Check the set of practices on how to engage users to use your app or website with a good user experience design.

What is a successful app? Is it one that most people have downloaded? By some metrics, sure, but we’d say that it’s not just about how many people download it; it’s how many people continue using it for a long time. Naturally, there are plenty of apps that are ubiquitous in our modern everyday life. We couldn’t imagine a social life in 2020 without apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Apart from those, there are also other practical, everyday apps that we keep using, like the calendar, calculator, or bank apps. But what about the hundreds of other apps that aren’t necessary for “surviving” in the modern world? How do you keep users coming back to a non-essential app?

In reality, a vast majority of apps get deleted in the first couple of days after people download them. That’s why employing UX best practices for user retention is essential. Deducing what design is the most comfortable for your users is not an easy task, especially when it comes to mobile devices. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at a couple of essential tips for crafting the right user experience.

Onboarding: The Only Chance for the First Impression

There are plenty of customer experience trends that come and go, depending on the niche. However, one thing is certain — there’s no coming back from an awful onboarding experience from a UX perspective. Naturally, every platform needs to do a certain amount of information collecting to function. But the way that you go about it can make all of the difference between user retention and a huge bounce rate.

The first screen your users see should feel welcoming and friendly. If users need to provide a lot of their information, their first instinct should be that they’re becoming a part of a wider community, not that they agree to disclose personal data.

One of the UX best practices when designing an onboarding page is clearly showing what’s optional and what’s not. After all, there are some fields with essential information, but plenty of it should be on an opt-in basis. If there are screens with multiple steps while signing up, allow users to skip all of the ones that aren’t critical to the app’s functioning.

user retention practices

Once the sign-up process is complete, there’s another first impression that you have to design — the user’s first contact with your app or browser platform. In this regard, it’s critical to make sure that users can familiarize themselves with the platform at their own pace while also receiving a short tutorial on the essential functions. The generally agreed-upon method here is a visual walkthrough, with indicators for gestures and interface elements’ locations. Even on a website, you should avoid walls of text. People don’t want to read about how they can use your platform; they want to learn intuitively and naturally.

user retention practices

Even platforms that thrive on incredibly in-depth and detailed user profiles — such as LinkedIn — avoid asking their users to fill out everything during the first steps of the onboarding process. Everyone quickly grows tired of that.

Optimizing Gestures

On mobile apps, one of the most critical UX best practices for user retention is optimizing the user experience from the standpoint of gestures. During the previous decade, smartphone design has slowly but surely moved away from using buttons. And while gestures are great for users, seeing as they allow them to interact more intuitively with a virtual environment, these can be challenging for UX designers. If you want to keep people on your app in the long run, gesture usability will have to be a priority for your UX mobile design concepts.

Many people don’t realize that gesture design isn’t universal. It depends on the target audience for your platform. You won’t create the same gesture design for a productivity app that targets niche professionals and an app that’s targeted at children; the same goes for apps that deal with food delivery and apps for professional runners. There are different element placements and dexterity expectations for different target audiences.

user retention practices

Generally, usability issues are also not easy to tackle when it comes to gestures, but this is just as important. A lot of what we know about things that work or don’t work in UX design stems from analytics software that can trace countable actions. Unfortunately, gestures aren’t that easy to pinpoint if they’re not responsive. And if a user intuitively expects some sort of reaction from an app after pinching or tapping it, gestures that don’t follow through can lead to frustration, and ultimately, a lack of user retention. In this case, using touch heatmaps and doing a lot of testing is the best way to go. Besides tracking digital interactions resulting from gestures, they also track the physical user gestures.

The most basic example of this is the YouTube app; if you’ve got auto-rotation on by default, you expect the video to go full-screen once you flip the device into landscape mode. Because of that convention, we expect this out of all video apps; should that fail to happen, users leave in frustration. Or, for instance — if you’re using any kind of photo viewing app these days, you expect the ability to zoom in and out by pinching the photo. Anything else would be viewed as a badly functioning app. Certain gestures have become a part of UX etiquette for certain types of apps.

Add Animations Properly

Animations are another vital part of the UX mobile experience. When used properly, these can be essential to an excellent onboarding experience on a mobile platform. Unobtrusive but noticeable animations can help designers pull the users’ attention towards specific interface elements while also highlighting how they work. Plus, animations can give users content without leaving one screen for another, allowing for a more minimalist design.

You should remember that these suggestions (and more) are “industry rules” regarding animation, not set in stone, but guidelines that you should mostly stick to. Google has made this clear with their Material Design suggestions on motion and animation.

user retention practices

However, bear in mind that you shouldn’t overdo animation — even in onboarding, try to use it in a limited capacity. While it’s great at raising attention to detail, it can seem cluttered and annoying if you utilize it too much. There are some great examples of the proper usage of animations in UX design out there; all it takes is some innovation.

animated icons ui

Animated icons for better interactions

Use Analytics Early

Many professionals who design mobile apps make the mistake of using a platform for analytics only after they release their app. While monitoring the initial release of your website or app is important, if you want to further optimize your UX, that’s actually too late. At that point, you will already be dealing with requests for new features and performance optimizations.

We recommend using tools for analytics while you’re developing and testing your app. There are plenty of tools that implement cohort analysis to evaluate user retention across a predetermined sequence of actions. For example, Woopra is excellent when it comes to the part of UX analytics that pertains to designing and testing your customer journey.

user retention practices

On the other hand, if you want to examine how users interact with your platform in a more literal sense than viewing mere statistics, heat mapping tools such as Clicktale are probably a better fit.

user retention practices

Smart Navigation

Even designers are not always aware of just how difficult it is to nail navigation. There are plenty of different layouts you can use to create menus. However, the way people can navigate your platform will directly impact your user retention rates.

Obviously, even in the same niche, no two apps are the same. Still, people use them to complete very specific actions and tasks. If they perceive that it’s difficult for them to find their way around your app, your user retention rates will plummet. These days, even the most niche functions are performed by a variety of competing apps. Even minor frustrations can lead to users giving up and searching for alternatives.

While designing the user journey, you should always try to keep it as simple as possible. All of the icons should be easily visible and clearly marked. Also, the number of interactions and steps required to complete each task should be as low as possible. For instance, if you take a look at the Instagram app — you’ll find that every important function can be reached directly via its bottom menu, from profile settings to the search and explore options.

user retention practices

Another good example of that is how Google unified the search bar and the address bar while designing the Chrome browser. By putting both functionalities in a single form, they managed to half the number of actions users needed to take by eliminating the need to alternate between the two. Plus, there’s also no need to visit the actual Google website anymore; you can search right from your browser. Still, even back when people actually went to the Google website, it was an excellent example of minimalistic design focusing on one functionality.

user retention practices


As you can see, there are plenty of UX best practices for user retention to take into account. The one thing they all have in common is the fact that you have to view your app from the perspective of the users. It’s not enough to perform audience testing — you need to consider what kind of solutions you’d like to see in the app if you were a consumer as well.

About the author: This is the guest article by Jacob Daniels, SEO Content Manager, and Copywriter from Movers Development.

Title image from Kit pack on Ouch Illustrations

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