6 effective strategies for mobile app re-engagement

11 min read
July 12, 2022

Everyone knows that the retention rate is one of, if not the most, important metrics that predicts an app’s success.  

After all, if it’s low, that means you’re not getting enough users to propel your monetization.

However, according to Andrew Chen, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, the average app loses 90% of its daily active users in 30 days.

Fortunately, even a high churn rate doesn’t have to mean that all is lost. You can use plenty of proven re-engagement strategies to get these users back in the fold.

We cover six of them in this article.

App icon updating

Changing your app icon is perhaps the easiest way to re-engage users. Despite its simplicity, it can also be very effective.

That’s because the app icon plays a critical role in app engagement and discovery. It’s often the first impression users have of your app.

Not only that, but the icon also gives them an idea of your app’s purpose.

For instance, look at the icon of Ookla Speedtest. The simple visuals communicate what the app is about—measuring speed.

Microsoft To Do App

Source: Speedtest

No wonder the app icon alone can determine whether users click on your app store page. It can also improve the download rate by as much as 560%.

Apart from the numbers, app icons also communicate that you’ve made changes to your app.

Users who dropped out previously might be curious enough to check it out, especially if your app icon was a big improvement.

For instance, the puzzle app Super Puzzle managed to double its download rate with an icon overhaul.

The developer did the smart thing: take inspiration from one of his successful apps (which had a unicorn), then adapt it to Super Puzzle’s icon design.

As a result, the newer version was more attractive to kids. Plus, the new design instantly communicated that it was a puzzle app.

puzzle app

Source: Per Haglund

And here are the results of the icon change (indicated by the red arrow)

kids animals jigsaw puzzles statistics

Source: Per Haglund

But your app changes don’t need to be this drastic. Sometimes, even minor revisions can have dramatic results.

For example, the developers of the Star Walk 2 app decided to revise their icon after seeing their conversion numbers drop to as low as 3%.

After rounds of redesign and testing, the final icon they picked bumped up their install rate by up to 68%.

star walk 2 app

Source: UX Planet

Another easy yet effective approach is to add embellishments to your icons. This is most apparent in games, where app icons are changed depending on the season.

app icons change depending on the season

Source: Gummicube

Again, this visual change means the app will have new content to match the season. And it’s reason enough for old users to come back and experience it themselves.

If you’re doing an app icon redesign, the most important step is to test it with your users. Run A/B split tests of multiple versions and see which ones resonate the most with your market.

Remember, you might think that your app icon is effective. But if users don’t, it won’t give you the best results.

Tracking user events

Tracking events is a fundamental activity for every app developer because it lets you know what users are doing inside your app.

You’ll learn the weak spots causing users to drop out, thus giving you insights to improve it.

Before we move further, let’s define what an event is. It’s anything your users do after they install the app.

app samurai

Source: App Samurai

You can track any event, for instance, when the users open an app or use a certain feature. This is automatically logged together with a timestamp, then sent to the developers.

An event log looks something like this:

event log

Source: Mix Panel

Now, can this help re-engagement?

Well, event tracking can tell you which sections of your app users are interacting with the least or where they’re dropping off entirely.

With this information, you can devise a strategy to prevent that.

One good area you can apply this to is with your app onboarding.

Onboarding can generally help improve your retention rate, so if users are quitting at this point, then there’s something wrong.

You can use event tracking to see which onboarding step is causing friction, then either optimize or drop it entirely.

event tracking

Source: Smartlook

Or, if you have a mobile game, you can review in-app events to check how many users are getting past the first few levels.

If too few are making it, it might be a sign that the game is too difficult or tedious to play.

Event tracking can also be used to evaluate your re-engagement strategies.

Say you decided to introduce a new feature to reel users back in. And true enough, you got a noticeable bump in app installs.

But reviewing your event logs will tell you that people rarely interact with your app’s new feature. This tells you that something else caused the increase in your download rate.

You can say that app event tracking isn’t a re-engagement strategy in itself. Rather, it’s something that supports all of your other re-engagement efforts.

Hence, it should have a place in every developer’s toolkit.

Mobile app marketing

Mobile app marketing is required at every stage of your app user’s journey. However, it’s arguably most critical when re-engaging them.

That’s because sometimes, they drop out simply because your app gets lost in the noise. Just consider that people have more than 80 apps installed on their phones on average.

Thus, standing out from the crowd gets even more important.

mobile app usage

Source: Buildfire

So an easy and effective strategy is to simply remind people that your app exists via social media.

For instance, you can post user feedback, screenshots, or high scores on your Facebook and Instagram pages.

Or, you can use Twitter to share tips and updates from your development team.

slack twitter screenshot

Source: Slack

Social media is also a great platform to mobilize your loyal fan base to market the app for you. Maybe ask them to share their experiences or screenshots using your app.

It might be enough to encourage dormant users to give your app a second chance.

Sometimes, your app’s retention suffers because you’re not attracting the right users.

Changing your targeting strategies is an effective re-engagement approach, which you can implement using mobile app marketing.

For example, you can run a Facebook ad campaign for a new audience.

You can maximize the platform’s powerful targeting tools to pinpoint the correct demographic and psychographic group.

