The Complete Guide To User Stickiness

Sakshi Gupta
May 31, 2024
18 mins

TL;DR

Your product or service is amazing and you have a platform ready to showcase its prowess. It has a good UI and you’ve ensured everything is in place. Functionality, check. Security, check. SEO, check. 

You even start getting traffic and users are interacting and engaging well.

However, do you find your app or website visitors to be just one-time guests who do not visit again?

The last thing you want is for your users to forget you exist. However, this is probably happening for your app – Why?

There could be multiple reasons — maybe users do not connect with your brand, or your quality of service is not at par with their expectations, too many ads, etc. 

To track how truly your users find your app useful in their daily workflows – you must understand this key product metric – User Stickiness. It's a helpful metric to gauge how often people visit your platform.

In this guide on user stickiness – we explain what user stickiness is, how to measure it, and how to make users stick around your platform for improved user retention metrics.

What is user stickiness?

User stickiness is a metric that tracks how often users return to your app or product platform.

Customers will return ONLY if they gain VALUE from your product. This could be due to high-end consumer experience, ease of transaction, your product quality, or a combination of these –  all of them, and more, play a role in determining user stickiness. 

The result of having good user stickiness is your business experiences high user loyalty and advocacy.

Jeremy Miller, Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers, and Grow an Incredible Brand

What is the difference between user stickiness and user retention?

User stickiness simply measures how often users return to an app. Retention, though similar, measures how many users return to an app over a specific period of time, such as a day, week, or month.

An app with high user stickiness often has a high user retention rate as well. 

Another way to distinguish stickiness and retention can be to think of them this way: While stickiness denotes a user’s organic interest in returning to your app, retention could be influenced by inorganic factors like push notifications, emails, etc. 

user stickiness vs. user retention

What is the difference between user stickiness and user engagement?

User stickiness and user engagement are often confused and used interchangeably. However, both are completely different metrics. 

Let's understand them with an analogy of dating. 

User stickiness is like finding someone you want to keep seeing. You come back to the app regularly because you enjoy it and want to keep connecting.  A high stickiness means the app is doing a great job maintaining users' interest!

On the other hand, user engagement is more akin to having a great conversation on a date. You're scrolling, clicking, and really using the app's features during your time there. High engagement means the app itself is interesting and keeps you involved.

So, what's the difference?

  • Stickiness is about the long haul– do you keep coming back to the app over time? 

Engagement is about right now–are you having a good time during each visit?

  • Sticky apps have loyal users. This is great for games or social media where you want people coming back often.

Engaging apps make each visit count. For example, this is important for news or shopping apps, where you want people to take action (like reading articles or buying things).

user stickiness vs. user engagement

What is the difference between user stickiness and user loyalty?

Like engagement, user stickiness and user loyalty are also two concepts that often get tossed around without much discretion.

They might seem similar, but they're actually quite different.

User loyalty is a step beyond stickiness. It's when you've formed a bond with the app that's not just about habit or convenience; it's deeper than that.

A loyal user doesn't just keep coming back; they're also less likely to switch to a competitor, even if other options exist. They are more likely to recommend the app to friends or defend it against negative comments.

A sticky app or product gets you to keep using it regularly, which is great for things like daily active user numbers. But a loyal user sticks around for the long haul, and their value goes beyond just usage — they become advocates for what you offer.

user stickiness vs. user loyalty

Understanding the importance of user stickiness 

User stickiness is an important metric to determine the success of your website or app. As Kajal Agarwal, actor and investor puts it:

Tracking user stickiness helps visualize this aspect. It helps improve your product based on user feedback. Higher user stickiness indicates that users are interested in what you’re offering and find value in it.

It also helps you improve your strategy to drive more engagement, retain more users, and eventually create a loyal user base. 

Let’s look at the importance of user stickiness in more detail:

1. Helps increase Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV)

Customer Lifetime Value is the total revenue a business can reasonably expect from a single customer account. It considers a customer’s revenue value and compares that number to the company’s predicted customer lifespan. 

User stickiness significantly contributes to a higher Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV). Businesses use this prediction to identify key customer segments that are the most valuable to the company for monetization. 

