6 Secrets of App Retention | Global App Testing

6 Secrets of App Retention | Global App Testing

According to app retention data shared by Andrew Chen, the average app loses 77% of its daily active users (DAUs) within the first three days after the install. Within 30 days, that figure rises to 90%. After 90 days, over 95% of DAUs are lost or less than 5% are kept engaged.

When it comes to growing your app, so many people are focused on gaining new users that they fail to effectively address the need to retain those they already have. Ultimately, it’s much cheaper to keep existing users than it is to acquire new ones.

In the beginning

Having users download and install your app is just the beginning. Regardless of the goal of your app, keeping your users engaged and returning regularly will be high on your list of priorities.

The best apps have a 50%+ retention rate after 90 days, quickly becoming a fixture in their users’ lives. The developers achieve this by making their app ‘sticky’, i.e. keeping users coming back.

Metrics such as the number of downloads or monthly active users are not enough. Successful app developers invest significant time in app stickiness in order to plot their app’s growth trajectory and validate the crucial product, marketing and investment decisions. Retention data can help you see whether your app is engaging or if you need to put more resources into development and QA.

The 6 secrets of app stickiness

Achieving high retention rates requires a continuous understanding of your end-users and how they interact with your app. The best apps provide a good user experience and add value to their end-users, like Netflix and Facebook, are able to develop an engaged and loyal user base. But how do they do it?

1. The problem

Firstly, you need to define the problem by focusing on your end-user. This may sound simple, but you would be surprised how many of our clients have developed features in their app because the founder or CEO wanted them. This is, of course, the wrong approach. 

You need to make development decisions by consulting with your target audience first. This avoids wasted development and QA time on unwanted functionality.

What real problems are your end-users having and how can you fix them? The key is to be specific, without being too involved − you want your users to lead you, not vice versa.

For example, a common problem we come across for the apps we test is that they don’t perform well on certain platforms or OS versions. This is often caused by tight deadlines and even tighter budgets that mean the development and QA teams only have enough time to focus on certain combinations. It results in a decreased retention rate, which has a knock-on effect on revenue.

The problem? Not having the time or resources to test on enough platforms or OS versions. If this problem is fixed, the retention rate and revenue will improve. This is something we regularly help our clients with.

2. Onboarding

The best apps form habits. But all habits have to begin somewhere and it starts with your onboarding process.

If it’s difficult for users to start using your app (too much information requested, buggy performance, too many steps to sign up), users will become frustrated quickly and delete your app.

Onboarding sets the tone for the relationship between you and the end-user. When executed right, a good onboarding process can increase your user LTV (lifetime value) and retention rate.

It should:

  • Be quick, clear and simple
  • Give a high-level overview of the app
  • Show the value the app will provide
  • Provide a logical step-by-step process

If your app has a bug during onboarding, users could be lost forever. Prioritise reliability in this stage.

3. New features and personalisation

Most app users are time-poor. If you want them to keep coming back, you need to give them a good reason. Imagine using a food app that never adds new recipes. You might use it for a while but you will quickly get bored if you run out of new recipes to try.

Adding new features and personalisation to your app on a regular basis will re-engage users and help keep them from losing interest. It creates curiosity in users when they are not using your app. Push notifications are a good way of communicating new features to your users.

Personalisation can have an even more dramatic effect on retention, Nike+ Run Club being a good example. This app allows users to choose a workout plan, which then adapts on its own depending on the progress the user makes. This level of personalisation makes users believe they have their very own personal trainer whilst delivering a unique user experience.

4. Track your power users

Power users are a good metric to gauge which users find the most value in your app. Once you know who your power users are, it’s important to understand how they are using your app. If you do this, you can find out what keeps them coming back.

Ask questions like:

  • How do they move through your app?
  • What features/content are they engaging with the most?
  • What are their demographics?

This insight is invaluable to future app development including what new features to focus on and what existing functionality you need to highlight to your new audience.

5. Build loyalty

Building a rapport and adding value to your end-users’ lives can create strong loyalty. This will not only keep people coming back, but make them less likely to switch to a competitor app.

A rich user experience, clean design and intuitive navigation will make your app easy and enjoyable to use. Personalised content will help keep it relevant to your end-users. Spotify does this very well with strategies such as its Discover Weekly feature. It provides a personalised playlist for each user based on what they’ve listened to recently.

You need to understand your users. If you can do this, they will trust you which, in time, will build loyalty.

“Your users want to feel like you "get" them. They want to be heard and need validation that you are building something specifically for them. We constantly solicit feedback from our users to understand what their experiences are and how we can improve. Because of that, we are building an app our users can trust; with consistent, quality recipes and the necessary tools that we believe will change the way they interact with their kitchen.”

Kevin Yu, Founder, SideChef

On the flip side, you can lose loyalty very quickly. Staying with the Spotify example, we all know they have a ridiculously high retention rate. But take a second to imagine what would happen if their app kept crashing. At first, it might annoy their users but if it kept happening, even their most loyal users would start to question their loyalty to the brand.

6. Measure

Ultimately, the stickiness of your app is an engagement metric that indicates long-term mobile app health. 

“An app that’s retained by 30% of downloaders is considered ‘sticky’”

Anindya Datta, Mobilewalla

Measuring how sticky your app is plays an important part in the decisions you make regarding app development. Analysing your competitors’ stickiness can also play a part in your development strategy.

App Annie, the app market data expert, has a very useful competitive app retention data tool called Intelligence. It allows app publishers to benchmark themselves against competitors and top apps to form a better picture of what success looks like and develop ideas on how to build a loyal and engaged user base.


All apps want a community of loyal users who keep coming back over and over again.

Here is a summary of our tips to help achieve that:

  1. By defining the problems your users face, you will understand what needs  fixing.
  2. Create a seamless and intuitive onboarding experience to decrease churn rate and increase user LTV.
  3. Adding new features that add value to your app on a regular basis will help re-engage users.
  4. Track your power users, analyse how they use your app and make the necessary changes to your app development.
  5. Build a strong rapport with your users to create loyalty but be warned, loyalty is lost quickly.
  6. Measure the stickiness of your and your competitors’ apps on a regular basis to work out what is working and what isn’t.

Contact us to see how we can help extend your QA team and find more critical bugs, thus improving your app stickiness and increasing loyalty.