3 Tricks to Increase User Retention

“User retention is high when people feel connected to a community and have meaningful interactions. When people feel like part of a community, they want to spend time on it regardless of the direct commerce utility.”

– Shane Hall, The Hunt’s Head of Product


Image source: Death to the Stock Photo

Successful apps are measured by more than just ratings and downloads. Even well-received and highly downloaded apps can fail if users forget about, or uninstall, them.

When the App Store first surfaced, developers believed “if users download my app, they’ll use it forever.” This misconception is still perpetrated in some circles. Don’t concentrate entirely on user acquisition and overlook user retention. A loyal user base is crucial in determining the success of an app and its monetization.

Even with user-friendly design, effective acquisition and onboarding, not every user will be active. Getting a user to download your app is difficult enough, so don’t waste all that hard work by ignoring user retention. Here are three popular strategies to help engage users long after they’ve download your app.

1.  Notifications

Push notifications user retention

For the uninitiated, push notifications are pop-ups sent to users on the home screen. Push notifications require user permissions. When enabled, they are a powerful tool for user retention that allow developers to directly connect with users for guaranteed engagements.

Mobile marketing company Urban Airship recently published a six-month study on push notifications. The study provides quantitative evidence that push notifications are one of the most effective strategies for user retention. It proves:

  • Apps in which users enable push notifications have a 26% higher open rate per month than apps that do not.
  • Apps in which users enable push notifications have a 92% higher long-term retention rate per month than apps that do not.
  • Apps with push notifications have a 93% higher retention rate in the first month than apps that do not.

However, it is important for developers to maintain a balance with push notifications. Overusing them will aggravate users and may even push them further away from wanting to use your app.  Because users must manually permit push notifications for each app, developers should be careful in how they ask users for permission. Brenden Mulligan, the co-founder and designer of the app Cluster, warns developers not to overwhelm new users with permission pop-ups.  Mulligan dubs this danger as the “Initial Blitzkrieg.” Users who don’t have a clear understanding of your app will most likely be unwilling to grant permission for push notifications.

Though, as a developer, you may feel that push notifications are integral to your app’s experience, users may feel assaulted when peppered with permission pop-ups. Mulligan recommends several approaches when it comes to asking users for iOS permissions.

  • Explain how enabling push notifications is beneficial to user experience during onboarding.
  • Ask users for permission twice with double system-style dialogs just in case they weren’t paying attention the first time.
  • Implement educational overlays that contextualize the stumbling blocks in user experience when push notifications are not enabled.

To further learn how to successfully ask users to grant permissions, read Mulligan’s post in detail here.

In-app notifications

In-app notifications are a less direct – but also less invasive – way of speaking to users while they’re engaging with your app. Developers use in-app notifications for minor communications, like reminding users to review the app. In-app notifications only appear when users engage with the app. Thus, users are in a better mindset to receive information and take the desired action. In-app and push notifications are often used together. Developers use the former for minor announcements and the latter for urgent news.

It’s important to find a balance with the frequency of in-app notifications, as it is with push notifications. Utilize mobile analytics to personalize messages, rather than blasting broad notifications to all users.

As we’ve covered before, mobile analytics give developers insight into user reactions to apps. If notifications appear at inopportune moments or contain confusing messages, they will fail to engage users. Use analytics to understand how, when and what kind of notifications will be the most effective in any given scenario. Remember basic concepts, like understanding the differences in app usage between users in different locations. This can have massive payoffs in notification optimization.

2.  Create and grow a community

Many apps achieve success by retaining an online community. For instance, fitness app C25K built a Facebook community of over 80,000 like-minded fitness enthusiasts. Through this hub, C25K created meaningful user relationships that extended beyond the app.

Interacting with users on social media channels is one of the simplest ways to build a community. As an added bonus, this may not only aid with user retention, but also with user acquisition. Even in the Information Age, word-of-mouth still remains the most effective form of marketing.

user retention c25k

Image source: Facebook

3.  Design mechanics

There are several design mechanics developers can implement to increase user retention. Some of these mechanics are clearest in mobile gaming apps, but many are applicable across app genres. Techcrunch has an awesome article that lists mobile gaming company SCVNGR’s secret design mechanics. While this article is over four years old, almost all of the mechanics listed can still help today to boost user retention.

At Kiip, we’ve seen apps across all verticals use mechanics to improve user retention. Many successful apps motivate dormant users with mechanics like virtual badges, rewardable actions, chain schedules and disincentives. Perigee’s Seven Minute Workout, for example, uses a video game-esque heart system to punish users for missing workouts.

Wrapping up

Notifications, communities and design mechanics are three common user retention strategies developers implement into apps. Most successful apps use a mixture of user retention strategies. There is no definitive method that will magically increase your user retention. Some strategies may be a best fit for specific audiences while others will be more effective for apps of certain genres. In the end, strategy execution and analytics determine successful user retention.

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This is part of Kiip’s ongoing Developer Success Guide.

Kiip is a leader in the field of app monetization. We enable developers to reward their users with advertising they enjoy. We want all developers to be successful in their ventures, so we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide with industry observations, best practices and expert advice.  

To learn more about monetizing your app, visit kiip.me/developers or email us at success@kiip.me.



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  • Nice article.

    The approach we’ve taken in our games has been to identify where users are dropping (using analytic tools like Flurry and Apsalar) and then do micro in-game surveys before they hit those points (using a tool like polljoy or surveymonkey)to learn why they leave.

    Once you know the reasons (lack of interesting content, too complicated or boring etc) you know what you need to fix. Surprising what we discover sometimes…

    • brittanyfleit

      Thanks for commenting, Simon! Any noteworthy discoveries?

    • Bill Mackey

      Ads are the number one thing that makes me delete an app. But kiip is by far the most annoying because it pretends to be a “reward.” That’s insulting. If ads were rewarding you couldn’t get people to pay to remove ads. Don’t call it a reward, show the ad with an apology that you can’t find a better way to monetize your app than to annoy your users with moronic ads.