Daily App Habit Formation

Habit Formation: The Routine of Daily App Use

According to a scientific study, it can take about 18 days before people can form a new habit. And it takes 66 more days for this habit to become a reflex action. If you take this in the context of mobile app use, you can say that it’s quite easy since daily app use is about 56% of smartphone owners and 26% of tablet owners.  With an average usage time of 30 hours a month, you can say that app use is already habitual.


That is good, right? A majority of smartphone users basically have a daily app habit. There’s a “but” though: are these users returning to the same app day in and day out? This is actually an important question. As an app publisher, you want your app to be sticky – to be addictive. So you want your app to be the app that users return to every day.


There’s a science to how apps become addictive. It basically boils down to “triggers”, actions and cues that can get an app user hooked to the app. But triggers are useless if there are any positive reinforcement in the form of rewards. It’s a cycle of trigger, hook, and reward. But how can an app effectively execute this cycle to the point where triggers are no longer necessary, where app use basically becomes as natural as brushing one’s teeth?


Some of the Ways Apps Use to Hook Users

  1. Personalization options don’t just give users a sense of ownership but also a sense of control. They can decide to some extent what content they want to access, how and when to access it. The more the app is aligned with their goals, needs, and schedule, the easier it is for them fit the app into their daily routine.
  2. Provide entertainment value. Humor is one way to deliver an engaging content, but it isn’t always applicable especially with content like news.
  3. Repetition of simple actions. The less effort the brain exerts on thinking about trivial things, the more efficient it is on solving complicated things. And since routine tasks take little to no mental effort, the brain’s reward receptors activate every time we perform these tasks, conditioning us into performing it often.
  4. Replacement of an existing habit. It is easier to replace an existing habit or behavior than creating one. With the advent of technology, especially of apps, a lot of habits like note-taking had been digitized.
  5. Constant reminders. Most successful apps utilize simple but effective re-engagement strategies. One of these strategies is the use of push notifications. This regular stream of updates gives the illusion of new information, reigniting the user’s interest in the app.


Brands that are Part of Users’ Daily App Habits

There are apps that are designed to cultivate new, good habits in users. But there are also apps you least expect to stick on you. These are apps that somehow have a straightforward function and features, yet you find yourself developing a habit of daily app use. Soon, you notice that the app itself had become a part of a daily app habit you can’t just shake off.


Let’s take a look at how these three apps became so addicting:

  1. Poncho Weather App

Fun is a word you won’t normally associate with a weather app. But Poncho somehow pulled it off. This weather app delivers daily weather and traffic alerts through text, in-app messaging, email, and more. Aside from the ease of its multi-channel and multi-platform integration, Poncho gives a personalized, witty, and somehow cute updates. The app’s eponymous mascot, Poncho the cat gives the app a cute touch without crossing the line and appearing girly. The various pop culture references and puns also give an upbeat and current feel. Aside from the entertainment value it provides, the Poncho app is also big on personalization. It asks users for information that is relevant to how they want to use the app and how the app can help in their daily lives. Users can also schedule updates around their daily routine.

  1. Starbucks App

Many experts consider the Starbucks apps as the pioneer in the implementation of mobile payments for retail outlets. Who knew that something as innocuous as ordering a cup of coffee can evolve into a profitable digital venture? Transactions on the Starbucks app account for over 50% of all company-owned store transactions in the U.S. What it basically did was replace one part of a lot of American’s routine: waiting in line at cafés.

  1. Snapchat

The people behind Snapchat revealed that their main user demographic of 18-34 years old are “…more likely to follow trends.” This may mean that they are basically teetering on uncertainty, that their users may leave them any moment because they are, by nature fickle-minded. But here they are, with 161 million daily active users by the fourth quarter of 2016. Even if that number steeply declines by the first quarter of 2017, it’s still undeniable that Snapchat has staying power – it’s the daily app of choice for its target demographic. Not just that, but the app’s users are so into it that they open the app more than 18 times a day. All sessions last from 25 to 30 minutes.


The app has a very effective “hook sequence” that its targeted users find very rewarding. It has a certain novelty that other messaging apps cannot provide. The reward of just seeing random “Snaps” is enough for its users to actually replace other modes of communication. A 2014 data on college-age Snapchat users reveal that 37% use the app for “creativity” purposes. About 27% use it to keep in touch and 23% said that it is “easier than texting”.

Can ASO Propel an App to the Top of the App Store ChartsCan ASO Propel an App to the Top of the App Store Charts

Can ASO Propel an App to the Top of the App Store Charts?

