STOP THE LEAK: 90% of Mobile Users Will Abandon the Website in 90 Days

A few weeks back, I wrote a comprehensive article on the First Steps To Understanding Where Your Mobile Presence Fails. As a follow up on that post, I’m now ready to share with you the number one metric that will make or break your mobile presence: RETENTION!

And I hate to be the one to give you the news: on average, 90% of your mobile users will churn within a 3 month period.

I know you won’t take my word for it … and you shouldn’t. That’s why I’m going to guide you step-by-step through the process of identifying the retention rate for your mobile website. But first, a bit of theory to better understand why this is actually the most important metric you’ll ever track for your business.

Vanity vs. Real Metrics

Many publishers claim they’re data-driven. What does that even mean? Making Google Analytics dashboard your homepage and tracking how many users accessed your website? Counting the likes your Facebook page gathered? Or how many e-mail subscribers you have in Mailchimp? And where does the “driven” part comes into play?

Whenever you look at a metric, ask yourself: “Can I act on it?”. If the answer is NO, then that’s a vanity metric. If all it does is stroke your ego, it won’t help. You can use the number of downloads, likes or followers as PR, but don’t base your business decisions on them.

Consider, for example, “total subscribers”. This is a vanity metric. The number can only increase over time and it tells you nothing about what those subscribers are doing when they receive your e-mail blast or whether they’re valuable to you. They may have subscribed for the newsletter and then vanished forever.

The real metric of interest – the actionable one – is usually represented as a “percentage”. “Total active users” – this is a bit better, assuming that you’ve done a decent job of defining an active subscriber. At this point, it’s still a vanity metric, but by adding the time factor to it (“active subscribers acquired on a monthly basis”) we now have a real metric! If that number goes up this month as a result of something you’ve changed on your website, then this tells you that what you’ve done had a positive impact. Alternatively, if the growth percentage is negative compared to the previous months, that’s actually a critical metric – you won’t like it, but you can ACT on it … and you should!

That being said, avoid vanity metrics such as number of hits, number of page views, number of visits or unique visitors, followers/friends/likes, number of subscribers or number of downloads. Instead, start thinking in funnels and percentages.

AARRR – Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics

This term was coined a couple of years ago by venture capitalist Dave McClure and it’s the way many startups today are looking at their metrics to extract valuable insights on how their business is affected. We’re also using it at Appticles and I’m happy to show you how it can be applied for publishers of all sizes.

McClure categorizes these metrics into: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue and Referral (AARRR!). In other words, these are the steps through which a user must progress in order for your business to extract value from it.


The key is to define each of the above steps for your website/business. Usually, you’ll have something along the lines of:

  1. Acquisition
    Since we’re talking about mobile, this should answer the following question: how do users become aware of your mobile website? A relevant metric is mobile traffic (daily sessions or daily uniques).
  2. Activation
    This is where it gets really interesting: when does a visitor become an active user on your mobile website? What is an active user? It might be that he or she subscribed to your newsletter or interacted in some shape or form with your content: shared/liked it, read more than 75% of it, read at least two articles or spent at least 1 minute on your mobile website.
  3. Retention
    Finally the topic of our discussion: how many users are returning to your mobile website? How many are exhibiting a desire to come back? What is the time since their last visit? Google Analytics makes it insanely easy to identify this metric: “Returning Visitor”.
  4. Revenue
    This is where you’d want to track your ad revenue or, depending on your business model, your shopping cart value.
  5. Referral
    And of course, how many of your users are referring others through shares.

Sometimes you’ll see users refer others before actually spending any money or returning several times before subscribing to your newsletter, so the order of the above metrics is not a strict one, but it’s a good framework for thinking about how your mobile website should grow.

How to Measure Retention Rate for Your Mobile Website

Enough with the theory, let’s get practical. Here’s what you need to do to get to the retention rate in Google Analytics:

1. Navigate to Audience > Overview and make sure you segment it by “Mobile and Tablet Traffic”.

Mobile and Tablet Traffic

2. You’ll immediately notice the New Visitor vs. Returning Visitor blue-green pie chart

New Visitors vs. Returning Visitors

In the above example, it’s clear that the retention rate for the time period we chose is a little over 22%. In other words, out of all of our mobile users that we had in the last 30 days, only 2 out of 10 have returned to the website at least once.