For example, Amazon Prime subscription has successfully used strategies to increase user stickiness — such as one-day delivery, video and music streaming, and exclusive deals for Prime members. 

These features have not only increased its user stickiness but also significantly increased the CLTV. 

According to a report by Business Insider, Amazon Prime members spend on average about $1,400 per year, compared to about $600 per year for non-members.

2. Helps lower Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC)

CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) is the cost associated with convincing a potential customer to buy your product. It includes the product cost as well as the cost involved in research, marketing, and accessibility costs.

User stickiness can significantly reduce the CAC. The lower the CAC, the better it is for the company as it means that the company is spending less money to acquire new customers.

For example, a report put out by Mint says that 80% of Apple Watch users are sticky: in other words, those who have an iPhone also have bought Apple watches.

That's because iOS locks in users and most of its features can only be truly unlocked when you use other Apple devices.

Image Source: Statista

iOS products don’t work or integrate well with software other than Apple's offerings. This increases user stickiness which keeps the CAC low since Apple doesn't have to spend all that much to opt in for its other products. Instead, Apple can invest these savings to improve already-existing products or services. This leads to better customer satisfaction, and again, further enhances user stickiness.

3. Sicky users are a competitive advantage

Businesses with a higher user stickiness get a competitive advantage in the industry against their competitors.

It all boils down to the question - How did your users feel when they first visited your site/app?

Let’s again take the example of Amazon Prime and how this sticky product has become its competitive advantage:

Image Source: History of Prime Day

If you are someone who shops online, you’ve likely shopped from Amazon more than once. In 2023 alone, Amazon has generated $574 billion in revenue. They have over 310 million active users with 230 million subscribed to Amazon Prime and about 80 million active listeners of Prime Music.

Amazon has a high user stickiness because of the app's ease of use, quick delivery, fast load times, cheap, and so many other factors. With a simple UI and ease of navigation, Amazon gives users exactly what they want - affordable products, a wide range of variety, and a safe shopping experience from the comfort of your home. 

But a more important factor that sets them apart is trust.

People trust Amazon and that’s one of the main reasons they keep returning to the app because they know Amazon delivers what it promises. 

Its competitor Snapdeal could not gain as much stickiness despite entering the market before Amazon did.

4. Nurtures growth by word of mouth

When users frequently come back to your platform and find value, they are more likely to recommend it to others in their network.

This is the basis for word of mouth — a form of organic marketing driven by happy users with the potential to start a recommendation chain.

A recent study was conducted studying the impact of word-of-mouth on consumers. It was found that Word of Mouth (WOM) has a significant impact on the buying decisions of individuals. 

Marketers can use this to their advantage and create strategies that initiate a positive word-of-mouth trend where your users become your marketers helping you drive more attention and traffic to your site or application.

In essence, user stickiness doesn’t just keep users coming back, it turns them into advocates, driving organic growth through word-of-mouth marketing.

How to measure user stickiness?

Now that we know user stickiness is a useful metric – let’s understand frameworks that will show you how to measure user stickiness for your product.

We’ll be talking about some of these concepts as we learn how to measure this metric:

  1. Stickiness Ratio [DAU/MAU]
  2. Net Promoter Score
  3. Session Duration
  4. Retention Rate
  5. Churn Rate

Here is the detailed explanation for each:

1) Stickiness Ratio

This stickiness ratio gives you the percentage of monthly users who are active daily. Let’s first understand what Daily Active Users and Monthly Active Users mean.

Daily Active Users (DAU)

Suggestive as the name is, Daily Active Users (DAU) simply tells the frequency of users interacting with your site/app daily. For example, if 5000 users are reaching your site or installing your app and 3500 of those are actively engaging with your platform, that would make your DAU 3500.

A high DAU suggests that people are finding your platform to be valuable enough to interact and engage with it. This is foundational but necessary to build grounds for the user stickiness of your platform.

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

Yes, you guessed it right. Monthly Active Users (MAU) is a metric that measures user engagement over a month. This metric is also useful for marketers to build marketing strategies for user retention by analyzing customer behavior.

MAU is calculated by measuring the number of users who interact and engage with the site/app at least once a month.

