The Must-have Feature Every Mobile App Needs to Stay Popular

May 6, 2015 | Natasha Singh

Apps are extremely diverse products. They can do so many different things, for so many different audiences; grouping them all into the catchall term “apps” is a pretty serious oversimplification. They can range from enterprise security management tools to cartoon puzzle games, and it seems the only thing linking them is the screen they appear on.

But at a high level, they share more than you might expect. They are designed to be useful on the go. They are updated periodically to fix bugs, update designs, or even add new content. They use familiar mobile interface standards—tapping, swiping, pinching, etc.—to ensure users can navigate intuitively.

At the core, every app needs to engage its audience, and how it does that will be unique to who that audience is and what services they expect from the app. They provide value. But in order to be successful, every app needs to be designed with some kind of reason to come back to the app repeatedly. This is called a engagement loop, and it is one of the most important things to think about when conceptualizing your app.

What Does an Engagement Loop Look Like?

In the cartoon puzzle game, the loop might take the form of points which add up to rewards at certain intervals, encouraging players to make progress each time they open the game. This is a classic form of gamification which can be applied to non-game apps, you can see it clearly in many modern fitness apps where activity will slowly fill a progress bar, ending in some kind of reward (often the reward has no value besides the satisfaction of achieving it).

But not all apps can take that route. An enterprise security tool won’t be handing out points for creating strong passwords (or maybe it will, and that’s the next big thing). There are other ways to incentivize users back inside the app. For the security app, notifications might be the key. The app will be able to push a message to the user to inform them of important information, like a virus detected on the app, or an unverified log-in to their account. This provides an immediate reason for the user to return to the app.

Similar tactics can be applied to other apps, whether iPhone apps or Android apps; apps might push notifications regarding shopping sales, recent friend activity, score tracking for sports, weather alerts, etc. The key is that these notifications tie into the core value of the app—each time the app makes a notification, the user is reminded of how useful the app is.

Another common way to keep users coming back is to provide regular new content—usually user-generated. This is the cycle upon which social media is based: you open the app to see what your friends are doing/making/saying, and every day you open the app because every day you’ll find something new. Social media also tends to incorporate light gamification in the way it encourages users to pursue more likes/favorites/retweets and other means of quantifying how popular your own posts are.

News apps also engage through regular content; Flipboard, CNN, Facebook Paper, for example, all provide new articles and content every day, which encourages users to open them up regularly to see what’s new. Coupon apps provide new deals. Weather apps provide new forecasts. These are often paired with periodic notifications to show off hot new content. Just as every app provides unique value, it will be up to the creator to design the specifics of the engagement loop that will keep users coming back.

Without a Loop…

Apps without any engagement loop might still appeal to users and be downloaded, but after that, they tend to stagnate on the user’s device and are eventually deleted to make room for something else. For example, you might download a photo manipulation app to fix up a picture you took, but once you are done, the app never gets opened again. We help your app fly off the shelves with a step by step approach how to get the first 10,000 downloads for your app.

Apps that don’t get used are hard to monetize. People don’t make purchases in apps they don’t open. They don’t view ads. They don’t convert into customers.

For modern apps, the key statistic that gives your product value is the community of active users. Facebook didn’t buy WhatsApp because it had a billion downloads, they bought WhatsApp because WhatsApp had over 400 Million monthly active users, and was still growing—they’ve nearly doubled that number in the past year. You cannot miss this: Insights why Whatsapp is so addictive!

That’s not to say downloads are bad; they step one on the road to success, but achieving downloads is more of a marketing feat while keeping them engaged falls entirely to the product.

Design Your Engagement Loop

If you’ve got an app idea, and you are looking to round out the concept, feel free to get in touch with SDI’s strategists at 408.805.0495, or set up a meeting by email at We’ll provide free consultation on the basic business and technical feasibility of your app idea, and help draw up a roadmap to success via our comprehensive design, development, and marketing services.

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