In an ideal, utopian scenario, the conversion rate for mobile applications should be 100% – i.e., every app that is launched at the store(s) would be downloaded and installed. However, in the actual world – things are far from being that rosy, and as an app developer, you can be fairly pleased if the conversion rate of your applications hover around the 2% mark (biggies like Dropbox and Evernote and Google Drive have 4%-5% conversion rates). The conversion rate also varies across categories – with games typically having the highest conversions (~10%), while advanced software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps often have sub-1% conversion rates.
The concept of mobile conversion rates has evolved with the growing importance of delivering optimized user-end experience (UX). There was a time when achieving high click-through rates (CTR) for apps used to be the prime objective of developers. That aim gradually evolved into maximizing the app download figures. At present, app conversions also include the retention rates of apps (only 1 out of every 5 newly downloaded apps is ‘retained’ on mobile devices beyond 90 days), and the overall commercial viability of the latter. Put in another way, the app-usage experience needs to be good enough to ‘motivate’ users – so that they keep using an application. We will here discuss some basic tips and pointers for mobile UX optimization, for attaining higher conversion rates:
Make your app discoverable
More than 40% of total app downloads happen through search behaviour in the app stores. Contrary to what many believe, the ‘user experience’ does not start only after a person has come across your app. The ball actually starts rolling from the moment the user starts looking at the app store(s) for an application similar to the one you have created. Make sure that your app can be organically discovered with ease – and is not one of those hard-to-find ‘zombie apps’. Following proper app store optimization (ASO) techniques is of paramount importance in this regard. Higher visibility would increase the probabilities of higher CTRs and more downloads…pushing up conversion rates.
Design for the mobile
Browsing behaviour on the web is different from navigating on the mobile screen – and failure to take this difference into account invariably results in poor conversion and engagement rates. Make sure that each screen of your app has just the right ‘text-to-graphics’ ratio, the buttons and tabs are easily tappable, and there are ‘pinch-and-zoom’ features for relevant pages (this feature is hardly ever required for web applications). Do some research to find out what people are likely to do after launching your app, and plan out the in-app navigation accordingly. Do not just create a mobile version of your responsive website….the web and the mobile are separate mediums, and what works well for one might not be good for the other.
Splash screen and load time
Smartphone-users are an impatient lot. The longer your app takes to load (i.e., the time required for the app assets to get ready for use) – the more fidgety they are likely to get, and the drop-off figures are likely to go higher. As a rule of thumb, users should not have to wait for more than 5 seconds (ideally, 3 seconds, according to the ‘three-seconds-or-less’ rule) after they tap on your app’s icon on their handsets. Also, during this ‘waiting period’, the splash screen of the app has to be displayed. Add some element (small graphics/animation) to display the loading progress on it. A static, 8-10 second long splash screen can easily make people feel bored – often prompting them to close the app, and try another one.
Ease of onboarding
Ever tried to tell a joke to an audience, and then had to explain it – because no one had quite got its meaning? The UX designing of a mobile app is somewhat similar to that. The onboarding process for first-time users should be easy and intuitive – so that they can start using the application immediately after downloading it. It would be a good idea to allow people to give some ‘view only’ access to users, even before they have registered themselves on the app (i.e, a walkaround before they become full-time users). In the app store description as well as within the application itself, include a section/screen on how the app is to be used. Remember, your goal is to ‘please’ your app’s users – and that is going to happen only when you do not force them to ‘learn’ something new. Using your app should come naturally, without additional guidance.
Think from the users’ perspective
There are two ways in which a new mobile app can be marketed by developers. The first would be to describe the nature of the app per se (“all-new media streaming app”) – while the latter would involve highlighting the user-needs it would resolve (“catch all your favourite tv shows, whenever you want”). The onus lies with the copywriters to create the pitch that would actually ‘motivate’ the users into giving a new application a try. Before adding any new element/functionality to an app, think how that would be useful for the end-users – and whether it would indeed boost the overall user-experience. For conversion rates to move upwards, users need to be convinced about the utility of your application.
Device support and offline usage
There should never be any uncertainties about the devices on which your app would be usable. Nothing irks a user more than going through the trouble of locating an app in the store and installing it on his/her handset – only to find that the application is not compatible with the device. Create separate, customized versions for smartphones, tablets, and (if applicable) wearable devices. There is a tradeoff involved over here – compatibility with a greater range of devices would ensure wider reach, but an app with cutting-edge features might have functionality issues with older versions of mobile platforms (iOS or Android). In addition, it is often advisable to make sure that the app retains its core functionality even when there is poor (or, no) connectivity. Games, in particular, are often played on the go (say, in public transits) – and for users to stay engaged, they have to be be available in offline mode.
On the homescreen of a mobile app, only the ‘primary content’ and the navigation scheme (for instance, tabs) should be highlighted. To ensure that people can get to the screens/sections they are interested in quickly and without any hassles, there has to be a ‘search’ option (box) present. In e-commerce and mobile shopping apps in particular, search features enhance product visibility in a big way – thereby pulling up probable conversion (sale) figures. Depending on the precise nature of your app, you can include keyword-based search, product search, or even image-based search.
