The Bible of User Behavior: The Apple App Store
Every mobile marketer creates a journey for their users; from first interaction to successful purchase or install. The problem with optimizing that journey as mobile marketers is that the app stores are big black boxes. We see what comes in (attribution) and we see what comes out (installs) but what happens in between has always been a closely guarded secret that Apple and Google are not giving up. They might not be giving away any secrets but after analyzing over 500 million user sessions across both platforms and we have noticed clear and marked trends emerge. And we’re happy to share what we’ve found.
As marketers, it’s our duty to know our audience. We need to understand their demographics and makeup. We need to know who they are and how they think. To know them better than they know themselves.
Because if we don’t, we risk alienating them. Disempowering them. Condescending them. And, ultimately, turning them away from us and straight into the warm, welcoming arms of the competition.
We need to cater to them. To answer their questions and preempt their concerns. We need to give them what they want, where they want it.
The first step in really getting to know them is to understand how they behave. Why do they make the decisions they do and what can we learn from it?
Welcome to what we call the Bible of User Behavior: iOS Edition. We’ve got the answers right here and breaking it down. We’ll start with looking at the first impression: what can users see and how do the choices we make impact their behavior. Then we’ll move on to general explorative behaviors (more on that in a bit); horizontal explorations and then vertical ones.
We suggest you start by making yourself aware of (or reacquainting yourself with) the overall behavior patterns that emerge in the store and then use this as a reference and jumping off point anytime you need to make a strategic creative decision for your product page.
Let’s begin with the basics.
What are the different layouts a user could be shown?
It’s not all forced upon you, developers do have some choice in the eventual layout of the product page. Depending on the choices you make regarding which assets to upload and in which orientations and combinations, there are four possible basic layouts in the App Store for new users.
Each layout option has a slightly different first impression, the ‘above the fold’ product page view. It’s what we call the screen that they see when they first land on the product page, before they scroll, before they click a button, before they do anything.
Simply, it’s the first impression they get of your app and so understanding which layout your users will see is vital in understanding how they come to the decision to install (or drop). Depending on the layout, that decision will be influenced by the different assets visible and in which order assets will be consumed.
Decisive vs Explorative: what that means and what that means for you and your app
After analyzing millions of user sessions, certain patterns started to emerge. Users could be grouped by two distinct behaviors, namely; decisive and explorative.
Decisive users arrive at decisions quickly, with minimal interaction with the interface. They arrive on a product page, scan it with their eyes only for no more than around 3-6 seconds before making the decision to install or drop and go look somewhere else. They make up roughly 60-70% of all users
They never scroll. The only activity they perform on the page is either clicking ‘get’ or exiting the page.
Explorative users, on the other hand, are very different. They spend time reviewing products in-depth before making a purchasing decision. They invest in their decisions and are willing to spend time making sure that a product will fulfil their needs before purchasing. These are not the ‘try before you buy’ kids. They want assurance that a product will do what it promises.
In general, explorative behavior can be correlated with quality. The users that spend time considering their decisions are users that are much more likely to engage with an app once installed. And if it actually does what it promises on the bottle? They’re much more likely to keep coming back too.
The more engaged with a product page an explorative user is, the more likely they are looking for something more. They are looking for a certain feature. They are waiting to be persuaded and searching for the right messages that will convince them. The act of exploration is the act of collecting information in order to make an informed decision. Users that make informed decisions are users that know what they want and what they’re looking for. They are users that will stay with you for a long time (if you deliver on the messages you promised).
Given that everything (well, 92.2-96% of apps and games) are free to install, an install is a relatively ‘cheap’ action. It costs in time spent (and possibly device storage space) only. App fatigue does play a role (when users are tired from the constant stream of new apps and installations) but a minimal one. It’s cheap because the opportunity cost of making the wrong choice is low, you use an app, it’s not to your liking so you instantly delete it and look for something better. Easy with zero repercussions.
That’s why the vast majority of all users show decisive behavior. Buy now, try later. If you remembered to even try, many users download but never actually open and use, you can always disregard and delete if unsatisfied.
And the data agrees, around 77% of users abandon an app after just 72 hours.
