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3 ways to improve your mobile app conversion rate optimization efforts

Is your mobile app terrifying users? Probably.

A quaint New England coastal town is gearing up for summer, and an ill-fated partygoer has just stepped away from the bonfire for an impromptu ocean dip. Then the jerking motion begins. Within seconds, they’re dragged beneath the surface, accompanied by John Williams’ menacing score. Dun dun dun dun dun dun. For those of us watching in terror, the opening scene of Jaws is enough to keep anyone planted on dry land in perpetuity.

Do you know what we, as a society, find equally distressing?

A slow-loading mobile app.

According to one study, mobile loading delays cause heart rates to shoot up by a whopping 38%—comparable to watching a horror movie. This may sound ridiculous, but in a way, it makes sense:

  • In 2022, the average American spent almost five and a half hours on their mobile phone per day—a 45% increase from 2019

  • The majority of Americans (89%) check their phones as soon as they wake up, and 75% can’t leave their phones without feeling “uncomfortable”

  • Brits average four hours and 14 minutes per day on their mobile devices

  • The average smartphone user engages with 10 apps per day and 30 apps per month

It’s one thing to endure a terrible experience packing boxes or in the dentist’s chair, which are hopefully infrequent occurrences. But when we’re fused to our smartphones 24-7, even the smallest source of friction becomes intolerable. That’s why optimizing mobile apps is so critical.

Not sure where to begin? Consider this your trusty primer. We’re diving into conversion rate optimization (CRO) specifically for mobile apps, including:

  • A quick explanation of mobile CRO

  • Key metrics and tools

  • Why mobile CRO is so important

  • 3 ways to improve your mobile app conversion rate optimization efforts

Let’s get started!

What is mobile conversion rate optimization?

Mobile conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the process of testing, measuring and improving your mobile app in order to increase the conversion rate—the rate at which users perform a desired action or conversion. This can mean:

  • Making a first-time purchase

  • Registering for a new account

  • Upgrading to a higher membership tier

  • Renewing membership

Although CRO is typically categorized as a marketing initiative, success often hinges on multiple teams, especially CX, product and engineering. Without strong technical performance, a seamless user experience and close alignment with customer needs, mobile apps will ultimately fail.

Mobile conversion rate: Key metrics and tools

There’s a wide variety of mobile app metrics to help track engagement and performance. For CRO specifically, conversion rate is most important (shocker). The formula is simple: conversion rate = total conversions / total visitors.

Although the conversion rate will tell you how often a desired action is occurring, you’ll likely need to measure other KPIs to get a better sense of why. These include:

  • Daily and monthly active users (DAU and MAU): The volume of users that interact with your app on a daily or monthly basis. There’s no standard definition for what qualifies as an “active user”—this could mean users who open your app, use it for a particular amount of time or access a particular feature.

  • Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of users who interact with a specific element in the app, such as a button, image or link. Conversions can be heavily influenced by content and design—for instance, a button on the checkout page may be hard to see or have a lousy call-to-action. Measuring CTR on different screens can help identify where you’re losing users and which elements may be preventing them from completing the desired action.

  • Retention rate: The percentage of users who open your app at least once after downloading. It’s typically measured within a specific time frame, i.e. every month, quarter or year. Retention rate is especially important to determine frequency and levels of engagement, both of which have an impact on conversions.

  • Churn rate: The rate at which users either uninstall your app, downgrade their membership or cancel a subscription over a certain time period. Churn rates can help you zero in on areas to optimize—for instance, a high churn rate on a customer’s first day indicates problems with onboarding, while a sudden spike may indicate a technical performance issue like a glitch or post-release lag.

There are numerous mobile analytics solutions out there to track these metrics, including Google Firebase and Apple App Analytics.

Increasingly, teams are also leveraging more robust digital experience intelligence (DXI) platforms, which combine mobile analytics with other data sources, including product, technical performance and voice of the customer (VoC) data. This paints a more holistic picture and contextualizes in-app behavior within a bigger customer experience, making it easier to connect the dots with other events captured outside of traditional mobile analytics tools that may nevertheless impact conversions.

Why is mobile CRO necessary?

Even a shiny, polished app loaded with features needs to be consistently tested and improved—more functionality also means more that can go wrong. The reason why mobile CRO is so critical boils down to three main reasons:

1. Customer expectations

If the horror film study is any indication, most users aren’t willing to suffer lackluster experiences on their phones. It’s also important to recognize that customers' experiences with one brand can significantly impact their expectations for another, even if it's in a completely different industry.

Case in point: the Amazons, Ubers and Instacarts of the world have fueled the instant gratification era, where we’ve come to expect lightning-fast service and are disappointed when other companies don’t deliver. According to a 2022 study, nearly half of online shoppers (44%) are willing to wait a maximum of two days for delivery before canceling their order.

