Mobile app engagement: Everything app developers should know

For any successful app, driving healthy mobile app engagement is critical.

If the people who download and install your app don’t actually use your app, then you’re not going to drive revenue, burnish your brand, or reach any of the other goals you’ve established as part of your mobile app strategy.

This prompts several questions that we address in this post in three different sections. (Click on a link to jump directly to that section.)

  1. Why mobile app engagement matters – What do app engagement metrics tell us about the health and potential of an app business?
  2. How to measure app engagement – What are the app engagement metrics you should be measuring? What benchmarks do you use to know whether your app’s engagement metrics are any good?
  3. How to increase app engagement – What methods can you use to increase this critical app metric?

Why mobile app engagement matters

App engagement measures intensity of usage

As we’ve covered previously, monthly active users (MAU) is a simply broad measure of the number of people who use your app. Engagement measures just how active those users are.

In other words, of the people who use your app, how frequently do they use your app? How much of their attention are they giving to your app? Measurements of mobile app user engagement answer those questions and point to your app’s addictiveness.

And those answers impact your expectations regarding how much money your app can make.

App engagement directly impacts revenue

Regardless of how your mobile app makes money, engagement is central to your product’s fundamental equation. A fundamental equation is a simple mathematical way of describing how your business makes money.

Imagine if your existing users were twice as active in your app. For most products, this would have a significant impact on revenue, whether through more exposure to advertisements or more frequent in-app payments. This is the power and importance of engagement.

We can easily demonstrate the relationship between mobile app engagement and app revenue with data. Using insights from SurveyMonkey Intelligence, we can compare the daily app engagement rates of Supercell’s hit game Boom Beach over the past two months to its daily revenue:

Correlation of mobile app engagement and revenue

As you can see, there’s a strong correlation between app engagement and revenue. This is true not just for popular mobile games, but for all mobile apps with monetization features like advertising and in-app purchases.

How to measure app engagement

Now that you know why it’s important to the success of your app business, here’s how to measure app engagement.

Know these important app engagement metrics

The ratio of daily active users (DAU) to monthly active users (MAU)

When measuring engagement, the first question you should answer is: of the users I’ve got, how many are active users?

This DAU/MAU measurement provides the percentage of your monthly audience you can expect to use your app on a given day.

To calculate the measure of overall audience engagement, divide the average number of unique users of your mobile app on a given day by the number of unique users who used the app in the 30 previous days.

Monthly music app engagement

This measure of engagement reveals day-of-the-week patterns, as you can see above in the chart of DAU/MAU engagement rates for several music apps. Users typically engage with these apps more on some days of the week than on others.

The DAU/MAU metric also responds quickly to changes in user behavior. If you release a feature that doubles the number of your monthly users engaging with your app, you’ll see that result the next day.

Note that some app publishers also measure the overall engagement of their audiences by looking at the ratio of daily active users (DAU) to weekly (instead of monthly) active users (WAU).

Days used per month

Of all the unique users who used your app at all in the past 30 days, on how many days during those 30 days did they use the app, on average?

This measurement is a great number to use as a benchmark as it should be steady over time, shifting only with fundamental changes to the way that your customers use your product.

Plus, “days per month” is an intuitive metric that’s easier to explain to stakeholders.

Days per month music app engagement

As with the DAU/MAU engagement ratio, some publishers use weeks instead of months in the denominator of the days/month ratio.

Choose the time period (week or month) that’s appropriate for your product. For apps that are used quite frequently (like social media apps), days per week is probably a good metric. By contrast, travel-booking apps are probably thinking more about days per month.

It’s great if you’ve determined that a high percentage of your monthly users engage with your app on many days per month. But what if the visits to your app on those days are few and brief, adding up to very little time spent in your app on those days? (As is often the case with weather app engagement rates, by the way, as you’ll see later in this post.)

Sessions per day

To fully capitalize on your mobile app’s user engagement, you ideally want your users to engage frequently with your app during the day, for a long time during the day, or both, depending on your business model.

That’s where these next two measures of app engagement come in.

To calculate sessions per day, divide total sessions on a given day by the number of unique users who used your app that day (i.e., the daily active users, or DAU).

Sessions per day music app engagement

Sessions per day is a useful metric to understand how frequently users are using your app within a day.

For example, if you release a new feature designed to provide more utility to power users, you’ll want to keep track of sessions per day.

Time spent per day

To calculate the average time spent in your app per day, calculate the average session length and multiply it by the average number of sessions per day.

Time per day music app engagement

The direction that you want to move the “time spent” metric depends on your app.

For media apps, longer sessions means more time spent reading, watching, or listening and more opportunities for advertising.

For other apps the relationship may be the opposite. A new feature in Uber that makes it easier to summon a ride (a good thing) would reduce total time spent.

Benchmark your app engagement metrics

Track your app engagement over time

The only way to know if your efforts are improving your app’s engagement rates is to track them over time.

Whatever the engagement rates are for your mobile app right now, keep an eye on them. Ideally, you want your key engagement metrics trending upwards as your app becomes increasingly irreplaceable and more addictive to your users.