Calculating the stickiness ratio 

The formula for the stickiness ratio is simple: Divide your daily active users by monthly active users. Multiply by 100 to express it as a percentage. 

Stickiness Ratio = DAU/MAU

For example, if you have 500 DAU and 5000 MAU, your stickiness ratio is 10%.

2) Net Promoter Score

The Net Promoter Score, or NPS, is a way to find out how enthusiastic your users are about your app or product. 

The NPS can center around a simple question: "How likely are you to recommend this product/service to a friend?" Users answer on a scale of 0-10.

Now, what do these scores mean?

  • Promoters (score 9-10): These users are your biggest fans. They love what you do, are most likely to remain loyal, and spread positive word of mouth.
  • Passive (score 7-8): These are users who are somewhat satisfied but not too excited. There is always room to turn them into promoters, but they are also vulnerable to switching if a better option comes along.
  • Detractors (score 0-6): These users are unhappy. There's a high risk they'll churn (leave) and discourage others from trying you out.

Here’s how to calculate NPS: 

NPS = % of Promoters - % of Detractors

This gives you a score that could range from -100 (everyone's a detractor) to +100 (everyone loves you).
Loyal, "sticky" users are the foundation of a successful business. NPS is critical because it tells you about who's likely to stick around. A High NPS means more promoters and long-term customers. Detractors highlight pain points that, if fixed, can stop customers from leaving.

3) Session Duration

Session duration measures the length of time a user spends interacting with a product in a single session. It provides insights into user engagement and stickiness, with longer durations typically indicating higher levels of interest and engagement.

A session starts from the very moment a user arrives at your website. It ends when they exit or become inactive for a certain period. This session stays valid and continues as long as users are interacting with your site.

Of course, stickiness is of no value if your users come back often but only for two seconds.

The simple formula to measure session duration is 

Total Duration of all sessions / No. of sessions

4) Retention Rates

Customer retention rate is an important metric that analyzes the percentages of users who persistently use an app over a given period. This metric is used as a clear indicator of an app’s ability to engage, hold, and bring a user to stay on your platform. 

Customer retention and user stickiness are two different metrics, but they share a common goal - knowing the proportion of users who keep coming back to the site/app, either just to get information, or perform a specific user action like signing up or making a purchase. And it is this similarity between the two, that makes it possible to gauge user stickiness from user engagement. 

The formula to measure the retention rate is:

Retention rate = [(users at the end of the period - users added during the period)/ users at the beginning of the period] * 100

While a high retention rate shows you higher user stickiness of your platform, lower user retention can help you identify things in your site/app that need to be improved for a better user experience.

5) Churn Rate

The churn rate tells you how many users you’re losing within a defined period. It is the exact opposite of the retention rate. The lower the churn rate, the "stickier" your product is.

The formula to calculate the churn rate is:

Churn Rate = (Users Lost / Users at Start of Period) x 100

For instance, if you started the month with 500 users, and you lose 50, your churn rate is 10%.

To calculate user stickiness properly using the churn rate, follow these steps:

  1. Calculate monthly churn rate: monthly measurements give you a direct measure of how many users you are losing each month.
  2. Analyze churn rate over time: track churn rate over several months to see the trends in user stickiness.
  3. Compare to your industry: find out whether you are doing better or worse than average.
  4. Use cohort analysis: break down your users into cohorts based on their sign-up dates. Track each cohort's churn rate separately to understand how long users stay engaged.
  5. Calculate retention rate: you can also measure stickiness by finding out the retention rate by using the formula Retention Rate = 100 – Churn Rate.

What is the optimal user stickiness ratio?

User stickiness ratio derived from Daily Active Users (DAU) and Monthly Active Users (MAU) lets you peek into your customer engagement, your retention success, and the growth potential of your app or service, as we’ve already covered. 

However, there's no single "ideal" stickiness ratio. 

The optimal target depends on your industry and product type. SaaS companies should aim for at least a 13% stickiness ratio, with industry leaders often surpassing 20%.
For e-commerce platforms, a ratio of 10% or higher is preferred, while social media platforms require very high stickiness, often upwards of 20%. 

