The Ultimate Guide to Perfect Push Notifications
Guest post by Ian Naylor, Founder and CEO of AppInstitute
Many app developers look at push notifications only in terms of direct marketing. While they are admittedly great for direct marketing, they do serve another purpose. When implemented properly, push notifications can have an extremely positive impact on user retention. A study on user retention by Leanplum found that implementing push notifications can improve retention by 20 percent. And personalizing push notification send times can result in retention rates that are 7x higher at day 30.
Push notifications can be used to not only promote your products directly to your users, but to also encourage them to re-engage with your app. Meaning that push notifications are not the sole domain of shopping apps. This article will guide you through the preferred ways in which to implement and use push notifications. Configuring your app to support push is not too complicated, and while there isn’t enough space to include the steps here, there are excellent guides available for how to do this in both iOS and Android. The link to the iOS guide is updated for Xcode 8 and the new APNs Auth Keys, while the Android guide makes use of Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), the new version of Google Cloud Messaging introduced in 2016.
Developers who have long made use of push notifications have discovered that the default service provided by both Apple and Google is not enough for an effective push notification strategy. Developers with enough resources have built custom solutions, but there are many push service providers accessible to solo and indie developers. And there really is no way to properly benefit from push without the use of a more powerful push solution, so in addition to guiding you through some of push’s best practices, I will also discuss various service providers that make it easy to implement each of these.
Getting Users to Opt-In for Push Notifications
Arguably the biggest challenge with push notifications is convincing users to opt-in for them. Your entire push notification strategy hinges on having more than a handful of users granting permission to receive them. Android tends to have higher push opt-in rates – around 70 percent – with iOS averaging 43 percent. The main reason for this is that iOS requires an explicit acceptance, while with Android it can be slipped in with the default app permissions that users have to accept before installing the app. I prefer the iOS approach because it is unambiguous. It isn’t a blanket acceptance of all permissions, but rather a clear, “Yes, I would like to receive notifications from you” statement.
1. Build Trust First
With iOS, users are presented with a series of pop-up messages asking for specific permissions: access to contacts, access to photos, and permission to send notifications. With many apps the timing of these requests is all wrong. How many times have you installed an app and been bombarded with them immediately after launching the app for the first time? You wouldn’t accept someone asking you deeply personal questions within five-minutes of first meeting you, so why expect your users to grant permission before they’ve learned to trust you?
A better approach is to ask for permission only when it is needed for the first time. Precede the generic pop-up with a prompt of your own, stating why you need access. This method works not only for access permissions, but also push opt-in, with push benefiting further from trust. A Localytics study found that the opt-in acceptance rate increased if users were only asked after using the app, and not at first launch. The average opt-in rate for users who have completed 1-3 sessions is 35 percent, but this figure doubles when users are prompted only after completing 4-6 sessions.
2. Show Value or Benefit Next
There is one more thing you need to consider before asking your users to opt-in for push: show them the value in your push notifications. Admittedly, you aren’t asking for a huge commitment when you ask for permission to send through push notifications. But users will still be reluctant to agree, unless they know that the notices will benefit them, and add some value.
In the previous step, I suggested displaying your own prompt before the generic iOS prompt. This would also be the perfect way in which to mention the types of notifications users can expect. If you are going to use notifications to share exclusive offers, discount codes, and early access to products and services, now would be a good time to mention this. Not all apps sell products or services, so it is up to you to find the value and benefit, and highlight this to your users. Most of the push notifications for The New York Times relate to breaking news, and there is obviously value in this to their subscribers, since up to 60 percent of global traffic to breaking news often comes from push notifications.
Leanplum offers Push Pre-Permissions as part of their push service. This feature addresses both of the points listed above, making it easy for you to ask for permission only when it is needed, and to show the benefit to users in granting permission. One Leanplum client that introduced this feature saw a 182 percent increase in push opt-in. The Leanplum developer docs offer clear instructions on how to implement their SDK once you have signed up for this paid service.