Also, don’t forget to optimize your app store page. This is a great avenue for you to update users that you fixed a major bug that might have caused them to drop.

You should also encourage users to post positive reviews, dramatically boosting your conversion rate.

minimum star rating to download an app chart

Source: Apptentive

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are endless ways to market your app to lapsed users, including blog posts, Google ads, YouTube videos, and getting help from influencers.

Let your budget and situation dictate which method you’ll use.


Giving incentives to dormant users can be a great way to bring them back to your app or give it another try.

A Google study backs this up. It found that 30% of lapsed app users were willing to return if offered a discount. Meanwhile, 24% of users can be enticed with exclusive or bonus content.

Rewards are especially effective if they require users to spend time with your app. This can help build usage habits, which can help users stick with your app if done right.

For example, the Mint app ran a giveaway promo that gave a $10,000 cash prize to a lucky winner.

Users get one raffle entry every day they log into the app, which encourages regular interaction.

one raffle entry every day

Source: Buzzfeed

If you track the user’s birthdate, you can send them special gifts and perks on their special day. This gives you a great excuse to get in touch with the user.

Plus, the right prize could make them consider using your app again. After all, no one wants to leave a discount or coupon to waste.

Birchbox birthday email

Source: Campaign Monitor

You can even take it up a notch and introduce challenges to the mix.

Contrary to what you might think, giving users a task can work because completing it provides a sense of fulfillment to the user. And sometimes, that’s all it takes to spark the user’s interest.

For example, the Malaysian digital bank CIMB unveiled the Octo Challenge. Here, users earn points by accomplishing tasks like transferring money or using their debit card.

These points can then be exchanged for rebates and discounts.

octo challenge

Source: Money Thor

One final thing to remember with giving rewards is that you shouldn’t rely on it 100% to make users stick. As gamification expert Yu-kai Chuo notes:

“It is better to attract people into an experience using extrinsic rewards (gift cards, money, merchandise, discounts), then transition their interest through intrinsic rewards (recognition, status, access).“

In other words, rewards should never be made to compensate for a poor app experience. That will never work long-term.

Push notifications

Push notifications are highly effective re-engagement strategies assuming the user hasn’t uninstalled your app yet. In fact, an Airship study revealed that they could improve retention by up to 190%.

Their role is simple: to remind users that your app exists on their devices.

Duolingo is probably one of the apps that do it best. In this example, note how the app sent a push notification when the user entered another country.

It’s a subtle yet timely hint that might lead the user to reconsider using Duolingo.

Reminder Push Notification

Source: Instal

But push notifications work best as a reminder for dormant users. For instance, the Tinder app sends this message to users who have been inactive for at least a month.

Tinder push notification

Source: Clutch

The reminder that the user might not be visible anymore is a subtle push for them to return to the app.

Another good example is this push notification from Apple Music. Throwing in three free months makes it more enticing and effective.

mobile push notification music

Source: Vero

However, push notifications are double-edged swords.

If you abuse them, they can cause your retention rates to drop. Indeed, studies show that sending too many irrelevant notifications is the number one reason people uninstall apps.

There are two things to keep in mind for the best chance of re-engagement success with push notifications.

The first is to explain the benefits to the user. Doing this not only gives the best chance of approving your notifications but also trains them to anticipate them.

push notifications

Source: Telerik

The second is to make your notifications concise but catchy. Long-worded messages can be hard to read, and you risk boring the user.

A Localytics study recommends aiming for a sweet spot of 10 words or less.

number of words in a message

Source: Hi5

With proper messaging and good timing, push notifications can be your most powerful re-engagement tool.

Deep linking

Deep linking is a technique borrowed from websites. It refers to in-app links that take users to another part of, or deeper into, the app—hence the name.

The technique makes your app easily navigable and linkable as if it were a website.

Now, why is deep linking important for retention and re-engagement? Because it helps users get to their desired destination sooner.

Here’s an example to illustrate how:

visual of mobile deep linking

Source: Neil Patel

Let’s say you want to re-engage people to App 2 by running an ad in App 1.

With deep linking, users clicking on that ad will be taken straight to the relevant page in-app.

Without it, users will have to take a longer route to get there, introducing friction that can cause them to drop.

Deep linking is especially useful for running retargeting ads on dormant users. Here’s a summary of how that works:

how app retargeting works

Source: Criteo

Deep linking is crucial to reduce as much friction in your re-engagement funnels. And that is the secret to winning back lapsed users.

Re-engagement can’t fix a broken app

While the strategies we’ve discussed here can be powerful, they have limitations.

Specifically, they can’t fix an app with a serious issue, such as a poor app idea, wrong market fit, or a horrible UX.

So, the best re-engagement strategy is to have a solid app idea in the first place, then back it up with app retention tactics.

Or, if you’re lost on how to do this, the DECODE team will be more than happy to help you. Just drop us a line!

Written by

Marko Strizic

Co-founder and CEO

Marko started DECODE with co-founders Peter and Mario, and a decade later, leads the company as CEO. His role is now almost entirely centred around business strategy, though his extensive background in software engineering makes sure he sees the future of the company from every angle. A graduate of the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s fascinated by the architecture of mobile apps and reactive programming, and a strong believer in life-long learning. Always ready for action. Or an impromptu skiing trip.

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