By Peter Ramsey
30 Aug 23
How (not) to get people to download your app
Why is it that everyone wants you to download their app?
Aside from gaining access to more data (e.g., location tracking), app users tend to be more engaged with the product, and spend more money.
It's no suprise then, that Reddit are keen to transition their 1.6 billion monthly active users, onto their native applications.
But their aggressive strategy of canibalising the web experience, and essentially blocking third party apps, might not be working.
In this UX analysis, I'll highlight exactly what they're doing wrong, and how you can improve your conversion rates (i.e., downloads that lead to returning users).
As you can see, Reddit are killing their mobile web experience in an attempt to get you to download their apps.
But what about once you have downloaded it? Do they capitalise on your attention and get you hooked?
No, they don't. Instead Reddit ignore basic design principles, and make it more tempting to stick to what you already know.
Here are three things that they get wrong (and what you should avoid):
1. Cannibalising habits
A tool that I often recommend when encouraging someone to adopt a new habit, or behaviour, is to lean on the 🏝 Familiarity Bias.
In short: people like the comfort of something new that also feels familiar. It allows the user to rely on muscle memory and intuition, rather than learning lots of new things.
And the inverse is true: you want to avoiding interrupting their autopilot by unnecessarily changing minor details.
Which is exactly what Reddit have done, throughout the iOS app. Here are a few examples:
1. The 'post' toolbar has been respaced, reordered, and the icons have been redesigned.
2. On comments, the 'gifting' functionality has been hidden behind a menu, and avatars will often display different images on the web and app.
3. Icons for some of the main nav items have changed.
4. Even core functionality like the inbox has a modified feature-set.
i.e., on the web, your inbox is split into categories, whereas on iOS it's all merged into one.
Clearly none of these issues are insurmountable, but rather contribute to a higher 🧠 Cognitive Load, and make it less intuitive for an existing Reddit web user.
And the point isn't that the app needs to be identical to the web experience. If this were true, there'd be little value in using the app in the first place.
The problem is that there appears to be little (or negative) benefits to the changes.
They feel like an inconsistency to overcome, rather than an improved interface.
2. Road to nowhere
Once you've downloaded the app, Reddit needs to quickly demonstrate that the experience is better, to offset the temptation to go back to what you're familiar with (the web).
They do try. When using features inside the app for the first time, they've adopted 🍕 Progressive Disclosure to educate the user, and encourage customisation—two great ways to build habits.
For example, when opening your inbox for the first time, you'll see this:
The proposition seems clear: click here, and we will teach you how to manage your notifications.
And what you need to remember, is that they've fundamentally changed how this works in the app. Your inbox isn't automatically organised into tabs like it is on the web.
But it fails immediately, because clicking where it's pointing you (your avatar) will load the menu, with no obvious "notifications" context or item in sight.
The onboarding stops, and you have a choice: do I bother investigating how this works, or just go back to what I already know how to use?
i.e., are these options in the normal settings? Or under "My profile"? What even are the customisations? Can I see the four tabs anywhere? Is it worth my time to find out?
It's not just inconsistent with the web, it's difficult to learn why it's different, or how to use it.
Let's use another (fake) example to demonstrate the same point.
Imagine that you've been shown this onboarding tooltip, promising to teach you about how Google Lens works:
But then instead of explaining how it works, you're just given access to the tool.
You were expecting a guided tour, but instead they just opened the front doors for you, beckoned you in, and closed the doors behind you.
The realisation that you need to teach yourself, and that it isn't self-explainatory (e.g., the steps are disconnected, like Reddit's), can be overwhelming to the point where many wont bother.
3. Only 1.9% of users...
All of the above is trivial unless the user actually downloads the app.
And so after being bombarded with prompts (on the soured web experience), you've opened the Reddit app for the first time.
They've got your attention. This is their opportunity to get you hooked.
What do you think they do next? Do they show you how quickly the new feed loads? What about letting you see how much nicer the interactions are? Can they help you discover new subreddits?
Or, perhaps they'll explain how a few key features will enhance your experience?
No, they immediately ask for notification permissions, and then force you to login.
To draw the obvious comparison, you can browse the website version of Reddit without having an account. You only need to login if you want to actively engage with the content.
For context, an analysis in 2019 (by a Reddit user) suggested that only 1.9% of Reddit accounts actually comment or post.
There are plenty of readers who never log in, and simply browse. I was one of these people, for many years.
Objectively, it appears that Reddit either has no consideration for the current behaviour of their web users, or they're willing to brute-force a change for another motive.
(Which can trigger something called 😤 Reactance).
Perhaps, for example, it's easier to serve relevant ads to logged in users, and therefore those ad spots are more profitable.