New versus returning users
The new versus returning report in most analytics products is a way to understand how users, who have been to your mobile app or web site before, behave differently to those who are new to the mobile app or web site.
So, when a user visits a website via her MacBook Pro at work, then on her iPhone, she will be classified as a new user on both occasions. If she then looks at the same site on her Surface Pro at home, she will be a new user again. Likewise, if she clears the cookies on any of her devices, she will become a new user again. If she goes into incognito or private mode, she is recorded as a new user again.
On mobile apps, the implementations use app storage to track new users from existing users. When users uninstall an app by deleting it and reinstalling it, they become new users. However the problem is not as bad as it is in web apps. Fewer people uninstall and reinstall apps compared to some studies that suggest 45% of users clear cookies every month.
This means the new versus returning user analysis is somewhat flawed. We show a higher number of users as “new”. However, the web user is explicitly requesting to be treated as a new user by deleting her cookies and web apps should respect that.
For signed-in services, i.e. when the user signs-in using an email, phone number or social login, it is easy to differentiate new users from returning users even if the user is using a device that does not have the cookie used to track new-versus existing users. For services that do not require users to sign-in fingerprinting techniques have been used (for example, a hash of multiple attributes like user agent elements, browser engine, browser engine version and others) to track users. Again, fingerprinting is not 100% accurate and comes with privacy issues and generally should be avoided.
Marketers want to grow both new and returning users
As a mobile or web app marketer, you want to grow both your new and returning users.
Acquisition Marketing refers to marketing efforts to bring more new users to your mobile or web app. See our blog on Search ads and ASO. Retention Marketing refers marketing to users who are returning to your mobile or web app. Retention marketing has its roots in the ecommerce world, but is becoming prevalent in both web and mobile apps, simply because the cost of acquiring new users is usually higher than cost of retaining users. The focus of this school of marketing is to create engaged customers that return to your web or mobile app. See Contextual and Mobile Marketing and automated campaigns.
Marketers should not treat all returning users equally
Thinking in terms of new versus returning users is binary and flawed. Returning users cannot be treated equally. There is a difference between users returning after signing up in a day versus 3 weeks or 3 months.
Rather than looking at mobile and web app users as receivers of messages and expecting high click through rates on the call-to-action buttons, Engagement Marketers believe that users should be actively involved in the product and in co-creation of marketing programs, developing a relationship with the brand behind your mobile or web app. They aim to create deep meaningful relationships with the users by continuously engaging them based on a number of variables including how long ago did they become a user of your mobile or web app.
How long ago did the user install the app or first visit your web app? Compared with the binary New vs. Returning, Newness provides additional detail about the user.
For instance, in the following categorization, on November 29 2016, 917 daily active users are New users, 379 daily active users installed or first visited your web app 1-7 days ago, and 123 daily active users first used app 7-14 days go. It is helpful to see the details of returning users.
Newness is just one of many metrics available to marketers to engage users and create with 2-way communications, but it has proven to be an important one for personalization. Marketers who create deep and meaningful 2-way relationships with their users by continuously engaging them with personalized content, enjoy much higher loyalty and can manage attrition-risk well before the users churn.