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[Infographic] How to design a growth strategy for your app.

Developers are makers. They solve pains, entertain, enlighten, and enhance productivity. Building an app can be an exhilarating experience and the joys of shipping can linger for… about ten seconds. Then comes the question: “I’ve built an app, now what?” Where do you start with your app growth strategy?

Building strategies for user acquisition and retention are the two major tasks for dev teams after they have built an app. Analytics helps understand exactly what is happening and how to keep building traction. From there, new possibilities can emerge that will help you grow your user community even stronger and help you identify novel ideas that may offer you a winning edge.

Check out our infographic based on our series of articles on User Acquisition , User Retention and Growth Analytics.

Built_an_app_Infographic (3)

Want more insights on app growth strategy?

Check out our State of the Developer Nation Reports, and make sure you understand Analytics for Growth.


You’ve Built an App: Now What? Part 2: User Retention


When devs create apps, it feels like that is the project. But once an app is built and released on an app store, it becomes obvious: creating the app was just the start of the journey. Now comes the really exciting (and scary) stuff: getting that app in front of users who will find it useful, and making sure they keep coming back to your app on a regular basis.

According to the  Developer Economics State of the Developer Nation bi-annual report, mobile is the key platform for application development, with developers also building solutions for desktop browsers, IoT, and now emerging technologies, which includes VR and Machine Learning. But for professional developers, the main game is still mobile, and Android is increasingly dominating as the mobile app platform of choice.

So after you’ve built an app, the first task is to position it so that your potential users start downloading it. User acquisition is all about getting app downloads. After downloads start climbing — even a slow increase is okay as long as it is steady — then it is important to start focusing on retention: getting users to start integrating your app into their habits so they reach for your app regularly.

Caroline Ragot, co-founder of Women in Mobile and a mobile strategist at Schibsted Spain, who has helped shepherd apps at several businesses into top ten rankings, says that without an early focus on retention, any resources invested in user acquisition can be wasted. “When you have a good base, then you can decide to go stronger on acquisition and invest more in downloads, but there is no use doing that too early,” Ragot said. “If you acquire and you cannot retain, then that is money you are throwing out the window.”

Brenden Mulligan, who is currently working on the app platform Firebase, is the former LaunchKit founder, which was recently acquired by Google. He said that the easy answer to retention is to “create an engaging and valuable experience and users will keep coming back over and over.” But, of course, it’s rarely that easy. “Users are constantly distracted with other apps, and everything else going on in their life. Therefore it helps for devs to build in re-engagement triggers into their app. Keep users interested in what’s going on within the app, and remind them to come back if they’ve lapsed too long. Study user behavior to know what the signs of a churning user look like and set up notifications and incentives to come back in before they lose interest.”

App user retention strategies fall into three categories:

  • User experience
  • Re-engagement
  • Performance.

Retention Strategy 1: User Experience

Ægir Thor Steinarsson and Anne-Marthe Lorck recently built the BudUp app aimed at supporting users to make new friends by letting them create and post activities or to join posted activites. Steinarsson said that now that the app has been released, he wants to focus on activities that don’t necessarily scale, but that give him a depth of insight into how downloaders are using the app. “You need to go and talk to people and stop hiding. It is very intimidating. For people who have spent a year and a half building something in the bedroom, it can be really scary.”

Ragot agreed. “You need to speak to people who are using the app, even if you are a dev and social skills are not your forte, you need to go out of the building because that will help you improve your app.” Ragot said that after launching an app, devs should be speaking to every single user. “Do they understand how to use the app? Do they get value out of it? Ask them to use the app in front of you.”

Ragot said the basic funnel for app user retention is the signup process. This is crucial because it is an early step in having the user make a commitment to using the app, and by signing in, it makes it easier to use retention strategies like social media plugins that let the user share in their networks that they are using your app (see part one on acquisition).

Ragot said watching users go through this basic funnel can be revealing. “Even in the beginning, you will see that some don’t know how to hide the keyboard, and maybe that is hiding the button for ‘next’ so if the user is blocked, they don’t complete the signup and they don’t come back. If you paid $1.50 to get that user, that is $1.50 you just lost.”

