What is App Engagement + 7 Proven Ways to Increase It

13 min read
Frank L.
Frank L.
Published January 24, 2022 Updated February 18, 2022

Fifty-one percent of apps are downloaded because of friends and family referrals. However, this marvelous marketing by word-of-mouth only works because users find value in engaging with your application.

But driving user engagement can be tricky, especially with the unlimited app choices users have at their fingertips and a quarter of users abandoning an app after one use.

This is where app engagement strategies and features are necessary to nurture repeat customers and build user loyalty.

Keeping an eye on app engagement levels and creating strategies around app engagement is important to keep product managers and developers accountable for providing continuous value to their users.

By the end of this guide, you'll be able to:

  1. Understand what app engagement is

  2. Calculate app engagement 

  3. Use seven strategies to increase app engagement

What Is App Engagement?

App engagement is a system of measurements used to track the level of interaction, interest, and response users have to an app or given feature.

App engagement is important as it's a main contributor to customer advocacy, app growth, and LTV improvement.

App engagement also gives product managers and developers helpful insights about:

  • How much users value your application or new feature

  • The features users want to see from your app 

  • The functions that drive the most repeat user behavior

  • The ease of features and navigation

By paying attention to user behavior, product developers can prioritize their next development efforts or push features that are perceived as helpful by their user base.

App engagement is important for customer loyalty too. In fact, a study found that 90% of users who engage with an app once a week are more likely to stay loyal to the application.

How to Measure App Engagement

App engagement can be measured through several different factors and indicators. The most commonly used are:

Average Duration of an App Session

The measure of how long an average user spends on your app in a given session. It's calculated by (total time) / (total number of sessions).

Number of Actions Taken Within an App

This refers to the number of actions a user takes during an average session.

This metric varies, as it depends on the type of app, the stage the user's in, and whether they're onboarding or a returning user. You'll need to define what's considered an action and how many actions are required for a "complete" session. 

Active Users Daily (DAU) and Monthly (MAU) 

Understanding how often your users engage with your app will give you an overall picture of how valuable your app is for your users' needs.

First, define what qualifies as an active user for your product. In most SaaS cases, a user is considered active for logging in. In other cases, like social apps, it might be posting or engaging with a post.

To calculate DAU, use the total number of unique users in one day, including new and returning users.

Then, calculate the Average Daily Active Users (ADAU). This will give you an accurate representation of the average DAU in a given month.

This is calculated by the sum of the past 30 DAU divided by 30.

Monthly Active Users (MAU) is calculated by the sum of unique visitors who perform your defined action on your app in a month.

Churn Rate and Retention Rate

Churn rate refers to the number of users who stop using your app after a given time.

Churn rate is calculated by:

(( number of users at the beginning of the month) - (number of users at the end of the month)) / number of users at the beginning of the month

Retention rate is the number of users you've kept in a given time period.

Retention rate is calculated by:

((number of users at the end of a given time period) - (number of new users in the same time period) / number of users at the start of a given period) X 100

Hand in hand with app engagement, understanding the level of churn and measuring retention throughout the product experience gives insight into where more development is needed to improve engagement.

Understanding the level of adoption users experience with your app identifies the efficiency of the onboarding process as well as the level of stickiness the app provides in the first interaction.

A Helpful Note on Measuring App Engagement

User engagement has a natural tendency to change depending on the stage the user's in and the app's functionality.

For example, in the onboarding stage, it's important to deliver value to the user immediately for them to reach their "aha" moment and return to the app.

Once users have been onboarded, there's a natural difference between the average engagement for daily (DAU), weekly (WAU), and monthly active users (MAU), which depends on your app's function.

For example, an app like Airbnb will naturally have lower DAUs, as users aren't renting a home for the holidays every day. However, once they click on the app, they do so with intent and are likely to complete a number of actions and purchase through the application.

That's why it's important to understand the function of your app and define the ideal number of actions a user must complete in order to be considered actively engaged. This will help define engaged and unengaged users and determine a relevant app engagement strategy.

7 Ways to Increase App Engagement

Your app engagement strategy should take into account customer feedback, usage data, and business goals.

Once your app engagement strategy is in place, allow room for testing and flexibility based on early customer reviews and feedback to adjust to the needs of your user base.

1. Send In-App Messages

In-app messages catch the user's attention and encourage them to take the desired action or provide vital communications.

Many development tools allow you to include personalized in-app messaging as part of your app experience. These include software such as OneSignal and Airship. Here are scenarios where in-app messages can improve app engagement.

Collecting User Feedback

Sixty-six percent of customers want companies to understand their needs. You can better understand customer needs by sending a survey to collect their feedback.

Improving Onboarding

A good app onboarding experience will help retain users. Improve onboarding with in-app prompts that explain how your app works and highlight key features and benefits.

Announcing New Product Features

You can send pop-up messages for any exciting features that are going to improve their app experience and invite them to try the features out.

