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Improve Retention with these 4 steps

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Improve Retention with these 4 steps

This week, we’re having the pleasure to collaborate again with Stefan from Leanplum (mobile marketing platform). In this post, Stefan gives us 4 steps to improve app retention. Discover actionable techniques that will help boosting your app retention rate.

Research has repeatedly shown that mobile user retention is a challenge. Many mobile teams pride themselves on their acquisition strategies and “growth hacks,” but the fact remains: for every user who downloads your app, only a small fraction will stick around past day 90. It’s clear that mobile teams need to also focus on retention.

Leanplum, a mobile marketing authority, recently published a data science report on mobile retention that confirmed this. Full disclosure, I’m an employee — but the numbers don’t lie. By day one, the average mobile app has a 21 percent retention rate, but that number dwindles to 1.89 percent by day 90. Poor retention means that most of your hard-earned users aren’t going to live out their long-term value.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to improve your retention. In this post, you’ll learn how to:

  • Prime users for push opt-in messages by sending requests after they’ve discovered the app’s value.
  • Start sending push notifications right away, to improve retention by 20 percent.
  • Engage the 68 percent of first-week users, who are dormant.
  • Personalize your push notifications to enjoy a 7x higher retention rate.

Are you ready? Let’s explore the data to find actionable techniques that mobile marketers can use to increase their retention.

1) Prime Users Before Requesting Push Privileges

It’s great to know that push notifications can improve retention, but you can’t use that knowledge until your users opt in. On average, only 42 percent of iOS users opt in to push notifications. If you want push to drastically change your retention rates, it’s best to improve your opt-in rates first.

Many apps get more push opt-ins by delaying the ask. By default, iOS gives the user a series of system prompts when a new app is launched. These prompts ask permission to access the user’s location, contact list, etc. If the user doesn’t know what the app is about and why it’s valuable, it makes sense that they’d reject some of these requests. By default, your push opt-in gets lost among these other permission requests, and if the user reflexively clicks “Don’t Allow,” you’ll lose the opportunity forever.

Apps enjoy a better opt-in rate when they send a customized in-app message after the user has reached a given milestone, like registering for an account or unlocking a game achievement. Now that the app has proven its value, the person is more likely to accept the push notification request.

In short, you can increase your push notification opt-ins by…

  • Waiting until the user has reached an engagement milestone before making the request.
  • Sending a customized in-app message that explains the value of push, rather than a generic system prompt.


2) Send Push Notifications, and Send Them Often

It’s understandable that some marketers are skeptical of push notifications. Many apps make poor use of their push notification privileges, and those experiences make people leery of all push messaging.

In reality, push notifications are an effective way to engage with users, and the numbers prove it. Apps that send push notifications don’t suffer from poor retention in the long run — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Over a 30-day span, apps can increase their retention by 20 percent, just by sending push notifications.

What type of push notifications should you send? That’s the tricky part. It’s true that push notifications don’t lead to uninstalls, but if you want to make the most of your messaging, you should try to offer messages that are as valuable as possible. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Alert retail app users of discounted items in a category that they frequently browse.
  • Notify travel app customers of any last-minute changes to their trip, like a flight delay.
  • Let listeners in a music app know that their most-played artist just released a new album.

The key to these messages is that they create value instead of annoying the recipient.

3) Engage Dormant Users with Relevant Messages

There’s one important statistic that retention rates don’t tell you. Even if the average app retains less than 10 percent of its users after the first week, that doesn’t mean that the other 90 percent uninstalled the app.

In reality, the majority of un-retained users are simply dormant. They might seem like they’re not interested in your app right now, but if you engage them enough, you can show them the value of your product. This pie graph provides a useful visualization.


Until your dormant users uninstall your app, you still have a chance to win them back. You can reactivate over two-thirds of your user base with push notifications.

The content of the push notifications should follow the same suggestions outlined above: be helpful, be personalized, and don’t be spammy. The difference here is timing. It’s crucial that you campaign early and campaign hard. If you engage users while your app is still fresh in their minds, you’ll have an easier time convincing them of your value.

4) Personalize the Timing of Your Push Notifications

In general, personalized push is more valuable than generic push. A previous study by Leanplum found that push notifications with personalized content enjoy an 800 percent increase in open rates. Personalized content can include anything from recommended items based on the user’s browsing history to local weather data pulled from the internet.

When it comes to retention, the numbers show that push notification send times, in particular, are a leading factor of whether a user will open the message. Messages that are sent at personalized times, based on prior usage habits, can increase retention rates by 7x over the first 90 days. That’s a huge improvement for a seemingly simple tweak.

How can you personalize your send times?

Fortunately, there is a machine learning algorithm to help you with this. Leanplum’s Optimal Time automatically analyzes a user’s habits and sends messages when they’re most likely to open. The level of personalization is impossible to achieve manually, but with the help of an intelligent algorithm, you can more successfully engage and retain your users.

Here’s a quick snapshot of just how important personalized send times are for retention.


If you’re looking for a quick-and-dirty answer, it’s this: push notifications are the key to better mobile retention. These are the need-to-know facts:

  • If you prime users before making a push notification opt-in request, you’ll enjoy a higher opt-in rate.
  • Sending push notifications improves retention by 20 percent.
  • 68 percent of first-week users have not necessarily given up on your app — they’re simply dormant, and they can be re-engaged.
  • Personalizing push notification send times through an algorithm like Optimal Time increases retention by 7x.

Push doesn’t hurt, and the data proves that it can help — a lot. Download our guide, “Retention, Revealed,” to learn how you can increase app retention.

Did you find these tips useful? Maybe got a few more to share in the comments?