Mobile app engagement: The ultimate guide


You got a ton of people to install your app. Time to celebrate?

Not so fast… the average uninstall rate for mobile apps is 28% after 30 days, while 25% of apps are used only once during the first six months.

We all know that customer retention is the key to sustainable profitability. And high app engagement is the precursor to high customer retention. It’s clear that one of the roots of profitability is high user engagement with your app, and this is why mobile app engagement is the most important Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in any mobile marketing strategy.

So how do you measure customer engagement, and what can you do to improve those metrics? Plus, what’s the most effective type of user interaction that drives engagement and retention? Let’s find out.

What is mobile app engagement and why is it important?

According to Airship, “Mobile engagement [involves] interacting with users through messaging channels on mobile devices, both inside and outside of apps.” In simple terms, engagement measures how mobile users interact with an application. The more engaged users are with your app, the more likely they’ll come back. Mobile engagement increases your retention rates, which reflects the strength of your user base and is critical to your app’s success.

Now you may wonder, why are retention rates important? Whether you monetize your app through subscription, ad sales, or in-app purchases, why do you need to keep users coming back? 

The short answer is that mobile app engagement, which is the precursor to customer retention, is the key to growing your user base and improving profitability. Moreover, it’s 5 to 25 times cheaper to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one. You can have a success rate of 60-70% when selling to an existing customer, compared with 5-20% when selling to a new prospect. 

Additionally, returning customers are 50% more likely to buy new products from you and willing to spend 31% more compared with new customers. Repeat customers are likely to spend 67% more in months 31-36 of their engagement with your company than months 0-6 (that is, when they were a new customer).

You can determine mobile engagement by measuring multiple metrics that paint a holistic picture of how users interact with your app. Now let’s talk about some of these metrics.

How to track mobile engagement: Key metrics to know

According to management guru Peter Drucker, “What gets measured getes managed!” 

If you want to improve your mobile app engagement, you must track the right KPIs to ensure that you’re making meaningful improvements. Here are some metrics to keep an eye on.

Session duration

This metric measures how much time users spend interacting with an app. Keep in mind that longer isn’t necessarily better; the duration should be proportional to the quantity and type of your content. For example, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d stare at the weather app for 20 minutes, even if they absolutely love it!

Session duration can help you spot problems with your content, User Interface (UI), user flow, and more. For example, short sessions can be caused by issues with the UI or navigation. A decreasing session duration could mean that users are losing interest, so you may need to assess the quality of your content or add new features.

Session interval

This metric shows how often users open an app, and the frequency of use depends on the type of app. People may use services such as news and weather forecasts daily. Meanwhile, they may interact with, for example, health apps (e.g., sleep, self-help) for longer sessions but once every few days.

Besides the behaviors of individual users, you can also analyze the ratio of one-time users to regular ones to see how you can increase the number of interactions and entice users to come back more often.

Session depth

Opening an app to check for new content requires less effort on the user’s part than making a purchase, joining a loyalty program, or leveling up in a game. An involved user who has more meaningful interactions with an app is more likely to return because they have invested time and energy into the relationship. 

Session depth measures the number of interactions per session or how far a user progresses along the user journey before closing the app. You can identify the content or functionalities that make your app sticky so you can double down on creating features that your ideal audience will love.

Other helpful metrics to track

Depending on your app, target audience, and business objectives, you may also track other mobile engagement KPIs. For example, social shares show when and where users share your content and under what context. Meanwhile, customer lifetime value can offer insights into your ideal audience, so you can target your marketing campaigns to attract more of them.

Moreover, seeing how often your brand appears in online searches can help you measure brand awareness. You can also analyze why people leave your app, and where along the user journey they stop engaging, to identify issues that may be creating a frustrating user experience that could impact engagement.

Now that you know which metrics to track, how can you improve them?

How to improve mobile engagement

Here’s how you can increase mobile app engagement and improve your KPIs.

Provide valuable and relevant interactions

Users will only return to your app if they find value through the interactions. This means you have to know your audience, create relevant content, and meet their expectations.

Value can come in many shapes and forms. People expect current and accurate information from a news app. They may want to analyze their activities and performance over time in a fitness app. Relevant and timely product recommendations are necessary in e-commerce apps.

Deliver a high-quality mobile experience

No matter how great your content is, app users won’t realize the value if they can’t find what they need and engage with the features. Your User Experience (UX) design is just as important as your content. The UI should be easy to use and intuitive, while the app should load quickly and work well on all platforms and mobile devices.

Build trust and rapport

Asking users to fill out a lot of profile information or give permissions to access their camera/photo/mic app, etc., too early on in the process may deter some people from continuing to engage with your app. You can incorporate a “get to know you” process (e.g., an intro video for the app) to build trust and tell users what to expect.

