The Secret to Mobile App Stickiness

September 29, 2016

Nothing says mobile app success like a community of loyal users who come back again and again and again.

Stickiness increases your chances of going viral, offers better lifetime marketing value and is much more cost effective–it’s 5-10 times more expensive to attract users than it is to keep the ones you have. But acquiring stickiness is less about discovering the magic bullet and more mixing the right formula. It’s about building an app where UX, content, business model and more all come together in the right mix to create a comprehensive experience. Sound vague? Making your app sticky may be more art than science, but there are some key leverage points and practices that are sure to generate stickiness, especially when used together intelligently:

Solve a Problem – Fulfill a Desire

Facebook fulfills people’s natural need to connect; Twitter is really good at letting users message quickly and easily; YouTube taps into our desire to both see into each other’s lives and be a star. At the core, they are all solving a real problem or fulfilling a common desire and they all do it really, really well. Even with a substandard interface, you can still generate stickiness if you’re solving a real and persistent problem.

Make It Frictionless

While an app that solves a problem might earn stickiness for being useful, if it crashes half the time or difficult to navigate, users will eventually get frustrated and bail. High quality, frictionless, intuitive design is directly linked to higher retention rates and, when combined with some of the other elements on this list, stickiness. Frictionless apps deliver:

  • User friendly language
  • Instant gratification
  • Minimal load time
  • Transparent UI
  • Effortless navigation
  • Rewards for desired behaviors
  • Strategic alerts and notifications
Keep it Fresh

If you want people to come back, you have to give them a reason. Imagine using a fitness app that never adds new routines. You might work out hard for a few months and then invariably get bored once you run out of fresh content. Adding new features and personalized content to your app on a regular basis re-engages users and keeps them from losing interest. If your users are wondering what they’re missing when they’re not in your app, then you’re definitely doing something right.

Shadow Your Power Users

Power users have obviously found deep value in your app. Track them, see how they use your app, and figure out what makes them keep coming back. Take the 5-10% using your app most frequently–for example those who spend more than 3 minutes in your app 3 or 4 times a week–and see what they’re doing differently. How do they move through the app, what type of content are the engaging with most and when, and who are they? Armed with these insights you can adjust your features to better highlight these high value areas or experiences to the rest of your audience, and adjust your marketing strategies to target your power users specifically.

Create an Emotional Connection

Building a strong brand personality that resonates with target audiences can create fierce loyalty among your user base. If you’re delivering the things your target audience likes and you’ve branded it effectively, people are less likely to switch even if there is a slightly better feature elsewhere. An emotional connection creates a barrier to leaving. Facebook’s On This Day and Friendship Anniversary videos are great examples of how the social media giant has branded itself as part of your life story. Leaving Facebook means losing all that history.

Measure It

Ultimately, stickiness is an engagement metric that indicates long-term mobile app health. There’s even a formula: Power Users (% of people who launch an app 10+ timer per month) + Loyal Users (% of people who return to an app within 3 months of their first session) = App Stickiness. Make stickiness one of the key metrics you keep tabs on regularly so nurturing it stays top of mind and plays an important part in the decisions you make across all aspects of your app.

–Drew Johnson, co-CEO, App Partner