New features and use cases can help to boost engagement as your app solves more problems more of the time.

On the other hand, falling app engagement rates suggests that the utility of your product is decreasing over time, or is being replaced by another service.

Know the natural engagement rates of your app category

When it comes to engagement, the sky isn’t the limit. Your app is limited in its potential for engagement by the frequency of its use cases.

Each app category tends to have its own natural rates of engagement, as you’ll see below.

In these charts, the orange dot represents the median value for iOS and Android apps in the category while the green dotted line shows the 20th and 80th percentile value for apps in the category.

Category weekly app engagement

“Weekly engagement” reflects the average number of days per week a mobile app is used.

Just because a category (or app) demonstrates high engagement in one area (e.g., number of days used per week) doesn’t mean it will have high engagement in another area (e.g., time spent per day.)

Time spent per day app engagement by category

In this chart, time is measured in seconds.

For example, weather apps have the highest days per week engagement, but the lowest time-spent per day among all app categories. This makes sense since many people need to check the weather every day, but it only takes a few moments to do it.

One striking aspect of the app category engagement statistics revealed in these charts is the wide range of performance between the top, median, and bottom apps.

There are a couple things going on here: the inherent differences between app sub-categories and the individual performance of different app competitors within the category.

Know the app engagement rates of your app sub-category

Within many app store categories, there are distinct subcategories of apps that have their own natural engagement rates.

For example, dating apps are lumped into the “Social & Communication” app store category along with social networks like Facebook and Twitter and messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Using SurveyMonkey Intelligence’s feature that compares app subcategories–or “verticals”–like these, we see that the social network subcategory has the highest average days-per-month engagement of all subcategories, with 20.9 days per month. Meanwhile, dating apps have approximately half the average days-per-month engagement, with an average of 10.8 days per month.

That’s quite a difference.

Or consider the Games app category’s statistics. There are many different types of games–action, word, casino, racing, and trivia, to name a few–that all have different game app engagement rates.

Minutes per day mobile game engagement

Again looking at SurveyMonkey Intelligence’s data on apps by category, we find that puzzle games, for instance, have around twice the average time spent per day engagement (11 mins, 27 seconds) as casino games (5 mins, 57 seconds).

The takeaway here is that you should be as granular as possible when identifying the app category or sub-category that best-represents your app.

Within that (sub)category, use an app intelligence tool like SurveyMonkey Intelligence to find the competitor apps with the average and top engagement performance. Then you’ll have realistic and well-informed benchmarks for the app engagement metrics your app should be trying to meet and exceed.

You can sign up for a 14-day free trial of SurveyMonkey Intelligence to get engagement insights (plus downloads, revenue, usage, and more) for thousands of mobile apps.

How to increase app engagement

As an app developer, there are lots of tactics you can build into your app engagement strategy. Everything from sending timely, relevant notifications to conducting remarketing campaigns to simply building a genuinely valuable app that people have reason to use frequently in their daily lives.

As we’ve seen, even the app category you choose can be a big factor in the engagement rates your app achieves.

But don’t get overwhelmed by the many different app design choices you could make to increase your app’s engagement rates. Focus your mobile app engagement strategy by learning from what your successful app competitors are already doing.

Analyze your top-performing competitors

If you followed the steps in the previous section for benchmarking your app’s engagement metrics, then you’ve already identified your top-performing competitors using an app intelligence tool like SurveyMonkey Intelligence.

Once you’ve identified those apps, deeply familiarize yourself with them so you can deconstruct the designs, features, and functionalities that are driving high engagement rates. These are the elements that will inspire the development of your own app engagement strategy.

If we revisit our music apps example, we see that while the big players Spotify and Pandora enjoy some of the best days per month engagement stats, they could probably learn something by taking a close look at Spinrilla and Musi:

Days per month music apps engagement

Of course, your analysis should include the app competitors in your category that perform the best for each of the various engagement metrics we’ve mentioned: DAU/MAU (or DAU/WAU), days per month (or week), sessions per day, and time per day.

Here are just a few of the important questions you can ask when analyzing the apps with the best engagement among your competitors:

  • Do they have any unique features?
  • Do they have features specifically designed to drive re-engagement? (Like countdown timers in a mobile game.)
  • For what events do they send app notifications?
  • How quickly do they load?
  • Does the design highlight or encourage the usage of a particular feature?
  • What is the tone of the design and copywriting? (E.g., formal? Informal?)
  • Does it seems like the app would appeal to a particular audience demographic?

Conclusion

When building a mobile app, how much your users engage with your app is as important as how many users you have. Whether you’re monetizing with ads or in-app purchases (or both), your mobile app engagement metrics can dictate how much revenue your app makes.

Knowing the engagement rates of average and top competitors within your app (sub)category gives you objective benchmarks against which you can judge your app’s engagement performance.

By tracking your mobile app engagement metrics over time, you’re better able to understand what drives positive changes and to release features that make your product better.

Finally, there’s no need to guess what increases app engagement for your category of app. Analyze the best-performing apps to understand what they’re doing right, and allow those insights to guide your app engagement strategy.