Hands On

Igniting the Cellular Love at First Sight

An average mobile app sessions lasts for about 5 minutes, so your time in hooking the user is limited. Not to mention the fierce competition. Using a few proved methods can make sure the user will return and purchase

Matt McAllister
January 09 2018

Mobile app developers have mere seconds to capture their new users’ interest. The clock is ticking to provide necessary systems education, demonstrate value, prove ease-of-use, and earn a second session. It can be a lot to cover, especially considering that the average mobile app session lasts only five minutes (even less for ecommerce apps).

Developers need to make efficient use of the time they have with their users. Paid acquisition channels might get users in the door, but the qualification process doesn’t end there. Today, most apps function as cost-free gateways to paid products or services. Value props and feature offerings are under scrutiny right up until the moment a user makes an IAP or completes a mobile checkout. Until then, users are free to walk out the door, having generated no value whatsoever.

Getting customers to convert is about making sure they are equipped and motivated to do so. For that to happen, developers need to embrace a few best-practices when building their first-time user experience. 

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Jump right into whatever makes your app unique. This should be the most dynamic, engaging, high-input interaction you have to offer. Adrian Crook, a professional game design consultant of Adrian Crook & Associates, explains in his 2017 talk at Casual Connect that “Top grossing games in 2017 hook players in with exciting gameplay before running them through the core loop, progression, and collection systems.” By frontloading your best material, you’re giving users the information they need to quickly determine whether or not your app is for them.

Keep It Short

Don’t try to cram all your onboarding into one session. Churn starts the second users enter your app, so keep your first experience informative but concise. Unless you’re offering some unprecedented new service, it’s likely that new users will understand your app’s general functionality. Focus on the aspects of your product most crucial to user enjoyment. Make a list of behaviors that correlate to greater retention and prioritize tutorials for those systems. Save supporting systems for subsequent sessions.

Use Visual Language, Not Words

Nobody reads tutorial copy. The sooner you embrace this truth, the sooner you can start leveraging visual language to onboard users more effectively. Use clear, high-contrast overlays, animations, and spotlights to pull user attention directly to the UI elements you want them interacting with. Not every part of the process needs to be on rails, but limiting a user’s options ensures they get the information they need to enjoy your application. In case that’s not reason enough, it also saves on localization costs. Visual indicators are universal, while tutorial copy needs translation before shipping to a global audience.

Walk Them Through A Purchase

The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon in which human beings experience positive feelings towards people, things, or processes simply because they’re familiar. Designers can take advantage of this cognitive bias by walking users through the process of completing a mock purchase. Having users navigate the mechanics of conversion, real or otherwise, sets a precedent in their mind. It equips them with all the necessary information and makes them more comfortable with completing a real purchase in the future.

Preface Your Push Request

You only get one chance to request push permissions from a user. Don’t rush it. Wait until the end of your onboarding before popping the question. By that point, users should understand your app’s core value prop. Preface your request with a message that offers context. Explain what you will and won’t be using push notifications for. Making your intentions absolutely clear removes doubt from the equation and helps users feel comfortable when deciding whether or not to trust you with their time.

Get Them Connected

The most successful apps facilitate interactions between their users. App Store mainstays like Twitter and Quora walk users through the process of selecting content sources at the outset, ensuring that subsequent sessions will offer value. If your app relies on peer-to-peer interaction, don’t trust users to figure it out for themselves. Provide suggestions and prepopulate input fields wherever you can. Make it as easy as possible for users to start getting involved.

The app store is a crowded marketplace. Those looking to compete need to be sure every user acquired is likely to stay. As targeting and acquisition technologies deliver higher quality users to your door, build a first-time user experience that makes them glad they came. Your key performance metrics will be first to benefit.


Matt McAllister

Matt McAllister is the CEO of Fluid PR, Inc. and twenty-year marketing veteran. Matt most recently ran marketing for Tapjoy, a mobile ad-tech platform. Matt also served as VP of marketing and content for High Voltage Interactive, an online ad network that was acquired by Aptimus, Inc. He started his career as an account executive for the PR agency Niehaus Ryan Wong.

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