What Percentage of App Downloads Become Engaged Users?

onboarding process

KENDRICK WANGKendrick Wang is a product manager at Apptimize, a mobile A/B testing platform for iOS & Android. He writes about Mobile UX and Growth to help you make a meaningful, measurable impact on users’ lives. His work is read by Google, Lyft, Dropbox, HotelTonight, and others. Today he talks about how to create a strong onboarding process within the app, to make sure your hard earned downloads are translating into engaged users.

“If you don’t nail onboarding, your developers may as well have been drinking beers instead of building those features that no one saw,” says Nancy Hua, the CEO of Apptimize.

Take Viddy for example. Back in 2012, they were heralded as the “Instagram for video.” They had an amazing integration with Facebook’s Open Graph that helped catapult their downloads, and increase most active users (MAUs) to over 35 million.


At the same time, those MAUs weren’t translating into regular repeat users. As you can see in the graph from KPCB, while their MAUs increased dramatically, DAUs had only saw a small increase.

Users weren’t onboarded correctly, so they dropped off and didn’t return—without seeing all the amazing functionality Viddy had built into their product.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this is a very common problem. According to data from Ankit Jain and Andrew Chen, The average app loses 77% of its users after just 3 days. That means that users engage a few times in the first days after an install, and then quickly drop off.

With all that time and effort spent on ASO, ad campaigns, and word of mouth tactics, you need to make sure that those new downloads are actually translating into retained users.

engaged users


You’ll note on the graph above that the top 10, 100, and 5000 apps perform significantly better at Day 1 – Day 3 retention, suggesting that there’s a strong correlation between how well they onboard users and how successful the app is. So what we need to do is figure out what key actions within the app are significant indicators for retention, and drive users towards it early in the onboarding process.

Your Baseline for Retention

In order to make any improvements, the first thing we need to understand is what our baseline is. This is where cohorting comes in.

A cohort is simply a group of users who share a common characteristic over a certain period of time. The shared characteristic can show a whole host of things such as device type, country, or acquisition date.

Acquisition cohorts are a method of measuring your app’s retention over time. To calculate it, we look at all the users who installed the app on a specific day, and track how many are still defined as retained each day.

onboarding process

User retention segmented by acquisition date (Amplitude)

To make the most sense of this data, you can visualize it by turning it into a retention curve, like the graphs we saw just earlier. Retention curves help a great deal in seeing the dramatic drop-offs and retention plateau that most apps encounter.

app engagement

Once we have our KPIs, we’re then able to run experiments to see what changes we make bend the curve.

Find Your Aha! Moment (Core Actions)

core actions

If we want to bend the curve, we’ve got to determine what core actions separate users who retain from those who don’t. The Aha! Moment is the intersection between the population of users who have retained and those that have taken a specific action (or actions).

For a full walkthrough on how to find your app’s unique Aha! Moment check out our guide here.

Once the Aha! Moment is determined, the next step is to drive users toward it. The most effective method of doing so for most apps will be to decrease friction. This means simplifying, reorganizing, or even bulldozing extra steps that impede users’ progress toward core actions that lead to retention.

Retention Optimization

Much like conversion rate optimization for landing pages and websites, similar principles can be applied to driving users to the Aha! Moment. One of the key things we want to do is make sure that users have a high ability to complete the action. That is, they have to exert as little effort as possible to complete the desired actions. Here are some examples of ways you can start doing this today.

Making Logins Less of a Pain

For many apps, logins and registrations is often the biggest drop off point for users in the conversion funnel. That’s because registrations can be a royal pain. Users are expected to type in emails and passwords on tiny touchscreen keyboards. Mistakes are incredibly common, so users are wary or all the effort they’ll have to exert.

user onboarding

Image via Lukew.com

One of the easiest ways to improve the UX is by showing passwords as users type them. Surprisingly this simple change can make it significantly easier, as users can verify they’re typing their passwords in correctly. As LukeW explains, there is very little need to hide passwords on mobile as it’s unlikely someone would be able to look over the shoulder of a mobile user unnoticed.

Eliminating Tutorial Screens

A surprisingly effective way to increase registrations for Vevo was actually . These screens, found in every app vertical, are designed to acquaint users with the product and convey value. The team at Vevo however, had suspected they might not be as effective as everyone touted.

To determine if the screens actually had a positive or negative impact on their KPIs, Vevo ran an A/B test: one version with the screens and one version without. They discovered that removing the screens increased registrations by 10%. The team concluded that the removal of tutorial screens eliminated unnecessary steps between users and their goals, so removing it increased user engagement for core actions.

Deferred Deep Linking

Deferred deep linking allows you to pass information through an app install. For example, if a user clicks on a Facebook ad for Nets tickets, deferred deep linking allows users to be taken straight to Nets tickets once they install your app app, rather than going through your normal onboarding process and landing on the home screen.

onboarding process

This has a huge benefit for new users because they’re taken directly to the content that they’re looking for and closer to the core actions.

Turn Downloads Into Engaged Users

With ~77% of users dropping off in just three days, we need to focus on solving one of the biggest issues for mobile apps: Retention.

Using the Aha! Moment can help you and your team determine the core actions that lead to retention in your app. Once that’s done, you can significantly increase the likelihood that users will complete these actions by refining or even eliminating steps.

For a full walkthrough on how to find your app’s unique Aha! Moment check out our guide here.