Back to Blog

Mobile App Conversion Rate: A complete guide with strategies & metrics

Why isn’t your mobile app a hit?

If you haven’t noticed, we’re living through the 4th Industrial Revolution, often abbreviated to 4IR. One of the ways that it manifests itself is through mobile apps. At last count, Apple had over 2 million apps in its App Store, while Google was just short of 3.5 million apps in the Google Play Store. Collectively, they offer over 5.7 million apps. That’s a lot of apps, but then there’s a lot of demand for app downloads.

Let’s consider a few indicative statistics:

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

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

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

When we’re fused to our smartphones for so long every day, even the smallest source of friction becomes intolerable. And your customers feel the same way. That’s why optimizing mobile apps, and understanding your mobile app‘s conversion rate (CVR) is so important. A mobile app conversion is the percent of users who took a desired action in your app. 

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. The goal is to increase the conversion rate—the rate at which app users perform a desired action or conversion. Some examples of conversion actions are:

  • Making a first-time purchase (or any purchase)

  • Registering for a new account

  • Upgrading to a higher membership tier

  • Renewing membership

  • Signing up for a newsletter

Although CRO is typically categorized as a marketing initiative, success often hinges on multiple teams, especially customer experience (CX), product, and engineering. A big mistake businesses can make is to maintain those disparate teams in silos, not all working from the same data.

Without strong technical performance, a seamless app 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 in your target audience. For CRO specifically, average conversion rates are often considered the most important (shocker). The formula for mobile apps is simple: conversion rate = total conversions / total users.

So conversion rate looks like a solid metric, but it can be misunderstood. The 2023 Apple App Store conversion rate data shows the average CVR across all app categories in the US was 30%, with navigation apps leading the way, and puzzle apps trailing.

But Apple and Google define a download (or user acquisition) as a conversion. And yes, if your mobile app is in their stores, you want to increase the probability it will be selected for download. So conversion rate optimization in that context means maximizing the probability the app will be selected for download.

To be clear, the conversion rate we’re talking about in this article is something that happens within your mobile app after it has been downloaded and installed, NOT exactly the same as what attracted a user to want it in the first place.

What Apple and Google don’t tell you is that only 25% of mobile apps are still in use one day after installation. And often continues to drop after that. That makes retention rate a critical indicator of love, not just the infatuating download.

Chart showing that only 25% of mobile apps are still in use after one day

(Image Source)

It also means that a conversion is something completely different for you and your app. If you have an online store, for example, a conversion could mean one or all of the following:

  • Buying something

  • Signing up for notifications about products

  • Signing up for a loyalty program

And if you're providing a subscription for something, like a newspaper, or a software license, a conversion could be:

  • Signing up for a free subscription

  • Upgrading to a paid subscription, or upgrading to any higher-level tier

The bottom line is that you have to define what actions users or visitors have to take to call them a conversion. This is where other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can help:

  • Daily and monthly active users (DAU and MAU): The volume of app 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. after the first day, then 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. That makes retention rate a critical indicator of love, not just the infatuating download.

  • 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. Good examples of these 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. It makes 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. Why mobile CRO is so critical boils down to three main reasons:

1. Customer expectations

With so many apps to choose from, today’s consumers are unlikely to patiently suffer lackluster experiences on their phones. This is especially true because finding an alternative app in the App Store or on Google Play is quick and easy. It’s also important to recognize that a user journey 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 only willing to wait a maximum of two days for delivery before canceling their order.

44% cancel orders not delivered in two days

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 app users have no qualms about jumping ship:

  • 70% of mobile users will abandon an app if it’s taking too long to load

  • Nearly 1 in 4 people abandon mobile apps after only one use

  • The average app loses 77% of its daily active users within the first 3 days after install

Mobile CRO doesn’t just enable you to consistently gauge how mobile 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. However, as we saw earlier, millions of apps are available in the App Store and Google Play. Competition for time and attention has never been more fierce:

  • Collectively, users downloaded 143 billion apps from either the App Store or Google Play in 2023

  • The average American 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

Despite the market being flooded with apps, not all are treated equally. In fact, the average user spends 70% of their app time using 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’s 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’ll 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 customer acquisition, your CRO efforts will probably be more focused on uncovering sources of friction in the registration process. For instance, 60% of potential users decide not to do an app download after realizing the amount of personal information they’d have to share. And 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.

63% of consumers opt out of an app asking too much personal information

Optimizing for retention, on the other hand, means paying closer attention to your customers’ in-app experience. They intend to 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.”

Although that’s been the case in the past, the increasing use of digital experience monitoring (DEM) can show you both technical and behavior-related issues. Using DEM to find (or predict and prevent) technical issues, along with application-related friction, can help you improve the user experience. And that can make the difference between a conversion for you and a run-for-your-competitior.

Documenting and sharing churn rate trends and anomalies of any kind can help bridge this gap, so It and developers 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—all of which can indicate frustration. At the same time, DEM 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. These let you observe how customers are actually using your app and where you can make impactful improvements.

A hypothetical example

Imagine that you’ve been running an online business for several years. You’ve traditionally transacted with your customers via your website but you recently developed and launched a mobile app. Around 80% of your customers downloaded and activated it but your sales volumes have dropped off and you don’t know why.

Your DXI people tell you that some orders have been abandoned on the mobile app but picked up and completed via the website. That strongly suggests a usability problem with the mobile app. Maybe, when users abandoned their carts it was because they couldn't find the place order button because it was “below the fold” and required them to scroll down. Or the page was taking longer than 3 seconds to load.

Or perhaps it’s a form that’s been abandoned. You might reverse the trend by making some simple changes to the form.

Session replays and other analytics techniques can tell you exactly what happened just before abandonment. Very often, the reason people aren’t engaging with your app the way you’d want them to is also simple to fix. You just need to know what it is.

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 screens than the dreaded loading spinner. You can take steps to learn more about mobile app analytics to improve your mobile app conversion rate.

When customers bring their impatience and sky-high expectations with them every time they pick up their mobile phones, the only way to consistently deliver is by testing, measuring and enhancing your mobile app—and nipping sources of friction in the bud.

Tips from digital leaders on optimizing your conversion rates can give you valuable insights on what successful companies are doing. Mobile analytics data can give you actionable insights into exactly how your customers are using and experiencing your app, which paths are leading to conversion, and which struggles are preventing that. Such actionable insights will allow you to be purposeful in your approach, collect the right data, and delight users even faster. Learn more here.