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What are Push Notifications, and How Do You Use Them?

Keith Shields August 23, 2021

Push notifications are powerful. They can help you to increase engagement, leading to higher customer lifetime value and revenue growth — but only when they’re used correctly. Push notifications can have the opposite effect that you desire if they begin to annoy users and cause them to opt out. For this reason, it’s crucial to know how to strike the right balance with push notifications and use them effectively. 

What is a Push Notification?

A push notification is a clickable pop-up message that appears in a user’s browser on any device. They are intended as a quick communication tool. Push notifications can include a link in addition to the message, so you can direct users to your website, app, or additional content. Notifications can also include emojis. The aim of a push notification is to be as brief as possible while communicating your message. Push notifications can be an effective tactic to increase user retention, repeat visits, and re-engagement.

Opt-in and Opt-out

Providing the ability to opt-in and out of app push notifications keeps the user in complete control of the notifications they receive. Push notifications are different from text messages in this way since users have no control over receiving texts. The opt-in message is the first you’ll send a user, so make it count! Communicate the value of your push notifications, and be sure to time your opt-in message appropriately for maximum approval. You have the option to show it immediately when a user first opens the app or after they have engaged with it for a period of time. We recommend showing it after you have demonstrated value.

A well-crafted message will convince users they have something to gain by receiving push messages, whether it be app updates, special offers, or other messages. Reach out to new users with a persuasive and personal message from the start, clearly articulating the benefits they will get by receiving them. Ease objections by letting users know that they can opt out at any time. 

How Do Push Notifications Work?

Effective push notifications can improve engagement levels and the loyalty of users, but they aren’t for every message. Push notifications are best for time-sensitive content, like offers and promotions, shipment status, or mentions in social apps. Messages with general updates or announcing new blog posts are better conveyed via email. Always make sure you’re sharing high-quality and relevant content that users will welcome. You can certainly use them to promote your offerings, but don’t use aggressive sales tactics in your push notifications that may turn off users. Always keep in mind how easy it is to opt out.

Types of Push Notifications

There are a lot of different types of push notifications, which vary in how they work and when they are used. Here are some of the most common push notifications.

  • Update notifications — If you want to provide updates on your app, exciting news about your company’s new offerings, or industry trends you think your customers will appreciate, you’ll send this type of push notification.
  • Reminder notifications — Send reminders to your users so they don’t miss out on opportunities. Remind them to complete their profile, log their daily check-in, or check the portal. Reminder notifications are a great way to build loyalty.
  • Location notifications — Filter notifications based on the user’s location to ensure you provide the most relevant information. You do need to request permission for your app to track their location, of course, but it’s a great value-add for users to get information relevant to their geography.
  • Abandoned cart notifications — Though this is a type of reminder notification, it’s very specific. If you sell something on your app, you can retarget customers that failed to complete their purchase, leaving something in the cart. 
  • Promotional notifications — Alert users about sales, giveaways, and exclusive offers. Encourage them to make a purchase by urging them to take the desired action.
  • Transactional notifications — Update users about the latest status of their transaction. This is especially useful for selling products, whether it be a product, software, or subscription.

How to Improve the User Experience for Push Notifications

If you’re looking to improve your use of push notifications, make sure you stay laser-focused on the user experience. Before you send a push notification, ask yourself if it adds value to the user. If you’re unsure what value it offers, then don’t send it. Also, consider the call to action. Are you asking users to do something they will want to do? Can users connect the action to value? If they can’t easily make the connection, they will be less likely to take the action. 

Examples of Push Notifications

There are a lot of great examples of companies effectively using push notifications. The Starbucks app offers free treats and coffee for app users, starting when people first sign up. Kayak and other travel apps provide alerts when the price drops for airfares users are interested in. Retail shops like Sephora, Crate & Barrel, and others send promotions and sales notifications. Google Photos reminds you of past adventures to bring you back to the app. Publishers offer daily news roundups. Instagram and Pinterest send follower notifications. And workout apps provide timely reminders to increase engagement. 

Pros and Cons of Push Notifications

As with any method of communication with users, there are advantages and disadvantages to using push notifications. You’ll want to consider these before using them.

Pros of Push Notifications

  1. Capture more good quality leads — No need to rely on users providing personal information. When messages are sent, they are always delivered (with no risk of going to a spam folder like email).
  2. Increased visibility — Increase your audience with a single click for users to opt in to push notifications.
  3. Save time — Push communications are brief and very directed towards action. No need to write out a newsletter or an email. The focus is on brevity.
  4. Increased return traffic — Once a person opts in to push notifications, you can offer promotions and personalized messages to increase their interaction with your app. Push notifications typically have a higher click-through rate than emails and SMS texts.

Cons of Push Notifications

  1. Not suitable for all content — Sensitive information can’t be sent through push notifications for activities like payments. (But you can include a link to a payment page.)
  2. Some people prefer other types of communication — Though people often like the brevity of push notifications, some do prefer emails. Emails can be read more than once and don’t interrupt the user when they don’t want to be interrupted.
  3. Have the feel of a pop-up ad — Push notifications behave like pop-up ads, which can be a turn-off for some people.
  4. People ignore or opt-out — Opting out is easy, and subscribers may do it at any time, particularly if they feel they are getting too many or the content isn’t what they expect.

Are Push Notifications Right for Your Business?

Starting with a solid understanding of your users and what they value, consider adding push notifications to your app’s marketing repertoire. When you provide high-value content in your push notifications and know what to do (and what not to do!), it’s a great way to increase your app’s success.

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