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Standing Out in the Crowd: 7 Causes of Slow or Low User Growth


What is a good user growth rate, how to measure and track it, 7 reasons for slow or low user growth and some strategies to increase your app users. Here’s how to ensure you keep growing your user base

Are enough new people using your app?

This is important, even before you start developing your app because, while the market’s huge, with close to 7 billion smartphone and tablet users worldwide, spending up to 88% of mobile time on apps, there’s a lot of competition. 

With almost 5.6 million apps available for download, Gartner estimates that between 40% and 80% of commercial apps fail (Forbes says it could be as high as 99%).

So, to ensure your app is successful, we delve into user growth – especially asking: What causes low user growth, and how do we fix it?

First, though: What is user growth?

Apps are built for people. That’s why the success of a new commercial app will hinge greatly on 1) how many people download it and 2) how many people use it because that’s how it makes money.

User growth is seeing an increase in the number of active users over time. A growing user base can indicate that the app is resonating with its target audience and that it has the potential to become successful in the long term.

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, for user growth, it’s just a matter of following the right metrics:

  • 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

See how to increase active users.

But (arguably) the most important metric is the User Growth Rate. You calculate, on a month-to-month basis, for example, by subtracting your total MAU of this month from the MAU of last month, then divide it by last month’s MAU again, and times the answer by 100, to give you a percentage.

For example

January: 1000 MAU
February: 1200 MAU 
Growth rate = 20%

What is a good user growth rate?

Benchmarking growth rate depends a lot on your niche, industry and goals. But in general, new apps should grow by at least 5%–10% per week, while established apps usually slow down to around 1%–3% per week.

What causes low user growth in apps?

Though there might be multiple and overlapping reasons for low user growth, they’ll generally fall into these main spheres:

1. A lack of discovery

If people don’t know about your app, they can’t download and use it. This usually comes down to your marketing strategy. Maybe your product doesn’t have good search engine optimization (SEO). Or it’s not showing up in the app store. Or your marketing is not reaching enough of the right people, and it’s just not effective.

2. Poor user experience

Often touted as the number 1 cause of app failure, user experience (UX) can make or break your product. If people don’t enjoy using your app, they stop using it and won’t recommend it to others.

This can happen when an app is slow or buggy, with frequent crashes and a confusing interface or navigation – all things that come down to architecture and UI design, by the way (see how to design an app the right way and learn about the value of great app design).

3. Unsatisfying value proposition

If people can't see the point of your app, they also won't tell others about it, and they won’t be motivated to download it. This often happens if your product is too similar to others, and doesn't solve a real and significant enough problem.

See more on validating your app idea.

4. Confusing onboarding

If people don't understand how to use your product, they won't stick around long enough to figure it out. This can happen if the onboarding process is too complex, doesn't provide enough context, or doesn't effectively explain the app's value.

5. Lack of engagement 

If you don’t give people a good enough reason to come back to your app, they might stop using it. This often happens when you don’t have engaging features that make people want to use it regularly.

See our post on the critical causes of low app engagement.

6. Poor retention

If users aren't coming back to your app after their first or second visit, your product might be lacking engaging features or, again, it’s not solving an important enough problem for them to come back.

7. Inefficient marketing

If you’re targeting the wrong audience, your messaging is unclear or confusing, or you’re advertising yourself on the wrong channels, you won’t see many new users either. Although a great marketing strategy alone can’t “save” a poorly created app, even great apps need good marketing.

How to investigate low user growth in your app

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? Look for news reports on your industry, new competitor apps and websites or algorithm changes (Google, app store or socials). Try and see if there’s a breakdown in your visibility, or somewhere else people can suddenly get your service better/for free?
  • Look at your data
    Now, look at your existing users and their retention rates. Are there drop-offs? Is there a pattern? 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. And then also look at your traffic sources data and review your marketing channel data – look for anything that could indicate a breakdown in user traffic.
  • Ask your users
    Easier said than done, but it's proven the most effective method time and again. If existing users disengage, contact them – email, phone, whatever! Try and get information directly from the person – only they can tell you the why.

How can I increase my app user growth rate?

There are literally hundreds of different strategies and playbooks on how to grow a product. From a better value proposition to a UI redesign, to better marketing. 

But the most important part of user growth is knowing what causes disengagement and focusing on fixing that – and that’s where a proper app audit and optimisation comes in.

Also, see how to increase app engagement, and use this framework for your user engagement strategy.

Let us help you fix your user growth

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.)

You might also be interested in…

Ensure your UX is spot-on with the complete overview checklist of good app design, see how much your app design will cost and learn to calculate your app engagement rate. Also see why a UX review is a game changer and how to check if an app idea already exists.

Also get on top of your product's profitability with an in-depth look at optimising your app conversion rate. And And get the full picture of what's required for best-practice app development with our guide to the optimal app development process, 9 vital things you need to know even before you start developing an app, see how long your product will actually take to build in our guide to app development time how much to budget for in app development cost, and what a week for an agile development team looks like.

Plus: Did you know you can build 3 times faster? See how long it takes to build a low-code app and get the right price with beneficial low code development cost.

And see what we're doing to develop SA's tech ecosystem with the exclusive Founders Den.

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