

4. Long-Term Retention Triggers

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Long-term retention is all about turning your app's core actions into a habit for your users. The key to forming habits is to use triggers that remind users that they want to use your app. There are two types of triggers:

  • Internal triggers are the users' personal motivations to use your app
  • External triggers are the ways you remind users to use your app — think lifecycle emails or push notifications

Your external triggers need to match your customers' internal triggers.

For instance, language teaching app Busuu's push notifications — its external triggers — prompt users to think about the progress they're making learning their new language. It perfectly matches their users' internal trigger — the desire to learn a new language — and reminds them that using Busuu is the best way to act on it. (Image Source: Medium)

To judge how effective your external triggers are, test different kinds of messaging on different cohorts of users, and see which ones drive increased activity in your app.

5. User Investment

After you've locked a user up long term, your biggest risk of losing them is for them to defect to a competitor app.

You can nip that in the bud by encouraging users to make investments in your product that make it more valuable to them, while making sure you carefully manage product quality with every release.

That's why Facebook encourages its users to post photos. It turns Facebook into the go-to place to look back on old memories.

And even if a potentially better social network came along later, it would be a pain to move all those photos over, so users are encouraged to stay with Facebook no matter what.

Start by figuring out what actions make your app more valuable to users — it could be as simple as creating a user profile.

Then, measure how many users are already doing it and encourage more of them to do the same.

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Title image by David Grandmougin