Are your floundering? Poor may be the culprit. Ben Lee offers 6 ideas for anyone who’s looking to boost

This is a guest post. Ben Lee is a tech influencer, one of Inc.’s 30 Under 30 Most Brilliant Entrepreneurs, and co-founder of Rootstrap, a digital creative studio that helps clients including Fortune 100 companies and early-stage startups with strategy, development, and growth.

When it comes to digital products, your install rate is just the beginning: what really matters is retention. Achieving retention means engagement must be high. Ultimately, anyone can pay for downloads but what separates successful products from failed ones is the ability to engage, and therefore retain, users.

The most important contributor to engagement is the value your product offers users: if the key benefit isn’t strong enough your product will fail, period. But design also plays a role and making the right design decisions can easily lift your engagement metrics.

Looking to engagement and retention for your mobile app, website, or digital product? Here are a few tips to help you do it.

Streamline the Onboarding Process

Onboarding is perhaps the most dangerous stage of the user journey in terms of retention. Nearly a quarter of users abandon a mobile app after only one use and abandonment can happen before the user uses the app. An overly complex onboarding process is often the culprit.

Faster log-ins

The more steps you put between a user downloading the app and receiving a benefit, the more users you can expect to churn during your onboarding process. That means that every button push, every form field, and every load screen in your onboarding process comes with a definite, if unknown, cost in terms of user retention.

To that end, you want to make onboarding as simple as possible. Social logins are a great way to do this if you need users to have unique accounts, but I’ll often recommend avoiding any type of login at all, if possible. You want your user to start getting value out of the app immediately, and extra steps just delay that process.

Faster user education

This principle also applies to user education. This can be a bit of a catch-22: users get frustrated if they don’t know how to use an app, but the process of teaching functionality has its own impact on churn rates.

Try to walk a fine line between these two extremes. Giving your users a quick tour of the most important features and how they work can be appropriate, but this shouldn’t come with too many steps. Again, we want to avoid churn during the onboarding process. Instead of having one large tutorial that explains all features in the app, try breaking your tutorial into stages and allowing users to find new features — and the tutorials that go with them — on their own.

Color Matters

Any designer knows that color is critical to motivating users, and that’s no different when it comes to engagement. How to use color will have a serious impact on every aspect of your brand and business, including engagement and retention rates.

Most of your color choices will probably revolve around your branding. You want the app to feel cohesive with the rest of your business, so you’ll likely want to use a similar palette to what’s on your website or any other relevant assets. Brand cohesion is the primary concern.

That said, varying up that cohesion is critical to improving engagement. If you want a user to take an action, you need that action to stick out like a sore thumb. In a telling article, Hubspot found that, contrary to what most would believe, red performed better than green as a CTA button color. But they stressed that the finding was contextual: what mattered more than the literal color value of the button was its relation to the other colors on the screen. In their test, the button was the only red object on the screen. Its distinctiveness made users click more.

You can apply the same principle to your own user interface design. For any given screen in your digital product or your website, identify the one or two most important actions that users can take and color them accordingly. Used sparingly, unusual colors can help guide users to the functions they want the most and improve overall engagement metrics.

Mind Processing Power — for Humans and Machines

Here’s one design element that’s easy for UI designers to forget about: performance. Without question, the performance of a website or digital product has a dramatic impact on engagement rates. One of the most important factors for this is speed.

Kissmetrics found that for websites, an additional one second delay in page load time saw a drop off of 7% in conversion rate. With mobile users expecting a light-speed user experience, that number could be even higher.

What this means is that even though we now carry supercomputers in our pockets, processing power still matters. We need to design with that in mind. Including too much functionality in any one screen or page of a design drives upload times, and that can have a real impact on engagement.

But this principle goes beyond device performance. Keeping your design elements to a minimum is a good idea for psychological reasons as much as for engineering ones. As Barry Schwartz explained in his book The Paradox of Choice, more choice isn’t always good for happiness. Sometimes it can have the opposite effect.

In a 2000 study on jam varieties, researchers found that cutting the variety of fruit jams available by 75% resulted in a 10x increase in the number of consumers who bought jam. This has direct implications for software design. Minimalism is popular in design right now because it works, and it works on the levels of both cognitive overload and device performance.

Be very careful about the number of elements, functions, and features you put on any individual screen or pane of your design. Know that for each new thing you add, the load time goes up. That drives up churn as well. Reducing your designs down to only what’s absolutely necessary is a foolproof strategy for improving user engagement.

Test, Test, Test

Designing with these principles in mind will undoubtedly have a positive effect on engagement and retention metrics, but ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to improving engagement. Every application is different, and the only way to truly find out what works for your product is to test it.

This is something we’re obsessive about in Roadmapping sessions at my agency, Rootstrap — and with tools like Justinmind making fast prototyping more accessible, it should be a core part of any product design process.

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