Retention Strategy 2: Re-Engagement

Echoing Mulligan’s comments about re-engagement triggers, Ragot also suggested using a number of app marketing and user retention products to help automate engagement with users. “The basic strategy is to use a tool for push notifications or in-app messages so you can segment your users,” said Ragot. She suggested using some mobile marketing automation tools to be able to create at least two types of segmentation. The first would be a re-engagement trigger automation so that when users have not used the app within a certain time frame — say, more than one week — they are prompted with a reminder that encourages them to use the app again. For apps like Steinarsson’s BudUp that have a geographical focus for the user, Ragot suggests also using a geographical segmentation to send relevant messages to users within a particular area. She pointed to Appboy, Swrve and Firebase as three tools that can help with this automation and re-engagement.

Ragot also suggested that devs regularly scan reviews of their app and respond to each comment. “Look at every single one and reply to each of them,” Ragot recommended. For now, devs can respond to reviews in Google Play, but apparently Apple has plans to introduce a similar feedback feature soon, too. “You can even say, send an email to support at whatever and we will help you. Try to talk to them, make a list of complaints about what are the major problems. Then you first fix what’s not working, and then you build the cool new features.”

Retention Strategy 3: Performance

Knowing when users are frustrated by their app experience leads to the third important strategy for retaining users: keeping your app highly performant.

48% of users who download an app and see it crash are less likely to use the app again and often quickly delete it for good from their device, with a third (31%) of downloaders then telling others of their negative experience.

“It is very important to have a tool to see the crashes in your app,” said Ragot. She recommended Fabric, which is made by Twitter. “You can integrate their SDK and see live how many people are using your app. It even prioritizes the crashes: it details the number of crashes and identifies at what line of your code it is happening.”

Ragot says that app developers should be aiming for 98% crash free performance.

Acquiring users is a challenging process, so devs need to be sure they can retain those users once they start using your app. Otherwise, there is a risk that the money, time and effort spent on acquisition is wasted as users have a quick look, and never return again.

These retention strategies work equally as well with Android, iOS and Windows mobile apps, but many of the tools available are embedded in the Google Play platform or able to be integrated with Google Play. This is incredibly important, as according to VisionMobile’s Developer Economics State of the Developer Nation bi-annual report, 80% of developers building apps professionally are targeting the Android platform.

In our final part of our series, we look at how developers can set up an analytics process to track acquisition and retention, and we unlock some of the next wave strategies that are not yet flooding the industry and may offer new apps a competitive advantage.

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You’ve Built an App: Now What? Part 1: User Acquisition

user acquisition

Developers are makers. They solve pains, entertain, enlighten, and enhance productivity. Building an app can be an exhilarating experience and the joys of shipping can linger for… about ten seconds. Then comes the question, “I’ve built an app, now what?”

“Building an app is incredibly hard,” said Brenden Mulligan, former LaunchKit founder, which was recently acquired by Google. “But getting people to use it is an even bigger challenge. Once an app is released you start getting so many signals of how it’s doing, and it’s important to have the right infrastructure set up to receive and learn from those signals. Things like user activity, app store reviews, churn… In addition, devs have to be thinking of the next feature, or bugs they need to fix.”

Earlier this year, Ægir Thor Steinarsson and Anne-Marthe Lorck built an app to resolve what they were seeing as a common pain point.

“I am a fairly introverted person, and I am a bit disconnected from social groups: I’m studying with people much younger than me, I live in a foreign country. I mostly felt content in my day to day life, but also that I was missing out: I would end up repeatedly cancelling stuff I did want to do, like go to a concert or even a museum, because I didn’t know who to invite,” said Steinarsson.

“We did interviews with about 40 people and found others were experiencing social isolation as well,  we asked people to give it a pain grade on a scale of 1 to 5 and we started seeing everyone giving it a high pain point (3 and above). That turned out to be the main theme rather than the exception.”

Steinarsson and Lorck created BudUp as an app to solve that: users can register an event (a concert, movie, dinner party or other activity), and specify the number of people they hope to attend with.

The app was released on the Google Play Store. Android is the main mobile platform for professional developers, according to VisionMobile’s State of the Developer Nation quarterly report, which found that Android accounted for 79% of mobile developer mindshare.

