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The Ultimate Guide To App User Engagement

While many app marketers have mastered the art of acquiring new users, the ability to engage and retain those users still needs work.


The Ultimate Guide To App User Engagement

While many app marketers have mastered the art of acquiring new users, the ability to engage and retain those users still needs work.

In just a few short years from when this eBook originally debuted, mobile apps have become a fixture in our everyday lives. They’re no longer just useful, but necessary. They help us get through our day-to-day - from commuting, to shopping, handling our finances, and even seeking medical care. 

The numbers above speak for themselves - the app market is completely oversaturated. Yet despite the popularity of mobile and its prominence in consumers’ daily lives, Localytics data reveals that many apps — 23 percent — are never used more than once.

Getting users to discover and download your app is only half the battle. The other half is retaining them long term. App user retention centers around offering a world class user experience - something that users have grown to expect thanks to powerhouse apps like Uber and Spotify.

It’s no longer enough to simply have an app. In fact, having a bad app is worse than having no app at all.

With so much competition, many brands have found they still need to go one extra step to stay top of mind for users who are faced with an abundance of choices.

Whether a brand’s business model is driven by in-app purchases, paid subscriptions or in-app advertising, the key to unlocking app monetization lies in user retention, and the secret to increasing user retention is delivering an engaging and personalized app experience. To make this happen, you need deep insights about your users, including how you acquire them, how they interact with your content, and every step they take through the conversion funnel.

For digital marketers, this isn’t rocket science - it’s Marketing 101. When it comes to mobile, things aren’t as easy. Fortunately, during the past five years, the industry has made huge strides in gaining a deep understanding of mobile users. There are mobile engagement techniques that can help brands cultivate relationships with their users so they will use their app more frequently and spend more time engaging with the app.

When done properly, in-app messaging and push messaging will drive users to the most compelling app features and help them establish optimal user habits within the app – ultimately leading to higher lifetime value (LTV).

Top-notch mobile analytics are the foundation for brands to achieve this. The discovery of an app’s best features are accomplished through user behavior analysis, tracking in-app actions and correlating those actions to users with the highest customer lifetime value. Additionally, analysis of behavior leads to the identification of segments of users who are interested in particular app screens and features – like particular news content – and lays the groundwork for personalized and more impactful marketing campaigns.

In this eBook, you will learn best practices for taking advantage of these mobile marketing tools so that you can measure the effectiveness of your mobile marketing campaigns to ultimately build deeper relationships with your audience.




Let’s take a look at the mobile user engagement options we’re focusing on in this eBook: Push notifications, in-app messaging and inbox messaging. These are the three juggernauts when it comes to engaging your users via mobile.


Push notifications

Push notifications are the Beyonce of the mobile marketing world. These are the notifications that you receive to your smartphone’s homescreen. They are by far the most effective way to engage with users, since you can reach them outside of your app.



Mobile apps that take advantage of push notifications have enjoyed a 30% lift in engagement since 2017

However, if done poorly, push notifications can be equally as detrimental as they can be effective. Since push notifications have a direct line to the end user and the ability to disrupt their day, the message needs to be both compelling and personalized to the recipient.


Types of Push Notifications:



In-app Messages

In-app messages are contextually-relevant messages sent to users while they are in the app. They are meant to direct users towards different content within the app and ensure they fully understand all your app has to offer.


Examples of in-app messages:

  • Onboarding: A series of introductory messages that appear when a new user first opens the app. App onboarding messages give a brief overview of key features and functionality of your app



  • Transactional: Transactional in-app messages are triggered when a user completes some sort of action as a way of confirming receipt. They’re also great for upselling users to a premium version or encouraging users to make repeat purchases via gamification.



  • Informative: These are in-app messages that keep users in the know about any exciting app updates, or new content relevant to them based on previous actions or purchase history.



App Inbox

App inbox is a place within your app - either an actual inbox or even the app homescreen - where you can deliver an array of customized content, recommendations, and offers to the user. Because inbox messages aren’t as intrusive as push and in-app messages, they are a great alternative way to share suggested content, upcoming events, and other less urgent information. In addition, users can go back and view inbox messages multiple times, making them the perfect way to send users coupons and talk about ongoing offers. Lastly, the inbox messages sent by some mobile marketing platforms (including Localytics) can be scrollable, making them the perfect way to send users longer form content that would never fit into a push or in-app message.