Be strategic with your sign-up process

If you ask customers for personal details or payment information too early in the user flow, especially before users understand how your app benefits them, you could lose those users forever. You must place the sign-up process strategically within the user flow:

  1. Allow users to browse the app and try out basic functionalities. Only introduce your subscription plan when they try to access premium features.
  2. Ask new users to share something about themselves (e.g., music preferences, favorite workout.) A few simple questions can help you start a dialog right away while gaining essential data to personalize the user experience. One important caveat to remember is that you may see greater success if you ask users to sign up after providing something of value, such as content, freebies, vouchers, etc.
  3. If you ask users to take a quiz (e.g., health scanning questions to get personalized recommendations,) you can have them sign up to the app to access or save their results and receive relevant content in the future.
  4. Make the sign-up process as painless as possible. Minimize the number of required fields (you can always ask users to complete their profiles later.) Your goal is to reduce the friction so users will complete their registration.

Invest in user onboarding

Users can’t engage with your app and get value if they don’t know how it works. Effective user onboarding offers educational content to introduce key features and helps users navigate the app to achieve specific outcomes.

Don’t make the onboarding process too complicated, which can cause users to abandon the app altogether. You can let them test various functionalities to learn through action and understand the key gestures in the app experience. 

Encourage social sharing

Make it easy for users to share your content to their social media profiles. For example, you can increase engagement through gamification and encourage users to share their achievements. Social sharing can also help build brand awareness and attract more downloads through word-of-mouth.

Use push notifications

Push notifications may look simple, but don’t underestimate the effectiveness of creative push notifications for Android, iOS, React Native, and web apps! Built with a strong push notification strategy in mind, they can be vital tools for your business to communicate with users. Push notifications can increase user retention rates by as much as 170%, while people who enable push notifications are 88% more likely to engage with an app.

Increase this engagement strategy’s effectiveness by segmenting users based on interest, preference, behaviors, geographic location, and other profile information to send relevant content and offers. For example, you can send a reminder and discount code to entice customers, who have abandoned their cart, to finish the transaction. 

Launch a loyalty program

You can encourage users to return to your app by offering rewards for interacting with the features, sharing your content on social media, or referring others to your products. A loyalty program can help users build the habit of opening your app while making them feel like a significant part of your brand. 

Streamline the cross-channel user journey

Let’s say you send customers an SMS or email about a new product. They are intrigued and want to learn more. But when they click on the link, they’re redirected to your app’s homepage. You just did a “three steps forward, two steps back” with the customer journey. Instead, send users directly to the product detail page through deep linking.

Attribution-fueled deep linking can help reduce friction in the customer lifecycle. It can support a seamless omnichannel user experience, making it easy for users to find what they’re looking for. When they realize that it’s easy to complete transactions on your app, they’re more likely to do so in the future. 

Implement in-app mobile messaging 

In-app messaging delivers relevant content and special offers when people are using your app, so they’re more likely to respond. Use this feature to share announcements or discount codes to entice users to take action and deepen their interactions. You can also use in-app messaging to surprise and delight loyal customers (e.g., give them extra lives in a game.)

Like push notifications, you can segment users based on their behavioral data, profile information, or interactions with your app. This can help you send hyper-targeted content, which can help increase user retention rate by as much as 74%.

Offer live chat and self-service support

Use live chat to provide instant customer support while users are interacting with your app, so they get the help they need when they need it. For example, you can answer product-related questions or resolve issues at checkout to increase conversion rates. Live chat can help improve support resolution rates and deliver a more streamlined customer experience.

You can also add other self-service customer support features to your app (e.g., a searchable knowledge base or AI assistant) to help users overcome obstacles. People are more likely to return to your app if they can achieve their goals with as little friction as possible. 

Build a community

Humans are inherently social creatures, and people enjoy social interactions. You can increase user engagement by offering various messaging channels and enabling users to interact with others via discussion threads, comments, tagging, direct messaging, and more. For an even richer experience, consider implementing group calls and screen sharing, building responsive real-time features with webhooks, or adding exploding confetti animation to chat for a dash of fun!

You can also encourage people to share user-generated content and even hold virtual group activities, meetups, webinars, and more via the app. Integrating real-time community interactions into your app will entice users to stick around, instead of switching to platforms such as Slack or Discord.

Mobile engagement is a two-way street

High engagement means that users are more likely to return to your app, subscribe to your services, make in-app purchases, leave good reviews on the app store, and tell others about your product. Enabling users to build connections and foster communities — whether with each other or your brand — is the most impactful way to increase app engagement. 

Mobile app engagement should be part of your app development strategy. When you incorporate interactive features, such as in-app chat and messaging, from the get-go, you can cost-effectively deliver a seamless user experience. This helps to encourage interactions, build long-term relationships, and grow your customer base.

The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

With Sendbird’s ready-to-ship UI chat kit and robust chat API, you can incorporate a reliable and scalable chat experience into your app in no time. Try Sendbird for free and see how easy it is to streamline user interactions and increase mobile app engagement. 

The conversation never ends with Sendbird! ✨

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