How to Maximize and Optimize Engagement in Your App

May 05, 2022
By: Jean Ortiz-Luis

Even though mobile engagement is one of the most important outcomes to achieve as a developer, it’s never been easy to understand – probably because everyone has their own idea of how to define it. 

What is mobile engagement? 

If you look at the mobile analytics algorithms that monitor app engagement statistics, for example, you can see all the options: total number of users, number of active app users, their session intervals, session length, time spent in app, screen flow, retention and conversion. 

Another added complexity is how Apple considers the tracking of certain metrics. For recorded events like last key event, last login, etc. you must be careful, because the moment you give that information to another party, it becomes third-party data, and Apple could reject it altogether.

Some companies even mobile app engagement can be measured by push notifications, email or SMS marketing. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not engagement, that’s communication. And it’s one-day communication, from you to the user. 

True mobile app engagement is really just one thing: The decision the user makes to use your app. Now, that decision can be a one-time, in a moment choice, marked by a single tap as they open the app on their smartphone or tablet. The number of times a user makes that decision is important; it’s the frequency, the repetition of that choice, that belies the metric that you are really seeking – loyalty.

It could also be a series of decisions. We make decisions every day to continue to do something, don’t we? We decide to start eating a snack, but it’s not like we automatically keep taking bites and actively consuming that snack. Our brain makes the decision over and over again to continue engaging in that activity. 

Mobile apps are similar. Once the app is open, by continuing to have it open and use it – whether actively, tapping the screen, or passively, observing or in the background for use as needed – that user is still technically active. And active users are eyeballs, which is what advertisers care about. 

The value of active users 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to keep those active users, and not just because advertisers care. The more consistently your users are active, the more likely they are to spend money on in-app purchases. After all, the weekly value of a user who is not opening your app is $0.

Over the years, app developers and publishers have tried nearly everything to keep its number of active users high. Even back in 2014, precursors to the SDKs you see today often contained the ability to run a VIP program, with rewards like T-shirts, the ability to run digital events, etc. At the time, however, few developers were interested in these types of loyalty programs and engagement tactics. 

Today, they are everywhere! Fortnite, for example, introduced Battle Pass in Season 2 (2017-18) that users could pay for with V-Bucks and were rewarded during that season as they increased their levels. Within two years, it seems that every app in the stores has some sort of loyalty program, such as the Rewards Pass in Words With Friends.

These passes are designed to keep users in the games, but also to keep them coming back. For most games, the number of sessions and Average Revenue per Daily Active User (ARPDAU) are linked in a fundamental way. The more sessions someone plays, the more likely they are to make in-app purchases (IAP) or, see ads, both of which generate revenue for the developer.

For developers who work with a mobile publisher, these metrics aren’t just numbers that impact their current game, but facts and figures that will influence their payout from the publisher, set the terms of their next contract, or even if the relationship continues.

For that reason, managing and taking engagement seriously is important for developers, but it’s something many don’t think about as a business metric. “If it’s a good game, they’ll keep playing” doesn’t work as a philosophy anymore. 

The best tools to increase engagement

Having powerful, easy to use tools to enhance engagement and measure efficacy is the key to increasing some of the most fundamental metrics of mobile game success. But here’s the key part of real engagement tools – they’re most productive in-game. Keeping players in-app, focused on what’s in front of them, strengthens the chance of desired behavior.

Rewards programs like the ones mentioned above allow players to rank up through a series of tiers and earn special bonuses at each new tier. But the greatest thing about good engagement tools is that they can incentivize whichever behavior a developer desires. One successful indie developer, for instance, created a unique hybrid system, combining the basic program with a rewarded achievement system. This leveraged the natural segmentation of players into VIP tiers to target players at each tier with different types of achievements with different levels of rewards.

With nothing more than in-game modal messaging, Square Enix was able to increase their sessions played in Mini Ninjas by 8.5%, as well as key gameplay metrics within those sessions. More sessions means more ad views, more IAP and more revenue.

Since implementing proper engagement tools, Day 1 Retention went up roughly 12%. That bump in D1 retention alone amounted to a 1.5% increase in average user Lifetime Value (LTV). Once the system is in place, that’s basically free money!

Finding engagement tactics that work for you

“Out of sight, out of mind” is especially true in the gaming industry. In a market saturated with messaging that vies for user’s attention, a developer has to be intelligent about their engagement attempts.

Managing engagement and maintaining retention has become ever more important for developers as retargeting individual users has become more challenging with new limits on Apple’s IDFA and Google’s AAID.

Running events, offering incentives, and simply giving players the knowledge that their ongoing behavior is both valuable and rewarded can go a long way. When you pair a solid engagement approach with a well-run ad platform, you’re already ahead of the competition.

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By Jean Ortiz-Luis
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