How to Use App Inbox, In-App Messaging, and Push Notifications Together

For the best results in your app marketing efforts, app inbox, in app messaging and push notifications should be used together to engage with users based on where they are and what they are doing. There are two reasons why you should do this. First, app inbox and in-app messaging is great for communicating with users who are in the app, while push notifications help you stay in contact with users who aren’t in the app. Second, context matters for your messages. Certain messages are better sent as app inbox or in-app messages whereas others are best served push notifications.


The key to successful customer engagement is to think about personalization and context. In the next chapter we’ll learn more about the data that drives better personalization and in turn, greater ROI.




With so much discussion in the industry about the value of personalization in marketing, it’s worth taking a moment to elaborate on what we mean when we use that term.

Context is important. Mobile marketing should be relevant to the user because it is based off user behavior and profile information.

Mobile marketers have a unique opportunity to capitalize on the vast user data at their disposal. This allows them to create personalized, 1:1 experiences that virtually don’t exist on any other platform yet that mobile users have grown to expect.

Think about your favorite apps - why do you enjoy them so much? Odds are, in addition to a solid UI, the user experience is also top notch. An app should know you and your preferences. It should remember your recent history and pick up where you left off.

Mobile messages should be complementary to the personalized in-app experience and act as vehicles of user engagement.

How do you accomplish this? By having a mobile platform that lets you capture deep user insights to turn into those personalized interactions.

Below are a few ways you can harness user data to send relevant mobile messages:


Advanced Targeting:

Understanding exactly how a user interacts with your app is key to engaging with them effectively. Tapping into event and attribute tracking allows you to understand exactly which content or activity a user engages with most. This allows you to create user segments (a group of users with similar behaviors or interests) and then send highly relevant messages to these segments.


User segmentation:

A segment is a group of users with distinguishing characteristics who can be categorized into marketable, contextual groupings, through analysis of their common in-app actions, acquisition sources, devices and operating systems.


With segments you can:

  • Identify specific relationships of usage between different parts of an app

  • Analyze conversion rates of various funnels – registration screens, check out process, and more Identify groups of users interested in certain kinds of content or features

  • See how certain features or campaigns impact likelihood to purchase, upgrade, register and lifetime value

  • Trigger in-app messaging and push messaging campaigns to segments

  • Create more contextual and personalized app marketing. Your messages will be relevant to the segment’s proven interest, as evidenced by an analysis of their current and historical actions


Marketing Automation/Triggered Campaigns

While personalization is key to any mobile marketing campaign, marketing automation allows you to do this at scale. Once you’ve set up user segments, you can then begin creating automated campaigns. Below are a few examples of automated campaigns you could try:

  • Onboarding new users

  • Alerting users about a sale on their favorite brand of shoes

  • Rewarding highly active users for their loyalty

  • Notifying inactive users about an exciting new feature

While the above concepts are easy to understand, in practice creating and using data-driven segmentation is difficult given it entails sifting through millions, if not billions, of data points, to be accurate. Solutions such as Localytics offer simple yet powerful segmentation tools to automatically enroll users into segments and workflows based on their in-app actions and on events completed or not completed.


Setting Up Analytics to Provide Better Engagement

In the app analytics and marketing world, the actions that trigger your marketing campaigns are called events. Events are used to describe interesting actions that happen within your app, such as a news article read or action posted to a social network. Additionally, events are used in funnels to determine drop off and conversion rates toward specific goals. Events are also used to define user segments that help identify different usage patterns such as users who did or did not do certain events, or a pair of events in sequence. In turn, events can help answer questions like “Which app users have looked at a product page this week but never purchased an item?”

Events also have details that describe the action taking place, called attributes. While event names should be kept broad, attributes describe the specifics about the event. Attributes are essentially more details about your events that help you track the popularity of specific content at a more granular level. For example, if you have a magazine app and your event is “article read,” the title of the article would be the attribute.

Here are some basic events and attributes every app should have set up for fundamental tracking of their users. These will set the foundation for analytics-driven marketing.


Additionally, depending on your app category, various app features will lend themselves to different events to be tracked. Here are some vertical-specific event ideas:




You now have a good understanding of what in-app messages and push messages are, as well as how to personalize these messages with context, events, attributes and segments.



  1. App Onboarding: App onboarding campaigns are your chance to show new users compelling features and functionality to get them acclimated. Plus? They’re effective. Having an onboarding campaign for new users has been known to boost retention rates up to 50%.

  2. New Feature Alerts: Keeping users in-the-know about key app updates and new content is a great way to keep them interested. It shows them that you are invested in improving your app and giving them the best experience possible.

