How do you hook mobile users to maximize retention? That’s the question we try to answer on a recent episode of Retention Masterclass with Fouad Saeidi, founder of the App Growth Network. Fouad often says “Retention is the only way to grow.” It’s a bullish statement but Fouad can back it up.

“You can’t constantly pour money into user acquisition. The UA costs are going higher all the time. That’s why a lot of app entrepreneurs and developers focus a lot on retention first,” he says. This represents a bit of a shift in mindset brought on by tighter budgets in the post-pandemic era. As app marketers try to put more stock in ranking organically — which is increasingly hard to do — even those who succeed have trouble converting ASO success into solid monetization. When you focus too much on acquisition and not enough on retention, users may never make it deep enough into your app to make a purchase or see an ad. So marketers are starting to refocus their energies and pay more attention to retention rates.

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Step 1: Diagnosing retention problems 

In order to fix your retention rates, you have to understand what the problem is. Fouad says to start by benchmarking your app against others. Do you know whether your retention rates are within the industry average? If not, it’s time to find out.  

And if your retention rates are way out of step with industry norms, it’s time to find out where the leak is. “Imagine it’s like a mechanic, they’ve got to fix a leak in your car, right?” says Fouad, but you have to find it first. His team starts by putting together a taxonomy audit – with templates for specific events relating to acquisition, retention, or purchases. The team then audit’s the taxonomy in whatever tool the client may be using to ensure “developers can measure things right, consistently.”  

And then they begin to connect the dots. By looking at the funnels, we start to determine whether the numbers make sense and how to measure up across the industry as a whole. 

Other times a more qualitative approach is needed. The app growth network team will do a UX audit looking at the onboarding flow or pricing. In other words, they look for the barriers that are keeping users from moving deeper into the funnel. 

Step 2: Fixing retention problems 

Once you know where the problem lies, it’s time to get down to the business of fixing it. Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The answer will depend on how you measure up and what your particular issues are. But here are a few common solutions: 

  • Cut down on the clicks — make it easier for your customers to get shopping, playing, or doing whatever it is they came to your app to do   
  • Teaching new mechanics at the right time — Especially important for games, make sure you introduce new mechanics or features when it matters 
  • Add a feedback loop, like daily reward — Provide an incentive for users to come back every day (and make sure it’s worth their while)  
  • Gamify everything — People are competitive by nature and when you add gaming elements — even min-games within games — keep people coming back 

And Fouad points to his favorite language-learning app, Duolingo, as an example of a company getting retention right. From gamification features that allow users to see when others are outpacing them and rewards for being engaged and doing well to reminders to “do your homework,” Duolingo is constantly working to keep users moving through the app.  

“Obviously, these push notifications are sent based on segmenting users. There’s some people that are active users, they’ve already paid a subscription,” says Fouad. You basically just want to keep them coming back to the app. But you can dive deeper to find out if they’re early adopters, or just casual users of the app. Or are there people that they’re dormant? “So basically you’ve got to send those push notifications in a very systematic way based on certain flows — AB tested — and you know it’s not an easy thing to get people hooked on a new thing.” 

Fouad says that no matter what vertical your app is in, it’s critical to figure out how you can employ push notifications, messaging, and gamification elements to keep your users engaged. As he puts it: “I have half an hour before I sleep to spend either on a meditation app, or on Duolingo, on a game, or if you’re single, like dating or business networking app. So, time is limited, right?” What are you doing to make sure your app is the one people choose to spend time on. 

Ultimately, all of this requires marketers work closely with a product development team that understands how the product they create impacts the engagement and retention rates that are so important to marketers. 

To get more in-depth advice from Fouad on how to boost retention, tune in to the entire interview above and read the transcript below. 

Show Transcript