Firefox's poor user retention

Firefox's poor user retention

Summary: So, only half of those that download Firefox don’t even bother to try it? That's a darn low try-out rate. Improving retention has to come down to building a more compelling browser.

TOPICS: Browser

Here's an interesting tidbit of info from Mozilla regarding Firefox:

In order for Firefox to reach our market share goals, we need to improve our ability to retain users. Currently, approximately 50% of the people who download Firefox actually try it and about 50% of those people continue to use it actively.

So, only half of those that download Firefox don’t even bother to try it?  That's a darn low try-out rate.  Also, I'm guessing that these stats are "best case" numbers and that the real numbers (unadjusted, untweaked, unrounded to the nearest 50%) must paint a picture that's worse.

To help increase retention Mozilla have come up with a 12-point plan:

1. Change Firefox icon label to closer resemble action of getting to web 2. Force the Firefox icon to easier to find location 3. Alter the default browser settings path for better user choice 4. Major outbound brand marketing program driving brand recognition and differentiation 5. Improve download page and first run pages 6. Launch 7. Make common plug-ins work out of the box 8. Make add-ons and personas more accessible 9. Make the web feel more human 10. Improve messaging through communication channels 11. Stickier start page 12. Change Firefox icon image to closer resemble action of getting to web

My blogging colleague Larry Dignan has picked up on each of these points and added this thoughts on each of them along with how much of an effect each action will have on retention.

Some of these ideas make sense (such as points 5, 7 and 12), others are dubious (1, 6), others are down right strange (9 - feel more human???) and some push Firefox closer to tactics that feel spyware-ish to me (2, 3).

Here's an idea that's not on the list - explain to people why they need Firefox.  A few years ago the message from Mozilla was all about security and speed, but over time the bloated nature of the browser has gradually eroded both of these selling points and left Firefox as just another web browser looking for something to differentiate it from the rest.  The current propaganda from Mozilla feels somewhat confused and unfocused.  My own browsing habits have switched back and forth between IE, Firefox and Opera (and remember, if you're after security, Opera is probably the browser to choose), but since the release of IE7 I find that it does pretty much all I need.  Sure, by augmenting Firefox with add-ons I can get it to do much more that IE can, but I've become wary of integrating add-ons onto my workflow as a version shift can render a much relied on add-on dead in the water.

What Mozilla needs to do is return to a simple message as to why users should ditch their existing browser in favor of Firefox and then steer the project in that direction - so if the message is speed and security, make speed and security the top priorities.  Maybe this is that Mozilla means by point #4 (Major outbound brand marketing program driving brand recognition and differentiation) but the difference I see is that the marketing and hype has to be backed up by a browser that delivers on those promises.  Making a few tweaks here and there to the interface and icons might make a small difference to retention, but to make a major difference Mozilla have to come up with compelling reasons for the end user to break their existing browsing habits and make the new habit of using Firefox stick.  That's going to be a tough call. 

Also absent from the 12-point list is trying to convince some of the big OEMs to ship Firefox on new PCs - that would do far more for retention than brand marketing programs ever would.

Mozilla's managed to tap into 15-20% of global web usage, but that will have been the easy part - convincing another 15-20% to shift will be a lot trickier.


Topic: Browser

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  • Improve stability

    Stability issues with Firfox come and go. But, I find that the last couple of months, it has become less stable than ever. For me, it crashes several times a week, and I am doing the same things I have been for years. That can really turn off users.

    For the rest, they do need to focus on speed and security as advantages over IE on Windows and Safari on the Mac. Most users of computers will use the software installed, so perhaps they could make a deal with HP or Dell to get pre-installed.
    • Reliability beats any marketing push

      I agree with giorgio. I use Firefox daily, but long before reading this news story, I concluded that if Mozilla really wants to get a bigger chunk of the market, they just plain have to make it work well. It's slow from double-clicking the fox until the window even appears. And over time weird things happen: Firefox will start opening two windows for each link clicked in an email; tiny windows appear that are just the height of a title bar and an inch wide; Firefox windows with obese empty status bars appear; hung instances of Firefox happen that can only be found and eliminated with Task Manager. If they don't clean up this sort of thing, some people won't give them a second chance.