  3. Personalized Campaigns: Hitting users with the right message at the right time about things they care about most is the most powerful mobile marketing there is. You should be doing this across the board with all mobile messaging vehicles - app inbox, in-app, and push. Every message sent to your users should be tailored to them.

  4. Re-engagement: Been awhile since a user has returned to your app? Craft a compelling message to convince them to return. Maybe it’s an exclusive discount or exciting news. Another effective way to re-engage with users is through social media ads.

  5. NPS Request: The App Store and Google Play are filled with millions upon millions of apps, all vying for attention. This is why app store optimization (ASO) is so critical. Once important piece of the ASO puzzle is having a solid user rating. Asking loyal users to rate your app is not only a great way to boost your ASO, but also get invaluable feedback on how to improve and prioritizations you should be making to your app feature roadmap.


How does your app fare in terms of ASO?

Check out our App Listing Grader Tool



1. Media Apps

For Media apps, your monetization goal is twofold. First, you want to drive ad revenue. To do this, you need to increase time users spend in the app. With targeted push messages, you can pull users back into the app toward content they have previously shown interest in. Secondly, you may offer paid subscriptions. Nudge users down the purchase funnel toward a paid subscription upgrade with in-app messaging.

  • Push Campaign: Say you have identified a segment of users who have shown interest in sports news through an “articles read” event. Alert those users of today’s top sports news stories with a push message campaign.

  • In-App Message Campaign: The readers who click through that push message are clearly an engaged and prime audience for a paid subscription upgrade. Offer them a free trial.


2. Retail Apps

As a retail company, your primary goal is to drive brand loyalty and repeat purchases - both in-store and online. It’s important for you to have a 360 view of your customer so that you can send them highly personalized messages based on their behavior in-store, online, and in-app.  Strive to provide a consistent experience that isn’t interrupted channel to channel. For brands with retail stores, location based push notifications can drive in-store traffic by hitting users with a compelling offer as they walk by your store.


Location Based Push Campaign

If a user happens to be walking by your store, that is the perfect opportunity to engage with them and drive additional foot traffic. Send a push notification about in-store events and promotions.



In-App Messaging Campaign

Whether it’s a fishing pole or a pair of high heels, abandoned items left in the cart is pressing issue for eCommerce companies. Nudge forgetful, but high value, users out of limbo with a in-app message offering a discount.



3. Travel Apps

Most travel apps share a similar goal of getting users to convert by booking a trip. But since there are many different types of travelers - from frequent flyers on business to the once a year family vacation - he most important thing a travel app can do is take advantage of user segmentation. Travel is extremely subjective to what a user has going on in their lives at any given moment. Understanding the type of traveler your dealing with, and what’s compelling to them (price, comfort, luxuries, etc.), is key to getting them to convert.


Travel Push Campaign

Many travelers as price sensitive. They might have a trip on their bucket list, but need to wait until the price is right to jump on the opportunity. Push notifications are the perfect way to keep users in-the-know about pricing, and alert them when it’s the best time to book.




In-App Message

Setting up the above push notification alerts is an extremely compelling travel mobile messaging campaign. However, it can’t be done without the user opting in first. Use an in-app message to compel users to take advantage of the flight alerts.




As we saw through practical examples in Chapter 3, in-app, push, and app inbox are incredibly valuable tools for both customers and businesses; and just keeps getting more valuable as mobile becomes the preferred first screen.

By measuring your campaign efforts, you will be able to better understand and optimize your customer engagement. Here are five best practices to follow for measuring your mobile campaigns.


1. Think Beyond App Opens

Let’s say a retail store with an iPhone app is launching a mobile marketing campaign to promote a highly sought-after new line of handbags.

For this promotion, the retailer will send push notifications to users who have previously shown interest in handbags to pique their interest with a 20% discount off their first in-app purchase of the new line. The goal is to drive in-app purchases of the handbags.

The retailer runs an A/B test, sending at least two versions of the campaign to significant samples of its target audience to see which message yields more conversions:


20% of those customers who received Message A took the first step and opened the app while 15% of those who received Message B took the same action.

At first glance, it seems that Message A wins the contest, because of its higher open rate. But the contest is not over yet; the retailer wants users to make an in-app purchase. If you were only tracking app opens from this campaign, you would continue to invest in Message A – which may actually have a lower conversion rate to in-app purchase than Message B. Because of this unknown, it’s critical to look at the full picture.