Improving app engagement with in-app messages isn't limited to these three scenarios. To learn more, here's our article on in-app messaging.

StoryChief uses in-app messages to alert and guide its users around new app features.

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2. Personalize Push Notifications

To boost app engagement, personalize notifications so they feel relevant to the user.

According to Nick Ziech-Lopez, Chief Marketing Officer at Enablix, push notifications that aren't personal make the user want to block them.

"Push notifications give brands an incredible opportunity to use all of the data that users have volunteered to share with them in order to offer personalized messages that encourage interaction," says Lopez in an interview with Phrase. "However, so many brands are consistently [...] not using that information to send the best messages they can, and blasting bland marketing campaigns that actually encourage users to turn off push notifications."

The best way to personalize push notifications is to dive into previous user behavior.

Push notifications sent with dynamic content --- messages that change depending on past user behavior and interest --- improve user retention by 61% to 74% in the first 28 days. This is because push notifications offer users relevant promotions instead of generic offers.

For example, UberEats uses customer data to send out push notifications for special meal offers from restaurants you've recently visited.

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To send better, personalized push notifications, you can use a tool like Leanplum. It allows you to leverage audience data to send relevant messages to users at the right time and run A/B tests to see which type of push notification performs the best.

Bonus tip: A study by CleverTap found that CTRs can improve by 38% by simply adding an emoji to your notifications!

3. Drive Users to Your App's "Aha" Moment

Your "aha" moment is when the user starts to see the value of your app and how it solves their challenges or helps meet their goals. "This activation moment," says Encharge co-founder Kalo Yankulov "is the difference between the users that churn and the ones that become loyal customers of the product."

That's why it's vital to get users to their "aha" moment as soon as possible in order to maximize app engagement. Here's how to do it.

Identify Your "Aha" Moment

To identify your mobile app's "aha" moment, you must look into user research to identify common patterns in the app experience. As you go through the data, try to answer the following questions:

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At what point do users frequently churn? Where do they get stuck?

What features do your most-converting users use before making a purchase?

What behaviors lead to customers using your product for an extended time?

The best way to uncover this data is to invest in an analysis tool like Amplitude. The software provides a clear view of the user journey and how different personas engage with your product.

A more analog way to find your "aha" moment is through direct interviews with both loyal and churned users. Ask loyal users what features are most important to them and what caused them to purchase. With churned customers, your questions should focus on their frustrations and unmet expectations.

Come Up with "Aha" Moment Hypotheses and A/B Test Them

From your user research, you should have various ideas of what your "aha" moment is. Based on the data, come up with various hypotheses of when your "aha" moment occurs that you can test.

Set up a custom onboarding A/B testing session for various segments of users. Each testing session should drive the user to a different "aha" moment. Run the experiment over two or three months to see which type of group is responding the best.

4. Include Gamification as Part of the App Experience

Gamification incorporates game-style reward structures, such as levels, trophies, or leaderboards, with the aim of encouraging users to repeat app behaviors.

Clint Fontanella, manager at HubSpot, says in an article, "People love the feeling of accomplishment, so gamification rewards them with mini incentives while they progress towards an overall goal. This keeps the user continuously engaged and makes it more likely that they'll accomplish the task at hand."

The Fitbit app has a similar process where users earn badges for fitness activities. They can also compete with their friends on athletic challenges --- for example, completing 10,000 steps every day.

Each day is gamified with accomplishment levels for different activities which are aimed at motivating the user. 

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How to Develop Gamification that Drives App Engagement

Here are the four steps you should follow to make gamification an integral part of your mobile app experience.

  • Define your goals: Identify which goals will encourage users to use your app. For example, if you're managing a bible-study app, the goal could be to encourage the user to read a certain number of verses each day.

  • Showcase the user's progress: To motivate the user, make sure they have a clear view of their progress. You can do this through a dashboard that highlights the points they're accumulating.

  • Celebrate the user's wins: Acknowledging the customer's hard work is a good way to make them feel valued. Make sure to celebrate their wins with encouraging messages in the gamification experience.

  • Invite the user to invite their friends: A sense of competition helps step up gamification. You do this by encouraging users to invite their friends, so they can take part in challenges.

By following these four steps, you'll naturally introduce gamification features that prompt users to keep taking action. 

5. Offer App Rewards for Your Most Active Users

A strategic way to increase your app engagement is to focus on your best customers. Rewarding users for their loyalty makes them feel valued and encourages them to continue using your app.

After all, 57% of customers surveyed report spending more with companies they're loyal to.

Here are three different ways you can reward your most loyal users.

  • Exclusive Access to Beta Features

Are you currently working on some new features for your product? If so, you can give your most loyal users a sneak peek at beta features before the official launch. Invite them to be part of the research process and collect relevant feedback.

  • Discounts on Their Subscription or Purchase

Helping loyal customers save money is an excellent way to reward them. If a customer has been active on your app for a while, you can reward them by giving them a discount on their membership or future purchases.

