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Retention a beast that can be tackled

Actionable items to improve user retention




We hear it all the time. Retention is one of the most important metrics that can make or break your business as it reduces your marketing cost to bring in new users since engaged users refer your product to others and increase the overall revenue generated per user(Customer lifetime value).


Users of your app keep coming back to use your product or they don’t. Retention basically comes down to this simple and powerful question.


After working for a couple years in product growth teams experimenting with all kinds of different approaches to improve user retention, I first hand got to experience what really improves retention and what levers are the most impactful ones to pull first. Assuming that your product already solves a problem users care about and are willing to invest time and effort to ease the pain or solve a problem, the following factors are a few actionable areas to explore when it comes to retention.



1. The gap between the promise and the product functionality

This is an area I see so many companies come short. The ads we put out there and the blog posts about our products build a different and in most cases shinier picture of what the product truly is capable of and this by itself is a sure way to bring many excited users to the products only to disappoint them as soon as they encounter the real product. The root cause of this issue in many cases is that many marketing organizations base their success metrics on the number of new users they bring in or the number of new downloads they get per ad. The better way of defining metrics is figuring out a shared retention strategy that involves the marketing and the product teams and then come up with metrics that can measure the success rates based on the strategy. The retention beast needs to be an over arching company wide strategy that all teams work on it together.



2. App Launch time

How long it takes for your app to launch is not a so obvious but an important factor that impacts how users perceive your app or product. It is an interesting fact that a few milliseconds longer launch time can have a negative impact on users as it contributes to the “Time to Value” factor discussed in point #4.

It is also worth mentioning that reducing the app launch time is not a trivial task. It may involve heavy engineering work and months of code refactoring.



3. The Signup process

Asking users to sign up is considered an investment of time and providing some personal information on the users side that could be viewed as a blocker, a de-motivator or be considered as an unnecessary step for new users. Therefore if the type of product allows, consider delaying the signup to after users get a value from the product and understand why they need to sign up.

If deferring the signup is not a possibility in your app/website, then make the process easy, fast and explain why to sign up (make sure the reasons are real and make sense and ones that users truly value).



4. Time to Value

Time to value means how long it takes for new users to receive what they came for in your product and there is a lot that goes into the time to value concept. From app launch time to the signup process to ease of use of the app features without confusion goes into the time to value journey. In order to start viewing this time to value factor from the right angle, raise the following questions and try to find the best answers for them with your team.

-What value the customer comes for in the first place?

-Do different user groups (personas) come to the app for different values?

-How do we make sure users can find what they came for quickly and easily?

-How easy is it to receive the value they came for?

-What could possibly block users from being able to receive the value they came for?

-How long does it take to receive the value?

-What could go wrong while users are moving toward their goal?



5. The Joy factor

What kind of feelings does your app generate in any micro interaction your users have with your site or app. This is one of the main questions we should strive to answer with addressing design, flow and functionality. Any item on any page of the app either adds to the overall experience or takes away from it. The combination of psychology of colors, copywriting, transitions between pages and a cohesive user experience that communicates the same theme and the same concept all contribute to the joy factor.

It is very common for product teams that work on the same products but different parts of the same product use different styles of copywriting, colors or different frame of mind in design. And it is the worst experience for users to notice the different divisions of your company's structure when using your product.



6. Communicating with users

In app communication is one of the most important factors of creating a product that is understandable, cohesive and makes users want to come back and use your product. And what I mean by the communication aspect of the product, is not only the copywriting but also the non written communication and what we are communicating between the lines and with the subconscious mind of the users. What do colors, icons, micro interactions communicate with users? Do they communicate the same concept and in the same tone? Do they create a seamless experience for users? How the micro interactions, design choices, the app speed and the copywriting make users feel? Do your users feel valued and appreciated in the app? Is the style of the copy used in the app suitable for the market you are serving?



7. The worth factor

From the minute users download the app till they leave, they are trying to answer the following questions in their mind. Is this product for me? Does it solve my problem? Does it worth the time and the money that needs to be invested? Does this app understand me and my needs?

In other words this kind of app evaluation goes on in the users mind the minute they start using your app for the first time and by far this is the most important factor that affects retention.

How to approach this problem: In order to tackle the worth factor, we need to clearly define and categorize our users segments and then do our best to deeply understand our users by simply talking to a few of them every month. The other area we need to look into is studying our competitors to figure out whether what we are offering to users is unique, provides at least 2x better experience while our pricing is competitive.

The worth factor is by far the most difficult and the most time consuming piece that can truly impact retention and I am first to admit that it is extremely hard to get it right because of increased competition out there, the copycats in the market and numerous choices that are free or low cost for users to choose from.



Overall the best way to tackle retention is treating our users as smart and sensible people who came to our app to get a value they care about - you must know for sure what this value is- and to have fun doing it. So paying attention to details of design, copy writing, removing the noise from the product -extra features that users don't value much- and continuous innovation that bring real value to users and stay ahead of the game is a difficult but doable way of life for your product and marketing organizations.