How to Build Sustainable User Engagement

Consistent user engagement is a fundamental metric when it comes to the success of a digital product. Of course, engagement will look different depending on the type of app, website or service in question. However, users returning frequently and taking meaningful actions is the crux of it. Now, while you can incorporate persuasive design elements into apps and websites to give users a nudge in the right direction, you need more if you are going to keep users coming back time and time again. To achieve sustainable user engagement, a larger strategy is needed and a framework that will support the changing experience over time. 

What is User Engagement?

In simple terms, user engagement is the percentage of users who remain active with a product over a specific period of time. However, these users need to truly interact with the product and the term ‘active’ needs to be clearly defined. A good user engagement rate might be achieved by a certain volume of users logging in daily for one product but only monthly for another. Either way, users realise value in a regular way. 

If the engagement rate is high, it will generally indicate that the product or service is doing pretty well. However, if the rate drops, it can be a sign of future problems. This can happen when engagement is focused on new users and not the ongoing user journey. 

The Power of Persuasion

Persuasion is certainly a useful technique when it comes to gently pushing users into taking an action. This can include using scarcity, communicating  authority or using social proof. However, if used too frequently, these methods can fail to deliver ongoing engagement and at times can have the opposite effect. Persuasive techniques can come across as tricks, which does little to build trust. 

When it comes down to it, while users can be persuaded to try a product, to sign up or communicate in some way, they can never be forced to love a product. To get that level of user engagement, it’s necessary to truly understand the user journey, working at all times to solve user problems and provide something that is useful to them. The user experience can certainly involve persuasion techniques, especially at moments when decisions are required, but they need to form part of a larger strategy that is based on user needs. 

Designing for the Full User Experience

When it comes to the needs of users, new users will be looking for something entirely different from those who have been using a product for years. This means that at any given moment, there are different users using a product for different things in different contexts. 

When it comes to designing for the full user experience, products should have a tailored user experience for all the different users and contexts. This means accommodating the full lifecycle of users with a view to creating an integrated experience that may lead to behaviour change. Initial persuasive design might encourage users or visitors to complete their profile, make a booking or follow through with a purchase. However, it’s vital for these elements to be used at the right moments and intertwined with the experience over time. Instead of designing for short-term conversions, design should focus on ongoing use as this is what will drive sustainable user engagement. 

Strategies to Improve User Engagement

While persuasive techniques have their place, there are many more effective ways to build sustainable user engagement:

  • Make a good first impression – the onboarding process for a product is the first experience that users will often have. This is the hook for long-term engagement. Motivation will likely be high, so it’s the moment to personally welcome users, walk them through key features, help them to accomplish meaningful actions and deliver immediate value. 
  • Employ UX writing – the microcopy in a digital product is just as, if not more, important than the longer copy. Avoid technical jargon and keep things simple wherever possible. Great UX writing will help power words and CTAs to jump out of white space and can help a brand to inject some personality too. 
  • Offer rewards – by offering rewards for completing each step or action, users can be motivated to continue. These may be simple things like ticks on a checklist or more complex animated windows. Rewards can help to create habit loops where users begin to engage in continued behaviour. 
  • Use progressive disclosure – when and where you communicate about useful features can make all the difference to user engagement. Emails and blog posts can announce new features but in-app communication is even more important. Make sure to launch new products in the right way and to not overload users with unnecessary information. 
  • Trigger actions based on behaviour –  if every user is subscribed to the same user journey or the same email communications, there is no way they will all be satisfied. Emails and events should be triggered by in-app behaviour. Timing is critical as users will always have a preference for ideas they are already familiar with. 
  • Collect feedback – a key way to constantly improve user engagement is to collect and act upon qualitative feedback. As well as analytical tools that highlight what isn’t working, it’s vital to find out why. Live chats, user surveys and session recordings can provide critical insights, help to build empathy and highlight commonly experienced issues. 
  • Remove unnecessary features – it’s fundamental to know what users don’t need as well as what they do need. If a product has too many features, it can lose focus. While it can be a difficult decision to remove features that have taken significant development time, if they’re not being used, they should go. 

Could You Improve the User Engagement of Your Solutions? 

When it comes to product engagement, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Everything you design will have a different purpose, and every user will be different. This means that improving user engagement takes some trial and error. However, there are countless opportunities to increase user engagement, each of which will make a difference. Whether you focus on making a better first impression, listening to user feedback or stripping out unnecessary features, every step will help. And, if you can improve user experience, then you have a far better chance of creating sustainable growth. 

In summary, here are some ideas for how you could improve user engagement:

  • Excel at onboarding – making a great first impression can create a hook for long-term engagement.
  • Use simple language – avoiding technical jargon and keeping things simple will help users to achieve their goals.
  • Hold something back – giving users too much information at once can be overwhelming; consider where they are on their journey.
  • Collect user feedback – understanding why something isn’t working is the first step towards fixing it.
  • Pare back features – removing unused features will help users focus on the ones they do need and want. 
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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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