This means your app isn’t just going up against direct competitors, but the tech behemoths with infinite resources who have set the bar for a seamless customer experience. If you fall short, your users have no qualms about jumping ship:

Mobile CRO doesn’t just enable you to consistently gauge how users are interacting with your app but also keep a close eye on technical performance.

2. Competition

It’s hard to believe that there were just 500 apps in the iOS App Store when it launched in 2008. Today, over seven million apps are available, spanning both iOS and Android. Competition for time and attention has never been more fierce:

  • Collectively, users downloaded 143 billion apps in 2022

  • The average smartphone user has more than 80 apps on their phone

This only intensifies the pressure for brands to consistently provide value and deliver delightful experiences, making mobile CRO a necessity.

3. Human behavior

In spite of the market being flooded with apps, not all are treated equally. In fact, the average user spends 70% of their app-using time in just three apps. Everyone wants to create an app that ingratiates in their users’ daily lives. Candy Crush Saga might be a fun way to zone out and unwind, but it’s also grossing $1 billion in revenue.

The thing is, becoming a “go-to” app is like hitting a moving target. As humans, our needs, requirements and behaviors often evolve in response to new technology or experiences. When Candy Crush first launched, for example, it was originally just a Facebook game.

You need to constantly be analyzing your app to ensure it is delivering as much value as possible—and that could look very different tomorrow than it does today.

3 ways to improve your mobile CRO efforts

Like all optimization efforts, mobile CRO isn’t easy. It involves continually identifying areas for improvement, then testing, measuring and repeating until you’ve finally boosted conversion. However, there are a few things you can do to increase your odds of success from the start.

1. Determine what you’re actually optimizing for

The first step is deciding whether to optimize for new customers or existing ones since that will ultimately determine your plan of attack. “The most important thing we look at when starting out an optimization program is making sure that we're doing the right optimization for the right customer,” says Matthew Pezzimenti, director and founder of Conversion Kings.

If the goal is acquisition, your CRO efforts will probably be more focused on uncovering sources of friction in the registration process. For instance, 60% of users decide not to download an app after realizing the amount of personal information they would have to share, while 25% will pass if they don’t have enough space on their phones. The checkout process could be another area for improvement—like reducing the number of steps, offering more payment options, eliminating unnecessary fields or simplifying the language.

Optimizing for retention, on the other hand, means paying closer attention to your customers’ in-app experience so they use it more often, derive more value and subsequently upgrade or renew. This could involve expanding the onboarding process so users know about underutilized features or experimenting with notification frequency.

2. Prioritize technical performance

Whether you’re focusing optimization on existing customers or new ones, technical performance should be at the top of your list. In fact, 68% of users will never use a mobile app again after it crashes, while 25% have deleted an app to clear up space. Common issues that can tank both acquisition and retention include:

  • Bloated file size

  • Lagging

  • Freezing

  • Crashing

Even if you don’t have the same access to granular technical performance data as your engineering team, work with them to identify possible issues. Engineers often have a similarly limited view—they can tap their error logs but may not have an easy way to determine which (if any) are impacting conversions.

“Engineering teams are constantly pressured to identify, prioritize and resolve issues. But many are still working in siloes or boxed into error monitoring,” says Liran Tal, business lead, performance analytics at Glassbox. “If engineers spot an error in the logs, there’s usually no way to tell if it actually impacts the user experience. Their ability to effectively prioritize is extremely limited, so they need to make an educated guess.”

Documenting and sharing churn rate trends and anomalies can help bridge this gap, so engineers can prioritize troubleshooting more effectively and ensure your mobile app is running as smooth as butter.

3. Look at voice of the customer (VoC) and behavioral data

If you’re focusing on retention, voice of the customer (VoC) data collected from surveys and satisfaction scores can be a useful resource. “[CRO] requires a lot more effort because it's the invisible things that we're dealing with,” says Johann Von Tonder, COO at AWA Digital. “It's things in the mind of the customer. You can move stuff around the page all you want, but the decision is not made on the page.”

Although customer perspectives can help you understand how they’re experiencing your app, VoC data does have a notable limitation. It’s typically sourced from just 4-7% of users, which could leave you optimizing the app for a small but vocal minority. The best workaround is gathering user feedback from their actions, not just their words.

Mobile app analytics track rage clicks and taps, tilts and zooms—indicating frustration—while DXI platforms can pull in technical events, so you can more easily determine if an underlying glitch was the cause. If possible, leverage interaction maps (the next generation in heatmap tools) or session replay to observe how customers are actually using your app and where you can make impactful improvements.

Back to you

We’re living in a day and age where most of us would rather see a monster of the deep appear on our screen than the dreaded loading spinner. When customers bring their impatience and sky-high expectations with them every time they pick up their mobile phone, the only way to consistently deliver is by testing, measuring and enhancing your mobile app—and nipping sources of friction in the bud. Mobile conversion rate optimization gives you a systematic approach to improvement. When you’re also purposeful in your approach and collecting the right data, you can delight users even faster. Learn more here.