How To Make Sure Users Keep Coming Back to Your App

March 1, 2022


Research has shown that people engage with an average of 25 apps per month. Of those 25 apps, 80% is spent on the top three apps of the user. App engagement is crucial for the success of your app, but do you know how to increase user engagement?

The cue-routine-reward system is the optimal model for user engagement retention. But how does it work? If you're wondering how to retain users on an app, we can help.

In this guide, we'll explain how the cue-routine-reward system can help with retaining users to your apps.

Keep reading to discover more about the utilization and integration of the cue-routine-reward system for your apps.

What Is the Cue-Routine-Reward System?

The cue-routine-reward system creates a habit-forming response in the brain. Having a treat or reward motivates you to keep going through the motion when your brain gives you the cue. You then give it what it signals it wants, and in return, you get the happy feelings triggered by the dopamine sensors in the brain.

For smokers, the cue could be your brain telling you it needs more nicotine. So, you go outside to smoke, the routine. In return, your brain rewards you.

On social media, it can be attributed to finding a new or interesting post while you're scrolling. This can create a sensation of happiness that can trigger the dopamine sensors in the brain, thereby creating a sensation of reward. Getting push notifications to inform you of a new post, comment, or in-app incentive can also act as a sort of reward response.

● Cue (you receive a notification)
● Routine (you log into the app)
● Reward (your brain gets happy signals)

This can create a user loop of opening the app every time you may experience boredom or sadness. Where you'll continually open the app in order to receive the positive feeling in your brain. Just the promise of a new stimulation is enough to keep you coming back for more.

While the cue-routine-reward system has been likened to the Pavlovian Response, the cue-routine-reward system is initiated solely by the user. Whereas the Pavlovian Response is created from an external secondary source.

How to Increase User Engagement

For an app where you want to increase user engagement retention, offering an incentive such as a free gift with purchase or a daily log-in prize can help to drive more use of the app.

The cue-routine-reward system will engage the user with the app to get the feeling of reward through the habitual notification and app log-in process. This could be through an email, text, or push notification sent to the user's phone.

Pizza and other fast food ordering apps send push notifications to a user's cellphone right around the start of dinnertime hours to entice users to order in the app. They might include a coupon or special promotion to further persuade the user to complete an order.

This plants the seed with the cue, which triggers the user to log in by routine, and the promise of a reward will be fast food for dinner.

How to Retain Users on an App

So, we've established that by offering a reward, you can increase user engagement retention. But now the question remains, how to retain users on an app?

A substantial portion of an app's income can stem from paid ads incorporated within the content. Ads get more exposure on sites where frequent activity occurs.

Social media and smartphone apps accomplish this by changing the daily habits of their consumers to create more engagement. Certain platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are built on the premise of always having new and exciting content at your fingertips. So much so that not logging in for a day will make you feel like you've missed out.

When Facebook has reported outages or a downed app for hours at a time, consumers take to other forms of social media to express their outrage and sadness not being able to scroll their feeds. Their daily habits revolve around scrolling through their feed and liking and commenting on posts, and they feel incomplete without it.

Providing incentives, new content, or promotional rewards can keep your consumers hooked. Just be certain not to send too many push notifications in a day or it could become problematic and lead to the app being deleted.

The Downside of Making Apps Addictive

There is a danger, however, in too much user manipulation. Dark UX patterns are designed to trick or mislead users into making decisions that solely benefit the company at the user's expense.

Dark UX patterns falsely influence human psychology to lure the user into a trap that is difficult to break out of. These can include bait and switch tactics, forcing a user to sign up for an email subscription to get a supposedly free product. Or offering an introductory rate on a subscription that will then increase in price at a later date.

This can lead to massive amounts of spam emails and text notifications. As well as abuses of a user's credit card information that make it difficult to opt-out of or cancel. This can also have a damaging effect on the business's reputation.

While users spending large amounts of time on an app help to generate ad revenue and direct spending, there is a cost to the user's general wellbeing. This can create a dependency on the app that affects the emotional or mental welfare of the user.

Some research studies have found certain types of apps can have an addictive almost painkiller-like effect on users. They don't serve a particularly helpful purpose, rather they are just attractive distractions. Over time, their use is a crutch for individuals trying to fill a void and their income is generated through a sort of emotional exploitation.

Authentic interaction with an app should be organic and beneficial to the user and not rely on manipulation.