Mobile apps are booming by all the basic measures, like downloads and total users. It's the golden age of apps, right?
Except there's one uneasy number we can't shake: 70 percent. That's the average number of people who download a new app and never look at it again. This is known as app abandonment, and if you're a developer, it’s probably the biggest thing keeping you up at night? A 3-out-of-10 return rate is just not the path to glory in any business.
And for the 30 percent of users who come back, there's a second problem: ad fatigue. Let's face it. Putting banner ads on your app and hoping for clicks is like buying a lottery ticket and hoping for the jackpot. The odds of success are roughly the same.
Now for the good news. As it happens, both problems—app abandonment and ad fatigue—have the same solution: power users.
Power users are the 33 percent of users who account for 76 percent of all time spent on the average app. Call them core consumers, fan-boys. or simply your best customers, this is the active audience you should encourage to grow because without them, you don't have a business.
Focus on those users, give them all you've got, and you'll change the game for your app, overcoming the challenges associated with both abandonment and ad fatigue.
So how do you get started with that? Here are three places to focus.
1. Know the numbers. And make sure they're the right numbers. The same old surface numbers—yes, downloads, I'm looking at you—just won't cut it.
Forget downloads and think retention. Go deeper to measure things like bounce rates and engagement, asking questions like who is using various features? and are there any features that no one is using? Daily average users and monthly average users should be something you check with your morning coffee. Most developers know them, but they aren't nearly as obsessed with them as they should be.
These numbers will tell you what your power users are thinking, and they'll tell you how to engage them even more deeply.
2. Reward your power users, right away. If the app business was a movie, power users would be your lead actors. Give them star treatment: the equivalent of limo rides, bouquets of fresh flowers, and all the best lines. Figure out what they care about, and make sure they're getting it.
And be sure those rewards are clear early on in their app experience. That's a great way to get a first-time user to come back the next day as a potential power user.
As always, don't underestimate the power of social status. Power users want to be part of your family, and they want to be recognized. That's why airlines have frequent-flier programs, after all. Free flights certainly play a role, but it's also about moving up levels and feeling important.
In the online world, Yelp is a company that rewards its power users well. A devoted circle of power reviewers really fuels the system, and Yelp knows it. They reward those users with shirts, gift bags, and all kinds of swag to keep them interested and excited. And it works.
Remember: value is a two-way street. If I'm a user and I can get my sports scores from a bunch of different sources, for example, why should I stay loyal to one of them? If power users feel valued by you, they'll return the favor many times over.
3. Make sure your ads add value. That tiny banner at the bottom of your app is the equivalent of a mosquito buzzing around the user's head: an annoyance to be ignored if at all possible, swatted away if necessary. So why would you turn a mosquito loose on your best customers?
To attract power users, everything in your app needs to add value. Yes, ads included. That value can take many forms. It can be a really great video or exclusive content, or it can be an actual reward for interacting with the ad.
Another great form of value is as simple as not being a nuisance. Figure out when the best time is to deliver your ads, leveraging moments when they won’t be disruptive and instead making them part of the natural flow of your app. You don’t want your ads to seem like something that was just nailed on top at the last second.
Your power users know you need to make a living. And they already like your app—they're there, a reliable and ready audience. All they ask is that you not unleash the mosquitos.
A final thought: these three steps are a cycle. As you try new kinds of ads, go back and measure the impact. Then look for new ways to reward your best users.
—Lars Albright is the co-founder and CEO of SessionM. He received an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and his AB with honors from Harvard University.
[Image: Flickr user Daniel R Thompson]