Section 508

November 12th, 2013

Best practices on using push notifications to drive customer engagement

One of the greatest advantages of native apps for smartphones compared to the web is enabling customer engagement through push notifications. For many mobile apps push notifications have played a critical role to success.

Here are some of our best tips and tricks to make push notifications work for mobile applications.

To start with you should always inform the customer of why they should opt-in for push notifications from your application. Before showing the push-notification opt-in screen provide a simple and descriptive explanation such as
“From time to time we would like to send you updates on new content available through the app. Please accept on the following page. You can always turn these off in the future.”
“The application uses push notifications to tell you when your submission has been accepted and when we have new information for you. Please click accept. You can always turn these off in the future.”

So why provide extra information when you don’t have too? Our experience is that honesty and transparency towards the customer means that they are much more likely to opt-in and stay loyal in the future.

Information gathering
To be able to personalize the messages to individually or to a group of users you need some basic information about them such as gender, age bracket, home address, interests, etc. There are typically 3 ways of gathering this:

  1. Ask them to provide you with the information through a form with basic questions using free text, drop down boxes and radio buttons
  2. Ask the user to sign-in through Facebook or Google using social login and gather the information you need from these services. The advantage is that the user doesn’t have to manually enter the data but you need to remember to give a good reason for the user to connect the service to another account
  3. Ask the user to complete a questionnaire with questions that will do the profiling (example of company)

Once again it’s critical that you tell the user why you need the information from them. Inform that you want to know more about them to be able to better personalize the service for them and other users.

Creating the messages
So you’ve opted in the users and you know who they are. So now all you have to do is to start sending notifications with a certain frequency to keep them engaged? Wrong. The content of your messages is key to higher conversation rates. Think about the short message just like a newspaper headline or promotional e-mail. Great copy will make a huge difference.

Get a good writer or professional copywriter to help you and then test the conversation rate with different messages and fine tune over time. Also remember that the purpose of the notification is to entice the user to click to open up the app where additional details and information can be provided.

Examples of simple but effective messages can be:
“Colors or black & white? The winter collection is out. Look into the new collection for more.”
“Increasing your productivity requires practice everyday. Check out todays top tips.”

Targeting and personalization of messages
As for most digital services relevancy is key to success. The more personalized and targeted messages are the higher the conversation rates are likely to be. Examples of this are:

  • Mobile shopping customers could be targeted with offers based on gender and age
  • For a Sport news service the users home location is likely to be relevant to the team they support
  • A car insurance company may offer driving advise based on the local weather in which case current location is once again relevant

Of course not all messages need to be personalized but try a combination and optimise based on customer feedback overtime. To begin with start by ensuring that you have the basic customer information and then build up further knowledge over time.

Frequency settings and opt-out
There is no rule on how frequent you can send messages or how many messages per day. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or a newspaper might send you 10 notifications per day whereas an application for time reporting provides a weekly reminder and a public transportation app provides information a few times a year when schedules change. For apps with a high frequency we recommend that you make it easy for the user to set their own frequency. This way you can prevent customers from opting out completely. And don’t be afraid of making it easy for customers to opt-out entirely from within the app. If they want to opt-out, they will any way.

Choosing push notification provider
There are a myriad of different providers today of which we’ve tested a few including Urban Airship, Appboy, Amazon AWS and Google Cloud. Urban Airship and Appboy work out of the box including targeting but are fairly expensive whereas Amazon AWS and Google Cloud are considerably cheaper but require more work to set up and customize for your needs.

In summary using push notifications successfully is a combination of opt-in customers, great and relevant content, transparency about personal data and message frequency and testing and more testing to learn about what works for you. Good luck!

For more information also read “Mobile push notifications are seen as key to engagement” by


Tags: iOS Mobility Strategy

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