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For the Love of a User: 9 Critical Causes of Low App Engagement


Few things kill an app faster than when people stop using it.

Research shows that 50% of apps are uninstalled within the first month of installation – and the main reason is that they simply stop using the app. In fact, 90% of people who use an app (engage with it) regularly, tend to keep it on their device.

So, to make sure your app’s the one they keep and use, we ask: What causes low app engagement?

But first: What is app engagement?

Simply put, it’s how people engage and use your app. From how many active app users you have at any given time, to app opens, session length (how long they use the app for, per session), the intervals between sessions, behaviour flow (what they do during a session), your conversions, in-app communication and your user retention rates (how well you keep users coming back).

See how to use analytics for better app user engagement.

How do you measure it?

Owners will always have an app analytics tool – from Google Analytics to Amplitude, Mixpanel, AppDynamics, UXCam, AppFollow etc.

And most of them give you a wealth of useful information about your app engagement. It’s usually just a case of knowing which analytics to look at.

For app engagement, you want to take note of:

  • Daily Active Users (DAU) – people using your app in 24 hours

  • Monthly Active Users (MAU) – number of unique users per month

  • DAU/MAU rate – your DAU divided by your MAU gives you a stickiness ratio (anything above 20% is good, and over 25% is excellent!)

  • Engaged users – number of users who took the target step (clicked on ad, upgraded – whatever your main goal is for users)

  • Sessions, screen views and time spent in-app

  • Retention rate – users coming back to your app

  • Churn rate – lost users who’ve uninstalled or stopped engaging

But (arguably) the most important metric is the Engagement Rate. You calculate this by dividing your number of Engaged Users (the ones who completed the main goal/reason for your app’s existence) by your total active users, multiplied by 100, to give you a percentage.

Find a more in-depth explanation on this in our post on how to calculate your app engagement rate and how to increase active users.

What is a good engagement rate for an app?

Generally, any Engagement Rate between 1% and 5% is considered good.

If yours is lower than that, or any of the other NB metrics above are lower than expected – or you can just clearly see no one’s using your app – then that’s a red flag.

You want to understand what’s causing your low app engagement as quickly as possible…

What causes low app engagement?

There are many factors that can contribute to low engagement. Here are some of the most important ones to note:

1. Ineffective onboarding

Onboarding is your user’s introduction to your app. It’s where you show them how to navigate the app and how to engage with the features, plus show them the value of the features.

If this part doesn’t satisfy and entice them, they’ll close the app and probably not come back.

2. Unclear value proposition

Does the app actually do something that the user wants/needs? And is it clear how the user gets that value?

The value issue is especially important with “freemium” type apps, where you have a scaled-down free version with an optional upgrade. If your free version packs too much or too little in the way of features, it can discourage users from engaging.

3. Technical issues

Apps that simply don’t work or even appear to function poorly are easy to uninstall. If it struggles to launch, glitches freezes or doesn’t save inputs or locks a user out of their account or features, it’s a problem.

Now, this might seem like a purely technical issue but note that there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that technical problems usually arise from bad app architecture design, which is an app development and app design process concern.

4. Complicated sign-up

Even before your onboarding, it’s important to not ask too much of your users before they actually get to use/test the app a bit. For example: if you require people to create an account before they’ve even test-driven the app a bit, you could see a drop-off.

5. Intrusive ads

Ads are one of the most common ways to monetise an app. But because the margins on ads per view are so low, creators often insert as many ad spaces as possible on the app.

The problem is, about 16% of users who’ve uninstalled an app say it was due to too much in-app advertising.

6. Unclear what to do next

Related to your onboarding and user journeys, it’s often unclear what the next step should be for a user. This is where your in-app communications need to be spot-on. Push notifications, in-app messaging and even external comms, such as email and SMS all go a long way to guide your user on their journey.

7. Too many steps

Nothing puts a user off faster than a long sign-up process – or any app process for that matter. It’s ideal to keep your initial signup as short as possible – grab just the most necessary details in early onboarding.

8. Not enough feature optimisation

It’s important to drive people to use your features often, but also to keep the main goal/objective of the user in mind and optimise your features accordingly.

For example, if your app helps people find like-minded others, with messaging as a key performance metric, you might be tempted to add in a simplified messaging feature – like old school Facebook’s “poke” from way back in the day. 

If, however, your user is here not to just message but to have more meaningful conversations, then a simple “like”, “heart” or “poke” is not going to satisfy their real need, and you’ll start seeing a drop-off in the long run.

9. Not rewarding activity

So simple. And yet so hard. One of the most important usage motivators is to reward the behaviour. Everyone loves to “level up” when they’ve done something – depriving them of it can make your app less attractive to use.

How to investigate a drop in user app engagement

Start with a three-pronged approach:

  • Look at your competitive landscape
    Before you look inside your app, look outside – what has changed in the marketplace? Is there a new competitor app, website or somewhere else people can get your service better/for free?

  • Look at your data
    Now look at your drop-offs and try and spot the pattern. What do the people who are disengaging have in common? At which point in your journey are they disengaging? You can even take a look at your support logs or social media, to see if there are any clues inside people’s complaints/queries.

  • Ask your users
    Easier said than done, but its proven the most effective method time and again. If someone disengages, contact them – email, phone, whatever! Try and get information directly from the person – only they can tell you the why.

Here's a framework for your user engagement strategy.

How can I increase my app engagement?

Increasing engagement is the name of the game. And there are literally hundreds of different strategies and playbooks on how to do it.

The most important part of increasing engagement, however, is in knowing what’s causing the disengagement and focusing on fixing that. See how to increase app engagement.

This is where a proper app audit and optimisation comes in. See what to expect during the UX audit process and discover how long a UX audit should take

Let us help you fix your app engagement

You already know that we at Specno build some of the coolest, high-engagement apps. But did you know that we also have a specialist team that helps you boost your existing app?

Yes! We use our best-practice expertise ad insider know-how to run extensive app audits, user research, app optimisation and even app redesign – contact Specno now
(You’ll get a response immediately.)

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