2. Define Conversions For Your Brand

Have a clear goal in mind with your campaign. Like all good marketing, app marketing should start with your short and long-term goals in mind, and the metrics you pay the most attention to will be dependent on those prioritized goals. Are you looking to drive in-app purchases, or are you looking to increase time spent in the app?


3. Improve Impressions and Clicks

We now know it’s important to think beyond app opens and to track conversions. But between the point of app open and the point of conversion lies a great deal of opportunity for optimization.


Low Impressions

If your metrics indicate low impressions, you need to broaden the reach of your campaign. In particular:

  • If your in-app message campaign is triggered by app opens, think about driving more app opens through a push campaign.

  • If your campaign is triggered by an in-app event, you need to evaluate whether or not the audience, which could be relatively small, is achieving a sufficient conversion rate and LTV to validate the campaign. If not, you may want to redirect your efforts to larger segments.


Low Click Through Rate (CTR)

If your metrics indicate a low click through rate, consider the following:

  • Design performance: Does the ad creative on your in-app message show up blurry or warped on certain devices or operating systems? Is the imagery appealing and does is correlate to the messaging?Investigate further.

  • Ad copy: You have seconds to grab someone’s attention. Choose your words wisely. Your copy could potentially use improvement to more clearly nudge users towards a call to action.

  • Personalization: Is the right message hitting the right audience? Make sure that you are tailoring your push notifications to the end user and their interests through audience segmentation.


Once you have your campaign up and running, A/B test your copy and creative to drive more clicks and conversions. Similar to other marketing channels like banner ads, landing pages and email, simple ad copy tests like comparing the effectiveness of “Buy Now” and “Checkout” on conversion buttons can deliver major results.


4. Evaluate How Your Campaign “Ages”

Monitor how interest in your campaign trends over time. As per the example chart below, an initial spark of interest and conversions may happen in the beginning of your campaign, especially for in app messaging campaigns triggered by app opens. But once less frequent app users begin to see the campaign, clicks may trail of after a few weeks, indicating it is time for refresh.



5. Tie Campaigns to LTV

Finally, the most effective way to know if a campaign is successful is to compare the lifetime value of app users who were impacted by the campaign against those who did not. There are two ways to do this. Both of them rely on you first adding revenue data to your event tags. In your events, you can set a value attribute for every subscription, product purchase, ad view, or time spent in app. 

Once you’ve done this, it’s easy to see revenue data directly in your campaign’s performance report. There is an entire section of insights dedicated to showing you how you campaign influenced revenue generated.
Alternatively, you can see the longer-term impact of a campaign on revenue by looking at the Revenue report in Localytics. To see the long-term impact of a specific campaign, build a segment of users who viewed the campaign you want to evaluate. This is easy since Localytics automatically creates an event that tracks when users view a push, in-app or inbox message. This event includes an attribute for the specific campaign that the user was shown. Once you’ve built your segment, when reviewing your lifetime value report, filter the report to only see data for the segment and evaluate whether your app engagement strategy is translating into long-term value for your brand.

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5. Putting These Lessons Into Practice

5. Putting These Lessons Into Practice

Effective mobile app marketing is key to long term app success. App user engagement strategies like mobile messaging can drive up conversion and create strong brand affinity and loyalty.

Push notifications are particularly great for re-engaging lapsed users, while in-app messaging and app inbox can pull engaged users further into your app ultimately and towards conversion. Taking into account the context users will encounter your messages is a good starting point for more effective marketing campaigns. Additionally, some messages lend themselves to one format or the other, such as time sensitive ones which are best suited to push notifications. In-app and push notifications fundamentally complement one another and the best user engagement strategies are ones that use them together.

In Chapter 4, we looked at effective techniques for measuring your campaigns. We learned that while app opens from push messages are great, conversion is king. Your definition of conversion needs to be aligned with your app monetization strategy and that is how marketing campaign success should be judged. We talked about how to diagnose and remedy common campaign issues such as low impressions and CTRs, and the potential to create long-term brand value in linking the LTV of your customers to campaigns.

Ultimately, brands are looking to mobile as the future of marketing - and where they’ll connect with consumers. Understanding how to engage with users via mobile messaging is crucial to remaining a viable business in the 21st century.  Solid user engagement and personalization can lead to increased conversions, revenue and lifetime value for your brand. To achieve this level of engagement requires deep, actionable insights about your users. Mobile Marketing solutions such as Localytics can help you achieve this quickly and effectively.


See How Localytics Can Power Your Mobile Engagement