For the BudUp team, while they have plans for an iOS app, for now their focus is all about traction: to get user downloads. As they ramp up their user acquisition, Steinarsson wants to make sure he has data systems in place to know what is happening and to monitor the user experience.

Knowing what to measure and using the free tools that can help developers do that quickly is crucial, said Caroline Ragot, Co-founder of Women in Mobile and Mobile Strategist at InfoJobs, a company of Schibsted Spain.

Ragot says there are two tasks to focus on after building an app: the first is acquisition, which is really about marketing an app.

The second task for a new app is to focus on retention. Ragot says retention is about marketing and the product working together. Analytics underpins an understanding of both these tasks.

Focusing on Acquisition: App Store Optimization (ASO)

Increasing user acquisition for your app starts with app store optimization. 30% of downloads occur after someone has searched by keywords in Google Play. So getting noticed within the app marketplace can already drive up user downloads before looking at any other type of promotion.

Ragot says there are three components in app store optimization:

  • text
  • icons
  • Screenshots
  • Review and rating.

Building off the experience of websites in getting noticed, app store optimization makes an impact. Ragot suggests thinking what people will search for when looking for your app, and making sure that those keywords are included in the application title text. “Put the keyword close to your brand,” said Ragot. “When I have done that for app projects, within about two hours I have seen apps move from a ranking of 30-something to a ranking of 8.”

After ASO, the next task is to make sure your icon looks appealing. Don’t believe this is important? Ragot suggests doing a simple app search for something like ‘clock’: “You will see that there will be some you don’t want to download just by looking at them.” In the Google Play console, there is a function to allow developers to A/B test their icons. Ragot suggests testing several and seeing which icon design drives more downloads for your app.

Screenshots are also important. “It’s like the landing page for your app. When visitors arrive, they need to understand what your app is about and it should inspire them to download. It is your first touchpoint with a user,” Ragot explained.

Finally, reviews and ratings make an impact. App stores like Google Play use metrics of downloads and active users as part of their search ranking algorithm, and reviews of apps makes a significant impact on helping encourage searchers to download.

Organic and Paid Acquisition

“The two big acquisition buckets are organic and paid,” said Mulligan, who recently talked about how to optimize app launches with First Round. “Ideally, an app can attract users organically. To do this, there are a lot of ways to optimize a launch to be more successful in initially attracting users. You need to make sure your product name is short and your tagline is clear and concise. You need to figure out what good acquisition looks like for your product and track it from the beginning. You need to bake in marketing hooks that let users share with others how they’re using your app and invite their friends to join them. When the time is right, you need to target the relevant reporters to cover your product and post it to sites with good lead generation like Product Hunt. And the whole time, make sure your line of communication with your early community is very open so you know what’s working, what’s not, and how to change your product to boost your acquisition.”

Other acquisition ideas include Facebook ad campaigns, which Ragot cautions can be expensive, but suggests it is still a good idea to dedicate a small budget of a few thousands dollars to encourage initial traction. Ragot also suggests focusing on social media by encouraging downloaders to share that they have downloaded your app and encourage their networks to do the same.

Steinarsson and Lorck will next focus on content marketing: getting featured in blogs, in particular. They believe when starting to acquire users it is important to do things that don’t necessarily scale in order to maintain an initial personal contact with potential users. They will target several content domains and see in which ones they get traction and focus on those segments to start.

When starting with acquiring users, it can feel like everything is an opportunity cost: choosing one strategy means not investing in another. Setting up analytics to quickly identify what is working is crucial to being able to do more of what works and quickly identify where effort is wasted. Ragot, Mulligan, Steinarsson and Lorck all agree: setting up analytics for acquisition and retention is essential.

And while their strategies are universal across mobile platforms, all three have focused on how to build acquisition with an Android app, reflecting the dominant position of Android in the mobile app developer’s mindshare. According to VisionMobile’s State of the Developer Nation report, 80% of those building apps professionally target Android.

In our next part, we will look at how to retain users once they have started using your app and in part three, we examine what analytics techniques for acquisition and retention to have in place and what free tools to use.

We are currently running our new survey and it is sci-fi themed! Would you like to contribute ? Take the survey