It’s the moment of truth. The burning question is this: does ASO really works? Can it really propel your app to the coveted number 1 spot in the app store charts? Is there even a direct correlation between ASO and app success?


We’ll analyze the impact of app store optimization to apps by answering questions that may bother the newbie and pro app marketer alike.


What’s really the goal of app store optimization?

App store optimization or ASO is generally considered as the app stores’ answer to SEO. From that comparison alone, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that ASO is used so that an app can rank high in app store searches. The main goal is to increase the app’s visibility within the app stores and discoverability both inside and outside the said stores. ASO increases traffic but the end goal is still the glimmering downloads.


But does ASO directly correlate with an app’s ranks in the app store charts?


Can ASO bring an app to the top of the app store charts?

On a post from about two years ago, common ASO mistakes are enumerated. The last in the list is ‘being unrealistic about the app’s ROI’. Several app marketers have had used (or considered) ASO as a marketing strategy with a solid return.


Just like with SEO, the “optimization” part isn’t a guarantee of topping any search results page or app store charts. But optimization is important. Without SEO, a web page won’t even have a chance on being in the first several pages of the SERPs. Without ASO, an app won’t even be visible in the app store search results. Therefore, ASO is that important in app discoverability. ASO is basically an extension of market research. It’s the part where you target your audience and adjust according to competition.


But to answer the question, yes, ASO can bring an app to the top of the app store charts. App metadata (title and description) is the top ranking factor for both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. According to an October 2016 survey, 48% of users discover apps by browsing the app stores. Another 21% discover apps through search engines. One of the top motivators for installing is the description (71%).  Though video previews only account for 20%, it’s still a significant number.


The effectiveness of the app’s ASO strategy doesn’t necessarily correlate with a top ranking the app store charts, though. This is the same with how downloads don’t necessarily translate to revenue. There are also secondary factors that can actually increase or mute an ASO strategy’s effectiveness – factors like downloads and ratings/reviews. The effect of the secondary factors sometimes blurs the cause/effect relationship between ASO and app store search rankings.


For example, ASO is necessary in order to rank higher in search results. Ranking higher means visibility and eventually downloads. But it’s also proven that in order to rank higher in the app store search results, an app should also have high downloads and high ratings. So, which comes first? This is actually a case of ASO continually giving. The app continues to gain more downloads after optimization. It also gains a lot of 5-star ratings and good reviews. The app stores saw these as positive ranking signals so the app bumped up in the search results. This then results to more downloads, so on and so forth.


Do the top apps even use ASO?

Is it effective? If ASO really works, then apps that implement it are surely in the top charts, right?


To see the direct impact of ASO to apps, let’s check the numbers. Top apps that use keywords on their titles experience a 10.3% increase in ranking in comparison to other apps within the app store chart’s top 25.


To learn more about how the top apps implement ASO strategies, read one of my articles, App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It



ASO is not a one-time thing or a quick fix. It takes time and constant tweaking. But when it works, it sticks. Ian Sefferman, the CEO of MobileDevHQ has this to say about ASO, “ASO is having dramatic effects on our client apps. For those who put the time in to understand, iterate, and test, we’ve seen many apps increase their downloads by a factor of 2x-10x, and an increase of revenue by a similar, or bigger, rate due to the increase in engagement of users earned by ASO. ASO is not a simple process, and you might not see the impact overnight, but if you’re willing to invest in it, the outcome can be incredibly worthwhile.”

Average App Revenue: The Misleading Benchmark

Average revenue is one of the key performance indicators for mobile apps. It is a common practice to use category-specific average app revenue as a benchmark. By comparing your app’s performance to apps in the same category you will know for certain if your app’s monetization models are performing as designed. But is the average app revenue metric really accurate?


The Flaws with Average App Revenue

  1. General averages include apps that are very different from your app. By just using the game category, it is easy to conclude that the subcategories within include apps that are very different from each other. Also, there are types of game apps that perform better consistently. Even if a lot of these apps have the same concept or mechanics, they still use different monetization models.
  2. The top apps skew the numbers. The top apps actually pull up the average app revenue especially if they are earning a lot. Even if you narrow down the comparison to a specific subcategory, the difference between the revenue of a top app compared to an app ten steps down the rank is staggering! The top app would make it appear that the subcategory is earning a lot when most of the lower-ranked apps don’t even earn half of the top app’s revenue.

These flaws aren’t just limited to average app revenue. Different monetization models like in-app purchases also use an overall average for benchmarks.


