A successful product, in pretty much any category, is not defined (just) by how many people are using it, but (also) how many people are using it – frequently.

Think about it – if you hear a really good song on the radio – you’ll probably want to hear it a hundred more times. If you find an awesome restaurant in a back alley somewhere, you’ll keep coming back for that teriyaki wok. So what do radio editors and restaurant managers do when they notice you like the song / food? Radio editors might keep playing the same song every day, and restaurant managers might send a glass of wine your way, on the house. To let you know they appreciate you coming every once in awhile.

The same thing is with apps – important as it is to have people downloading your app, that doesn’t mean you’ve completed your work. On the contrary, my dear Watson – only then is your true task just beginning.

Building the app is the easy part – now you need to focus on making people return to the app, transforming them to regular users and giving you various chances for monetization. That is the true challenge here – to get as big of a retention rate as possible, and to convert one-time users into regular returnees.

Measuring retention

The best way to measure how successful an app is – is to track retention. Some may argue that engagement is the best way to go – but not all apps are created equal, and while some (for example, Shazam) might have fairly low engagement, others (Facebook) might have it high. That doesn’t mean both apps won’t be able to monetize properly, which is why it is best to focus on retention.

Retention is a metric allowing you to see how many people are returning to the app, and as you try to engage with them, retention will help you understand which parts of your app are working and which are not. This will help you make tweaks in order to keep your users coming back for more. By constantly making improvements, you will keep your users and keep that conversion rate high.

If you want to measure retention, you need to understand how often users are returning, in a set period of time. That is best done through cohort analysis, which groups together people who have started using your app at approximately the same time and shows you, in percentages, how many are returning.

Through cohort analysis, you can look for specific patterns in behavior, identifying your most loyal users, as well as those that were the first to quit. By looking at specific groups, cohort analysis can help you figure out if your retention strategies are bearing fruit or not.

retention cohorts
Example of retention cohorts with Appsee App Analytics

Now, we won’t go in depth on what you need to do to keep your users engaged, and coming back for more, that’s a whole nother post(s) in and of itself. Assuming you already know, and have devised a strategy, we will just focus on how to measure the success of that strategy – how to analyze user retention, and we will focus on that little extra you can do to improve that analysis.

Quantity craves quality

Quantitative analytics will tell you plenty about your app and its users – it can tell you the number of downloads over a specific timeframe. It can tell you how many active users your app has, how long they stick around, and how often they come back. You can get plenty of information about the time of day, week and month when your app is at its highest, and lowest points.

But all that information won’t help you improve the retention rate among cohorts, as it tells you very little about the experience users are having with your app. It doesn’t tell you what they’re doing when they open the app up, what they find most enjoyable, and what they’re struggling hardest with. The time of day when people use the app will tell you very little about the frustrations of a poor user interface, or if you have a non-working button, somewhere in the app.

For that, you’ll need that ‘little extra’ we mentioned earlier – qualitative analytics. All the engagement users have with the app, including tapping, swiping or pinching. Which parts of apps they interact with most, and which are just there to collect digital dust. All that information, which can prove invaluable to improving user experience, thus improving retention, is accessible through visual app analytics – something Appsee, for example, has to offer.

Now we will go through some the features visual mobile app analytics can offer, which can be a game changer when it comes to improving retention rates.

Touch Heatmaps

Mobile Touch Heatmaps

First up are touch heatmaps. This feature will place a visual layer over the entire app to show you exactly where people tap, pinch and swipe within the app. Using the same color-coding principle thermal goggles use, the feature will show you which parts of the app are used the most, and which are being neglected.

Here’s an example of how touch heatmaps can help you improve retention. Let’s say you have an app with a login screen. It allows your users to log into the app using either a custom account, or their Facebook and Google accounts. In that screen, you’ve noticed through touch heatmaps, that a lot of people are swiping across the bottom of the screen, looking to proceed without registering, or logging in at all. After they realize they can’t enter the app without registering, they quit, never to be seen again.

This might prompt you to create a ‘Enter as Guest’ feature, solving an important issue for a group of users, effectively improving on the overall user experience and beefing up that retention rate. That is exactly what touch heatmaps can do – the feature will give you more insight into user behavior, which is essential to understand if you want to improve the user experience, and ultimately – retention.

User Recordings

Mobile User Recordings

Real-time, information sensitive session recordings of users interacting with your app can be crucial to your app’s success. This feature will let you see exactly how users engage with your app, what they do, if and where they get stuck, and which parts of your app cause frustrations.

For example, if you have a mobile game and you notice that many people reach level 10 and just quit there. You know that a lot of people quit there, but don’t really know why. By watching a replay of a user session, you could potentially find a design flaw which makes it close to impossible to finish the level, frustrating users and making them quit.

Or another example. Let’s say you have a shopping app. One of the biggest challenges for many shopping apps is that people tend to abandon their carts (shopping cart abandonment rate for mobile is at a stunning 97 percent). You see that they’re quitting, but can’t point a finger at a concrete issue. By watching user sessions, you realize that many users experience multiple issues before actually making the purchase.

Events like these happen all the time, and only by visualizing what your users are experiencing, you can optimize your user interface to keep your retention rates high, bring back old users and even onboard new ones. Session recording is the most powerful qualitative analytics tool, as it literally puts you into the shoes of the user and allows you to experience both good and bad sides of your app. Understanding your users’ troubles can help you build better future versions, and there is no better way for user retention than actually solving the problems they’re having.

Monitor, optimize, rinse and repeat

User retention is a process – not an event. You are never done optimizing your app. If you want to keep your users engaged and keep them coming back for more, you need to be engaged as well.

It all comes down to monitoring, optimizing, then repeating the process.

Every strategy, user retention included, needs to be based on solid, actionable data. Quantitative data can tell you a lot about who your users are and how much time they spend with your app, but it won’t tell you how they actually feel using it, and if they’re experiencing hair-pulling moments.

Through qualitative analytics, and tools such as touch heatmaps and session recordings, you will be able to understand exactly where the problems and nuisances lie within your app, and where your focus needs to be next. And that information is, without a doubt, essential to optimizing your retention strategies.