Keeping Users Hooked on Your Push Notifications
While the biggest challenge might be getting users to opt-in to receiving push notifications, it is not the only challenge. While they might have agreed to receive notifications from you, this does not mean that they will keep receiving them, or that they will even pay any attention to them. On Android you might be opting users in by default, since in Marshmallow they can opt-out in no more than two steps. But with the right approach to push notifications, you can keep your users engaged, and less likely to opt-out.
1. Stop Sending So Darn Many Notifications
This is a tough one, because a Localytics study suggests that 46 percent of users will opt-out of push if they receive between two and five notifications in one week. The tipping point is quite broad, so if you can get by with only sending one notification a week, great. If not, you will have to experiment carefully to find what number your users will tolerate. One thing that is clear in the Localytics study is that anything from six notifications and up and you’re going to be losing users, not just the ability to market directly to them.
2. Make Notifications Personal
Referring again to the Localytics study on push notifications, another statistic revealed the importance of personalization: 48 percent of respondents wanted offers based on their preferences, and 34 percent wanted content tailored to their preferences. That is what is meant by personalization; customized for each user, not addressing them by name. If you’re studying the right metrics, then you have a lot of information to work from. How often users are logging in, which users haven’t been active in some time, what areas of the app do they spend most of their time in, etc.
While personalized offers is linked to shopping and shopping related apps, personalization is not limited to these apps. Duolingo uses push notifications to remind you how far you are from achieving your daily goal, and even to remind you that you haven’t completed any lessons recently.
SeatGeeks revealed way back in 2015 how they use personalization to generate interest in upcoming events:
Major sporting events, like the Super Bowl or NCAA Tournament, occur annually but typically have different participants each year, so it’s not practical to set up recurring campaigns. Instead, we’ll generate a custom list of users we can reasonably assume are interested in the event because of prior purchase or tracking behavior.
For example, if we wanted to send a push notification about tickets for Opening Day at Wrigley Field, we would want to send it to users who have:
- Purchased a ticket to a Cubs game
- Clicked out on a ticket to a Cubs game
- Tracked the Cubs or a Cubs game
We would also be interested in sending the push notification to users who live within a few miles of Wrigley Field, just to be thorough.
3. Use Location to Trigger Special Announcements
The example given by SeatGeeks included the use of behavior, along with localization. Any business with an app and a physical location should already be aware of – and using – geofencing to trigger personalized notifications whenever a user is close to the business. But this isn’t the only way to use location to trigger push notifications.
Users of the Bank of Ireland app receive a notification linking to travel tips if they happen to pass through any of Ireland’s primary airports. The assumption is that if you’re in an airport, you (or someone you know) is travelling. The notification is both helpful, and timely.
Yelp will occasionally send out notifications promoting a popular new business close to your location. Although the Yelp notification effectively promotes other businesses, Yelp still benefits by staying relevant to users, thus ensuring you keep using the app.
OneSignal supports both sending notifications to devices that have been seen in a specific area, as well as location-triggered (Geofencing) notifications. Geofencing requires additional steps based on the OS, but general location-based triggering is as simple as getting location permissions from users, and creating a special segment using OneSignal. The OneSignal SDK supports iOS, Android, Fire OS, and some Windows phones.
4. Nudge Inactive Users
Many eCommerce sites make use of cleverly worded email messages to reactivate abandoned carts. You can use push notifications in the same way, either for abandoned carts with shopping apps, or to encourage inactive users to launch your app again. Avoid being too generic with your message: give users a reason to open your app again by combining it with personalization.
Duolingo sends out notifications to try and keep you on track to achieving your set goals, but they’re also aware that too many notifications can be annoying, so if you ignore too many of them, they automatically deactivate notifications until you eventually open the app again.
Using Mixpanel, you can easily implement campaigns that send out notifications based on individual user actions. This can be both users who have performed more than a certain number of actions, or those who have performed fewer than a certain number of actions in a given timeframe. The Mixpanel documentation will guide you through setting up your app – both iOS and Android – to allow you to create push notifications via the Mixpanel website.