In order to reduce abandonment rates, you need to aim for quality users who want and will use your app. Once you understand who you are talking to with each creative app store asset (and asset combination) you can target those explorative users and increase the quality of users you bring into your app.
How does the first impression layout affect behavior?
If we follow the decisive/explorative paradigm, the data breaks down according to layout as follows:
What are the Different Explorative Actions?
There are many ways of exploring a product page and users that do can take any (or all) of the following actions:
- Scrolling through the screenshot gallery
- Reading the description
- Scrolling down the product page
- Watching a video
- Reading Reviews
- Scrolling through the reviews
As a mobile marketer, you can treat these elements as new chapters telling your app’s story. Learning how people interact with these will easily show you the potential of perfecting those strategic elements for this high-value explorative audience.
App Store Product Page Behavior
Decisive vs. Explorative Users
We can learn that in general, there is an interesting trend that:
- Video drives decisive behavior
- Landscape drives more decisiveness than portrait orientations
With landscape, it seems that when mobile marketers use one large image to communicate a highly-valuable value proposition, and users can consume it more easily than the smaller portrait screenshots, that singular, easily digestible message drives an easier and quicker decision.
When users see a video (that autoplays) they start to consume more information from the get-go, without explicitly asking for it (clicking a play button). This tends to give them enough of the info they’re searching for in order to make a decision (whether to install or to drop).
But let’s breakdown video further: Watch Rates, Watch Times & Completion Data
Video Watch Rate
In the iOS App Store, videos autoplay. 68.01% of users start watching the video if it’s in portrait, and 74.96% of users if it’s in landscape. Even with autoplay, not all users are exposed to video due to connectivity issues and load times but the amount of users exposed is still a large majority of users.
Because autoplay is subject to the quality of the user’s internet connection and might take 1-2 seconds to load and start playing, we find that users who view portrait screenshots (or a portrait poster frame of a portrait video that hasn’t fully loaded yet) tend to quickly figure out that they’d like to learn more and quickly move on to explorative behaviors (horizontal gallery scroll or vertical page scroll) before the video gets a chance to play.
In any case, the data shows us that video content is by far the single most impactful piece of content that users are exposed to the most (if it exists).
But a video isn’t a singular asset and consumed in one go. It is an asset made up of parts (frames) and take more than a split second to absorb. Therefore to really see how video affects user behavior, you have to break it down.
Average Video Watch Time
Users tend to watch 6.2% less content in portrait video than in a landscape one. That being said, looking at the big picture we can easily see that users attention spans are around 5.8 to 6.2 seconds. Long videos, even 20-30 seconds long, won’t be viewed by most users, hence the first 5-6 seconds being the most vital content in your whole video. It should convey all of your strongest value propositions and key messaging
How many users finish watching an entire App Store video?
The flipside of the average video watch time mentioned above is that only 4.84-5.04% of all users ever reach the end of a video (no matter how long). Now, users that watch all of your videos are already showing a pretty high-intent level. They’re engaged and absorbed and want to learn more. Even though we’re speaking about only 5% of your product page visitors, they’re an important segment of high-intent users and by improving your video content you can directly improve the conversion rates for this segment. For the viewers that watch your whole video, make it worth their while and give them a reason to keep watching and a reason to install thereafter.
What is the average conversion rate of App Store Videos?
The median video conversion rate is 23.8-35.9% with landscape converting 50.8% better.
Landscape videos do a far better job of converting users than portrait video. They simply do a better job of communicating messages in the store. One of the major factors behind it can simply be its size and the impact on legibility. It’s easier to read a text and understand the content when it appears on landscape
After consuming the first impression and maybe watching the video (if there is one), users can decide to explore further. Once they do, there are two paths they can take (or they can do both, this isn’t Robert Frost’s binary road paradigm). Horizontal explorations ( gallery scrolls) uncover further screenshots whilst vertical explorations (page scrolls) uncover the description and ratings and reviews. App information and what’s new sections are also found below the fold but have almost zero impact on new user installs so we’ll disregard them for now.
As a mobile marketer, you can treat the different elements users are exposed to as new chapters telling your app’s story. Learning how people interact with these will easily show you the potential of perfecting those strategic elements for this high-value explorative audience.