How to Better Benchmark Apps

  1. Use apps that are very similar to your app for benchmarking. The apps should have similar functionality, features, audience, and monetization models. Select 5-10 apps from the 80th – 20th percentile your app’s category or vertical.
  2. Use average revenue per user. Narrow down your selection of apps by comparing average revenue per user. The specific metric to use is the average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU). This is to eliminate any unfair revenue comparison based on the number of app users.
  3. Group apps into three different revenue categories. Place your benchmark apps into either the high (80th percentile), median (50th percentile) or low (20th percentile) revenue performance category. This will eliminate the ambiguity that average app revenue benchmarks provide. You can also use this to evaluate the performance of your app over time; if it is improving or getting worse.


There is a huge chance that apps in several categories appear to perform better than they do. And this has to do with how general averages are used as benchmarks. So in order to really know where your app stands in terms of revenue, a targeted approach is necessary.

Motivational Indie App Success Stories

We’ve all heard about the story behind the success of ‘Flappy Bird’, of how an unknown app developer made it to the top of the charts. There are a lot more app success stories like this. Amidst the reality of a very competitive market, there are still indie app developers that rise. They are not only an inspiration to other indie developers but also to other people who are facing obstacles in their pursuit of success.


These app success stories are quite different from our usual posts of the technical aspects of app development. Let’s take a short detour and learn from the human side of the industry.


App Success Stories


Andreas Illiger

App Success Stories Andreas Illiger

This German indie developer was one of those who hit jackpot in the nascent years of the App Store. Illiger’s app, Tiny Wings was the top grossing app for two weeks in 2011(February to March). It was eventually voted as the best iPhone game of that year. Its biggest win though is earning at about 10.5 installs for iPhone and 1.8 million installs for iPad.


As impressive as the app’s report card reads, the background story of its creation is also something of note. The main principle behind the app’s development was, to make something positive. Illiger thought that there’s too much negativity in the App Store at that time. Though simple, the app’s graphics and message resonate with the audience. It is also reflective of his own desire. He is afraid of heights, yet he always dreamed of flying.


But as someone that sees the world through rose-colored glasses, how did the sudden windfall affect Illiger? Apparently, it affected him little, meaning, he hasn’t gone crazy about it. His lifestyle before he hit big with Tiny Wings can be somewhat familiar to many of you. He lived in a cramped apartment – even post app success. During an interview on 2012, he detailed his lifestyle and routine.


Having studied Communication Design, Illiger basically sits down all day doing “creative stuff”. His routine starts at 9 a.m. and ends at about 1 a.m. He has a timer set for every hour. This alerts him to take a break. He believes that these frequent breaks make him more effective and healthy. Health is rather an important issue for him. He confessed that just a year before his big hit, he was so poor that he had to buy cheap (and probably unhealthy) food. The first thing that he mentioned as the most notable change in his life is the good food (organic mostly) that he is able to buy for himself.


But things weren’t always as they were, especially when his success became public knowledge. He was somewhat overwhelmed with the expectations and proposals. It was especially hard he says because he’s doing everything on his own. This made him consider the possibility of working in a team especially that he wants to focus on the creative side of things. He’s in no rush though and wants to meet the right people in his own time.


Jeremy Olson

App Success Stories Jeremy Olson

Jeremy Olson knows very well the struggle of running a small business, producing a quality product, and trying to support growing families at the same time. But he loves every part of it, especially how small indie developers can compete with the big companies and still win. “Indie” is in his blood.


Olson founded Tapity, a company composed of him, his father Todd, and his brother Josh. His app Grades had just won an Apple Design Award so they decided to go full-time on the company. But they soon realize that the app’s earnings can really fully support them. The story now becomes on how a company can go on beyond a single hit and how you can find innovative app ideas by just solving your own problem.


In a blog post, Olson detailed how their fledgling company accepted client work and the time tracking that was necessary to perform tasks. The ineffectiveness of a lot of time tracking solutions in addressing the human aspect of the problem became quite evident to the three-man team. They soon realize that they’re not alone in this problem. There’s a market for a time tracker they have in mind so they went on and made one.


That’s the simplest way to say it but the development phase wasn’t actually straightforward. There were just other things to be done, another app and client work to focus on. When the focus was finally on the time-tracking app the called “Hours”, Olson and his team did not occupy themselves with all the aspects of development. Rather, they hired some people to do most of the necessary coding while they focused on the app’s design. Olson’s principle is to constantly market the app, saying that marketing just around launch day is way too late. He introduced the app to people in the industry, wrote blog posts, and remained active on Twitter. Something he also emphasized is building good (and genuine) friendships with industry influencers and journalists through delivering good products and contributing helpful and timely information.


Hours soon received press coverage, a feature from Apple and rose up to became a top-grossing app.