Is that good or bad? To put things into perspective, let’s look at how the desktop website performs by adding the “Desktop Traffic” in the filtering options.

Mobile vs. Desktop Traffic

As you can see, users that are interacting with your desktop website are more likely to come back. With a 42% retention rate for desktop users, the percentage we got for mobile visitors suddenly doesn’t look that good, right?

Retention (Mobile vs. Desktop)

If this is similar with what you’ve found in your own Google Analytics dashboard, I would suggest having a deeper look at other aspects, such as: Avg. Session Duration, Sessions and Pageviews. Chances are that the mobile version underperforms the desktop website in all aspects.

Google Analytics Avg. Session Duration, Sessions and Pageviews

Don’t freak out just yet! 😃 You have to understand that the way mobile users are browsing websites is quite different than on desktop – we identified 13 essential behavior differences that you can read about. That being said, it’s not uncommon to see that the average session duration is considerably lower than on desktop.

Let’s think about it from a personal, but practical perspective. When browsing, you grab a laptop and satisfy your curiosity for products or services. However, if you have a specific intent in mind, you reach for your smartphone and perform a quick search. As it turns out, mobile users are generally on the hunt for specific information, while time consuming activities are usually reserved for the comfort of PCs.

Yet, we’re talking about content here. Ideally, your mobile users should fall in love with your articles and stick around for months to come. Research conducted by Microsoft and Financial Times shows that mobile user activity usually peaks during morning (6AM to 9AM) and evenings (6PM to 11PM), while desktop users performed their online activities mostly during working hours (9AM to 6PM).


Why aren’t your mobile users following the same pattern? You’re clearly doing a great job on desktop, so what’s preventing the mobile users to return to your content more often? That’s where cohort analysis comes into play.

Mobile Cohort Analysis for your Website

A cohort is a group of people who share a common characteristic over a certain period of time. For example, all the mobile users that accessed your website in a certain week can be considered a cohort. This is their commonality.

Cohort analysis is easy with Google Analytics: just navigate to Audience > Cohort Analysis, keeping the same segmentation active (“Mobile and Tablet Traffic”). If you set the cohort size to “by month” and date range to “last 3 months” you should end up with something like below:

Mobile Cohort Analysis

The cohort analysis table tells you that out of the users that accessed your mobile website between February 1st and February 29th, only 2.10% returned in the second month, 0.91% in the third month respectively 0.51% in the fourth. Same logic applies for those mobile users accessing your mobile website in March and April.

If you remember, at the beginning of this article, I told you that 90% of your mobile users will churn within 3 months and you shouldn’t take my word for it. In the above example the reality is even more dramatic, but what you’re mostly interested in is YOUR magic number. Well, what is it?

If you lose most of your mobile readers within 3 months, it’s time to ACT fast! Using the same cohort analysis, but sized by week, you could play around with various aspects of your mobile website and see how it influences the retention rate for that particular cohort.

Say you feel like a certain type of content should be pushed above the fold for your mobile users. Do that for a week and measure the impact for that cohort. Has the retention rate gone up? If the answer is YES, than you can make it a regular thing.

Same thought process applies when adding new features to your mobile website: did it positively influence the retention rate? You can also invert the question: what are the features that would increase the retention rate on my mobile website? Testing it by cohorts will actually identify those that have the biggest impact.

That’s how you STOP THE LEAK! There’s no universal patch for it. Only discipline – the discipline of improving your retention rate by experimenting with your mobile website and analyzing your cohorts. Don’t just trust the “default” responsive website your developer put in place for you. One size fits all worked a couple of years ago. The mobile user today is more versatile and you need to discover the sweet spot if you want to grow your business.

I imagine you have a lot of questions after getting to that magic number on your Google Analytics dashboard. Need further help understanding the root of your retention rate issue? Drop me a line and I’d be happy to assist.

CEO at Appticles. Tech-Biz in between guy. Passionate about entrepreneurship. Love to play tennis.


  1. i like your comprehensive analysis regarding mobile website, nowadays people will leave a website with less content and high advertisement on it. the metric given by you show how people usually do it

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