How we optimize UA channels to increase user retention in the CBS Sports app

By Trace Ronning | September 7, 2016

Acquiring new mobile users is great, but to really grow your mobile app – especially if it’s free-to-use – optimizing for user retention is priority number one. This is especially true with my company, CBS Sports Digital. The world of sports is action-packed, even when there aren’t any games on, and my job is to bring in users who regularly open the CBS Sports app to check scores, read news, and watch videos about the teams and sports they love.

The CBS Sports app has seen very positive growth since launched, but we still work obsessively to improve user retention rates. This post shares my top 3 tips for optimizing your user acquisition channels to increase user retention.

1) Get granular with your analytics

When you’re working with several partners, ad networks, ad exchanges, and other install sources, it’s important to understand the overall quality of the traffic they drive. But it’s even more important to dig deeper to maximize your user retention for each channel.

If you’re buying impressions on an ad network, look at where your ads are being placed and the retention rates associated with each placement. You might see great retention rates in a few placements, but very poor engagement with others. If the placements with poor engagement are bad enough that it drags down the quality of the whole network, you might be tempted to shut down spending completely.

Marketers who take the time to get more granular with their data, however, will see an opportunity to improve their results by simply shutting down spend on the poor performing placements, and re-allocating that budget to the high-performing placements.

At CBS Sports, we look at the quality of installs driven by each affiliate network we work with. There’s nothing worse than pausing campaigns for an entire network or partner when you can simply turn off one or two of their sources and acquire quality users for your app.

2) Pay attention to seasonal trends

Seasonality can have a huge impact on how active your newly acquired users are. At CBS Sports, we found that users who install the app just before or early into the season of their favorite sport are more engaged and retain the app longest. As such, you won’t see app install ads from CBS Sports about baseball in the middle of winter, when the NFL and NBA are in full swing.

Another trend worth monitoring are your App Store and Play Store organic rankings. When your ranking is high, consider scaling back your spend on paid user acquisition, otherwise you may end up paying for installs you would have gotten for free. For example, we see a high volume of organic downloads during college basketball’s March Madness because so many people want to fill out brackets for the tournament.

3) Get smart with your deep links

With deep links, we have the ability to enrich a new user’s app experience by sending them to the content, service or product featured in the mobile ad they clicked on. Perhaps ability is the wrong word to use there. The way I see it, we have the duty to use deep links and send users to content that matches the experience they had with the ad.

Deep links help improve initial engagement rates, which go a long way toward improving long-term retention rates. After all, it’s impossible to keep a user around for 3+ months if they give up on the app after their first experience.

At CBS Sports, our deep linking strategy is simple, yet effective. If a new user installs the app after viewing an ad featuring baseball, we lead them to the baseball home screen. The same goes for football, basketball, and every other sport we feature in ads.

Long-term user retention is a challenge for any app marketer, but using the tips above should help you develop a user acquisition strategy that brings in users who engage with your app now and in the future.