There’s plenty of literature out there on how to promote and market apps on the App Store. We know what’s important: the name must be understandable, the app icon must be flashy, and your screenshots need to be engaging. What we don’t hear about, is what not to do. And believe me, the list is just as long.

“Dark backgrounds and light text everywhere… what is this, night-driving-mode?” Ew.

“Your main screen is the camera? Everyone’s going to think I’m on Snapchat.” Hide.

“Is this going to reload every time I open it?” Back to the browser.

App downloads are clocking in at 1,500 per second from the App Store and Google Play. It’s insane. Most app installations are opened only once. That’s the harsh reality of the mobile world. Users download, open, and then delete. That means as soon as someone installs your app, they’ll instantly notice any reasons to delete it and head back to Facebook, or their standard email app that they’re comfortable with. The ease of apps and installs means that users are less committed to your software, and more willing to toss it.

The typical app is only opened once

Both unfamiliar interfaces and non-intuitive functionality scare users away. Apps asking for too many permissions and connections make us weary. When a user opens an app and they aren’t sure what to do, the knee-jerk reaction is to hit the home button and close it — “I’ll figure it out later”. Well, as that previous statistic shows, later never comes; it leads to the delete button instead.

Remember when Facebook’s app sucked? They knew it too, and turned to a mobile-first strategy. Twitter, LinkedIn, and the other giants have the same strategy.

Well, from our side, the developers, the startups, the techies, it’s hard enough to get smartphone users to download a free app, and then it’s even harder to keep them engaged. Here’s are a few solutions we’ve figured out.

There are lots of reasons users uninstall apps. These get you on the fast track to the recycle bin.

1. Requesting too much information and permissions.

“You want to use my current location? What is this, PRISM?…” Deny.

“You want a review? This is the first time I opened it…” Dismiss.

The more personal our devices and more detailed our internet presence becomes, the more hesitant we are to share our information. We’ve gotten over the fear of online payments long ago, and we give out email addresses like candy, but hackers and spam have left us permanently jaded. These days when I have to provide both a username and email address, I brace myself for spam and unsubscribing.

Most apps request device permissions and user information on the first launch, on the first page. The first time you open the app, it asks if it can use our current location, and then it asks if it can send me push notifications. I barely even know what this app is, how it works, or especially what it is going to do with my information. My default action is always to disallow these permissions, until I’m familiar with the app and know what it’s going to do.

If I’m worried about where my location data is being sent to, or how it’s being tracked, then that’s an auto-delete. Think about Craigslist, what if the location of each buyer and seller was always posted. Well, there’s a lot of people on Craigslist that I’d rather not have know where I live.

Permission for Push Notifications

Permission for Facebook Data

Solution: Delay requesting permission for as long as possible to first earn trust. Don’t ask for current location until they open the map. Don’t request push notifications until they make a post, or follow a friend. If possible, give a preview before you even require an account.

2. Sharing without permission

“What, I have to log in with Facebook and it’s going to post on my feed?” Delete.

The most severe transgression that will instantly lose your user’s trust is posting or sharing without their permission. Sometimes it’s a status update “Anthony is now playing GameABC”, sometimes it’s an announcement “Anthony connected on SomeNewPlatform, click here to join him!”, and sometimes it’s uploading a picture that all their friends will see (and that’s the worst). Social media is a social platform, and these auto-generated posts are usually followed by jabs and jokes, or at least a shade of embarrassment from your user.

“lol Mike, listening to Rihanna again?!”

“Get back to work Steve =P”

Next is the availability of user data. User profiles usually display sensitive details about person. The problem is when users can’t control what info is displayed. For example, if it lists email address, company, or city, that’s some sensitive data that can both be scrapped and used for evil, or traced back to me. And if user’s can’t protect their data, then they’re going to take the only defensive action they can: deletion.

Solution: Address these concerns and tell the user explicitly when information will be shared. Remove these fears ahead of time by telling users “we’ll never post to Facebook without your permission” and “your location data is never recorded”, and do this at the same time you request this information.

Secret Disclaimer

Target Disclaimer

3. No call to action

Ok, I downloaded your app, it looks nice and I signed up for an account. Now where do I go, what do I do? Most apps are downloaded by users who are just browsing the App Store, or that they read about or were recommended to them. And most of the time they don’t read the App Store description.

They just want to start playing right away. They’ll see the standard newsfeed button, profile button, and compose post button. What if I make a post before I complete my profile — will the post be missing information?

Next, what do you want your users to do? Post? Buy? Connect? Once you’ve figured out your goal, put it front and center. You have to hold their hands through the process the first time. Then they can repeat it themselves later.

Buffer Call to Action

Foursquare Call to Action

Solution: Emphasize your call to action, and introduce users to your interface. Also, implement Google Mobile Analytics. And then review if your users get lost, or stuck at a certain step. Check if they’re spending too much time in the navigation menu, or if they get halfway through creating a post and then exit.

4. Notification Overload

I receive a notification everyday reminding me to check these new updates. After 3 consecutive days of clearing that annoying notification, you’re going to the trash can. I’ll check it when I want to, and the occasional reminder or update is useful, but badgering users means you’re getting the axe.

Solution: Calculate the maximum number of notifications a user can receive. Even better if you monitor your apps analytics to understand the ratio of notifications received to notifications opened.

Notification Overload


Other suggestions:

Feedback prompter. Use this to let people give feedback before they’re slinging negative reviews on iTunes.