Since the primary revenue streams for most social media platforms are advertising and data monetization, a high user-stickiness ratio implies that users spend more time on the platform. This increases their exposure to advertisements, which in turn, is directly proportional to higher ad revenue.

Freemium products walk a fine line — they need to provide enough value in the free version to encourage upgrades while still maintaining a healthy stickiness ratio for paying customers.

For example, Duolingo, a language learning app maximizes user stickiness by incorporating gamification principles in UX. Also, personalized playlists and exclusive content have kept Spotify incredibly sticky, with a stickiness rate of 28%, and have made the platform so dominant in music streaming. 

Beyond the numbers, the core value your product delivers, the ease of its user experience, habit-forming features within the product, strong onboarding, and ongoing support all impact its stickiness.

Stickiness doesn’t stay static, it requires constant monitoring and a will to improve. When you understand the benchmarks and the factors that influence stickiness, you are powered to improve the user stickiness of your mobile app or service.

Here is a table of the desired user stickiness figures for different industries:

user stickiness for various industries

Source: What is user stickiness? | Adjust

Problems with user stickiness as a metric that you must consider

The classical DAU/MAU metric may not reveal true insights. Why?

Suppose you're figuring out if your product or app is truly catching on with users. How do you know if everyone is coming back regularly, or is it just a few loyalists keeping the numbers afloat?

But how does DAU/MAU fall short of revealing the full picture?

  • Firstly, DAU/MAU masks any inactivity. It can look healthy even if users are barely engaging. Someone opening the app for a few seconds counts the same as someone using it for hours.
  • Next, DAU/MAU doesn’t indicate churn. A user can be counted as "active" in a month but never return afterward. It doesn't reflect those who've stopped using your product entirely.
  • Further, DAU/MAU hides deeper engagement patterns. It doesn’t tell you how frequently someone returns within that month. A deeper context is needed to understand actual user stickiness.

Another thing to note about DAU/MAU is that it treats all users the same. Let's say you're managing a fitness app. You could have a group of hardcore users who log their workouts religiously and another group who pop in once in a blue moon to check their stats. DAU/MAU won't tell you the difference — it'll just give you an average.

Worse yet, some companies try to "hack" their DAU/MAU. 

Some may spam annoying notifications just to get people to open the app – but that's not real engagement, it's just artificial inflation. Read this insightful blog by Charlie Taylor to find out more about how DAU/MAU misleads. 

So, what's a better way? We'll advise that instead of just looking at the overall ratio, break it down. Look at how often different types of users are engaging.

  • Are they new or returning?
  • What features are they using?

A breakdown will give you a much clearer picture of who's truly sticking around and who's just dropping in occasionally.

When you focus on true engagement, you build a product people genuinely love, not just one that looks good on a spreadsheet.

How to increase your user stickiness?

Getting your app to "stick" means actually knowing your users.

What makes them tick?

What do they love, and what drives them crazy about your app?

Figure that out, then give them more of the good stuff and fix what annoys them. 

This may sound easy – but we know it's not!

Like anything worth doing, it takes trial and error. Here are some ideas to get you started on making your app more sticky: 

1) Make user stickiness a priority metric

You can't improve what you don't measure — that's true for user stickiness too. It might not be on your current dashboard, but it definitely should be. We have already covered various ways to measure user stickiness in the previous section of this guide.

Once you know your starting point and you have a goal set up to achieve, you can try out different strategies to boost that stickiness as discussed further.

2) Refine your onboarding process

First things first — make that initial onboarding process count. We have covered this in detail here with many examples for your inspiration — 25 best user onboarding examples with best practices

It's not just about the value you offer, it's about how well it matches what your user needs. Different customers might use your product in unique ways, so tailor those early experiences.

A way to go about doing this is to create comprehensive and targeted user personas.

Consider below questions:

  • What was the user's main reason for choosing you?
  • What features excite them the most?
  • What’s their background?
  • How did they learn about your app?

The more data points you have, the better – but you also cannot ask too many questions during onboarding (else they may feel your onboarding is too long). With these insights, they can create personalized onboarding flows that adapt based on their chosen options. This will help you show the user immediate value that aligns with their user persona.

