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8 minutes read

Getting Push Notifications to Work Effectively for Your App

By Robert Kazmi
By Robert Kazmi
8 minutes read

Push notifications can be a great way to draw engagement for your app – when used the right way.

A huge challenge for app creators is getting users to opt-in to push notifications in the first place. In all the “noise” of the digital world, people are naturally wary about who they give their attention to.

Even if you do get reasonable rates of opt-ins from users, your next challenge is to get them to actually pay attention to the notifications you are sending.

With these challenges in mind, how can app owners use push notifications effectively?

What turns users off push notifications?

First of all, if we take a look at iOS vs. Android for acceptance of push notifications among users, we find that there’s a significant difference. According to Appboy, while Android users have about 60% uptake of push notifications, iOS sits around 40%.

This is probably due to the differences between how the two platforms handle push notifications. While Apple users need to opt in via a pop-up message when they first open the app, Android grants permissions in bulk at app download. They have, with their recent “Android N” upgrade, made it easier for users to opt out, though. This is now done simply by a long press on the message then clicking to silence or block notifications.

We’ve all done it, the message pops up onscreen requesting permission for push notifications and we quickly click on the “don’t allow” button, but why? What turns users off those push notifications?

There are a few common reasons:

  • They receive too many irrelevant push notifications.
  • They receive all together too many push notifications and don’t want the extra “noise.”
  • They don’t see the point of accepting the push notification.
  • They’re not interested in receiving notifications.
  • They don’t allow them as a matter of habit.

Ok, so there are a few barriers to overcome in order to get people to actually accept your push notifications, but apps who get can get by those often have much higher rates of opt-in than average.

Getting users to accept push notifications

The next logical question is, what makes users inclined to accept push notifications? For app owners, it’s critical that you convince users to accept them in the first instance because it’s more complicated for them to do so via their settings later on.

We’ve got a few tips for improving your opt-in rate for push notifications:

Time your request

When you’ve just downloaded a new app and opened it up for the first time, how likely are you to allow push notifications when a request pops up immediately on opening? The chances are, you’re going to hit “don’t allow” because at this point, you don’t even know the app, let alone understand why allowing push notifications might be a good idea.

Instead of throwing the push notification message in immediately on opening or even immediately after your setup tutorial, pick a time which will make sense to the user. This might be immediately after they’ve set something up for which push notifications are a logical next step, or at least after they’ve had a chance to explore the inner-workings of the app.

Explain the value of push notifications

Brendan Mulligan wrote a piece for TechCrunch a couple of years ago explaining how his app, Cluster goes about asking for permissions. His explanation about avoiding an “initial blitzkrieg” of requesting push notifications, camera access and any other accesses goes along with what we were saying about timing – new users have no idea of the value of those things yet.

This is often to do with the messaging itself too – how many times do you see the generic permissions box with no explanation as to why you should say yes?

The suggestion from Cluster (which is also used by several other apps) is to use pre-permission dialogues which help to explain next steps and give the user the understanding of the value of allowing the push notifications. This means that when that iOS message pops up, they already know what it’s about and will be more likely to grant permission.

The image below shows how they build their own pre-permission screens to help educate the user. Note that they also include an image of the iOS permission box so that users will know what it is when it pops up.

Abuse it, you lose it

Once you’ve got the permission of the user to send push notifications, make sure you use the service wisely. If you become annoying with too many messages or too many irrelevant messages, they’re going to shut you down.

Keep the user in mind and use push notifications where they are timely, relevant and useful to the user. Their experience of your notifications should be that they actually help them to get better use of your app rather than that they are constantly silencing irritating messages.

What makes push notifications effective?

Alright, so you’ve got permission and you’re working on the best way to use push notifications so that the user feels that they add value to their experience – how do you ensure that you’re making effective use of them?

Let’s look at a few tips:

Use time sensitivity

Notifications should be relevant to the customer at all times, but one way to ensure they are more effective is to highlight time sensitivity. As an example of this, the Hopper app will send notifications for airfares on routes that users have set up to monitor. They always include the price and whether or not they see that getting any lower in the future. Users can see at a glance whether it’s a good idea to book that flight right now.

Personalize messages

Relevant is good but personalized is even better, according to Appboy. For example, if you have a retail store app which sells apparel, sending out a blanket notification about a sale in the men’s accessories department won’t be relevant to all of your users. It would be better to show this to a) male users or b) any users who have a history of shopping for men’s products.

You can take personalization up a notch by being relevant to the specific user as well, for example by using a push notification to re-engage them if they haven’t used your app in a while. The image below shows how Rue La La does this for users who haven’t visited the app for a period of time. Other apps also include the name of the user in the notification.

Use location-based notifications

Using location-based notifications can be a very effective method for being timely and relevant to the user. For example, if they have location services enabled, a donut shop might send them notifications if they’re nearby and there are fresh pastries out of the oven.

You could take this another step by reminding users of rewards they might have available (perhaps with an expiry reminder) if they’re nearby your store.

Use emoji

This might seem a little weird, but research from App Annie shows that emoji use actually increases the open rate of push notifications. This was particularly true among Android users and among the millennial demographic.

Their research found that use of emojis in push notifications increased engagement overall by 85%. Why? The research doesn’t really specify, but we can speculate that perhaps, because we already know humans tend to be visual creatures, the emoji help to convey the heart of the message. (So, we suggest using relevant emoji!)

Final Thoughts

It can be challenging getting app users to opt in to push notifications, but if you follow a few best practices, you can boost your chances significantly.

Time your request right and clearly show the value of enabling push notifications to users. Once you have that permission, be sure to keep messaging relevant and not so frequent that they become annoying.

Lastly, remember your other channels for messaging too, such as in-app or email. You won’t always get the push notification permission, but you should be able to find other ways to communicate with most of your users.

Koombea can help with creating a great onboarding process for push notifications. Talk to us today.

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