Sometimes the hardest part of developing an app is not building it but attracting a community of loyal users. With millions of apps on the market—about 3.8 million on Google Play and 2 million on Apple’s App Store in the first quarter of 2018—users are very fickle when it comes to choosing apps. People can shun an app for many reasons.

Why do people uninstall apps?

According to a study by Selim Ickin et al. from the Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden, some of the reasons that users choose to uninstall apps include:

  • Performance issues
  • Intrusive advertisements
  • Frequent updates
  • High memory usage and battery consumption
  • Poor user interface
  • Got bored with it
  • Cannot be used offline
  • Low popularity
  • Privacy concerns

Make your first steps on your ‘good foot’

One of the ways to ensure your app has a good user engagement and retention rate is to start on the right note. This means implementing the best strategies from day one. There is a snowball effect with getting loyal users on apps. Popular apps tend to grow bigger and attract more active users. On the other hand, it is more difficult to shake off a bad reputation and improve your app’s user engagement and retention if you fail to stand out in the early days.

According to Braze (which used to be known as Appboy), apps retain up to 55 percent of the people who use them after the first week of download and 90 percent of those who use them in the first month. Meanwhile, studies by Nielsen show that recommendation from friends and family remains one of the most trusted forms of advertising. Hypothetically, this means if you can win over the customers who download your app in the first few weeks and months, word-of-mouth advertising from this group will bring you more loyal users. This puts your app on track to get a good retention and engagement rate.

Three ways to boost your mobile app’s user retention and engagement rate

Now, let us look at some of the most effective strategies for retaining users and improving their engagement on your mobile app.

  • First Impressions Count



As indicated above, there are millions of apps on the market. Researchers have found that people tend to download apps to try them out, and may uninstall them immediately if they are unsatisfied. This is why a high acquisition rate does not always translate to engagement and retention in apps. If your app does not impress users in the first few seconds, there is a high probability it will be uninstalled. As a result, impressing users during the onboarding process is extremely important.

According to Localytics, up to 21 percent of users abandon an app after using it only once. While this figure is better than the 25 percent app abandonment rate in 2015, it is still a source of concern. It is clear that the onboarding process is your chance to win or lose users. Apart from fixing performance glitches and ensuring your app is unique, there are other things you can do to captivate users during the onboarding:

  1. Keep the signup process short and let users experience your app in its full glory. Do not request a lot of information from users like they’re about to enter a top-secret location when they’re signing up to use your site. The best practice is to collect some necessary information and prompt users later to update their profile. Also, do not bombard users with information. Keep the onboarding process short and exciting.
  2. Ensure users can operate your app intuitively. There is a learning curve for every app. But the best apps are those you don’t have to struggle to make sense of. Not many users watch tutorials before attempting to use an app. Therefore, while you must provide tutorials and hints about features, conduct multiple tests to measure the ease of operating your app.
  3. Offer a demo version of your app if it is not free. People are hesitant to spend money unless they know what they’re getting in return. Allowing users to enjoy a trial version of your app not only increases engagement but gives them a reason to spend on it. Some of the most successful paid apps on the market, including Netflix, use this strategy.



  • Interact with Users Using Push Notifications and In-App Messages

It is well-known that push notifications can have a significant impact on the retention and engagement rate of an app. However, we often put too much emphasis on push notifications while ignoring other forms of in-app communication. Data from Localytics shows that in-app messages can improve user retention by as much as 46 percent. While 26 percent of users will abandon an app after first use if they do not receive any in-app messages, 17 percent of them will only use an app if they receive messages.

The main difference between push notifications and in-app messages is that while the former appears on your screen even when you are not actively using the app, the latter is only accessible in-app. Both push notifications and in-app messages have their advantages. In-app messages can be used to shed light on the functionality of your app and notify users about discount offers. On the other hand, push notifications work best in re-engaging with inactive users. Since you do not have to be using an app to receive push notifications, this is an excellent tool for engaging with users who are not very active.

You do not have to choose between push notifications and in-app messages. Both can be used together to boost user engagement and retention. According to Braze, using push notifications and in-app messaging can improve customer retention by up to 130 percent. However, there are some things to consider to improve the efficiency of these messages:

  1. Timing: While push notifications and in-app messages are useful, they can quickly become annoying. You must deliver notifications and push messages promptly. For example, e-commerce apps send out messages on discounts to users based on the items they searched recently.
  2. Personalization: Use the information you collect from users to provide personalized messages. While this doesn’t seem like much, it can do a long way to improve retention. Braze notes that personalized messages can increase conversion by up to 27%.

Apart from push notifications and in-app messages, you must also harness other channels of communication including emails. As a rule, keep your messages short and to the point.


  • Harness Feedback and User Data


The relationship between developers and the users of their app is like a romantic relationship. Just like any romantic relationship, communication is the key to success. And it is not only one-way communication through push notifications and in-app messages, but you also have to listen to your users. There is an African proverb that if you are drawing a line, you may not notice that it is not straight, but observers would be able to tell you where it is bent. This is also true with apps. Sometimes, some of the things that can affect user retention and engagement are not immediately noticeable to the creators of the app.

The best way to get the perspective of users is through feedback and analysis of user data. There are different ways to get feedback. You can get feedback from users as well as professional agencies like Buildinary. These experts analyze your app’s user experience and user interface, then present valuable suggestions to improve them. Feedback from users is also essential. There are many ways to get feedback from users:

  1. In-app feedback: Some users respond to the call for feedback in apps by providing their opinion. This is why you must dedicate a section of your app to getting feedback from users.
  2. Reviews: You must scour through reviews on app stores, blogs, and other platforms to see what people think about your app.
  3. Surveys: Another way to get feedback is through surveys. Surveys allow you to request feedback on particular aspects of your app.

Apart from feedback, analyzing user data is another way to improve the user retention and engagement of your app. You can analyze user data to find out which aspect of your app engages user the most and focus on that. Also, data can show you the aspects of your app that are driving users away.


The quest to improve user engagement and retention must be continuous. That is the only way to get the full rewards. You must never relent in your efforts to make your app more valuable to users. When you consider users before making significant moves, their loyalty is almost guaranteed. Make the users of your app feel like part of a community.

Any way that you look at it, you cannot go wrong by investing time and effort into user retention. We all know that you spend up to 10 times more to reach a new user than an existing one. Also, studies show that user retention can boost a company’s profit by 25% to 95%.


Written by: Alicia Wells

Alicia is a programmer who specializes in mobile app development and design. With her strong coding background and easy demeanor, she thoroughly enjoys blogging about all aspects of software development in her spare time.