Note: If you are creating a m-commerce app, be extra careful while designing the individual product pages. The actual purchase decisions are taken over here – and unless the information and layouts are optimal, conversions would remain low.
Make things personalized
The ideal length of the registration screen (and the number of fields contained therein) is a point of many discussions. While there are no hard and fast rules about this, it is prudent to keep the registration process short – with users being requested to provide only the most basic information. In case you do wish to collect more user-data, consider making some of the text-boxes non-mandatory (user should always be able to control what (s)he wishes to share on the app). With the help of the collected information, provide personalized experiences to repeat users (customized ads, preferred content, suggestions, etc.). In essence, people should understand that the app ‘remembers’ them, and ‘knows’ what they want to see/do. That’s where the ‘wow factor’ starts to take form.
Notifications and widgets
There is a very fine line between sending important, interesting information to users through real-time notifications and widgets, and irritating them with notifications that are way to frequent. The latter would hamper the user-experience (let’s face it: anyone would be irritated if an app continues to send notifications all day long!). Find out what type of data/updates you should ideally send to the end-users, the degree of personalization that would be involved in such notifications, and the frequency at which they should be sent. Avoid generating popup messages, which are likely to ‘disturb’ a person. Requests to rate the app at the store (store ratings are mighty important) should also be sent at proper intervals. Do not be too whiney about it.
Advertisements and in-app purchases
If you are creating an app as an experiment or for charity, you need not worry about its monetization. Then again, if that were the case, you would not have been reading this article in the first place. In free apps, placing advertisements is a popular monetization strategy – but it is also something where things can go horribly wrong. During the app testing phase, make sure that the ads are not hampering app-usage in any way (there are plenty of free mobile games in which the ads encroach into the playing area). What’s more, consider the appropriateness of the ads as well – particularly in children’s apps. You also need to ensure that the in-app purchases (another form of app monetization) can be done smoothly and securely. Give your users the option to upgrade to a ‘premium’, ad-free version of the app. Using a mobile app should be a seamless process, advertisements should not disrupt it.
Colors, call-to-action and clarity
For mobile shopping apps in particular, the ‘call-to-action’ (CTA) buttons should be systematically placed and easily visible. Generally, multiple A/B testings can give you a fair idea about what would work best (the text on the buttons, the position of the clickable area, etc.). Create a task-based, user-centric design – where the user would never be confused about what his/her next action should be. In other words, prepare a easy-to-follow roadmap of ‘user-touchpoints’ in your application. Be careful while choosing the color scheme for your app as well. Be consistent with your color usage – to generate an air of familiarity, which would help in your branding endeavors. In general too, users should be able to get an idea of the core purpose of your app even before they decide to download it. Trying to pack in too many features in a single app is often counterproductive – from the usability, retention and, of course, conversion standpoints.
Social media integration and chatbots
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are making rapid strides at present – and they can play a big role to pushing up your app’s engagement and conversion levels. In shopping apps, a chatbot (with a persona of its own) can very well act a guide for the users – with everything, right from product search, to final purchase-decisions and payments – happening on the same chat screen. In addition, most apps should give people the option to: a) sign in with their Facebook/Twitter or LinkedIn profiles and b) share content easily to their social media profiles. In-app networking – through real-time chatting options – is yet another way to provide some additional ‘delights’ to users.
Note: If your app is based on any cutting-edge smart technology (say, augmented reality), go the whole hog with it, and don’t just create a gimmicky application. A good, genuinely unique app has better chances of adoption.
13. The importance of feedback and rewards
Think of it this way: you come across a cool new gaming app at the store, download it on your device – and find that the very first level is extremely difficult. An immensely frustrating experience, right? Developers should look to build the confidence levels of the gamers – by starting off on a easy note, and gradually ramping up the difficulty levels. At the end of each ‘task’ (a purchase, or clearing a level in a game), there should be immediate feedback available too – in the form of accumulated reward points, or virtual coins, or stars, and the like. For many apps, being repetitive is actually a good option (the ‘match-3 games’, the shopping apps, etc.). People can ‘get used’ to working with such apps – always a good thing from the app retention perspective.
14. Test your apps
The fact that practically all leading mobile app companies have separate, well-trained teams of app testers is no coincidence. If any bug or functionality issue remains undetected in the final build and released version of the application, crushing reviews and lowly 1* ratings would start to pour in from the first set of users. It would be almost impossible recover from this early damage – even if bug-fix updates are quickly released. Testing should take place both on simulators/emulators as well as on actual devices (by people who would mimic the behaviour of first-time users). Make it a point to test each and every element of the app (including the apparently trivial ones). Never give your users an opportunity to complain.
Note: Conversion rate optimization (CRO) does not finish with a bug-free app being downloaded by a user. Problems can crop up at any time, and a 24×7 support team should be available to handle customer queries.
A recent Google survey revealed that 6 out of every 10 customers dropped off if they could not find the product or information they were searching for quickly enough, from a mobile site or application. This clearly highlights the close association between an app’s UX and its final conversion rates. Systematic mobile UX optimization can pull up conversions by up to 150% – and you need to follow the above tips to bolster the chances of your app’s success.
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