App stores aren’t just for selling games – they have also become increasingly important distribution channels for online services. Many companies are developing mobile apps with the ultimate goal of driving users to their online services. But getting a new user to register for your service after downloading an app can be tricky.
This is a common struggle for developers. The killer app gets downloaded, but never used, because the user doesn’t feel like entering his email to sign up for the online service that powers the app.
When my company’s apps first launched, our conversion rate from download to sign-up was terrible. Thankfully, we were able to have conversations with a number of experienced (and successful) app developers. Their advice helped us dramatically raise our conversion rate, and we’d like to share what we learned.
Why? Because frankly, there are many great apps out there that simply aren’t reaching their potential. Developers need to understand that getting users to both download and sign up for the online service are equally important.
To successfully transform a downloader into a subscriber, and then into a regular user, you have to understand how people think. There is a bit of an art to it, but this three-step process should serve as a guide.
1. Establish Trust
Someone just downloaded your app – great! Now you must convince him that your company has his best interests at heart.
How? First, make sure your app looks professional. Shoddy design will annoy people and often cause them to doubt your trustworthiness. Think about when you land on a sketchy-looking webpage. There are visual cues that will often cause you to leave: sloppiness, misspelled words, poor navigation. The little things matter here, so make sure your app is polished if you want to establish trust and retain your new user.
2. Perfect the Art of the Organic Install
It’s all about the flow – you have to make it feel natural. It’s like a game of connect-the-dots from download to sign up for the online service. How do you do this? The key is to make it effortless by removing any barriers between installation and sign-up. Push people from one step to the next without time between to grow bored or frustrated. Removing unnecessary parts of our form, like the “confirm password” field, dramatically increased our sign-up rate.
You also need to reduce confusion. This means not giving people a million different ways to sign up. (Sign up with Facebook! Sign up with Twitter!) Many app developers have learned the hard way that giving users more choices will only paralyze them and decrease your sign-up conversion rate.
Remember that getting the app downloaded is not the end game. If you can figure out why most people downloaded the app in the first place, then you can sell the sizzle on the sign-up form, either with words or an engaging video. Even better, if you can get the person to actually use the app prior to hitting the sign-up form, you may increase sign-ups because of the commitment effect, where they begin to feel invested in your app, becoming more inclined to sign up for your service.
3. Test and Measure
The perfect sign-up flow for your app will require testing. I recommend measuring everything. You can go with an in-house analytics system or use something off the shelf, like Localytics. But knowing when, where and how someone drops off of your conversion flow will really help you understand how any changes impact your sign-ups. And knowing what features both casual and power users spend the most time with can help you craft the language you put on the sign-up form.
While certain app stores make it hard to experiment quickly due to their burdening approval processes, you can quickly test in less regulated environments, like Google’s Android Market. Pick an app that you can iterate on quickly when you are testing so that you don’t end up stuck in an approval queue with something that proves to be suboptimal.
4. Guide Them Through the On-Board Process
Great success! Your user has downloaded the app and signed up for your online service. Your work is done.
No, it’s not!
Now your mission is to keep them coming back — and they are not going to come back unless they get value from the app right away. You need them to use it right then and there. Again, make sure this process feels natural. Here is where good product design comes into play, as well as smart on-boarding.
Some app makers have great luck driving initial use and reuse by providing smoothly placed tutorials when users first login. Others have found these to be useless. Again, this is something that depends on the nature of your app and your users, and you’ll have to test to find what works for you.
Game mechanics, like a progress bar, often keep people motivated to complete certain steps over time to achieve the ultimate goal of completion (things like finishing your LinkedIn profile). The desired effect is that the user comes back to your app, he can gradually move closer to completion. By the end, he will have fully learned how to use the app to its full potential.
Image courtesy of Flickr, Jorge Quinteros
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