      On the other hand, I hope they do not change the icon. I think it's a brilliant piece of graphic design!
      charley cross
      • What?

        I've never seen any of those. What OS are using it with? It's been a while since I used Windows, but it works great on this MacBook at work and on my Linux computers. It's very stable, and it loads fast. Back on FF 1.5 the memory usage would go up, prompting a "killall -9 firefox-bin", but FF2 works very well, even running it on a Pentium II with 192MB of RAM is no problem.
      • Works OK for me!

        I'm not sure why you have problems with Firefox, but it is working perferctly for me. I run XP with all current updates/patches on a 4-yr old Dell XPS box. I've been running Firefox since the pre-1.0 version was out. Other than for Windows Update, I use Firefox for 100% of my browsing.

        On my system, it is faster than IE and I see none of the problems you mention. But, I don't load it up with add-ins and other crud. Might that be the reason for the instability?

        And, I also vote to keep the icon!
    • I would disagree....

      As that has not been my experience. While there may have been some issues when they introduced the 2.0 version, it seems to me that they have steadily improved with each rev.

      Though I've been using the IceWeasel variant that comes with my distro since the revisions.Currently using

      Seems faster, uses far less memory Rarely will it use even 10% of Mem in normal operation.
      5~20 tabs, even with 2 or more windows & 60+ tabs will it go past 20%. And has never locked up or crashed.

      Although there have been occasion where I may have over taxed my machine with more than several taxing apps, at the same time, VM, media/movies/DVD, Xplane, Celestia/Stellarium, Gimp, Google Earth etc. Usually just closing the Weasel or another App will correct the situation. So I can not say if Fox/Weasel was the culprit. Again very rare.

      Not as familiar with the situation with Various Windows. But on the rare occasions I do it, I have also experienced no problems

      I also think it is funny how Adrian turns Mozilla's interest in improving retention to
      "Firefox's Poor Retention"..... oh well

      Not to say more improvements cannot be made & not constantly are being made..
  • I am for Combined marketing

    Mozilla should get help from Opera and Safari and launch the, "'IE' isn't the Internet" Campaign.

    There are other ways of getting on to the internet, but this is a concept that eludes people.

    I would go as far as taking a hammer to a glass "IE" icon to get the message across.

    I mean, the only way Firefox could really closer associate their icon with getting on the internet to people would be to have it circling a blue "e"
    • Using the blue e would get them sued

      They can't use the blue e at all because it's a Microsoft registered trademark. Using it would likely get them sued.

      Plus, "taking a hammer to a glass "IE" icon to get the message across" comes across as very unprofessional and anticompetitive. What would you say if the next version of IE's icon was a hammer smashing the Firefox logo?
      • That wasn't the point of the post

        The using the Blue E was just to indicate that in some way or another we have to send the message that "The Internet" isn't represented by the "Blue E."

        Smashing the "Blue E" was just an idea to "shatter" people's idea of what the internet is. I would recommend that such be followed up wit another browser's feature set and how it surfs the internet.

        I mean to get people to switch over to Firefox, I sometimes change the icon of the shortcut on the desktop to "The Blue E" so that they will stop using Internet Explorer.
  • #1 and #12 are the same

    #1 and #12 are the same
    • no they're not

      #1 is for the icon text and #12 for the icon itself
  • Keep i t simple . . .

