Who’s Still Using Your App?

If 90 percent of people who downloaded your app stopped using it after 30 days, would you consider it a success? That’s the question raised by a February 2009 Pinch Media study. Keep in mind that back then, there were fewer than 50,000 apps. With so many more today — and most of them free — it’s even easier for consumers to flit from app to app to app.

“Free apps have been taking the app store by storm in the last year or so, lowering the barrier for download considerably,” says Ariel Michaeli, co-founder of analytics vendor appFigures. “I mean, who won’t download something for free? But that doesn’t necessarily mean they want it, so they’ll abandon it rather quickly.”

That’s a concern not only for independent app developers, but also those on staff at companies that are spending five or six figures to create an app and want to ensure a decent return on that investment. A great first impression encourages repeat usage.

“According to research by Localytics, 26 percent of mobile apps are used just once after they are downloaded,” says Robert Gary, vice president and general manager for mobile enterprise at Nuance Communications. “So if you’re planning to build a mobile app for your business, getting users to download it will be just the beginning.”

Another challenge is that developers often have a tough time getting even a ballpark estimate of how many people have abandoned their app. If that app is linked to a service — say, song downloads — then usage of that service could provide clues. Two other options:

  • “Measure the number of updates,” Michaeli says. “While most users will download an update even if they don’t use the app, the existence of the app on the device can suggest it was not abandoned.”
  • Also: “In-app purchases (when available) can be an indicator of abandonment,” Michaeli continues. “The problem here is being able to estimate users from purchases, which is no simple task.”

Do those on-the-cheap strategies provide a decent snapshot? Not necessarily. “Without in-app analytics, a developer has a limited set of tools with which to measure abandonment,” Michaeli says. “It’s kind of like cutting a steak with a butter knife: It’s not the right tool for the job, but with enough persistence, it’ll work.”

First and Foremost: Don’t Build a Crap App
Build a really great app. That’s a surefire way to keep ’em coming back. Of course, if it were that easy to predict what will resonate with users, every developer would already be doing it.

“Who would have thought that Angry Birds would be so popular?” says Sam Liu, vice president of market at Partnerpedia, which provides app store solutions. “I don’t think the developers themselves would have guessed that.”

Keeping an app fresh is one option. For example, adding a level to a game each month can encourage users to keep playing.

Another option is to do such a good job of solving a problem that users find it unthinkable to go back to the old way. Case in point: Some surveys show that consumers increasingly prefer self-service options over, say, calling and talking to a CSR. So if a mobile app enables self-service, then they’re more likely to keep using it.

“Consider another reason why customers like apps,” Gary said. “Twenty-five percent said apps beat waiting on hold to get to help (read: I like to serve myself quickly). Another 20 percent find apps more personal than other channels. This is great news for companies trying to increase personal connections with customers and sheds some light on focus areas: make the app personal, make it easy to use, make it as convenient as possible.”

If you’re developing for a business, there’s another incentive to make a great first impression. “Nuance research shows that 79 percent of consumers ‘feel’ a company is innovative following a good mobile app experience,” Gary says. “On the flip side, 55 percent of consumers will consider changing companies if they have a bad mobile app experience.”

Find the Right Users Right Away
Many apps are abandoned immediately because they’re not what the user expected. “They mistakenly download an app they think does X when in fact it does Y,” Liu says. “How you describe the app is very important.”

Another solution for minimizing app abandonment is to get your app into a curated app store. These stores feature one or more app categories and are stocked with curated recommendations instead of every available app in those categories. That mini store is then made available in a place frequented by people with that set of interests. For example, a website that caters to fitness buffs might have a curation company create a mini store of apps for running, counting calories and staying motivated. Or an enterprise might hire a curation company to create a mini store for its employees, business partners or customers.

AppCarousel and Partnerpedia are two examples of curation companies. “We pick based on the top rankings, to start with: the top 25 or 50,” Liu says. “So sort of by definition, we’re already selecting just the ones that we think have a higher adoption. What we don’t know is whether those apps have been abandoned.”

Partnerpedia currently gets its apps from aggregators such as the now defunct MobiHand. “But we’re looking at opening it up to the individual developers,” Liu says. “We’ve had about a dozen in the last two or three months that have approached us: ‘We’ve got this app. We’re looking for a channel or a way to get it to business users.’ Google Play is not ideal for business users because of the way they procure and buy apps, so people approach us.”

There isn’t much research about how abandonment rates vary for business users versus consumers. But it’s a safe bet that business users are less likely to abandon apps that their employer recommends or even requires. Hence the value of working with a curation company, which can be a way to get an app in front of a CIO, IT manager or other decision maker.

“Getting mobile apps to business users is a new world,” Liu says. “That’s not as well thought out as the consumer world. It’s just a matter of time before that ecosystem develops. It’s a higher margin world, if [developers] can break into it.”