5. Send Users to the Right Place
Traffic to The New York Times breaking news stories wouldn’t be so high if the notification sent users to the main page of the app, leaving users to try and find the story themselves. Make sure that each notification you send out links directly to the page in your app that is most relevant. If you’re highlighting a new product, link directly to that product page, and if you’re promoting a special offer, link to the offer. The real value of push notifications – to you and your users – is only realized when there is minimal friction between receiving the message and reacting to it.
Urban Airship offers a variety of solutions for push notifications, including the ability to add deep links in notifications to both Android and iOS users. Theses Android and iOS guides provided by Urban Airship give clear instructions on how to add deep linking to your app notifications.
6. Stir Emotions
Playing on human emotions is a trick that has long been incorporated into most marketing strategies. It works quite well when done the right way. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness should be avoided unless you’re a news app. Embrace positive emotions such as joy, happiness, anticipation, surprise, and love. While creating a false sense of urgency is bad, suggesting urgency in some of your notifications can boost engagement. Netflix doesn’t need to suggest any urgency when they announce that the latest season of a popular Netflix Original is now available. I can watch it whenever I want, but if I want to avoid reading spoilers on the Internet, I will probably binge watch it almost immediately.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Great Push Copy
When writing the copy for your notifications there are a full simple things to remember that will help you and your messages be successful:
- Do keep it short, sharp, and clear. The point of the message must be easy to spot, the value unmistakable.
- Don’t exceed 21 words of copy. Once you cross this threshold, click rates drop precipitously.
- Do use an emoji if appropriate to your brand and your audience. Push notifications that use an emoji can enjoy an up to 85 percent boost in open rates.
- Don’t use an emoji that could be considered offensive. Pay attention to how some emoji are being co-opted by organizations and movements that you may not want to be associated with your brand.
- Do incorporate positive human emotions into your copy: joy, happiness, anticipation, surprise, love, etc.
- Don’t use negative emotion, unless you are a news app sharing breaking news.
- Do experiment with humor, but try to keep it middle-of-the-road. Being too edgy with your humor can alienate a segment of your audience.
- Don’t build your push strategy around current trends and news. The lifecycle of news and trends is too unpredictable, and there is again a risk of alienating some of your audience.
- Do check spelling, grammar, punctuation, and details of any offers, before sending the notification.
- Don’t use industry jargon, lingo, and buzzwords. You might understand them, but will your audience?
- Do keep an eye on what your competitors are doing when it comes to push notifications.
- Don’t copy your competitors. Rather look at what is missing from their campaigns and see what you can do better.
- Do integrate A/B testing into your push strategy, so that you can better understand what type of copy generates the most engagement.
- Don’t become so focused on data that your copy ends up becoming bland and generic.
Most of all, stay true to your brand and your brand’s voice.
Push notifications are not simply a feature of your app, they are a powerful tool for both marketing and user retention. But proper implementation of push requires more than just technical know-how. You need to find optimal ways in which to convince your users to agree to receiving them, and then follow best practices to ensure that users don’t opt-out, or simply ignore the notifications. While you could try to build your own custom solution for better management of push notifications, the third-party options I highlighted in this article already offer powerful solutions that you simply need to integrate into your app. What wasn’t discussed is the fact that when it comes to push notifications, you need to look at them as both a developer, and a marketer. As a developer you take care of the integration: implementing push through Xcode, or the Android Studio, and then adding the SDK of your preferred third-party push service provider. As a marketer you take care of implementation and strategy: ensuring that all messages stay true to your brand, that they are sent at optimal times, and that appropriate A/B testing is done, and analyzed. It isn’t easy, but then you already knew that.
About the Author
Ian Naylor is the founder and CEO of AppInstitute, one of the world’s leading DIY App Builders (over 70,000 apps built).
Over the past 18 years, Naylor has founded, grown, and sold four successful Internet and technology companies around the world. He gives seminars as an expert authority on startup mobile app trends, development, and online marketing and has spoken at numerous industry events including The Great British Business Show, Venturefest, the National Achievers Congress, and numerous industry exhibitions around the UK.
AppInstitute regularly provides leading publications with app analytics, business data, case studies, white papers and statistics for established publishers across the world. They were named in the top 50 creative companies in England by Creative England.