Toni Fingerroos

App Success Stories Toni Fingerroos

The app “Hill Climb Racing” had simple graphics, straightforward mechanics, launched in the Google Play Store – and it was September 2012. This somehow made the then 29-year-old self-taught computer programmer, Toni Fingerroos the odd man out in the “Apple-friendly” Finnish startup scene.


Fingerroos launched “Hill Climb Racing” under his company, Fingersoft Oy (which he solely own). The end of 2013 saw the app with 140 million downloads, earning the company a net profit of about $12.7 million. Most of the app’s revenues come from advertising, in-app purchases, and upgrades. This is not bad at all for a company whose base is just an ordinary house with a working area doesn’t look corporate at all. Fingerroos emphasized that having fun is important in the company. “We believe it results in the best possible products,” in Fingerroos own words.


As of the beginning of the year, the company only has 28 employees. It was founded in 2011 and until 2014 only had a dozen employees. The company’s foundation about during a time where Fingerroos was in a financial strait. He had invested a lot of money into developing a game for PlayStation. The development eventual caused him to accumulate some debt. It was risky for him to build his own business at that time. But the idea of working for someone seem out of the question.


Finally coming up to a decision, he gambled with Android app development. But unlike other app success stories, a lot of trial and error occurred. Fingerroos would develop apps at a rapid pace just to see which of his ideas would work. There was no mention of ASO or any form of marketing at all! He believed that it is better to launch thousands of crappy apps than launch nothing at all.


But then one of his apps finally got traction. The app,“Cartoon Camera”  amassed about 10 million downloads. It kick-started Fingerroos app development career. His hit app, “Hill Climb Racing” looked simple enough but required finesse and concentration from the players, making it challenging and engaging.


In late 2016, Fingersoft launched the app’s sequel, “Hill Climb Racing 2”. As of January 2017, it already reached 40 million downloads.

Mobile App Performance: Increase Retention in 5 Easy Ways

User retention is one of the most important app performance indicators. Retention can basically make a mobile app active for months – even years. This is important especially if the app is using the freemium model of monetization. Whales won’t normally spend money on an app as soon as they download it. It would take an average of 10 days before the conversion happens. But how do you increase retention? There’s certainly a formula to keep the whales in the app, right?


There’s actually no need for complicated implementation. It’s even possible that you know some (if all) of these strategies to increase retention. So without further ado, here are 5 easy ways to increase retention:


1.     Design an Easy User Onboarding

Easy, intuitive, and seamless – that’s what the onboarding experience should be. Difficult onboarding increases abandonment rates. A sign-up process with many steps and information fields is an example of a difficult onboarding. An effective onboarding, on the other hand, is achieved either through the following strategies:


  • Easy account creation and log in with multiple options for registration (through email, Facebook, etc.)
  • Offer a guest user option.
  • Offer an offline option.
  • Only offer tips/tutorials as applicable, not just in one go.
  • Easily adaptable gestures/actions.


Effective onboarding has a great impact on user retention and app revenue. This is through decreasing app churn and increasing LTV.


2.     Give Incentives

Incentives like exclusive content access, in-app item sale, and coupons drive engagement and conversion. This is especially true if you increase the anticipation for said incentives. A lot of game apps refill lives within a certain amount of time or give free coins for just logging in daily. The type of incentives you can use depend on the nature of your app. It can either be time-sensitive or usage/progress-based rewards.


3.     Gamify

Gamification encourages usage, especially if there is a social aspect to it. With games, competitive and co-op play are encouraged to increase retention. But with utility and business apps, gamification strategies increase retention by changing the way users respond to the app. About 89% of users said that incentives like points and rewards increase their engagement to an app. An increase in engagement reduces churn rate, therefore increases retention.


It is also important that the gamification elements you implement can add value to your app and appear natural.


4.     Push Notifications

Push notifications are often used to increase app engagement and re-engagement. But push notifications can also increase retention. On a study conducted over a 90-day period, apps without push notification capabilities only have 10% retention rate; apps with active push notifications, on the other hand, have 27% retention rate. About 78% of Android users opt-in for push messages while in iOS only 46% of users opt-in.


Push messaging is an important tool in the implementation of time-sensitive incentives, offers, and in-app events. Each notification should trigger users to return to the app over and over again.


5.     App Updates

Fresh and timely content can keep users interested. That’s why it’s important to regularly update apps to fit the needs and demands of your users. You can use mobile app analytics to track user behavior. This can give you an insight on what works for your users and what causes them to abandon your app. In order to get a closer insight, you can also comb user feedback from reviews in the app store, in-app feedback channels, and in social media. You can use any aggregated data to make informed choices on what to improve in the app.