App Session: Definition & Methods to Improve App Engagement

Alex Danchenko

Co-founder, Reteno

November 11, 2022

With around 6 million apps available both for Android and iOS users, developers and marketers constantly compete for users and their attention. However, user engagement isn’t something you get easily, and you should rely on marketing activities and an outstanding user experience to improve it. To discover if your initiatives are successful or not, consider monitoring various metrics, such as the app session, which we will elaborate on in this article.

What Is an App Session?

An app session, or session length, is the amount of time a user spends actively using an app. Mobile app session analysis helps to find out if an app's goals are fulfilled. Thanks to this metric, app developers and marketers can identify app usage trends. Session analysis unveils how users interact with an app with the help of two types of information: session metadata (in other words, session length) and usage data (in-app events). Knowing what users do (or don’t) lets the experts improve user engagement and retention. 

In general, an app session starts when a user opens an app and ends when a user closes an app. However, it’s not that easy to determine how long a session lasts. A user may open an app, actively engage with it, and then close it, and do so several times a day. Also, a user may open, let’s say, a music streaming app, turn on the music and then lock their phone. In this case, the interaction lasts for a couple of minutes, but the music may play for hours.  

Why Are Session Lengths Important for Marketers?

As it has already been said, an app session, or session length, is the amount of time a user engages with your app. Another essential metric — average session length — identifies average interaction time.  

Session data provides a lot of information on the user engagement metric. Average session duration allows you to discover the average benchmark by industry, gender, age, and more. Therefore, session data is vital for marketers and other experts who work on app improvement: if you know how, when, and for how long the users use an app, you can see if the app’s objectives are fulfilled and improve user engagement if necessary. 

Even though session length is a useful metric, it can easily be misused. In this case, it will cause misleading insights and false conclusions, and, as a result, you may make your app work incorrectly and waste resources to achieve inappropriate goals. Here are some common misuses:

  • Taking session duration as the main goal. In trying to make users spend more time on your app, you may simply make the processes longer instead of increasing engagement and making the app more useful. 
  • Calculating session length in a user-based fashion. Sessions are formed by closely connected periods of activity, not by compiling all of a user’s activity over a given timeframe. For example, when it comes to social media apps, there may be a range of short sessions while the user actually checks for updates several times per day.

Why Longer Session Time Doesn’t Always Mean Higher Engagement?

The first idea one may assume after learning about average session length is that it’s always “the longer — the better.” However, this depends on many aspects. Most digital marketers say that the average session duration lasts just several minutes. One might think that anything above this is a good result. In fact, this number varies from category to category. 

You can’t compare a race car and a microcar in terms of speed, and the same goes for different types of apps — you can’t compare them in terms of average session length. If you run an educational app, of course, a longer session time is a good sign. At the same time, if you run a food delivery app, longer sessions may mean that users are experiencing problems. 

Benchmark your app’s average session duration by industry. Industry benchmarks are a good choice if you want to track user behavior and improve your app to achieve common engagement benchmarks. 

How to Measure Session Length

To calculate session length, subtract the timestamp when the user opened the app from the timestamp when the user closed it. To calculate the average session duration, divide the sum of individual session lengths by the total number of sessions during that timeframe. 

There are several ways to visualize this data:

  • A single-value chart. This shows raw statistics, but you can add numbers or symbols to show changes compared to the previous time period.
  • A line chart. This allows you to visualize how app session duration changes over time. 
  • A histogram — choose this if you need deeper insights. 

To facilitate the calculations and visualize the results, consider the following tools. The most popular option for data collection is Google Analytics. Some other options include Mixpanel, which offers similar functionality to Google’s, and Chartio for visualization. 

When measuring average session length, be careful with outliers. Don’t use average session length as given: beware of outlier sessions that can be much shorter or longer. Also, check if there are any 0-length sessions. They occur when a start or end session event isn’t sent or logged. Check users’ actions during their 0-length session. If these are errors, you may want to remove these records from the summary.

Five Ways to Improve Session Quality & Boost App Engagement

Here are five initiatives for how to improve session quality and boost app engagement:

  1. Push Notifications

Push notifications can help you draw more attention and increase the number of sessions. You can provide your users with helpful information (for example, about relevant promotions), educate and entertain them, or build a rapport by thanking them for their activity. Here are a few other notification ideas:

  • Welcome notifications. These may be the first interaction with a user after signing up. The next step is to let them know about how your app works — a series of notifications with tips may be useful during the onboarding process. 
  • Exclusive offers. Inform your audience about discounts, special offers, promos, etc. It’s best to personalize the promo activities for enhanced engagement.
  1. App Personalization 

Personalizing the user experience is an effective way to increase user engagement and prolong average session duration. Allowing for account customization or recommendations relevant to specific user functionality improves the user experience. As a result, your audience is more likely to spread the word about your app, allowing you to nail word-of-mouth marketing. It’s a win-win situation for a business: you have more satisfied and loyal users and increased downloads. 

Personalization is an indispensable tool for promotion initiatives if you market your goods and services via your app. Let’s say you’re an online store or a delivery app. Providing customers with personalized recommendations and offers can help you sell more and more often.

  1. Motivation 

Reward your users for increased engagement to foster even higher engagement rates. Consider conducting social media contests and offering prize draws. Besides fulfilling their primary duty, it’s a good chance to diversify the user experience with some buzz and fun. 

Another working motivation initiative is the good old loyalty scheme. Users can get some free in-app currency, a discount on the next subscription, or try a premium version for free. You don’t only boost customer engagement but also can let the audience try your paid functionality, therefore, increasing the number of in-app purchases in the future. 

  1. Gamification

Gamification is helping to increase user engagement regardless of app type and audience. It has become popular across various mobile app niches. For example, fitness apps may add leaderboards for users to exceed their sporting achievements. Learning apps may opt for scoreboards, personalized badges based on user achievements, and even in-app competitions (for example, for the best translation version).

All these features encourage a user’s brain to release more dopamine, improving satisfaction and delivering more pleasure. As a result, user desire to interact with the app increases, and so does their engagement.

  1. Social Aspect

Socializing is an integral part of human well-being, and the internet allows users to communicate with their friends and relatives with little to no limits. Allowing your audience to share their in-app achievement on social media or communicate with the app’s audience boosts community development. This, in turn, generates new connections and encourages users to spend more time on your app. If you don’t know how to embed this functionality, consider Firebase.

Final Thoughts

While session length isn’t the only metric to measure and improve user engagement, it’s worth estimating as your key KPI to enhance user acquisition and retention. You can send push notifications to draw more attention to your app, add app personalization features to let users find interesting content, or motivate the audience to use your app more with the help of rewards. If you don’t know how to launch a user engagement campaign, consider Reteno. We offer ready-made campaigns to win loyal customers.

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