Keeping Your (Seriously Awesome) App Out Of Purgatory

So you launched an app. Does it launch into Angry Birds-level orbit or fall to the fifth screen of someone's smartphone, never to be tapped again? Five ways to keep users hooked.

People love apps because they’re simple, and make passing time more fun or working much easier. When apps are free, people are generally willing to take a chance on a relatively unknown product that promises to make their day better in some way. But some apps fail to catch the attention of their users and are quickly forgotten. Rarely used, never deleted, they sit in a constant state of purgatory; the kind of purgatory that haunts the nightmares of app developers: the App Graveyard.

Naturally, the app graveyard is a place developers desperately want to avoid. But unfortunately, a successful launch is just the beginning of making sure your app gets consistent use and continues to be a user favorite. Here’s how to make sure you don’t end up one of the 69% of apps that get downloaded and rarely used (tip of the hat to Localytics for this stat).

Notifications
The better an app can subtly notify users, the greater chance people will use it regularly. However, the tricky part is to create notifications that are valuable, and not spam. Think of the way Instagram uses push notifications to drop an icon to the top of your screen when someone interacts with your picture. Notifications work best when they are simple and specific, driving users toward a certain action. For social apps, like Instagram, it’s a no-brainer to notify users when someone interacts with them. For business apps, it makes sense to notify a user when an important document has been updated or commented on. Security apps use the notification area to let you know if there’s an issue with your phone. Notifications are a great way to remind users to come back when it’s important and engage with your product.

Registration
Getting new users to register an email address allows you to do more than just market to them. Registration allows you to give them a running tutorial on how to get the most out of your app, redirecting traffic to it with each newsletter. Whether walking through an onboarding process in their first week with the app, or highlighting killer new features, email helps drive activity in your app. I find when I send the right kind of emails to my OfficeDrop customers, up to 50% of them open the email and anywhere from 10-50% of them click on the links within. Links that open the app directly for the user are especially successful. Not only have I found that users like to click on these types of links, they also are very likely to engage in the in-app action that I want them to take.

Frequent Updates
Making frequent improvements to your app certainly makes the app better. But for the user, each time they see an update is a reminder that your app is on their device and there’s something new about it. When people see an update that they really like, they’re even more likely to go into the app and try it out. If you did your job to collect their email at registration then you can also push an email newsletter about the new feature--major updates are a great excuse to ping existing users. Perhaps it’s something they’ve been looking for, or better yet, asking for. This might very well prompt them to re-engage if they’ve stopped using your app.

Timely PR
Nothing is nicer than a sweet write-up or review about your app from a journalist who believes in it. When coverage hits, updates increase and people generally go into an app to check it out and see what’s different. Many times, people who have already downloaded the app will give it another try. I remember downloading Evernote back when it was one of the few apps out there. I hadn’t touched it for a while, but when I read a story about how people were using it to share recipes, I quickly went back to check it out again. The more coverage you can get, the better--especially when it’s around a new update.

Have a Good App
Of course, the best way to stay out of the app graveyard is to have a good app in the first place. Apps that are well designed and meet a customer’s needs will make people want to click it and use it again and again.

From time to time, even the best app developers will find themselves staggering around with others in the app graveyard. But there’s hope. It sounds simple, but checking this list and asking yourself, “When’s the last time I talked to my users?” can mean the difference between a successful, “sticky” app and being stuck with one foot in the grave.

--Prasad Thammineni is founder of OfficeDrop, a cloud filing system with scanner software and apps that help small businesses go paperless and manage their documents online. Follow him @officedrop_ceo.

[Image: Flickr user Jenson Lee]

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