How many users scroll through the App Store screenshot gallery?
Autoplaying videos significantly lowers (by 11.9-22.8%) the likelihood of scrolling through the subsequent screenshots. Thus the video becomes even more important. But even if product pages don’t contain video at all, it seems that again, landscape galleries give users enough information to make a decision, meaning that even fewer users will ever be exposed to the latter screenshots. Landscape gallery (sans video) trumps all when it comes to increasing decisive behavior pre - gallery scroll.
How many users are exposed to each App Store screenshot?
The App Store allows developers to upload up to 10 screenshots to the store. While some developers use these latter screenshot slots to host images for the purpose of running Search Ads Creative Sets, from a conversion standpoint, the first two screenshots are by far the most important.
In the above data (that refers only to product pages without videos), about 84.7% of users are exposed to the full first screenshot, while only 15.15% are exposed to the full second one. The numbers drop drastically from there with only 6.52% that are exposed to the 5th screenshot. Less than 1% of users ever make it to the end of a 10 -screenshot gallery.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t focus on your gallery as an important asset but it shows the importance of using the first two screenshots to encourage users to either install or explore further. All screenshots that follow should be used wisely in order to seal the deal with those 5-10% of users who are the most explorative of all explorative users. Tell a story that builds from the first screen shot onwards. Keep them connected but stack the weight of your messaging heavily in the front.
A user who wants to explore can either explore horizontally through the screenshot gallery or vertically down the page.
How many users scroll through an App Store Page?
The median percentage of users scrolling down the page ranges from 25.24-29.24% with fewer scrollers of pages that have a portrait video in and no significant difference if you have a landscape gallery with or without a video. Once they scroll down vertically they can choose to read and open the description (potentially visible in the first impression when landscape orientations were selected and below the fold when portrait orientations are chosen), scrolling through ratings and reviews as well as opening the individual reviews to read more.
How many users read an App Store description?
Users in the App Store hate to read. There is a negligible percentage of users that ever read the description. Focus on making the short preview that is always visible clear and descriptive but do not spend too much time or resources on perfecting the full description. Instead use the asset for its other purpose: to be read by the algorithm and used for keyword optimization. Optimizing the entire text for human readers (users) is by far the least effective way to spend your time.
Ratings & Reviews
One of the biggest misconceptions of mobile marketers are that reviews are one of the most important factors affecting conversions. Whilst you’d think that reviews would be as important in the app stores as they are elsewhere in society, according to our data, the percent of users that are even exposed to the reviews (by scrolling down the page) is less than 15%. And those that bother to read them? Less than 1% of users ever tap to go into and read a review. Even fewer scroll through the reviews, an extremely negligible 0.08-0.21%.
The bottom line? Reviews are important (because of aggregated ratings and for the users that are exposed to the first featured review even without interacting with it) but the percentage of users interacting with reviews and scrolling through them is insignificant.
What can be done by better understanding the iOS user journey?
There’s a lot to unpack here. But when considering your specific product page and what to take into consideration when optimizing for conversion, consider this:
- Overall, landscape tends to visually be a better format to communicate with users that are browsing on a small screen. The risk is that you’ll have an increased decisive user base. This means you get one shot to convince them. If your landscape screenshot or video fails to do so, you’ll never have a chance to convince them again.
- Videos and landscape galleries deter users from scrolling through the screenshot gallery. In any event, you should make sure that your strongest messages appear in the first impression. Put them in your video and in the first and second screenshots in the gallery.
- Videos are also decisive behavior drivers, but if your video is not optimized all you’re doing is exposing the vast majority of your users to poor content. Product pages with videos can have up to 19.8% higher drop rates for decisive users. Remember: no video is better than a bad video.
- Video watch rates in iOS are high, but users watch only 5-6 seconds of that video on average. Make sure that if you’re using a video, those first vital seconds convey your strongest and most effectively converting value propositions.
- And lastly, you can breathe easy with reviews and descriptions as their potential impact on conversion rates are negligible. Don’t focus your efforts where they aren’t needed. Focus them where you can get the most uplift and the most bang for your buck.