Nudge helps you design onboarding tours that adapt to your audience. You can create custom flows using walkthroughs, checklists, and more for effective onboarding:

user onboarding and activation

Your onboarding showing a fast payoff is key to keeping them engaged. When users see how you solve their problems, they'll be much more likely to come back for more — whether that's for an upgrade, subscription renewal, or purchasing add-on services. That's true user stickiness!

Here are some pointers to implementing a wonderful onboarding process for your app/site:

  • Set up a welcome screen to make a good first impression. Start with a warm welcome message while keeping the design clean and visually appealing. Include a brief statement about what the app does and its core value proposition.
  • Offer a simple and quick sign-up process. Users should be able to register using their email or social media accounts for convenience.
  • Implement progressive onboarding to introduce features as users navigate through the app. Highlight key functionalities with brief, interactive tutorials, spotlights, or tooltips.
  • Request permissions in context. Explain why they are needed and how they enhance the user experience.
  • Make help resources easy to find. Offer a FAQ section or a chatbot for instant support.
  • Send a follow-up email or push notification thanking users for signing up and reminding them of unfinished onboarding steps.

3) Keep users coming back by providing consistent value

Your users expect your product to evolve so that they can get more value. Regular updates with bug fixes, performance boosts, and new features show users you're invested in making the experience better. Further, with a consistent brand and support, the customer knows what kind of service to expect from you. Such familiarity and value make it a no-brainer for them to keep choosing you.

Try to get your users involved in the process as well. Gather their feedback and actually build the features they're asking for. Companies that try to understand their users see a 6-10% increase in revenue, which is two to three times faster than those that do not. That makes them feel heard, and it guarantees those updates will be a hit.

For example, the popular messaging app Slack is a case in point. Slack is known for its commitment to continuous improvement and regular updates. Slack has implemented mechanisms such as Slack Connect to gather and utilize user feedback effectively.

slack connect

Slack Connect gathers customer feedback on features that are being developed. They have a network of Slack Champions where they share early prototypes or pre-releases of upcoming features. Slack also integrates with third-party feedback management tools to ensure that customer needs are heard and addressed. 

Slack’s approach to continuously improving its product led to a substantial increase in revenue and productivity for sales teams. A study highlighted a 296% return on investment and a $2.6 million increase in revenue due to improved sales velocity.

Value delivered consistently is the way to consistent stickiness.

4) Pay attention to the user journey

Companies map out their ideal user journey in the early days and then forget about it. But customers evolve and your product needs to keep up by evolving its features and marketing copy too.

Take a look at this case study of a to-do list app by ASO World. They constantly analyzed how users were interacting with the app to identify bottlenecks or confusing parts. This lets them smooth out the experience and make the app feel more intuitive.

Dive back into the user journey — just like how it was done in the case study.

It'll reveal the spots where you're nailing when it comes to your user engagement strategies and also where there might be a bit of friction. Figure out why users leave, focus laser-sharp on those pain points, and then double down on the value you provide.

5) Your value proposition should be loud and clear in the copy

The best way to get users hooked is to know exactly what makes you special. What problem do you solve better than anyone else?

That core value proposition is something everyone on your team needs to live and breathe. It keeps your messages powerful, and more importantly, makes sure your teams deliver on that promise every single day. The same should be reflected in your app’s UX copy and flows to emphasize on your value proposition.

Here’s a good resource to understand the concept of value proposition – VP Canvas by FourWeekMBA

how to design your value proposition

For example, Zoom's value proposition is centered around its ability to connect people anywhere, on any device, through a reliable video conferencing platform. It addresses a common problem — ineffective and unreliable communication solutions for remote or distributed teams.

This value proposition has been monumental in Zoom's rapid growth, especially in the wake of an increase in remote work and virtual interactions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their whole onboarding process, marketing copy, and features are aligned to make remote communication feasible.

6) Streamline your app’s user experience

A frictionless UX is like a freshly paved road, with no bumps or delays to annoy your users. That kind of smoothness is key to keeping them hooked. Poor UX leads to user abandonment; 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience

The best apps are constantly evolving with improved features and even better experiences.

