Firefox's poor user retention

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.

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.



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