  • Implement a Referral Program

To turn your best app users into brand advocates, you can put a loyalty program in place. It allows them to win rewards by recommending your app to their peers.

Notion has a loyalty program for its users. Each user has an easy checklist of action items that, once completed, gives them credits for a free pro subscription.

By doing so, Notion creates a strong relationship with its user base and builds loyalty. They assure users who use the app that if they engage with their features, they'll be rewarded. This encourages repeat behavior, which, in turn, drives a routine need for the app's organizational assets.

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6. Reach Out to Inactive Users

Losing users is a normal part of managing an app. However, when a user seems to have lost interest, it doesn't mean you can't win them back --- sometimes, all it takes is just to follow up with inactive users.

According to Client WinBack Benchmark Study data, 26% of clients return with a WinBack campaign. The study also found that 47% of returned clients bring in more revenue than before.

Here are three tactics you can use to re-engage lost users.

  • Send an Email Showcasing New Feature Updates

Show lapsed users what they'll miss, and send them an email of upcoming features you're releasing. It gives them a reason to come back to your mobile app and check out the update.

Here's an example from the project management tool Trello. In its email, it showcases its new color features, which helps users better track their team's progress:

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  • Send Personalized Emails to Fix User Journey Problems

Sometimes users abandon your app due to roadblocks they're experiencing. Depending on the user journey stage, you can send triggered emails to explain the next steps to take.

For example, let's say your user is stuck and doesn't complete their onboarding process. To overcome that, survey platform Typeform sends the user an email with the information they need to get started. They also get to learn more about Typeform's design features and templates.

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To send personalized emails based on your mobile app user's behavior, a great tool to use is Intercom. You can use the tool to trigger emails based on real-time events that occur in the user journey.

  • Reach Out to Inactive Users Proactively With Live Chat

Another reason for user churn is a lack of proper support for solving their challenges. If a user is unable to navigate an app or new feature, they'll look for an easier solution elsewhere.

Remove the risk of losing user engagement by offering support instantly.

Use in-app chats so users can receive app support instantly. This helps users receive help immediately and access support channels without having to look for solutions elsewhere, which saves time and frustration for users.

You can use live chat messaging to reach out to users and provide help to their problems. In fact, according to research by Kayako, 41% of customers prefer using live chat as a support channel, compared to 32% for phone support and 23% for email.

Dealer-FX, an automotive software company, integrated Stream's Chat API and saw user retention increase by 90%.

The app connects dealerships with vehicle owners using Chat API infrastructure. By doing so, the two parties could quickly find a solution to locate dealerships and set up car repairs. Moreover, the app stores data from the car's repair history, which is helpful for keeping track of when maintenance or new parts need to be ordered.

To include live chat for your mobile app, one of the best things you can do is build it through a Chat API solution like Stream. The API suite gives you access to countless features (such as reactions, threads, or typing indicators), like security regulations such as the GDPR, and can support millions of users.

The key is to remind users about the value your app offers. You might also find this article helpful: 4 Customer Winback Tactics to Re-engage Inactive Users.

7. Include an Activity Feed

Our studies show that app engagement increases by 66% when including activity feeds in applications. This is because an activity feed is an in-app forum for app users to engage with each other, post comments, and share updates.

In terms of engagement, activity feeds are an effective feature for user interaction and ongoing conversation. You can use them for mobile apps across many different niches, such as fitness, technology, gaming, and social media.

For example, Crunchbase is a research tool that provides companies with prospecting. As the company grew, it needed to find a solution to announce important updates and build user engagement.

After integrating Stream's Activity Feed, around half of Crunchbase's users interacted with the activity feed per session. According to Martin Guelck, director of product at Crunchbase, it led to an increase in weekly active users:

"We are definitely seeing deeper engagement after adding Stream's Activity Feed, and we see people interacting more with these feed elements and adding more companies to their watchlist," he says.

Activity Feed Examples and Inspiration 

Another great example of activity feeds as the center of user engagement is with the company Strava.

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The app tracks the activity of runners and cyclists using GPS tracking. Then Strava records users' performance records and allows local communities or friends to share experiences, tips, or motivation.

With an activity feed, you not only encourage users to interact with each other's posts, but you also create a community of like-minded individuals that embody your band's values and identity. 

Personalized Communication Leads to User Engagement

Tailor the user experience to meet each user's needs and create meaningful interactions and connections that increase user engagement. With personalized in-app notifications, messages, and features, apps are able to continuously delight users through relevant interactions.

For each interaction to be personalized and meaningful, analyze your data in order to encourage repeat behavior.

Now that you've got the basics of user engagement, the app engagement strategy can begin. The same approach in research and user-focused features must be maintained for feature launches and continuously evolve with customer feedback and trends.

As your app engagement improves, it'll lead to increased user satisfaction as well as higher retention and greater app revenue.

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