Here are some tips to consider when streamlining your UX to improve user stickiness:

  • Make it easy to get around: clear navigation and logical sequences mean users can find what they need without getting lost in menus. Think of it as putting up helpful road signs.
  • Respect every user: build your app to be accessible from the start. This means screen reader support and designing for different abilities.
  • Don't make users wait: speed things up – optimized images and code make your app load lightning fast, so users don't get impatient.
  • Look good on any screen: your app has to look and feel polished whether it's on a phone, tablet, or computer. Consistent design keeps the experience familiar.
  • Provide helpful hints: Visual cues and animations are important for guiding users through tricky parts and making sure they feel confident using your app.

Remember that users do understand when the UX is smooth and intuitive. The above tips help amplify this feeling of ‘getting it’ quickly, thus making them naturally come back.

You can consider using Nudge to implement in-app nudges like tooltips, coachmarks, spotlight, and more visual cues around your app to facilitate UX – explore in-app nudges by Nudge.

in-app nudges

7) Personalize the user experience 

Personalization works magically to keep users coming back.

According to a Forrester survey, 77% of customers prioritize companies that offer personalized experiences.

Use what you know about your users from personas designed in previous steps — for example, their preferences and past activity to make the app adjust just for them. Send out recommended content they'll love or notifications that are helpful to their current workflow.

Features like custom profiles and tailored experiences, especially if done automatically also help. It shows users you're paying attention to make their experience feel special. 

Also, reminder in-app messages for tasks or re-targeting have shown results. They're a friendly way to nudge customers when it's time to renew a subscription or try a newly released feature relevant to them. The key is to make them personal — think about what they bought before. What might complement that purchase with your latest update?

8) Take user feedback

You want to know why some customers become fans while others fade away, right? The best way to ask them — surveys and interviews are your keys to unlocking this.

A study found that companies that regularly collect user feedback through surveys and interviews see a retention rate increase of up to 15%.

For instance, Apple is famous for its Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, which ask customers how likely they are to recommend Apple. They help them gauge customer loyalty and identify improvement areas.

apple's nps score

Image Source: Twitter

Similarly, Airbnb heavily relies on feedback from both hosts and guests. They use surveys to collect post-stay ratings and comments to maintain the quality standards of the platform while addressing concerns.

airbnb surveys

Image Source: Airbnb

Ask satisfied customers what clicked for them, and what features are absolutely essential. That’ll help in understanding what makes your product or service better than the rest.

9) Keep an eye on the user’s network

This means you should check how your users are reacting to your application within their network or via their behavior. Here are two ways to get insights about your user stickiness and their thoughts about your app:

Check for social media mentions

Social listening tools like Hootsuite or Mention can track conversations across social media about your app or service.  Watch out for the good, the bad, and the "meh" — and be quick to reply, especially to any concerns.

Start loyalty or referral programs

Using referral programs and loyalty points, you give your users a reason to come back and continue engaging.

For example, you can set up a loyalty program like how Dunkin Donuts has done. For every order they provide you five points – which you can redeem to get free beverages or donuts.

dunkin' donut's loyalty program

Image Source: Fortune

Such features help you incentivize your users to keep choosing our brand — and thus, increasing repeat purchase rates.

Another way to track user stickiness is how willing are your users to participate in referral programs. If they can actively refer their network to use more of your app, it may indicate you do have some level of good user stickiness. To measure, use the metrics discussed in previous sections.

Nudge allows you to set up gamified referral programs to improve user engagement – and thus, user stickiness – explore Nudge for gamified referrals

gamified referral program

Here’s one more trick to improve user stickiness — gift cards.

Taking the example of Dunkin Donuts, they use the ‘gift cards’ trick to make existing users invite their network to try their products.

You can see how it allows for customizing the gift card – which is an example of personalizing UX for user stickiness.

Explore no-code user experience platform to improve user stickiness

Improving user stickiness will require iterations for your UX flows to know what is working with your audience.

No code UX platforms like Nudge will help you design unique experiences across onboarding, gamification, feature adoption, nudges, and more at a fraction of the development cost – book a demo to know how we can help.

Sakshi Gupta
May 31, 2024