    I use FireFox primarily. I don't add on the options, because I want to keep it as fast and light-weight as possible. The only time I use IE is when and e-mail or sight I trust uses active-X controls.
  • User habits

    Most of the unwashed masses out there using web browsers are inexperienced, casual users who are easily swayed by what they read in the press, their email, and by the advice their own computer gives them (i.e. - Antivirus). They will download the file and start to run it, and their anti-virus program pops up and says something like "Running downloaded files will cause much pain and suffering and curse with an uncurable pox". Do you really think they are going to click the box that says "Run anyway - I'll look cute with a pox!"?
  • Opera is still better

    Opera is fast and has the best rendering engine of any browser. FF3 has fixed a lot of the rendering bugs, so the next version should be great for web designers. IE7 is only "almost OK-ish" on that front. I really don't care if people go to IE7 or FF (though FF, for security and being slightly better at rendering than IE7, is preferred), I just wish they'd ditch IE6. That is one PITA browser when it comes to rendering CSS.
  • Too Slow

    Open 10 or so FF windows and it grinds to a halt ungracefully.

    You do add ons to make it faster, but something is very inefficient.
  • Corporate peneration

    IE can be managed by server administrators, locked down for security, and often has business web apps that only work IE and no other browsers.

    Firefox would get a huge lift if they perhaps built a corporate version that could be managed like IE.
  • Add-ons an IE advantage.

    Improving FireFox add-ons was one of the suggested goals for FireFox in the other Comment. But compared with all the years that add-ons for IE have been developed and tested and improved, FireFox is still at a very early stage.

    That's not asserting that FireFox will never catch up. Or that every IE add-on has been perfected.

    But if one were to look for a functionality that seems to improve efficiency, then it's likely there are hundreds available free for IE, many with years of testing and active improvement.

    From the comment:

    "Sure, by augmenting Firefox with add-ons I can get it to do much more that IE can, but I?ve become wary of integrating add-ons onto my workflow as a version shift can render a much relied on add-on dead in the water."

    That does happen. The add-on selected should be actively developed so that a quick response should be expected. And knowing more than one effective add-on for a given function can mean a quick shift from a broken to a working app.

    Also helps to remember the old rule about upgrades: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    But nobody here need be told that.

    Once they're satisfied with the simplicity and effectiveness of IE, there's never any change, no adding software for the sake of adding software or proving some attitude toward Microsoft.

    Nobody here would ever do something like that. ;-)
    Anton Philidor
    • "Add-ons anIE Advantage" ?!?!?!?


      Thanks, Anton, That was the best laugh I've had all week . . .
    • But what about Abe Vigoda

      I have to know if he is still alive!!!!
  • I still prefer it over IE and Opera

    though Opera is pretty much a no show at the workplace. There's support for IE and Mozilla (though the flavor of support has grown away from the suite (Mozilla=Seamonkey) and over to FireFox (because it was the touted, slim version. A number of point releases later, I still prefer Firefox, make it a part of each PC install/reinstall, and state, IE for work related tasks, but FireFox for a safer browsing of the net. As far as any browser goes, they don't really tout themselves in the tradition media available, tv, news and magazines, they're just there and you need a viral scare that blasts one in order to hear about the others.

    Only thing I can see with a really poor user retention is Mosaic, . . . and Sun's HotJava browser. :)
  • Firefox is so bad

    I have had it running on eleven computers
    for six months (four of them for longer than
    a year). Three run XP and two run Win2000.
    Some of them are called "Iceweasel", but
    they're all Mozilla based. Haven't used IE
    since I started using Firefox.

    I can't remember a time when I've seen
    Firefox (or Iceweasel) "crash". I've seen it
    freeze up a number of times, when connecting
    to an unfriendly site. Even then, input
    devices don't freeze and it has an
    easy "force quit" button (unlike Windows).

    It would have to turn mighty bad before I'd
    go back to that albatross, IE.

    Anybody can play with numbers and come up
    with any answer they want to, but truth is,
    Firfox is giving Microsoft a run for their
    money, with no advertising department and no
    capital outlay. You could say without even
    trying. Why? Main reason is people are tired
    of Microsoft's shoddy practices and

    Take a look at the real numbers. Does this
    look like Firfox is suffering?
    Ole Man