Get Users Onboard with Your Push Notifications

Push notifications are an essential tool for bringing users back into apps. According to Invesp, sending push notifications can boost app engagement by up to 88%, whereas 65% of users return to an app within 30 days when push notifications are enabled. Push notifications can contribute to app retention rates up to 10 times more than apps without them.

iOS apps require asking users to opt-in for push notifications, unlike Android apps. Push notifications are significant for apps to re-engage with their users; without them opting in, apps can only wait for users to come back on their own, and they never do for most apps. If they say no to the initial request, the app cannot show the same request again. Those users would then have to open their iOS settings app and go through cumbersome steps to turn notifications on.

App can only show this once (Image source: interakt)

Do not miss the first day

Although the risk of users not accepting with the initial prompt may make us hesitant to show the request too soon, missing the first day could mean losing the user completely. In general, a substantial number of app users won’t come back the next day, and the drop rate is steep for the first 3 days. As the graph below shows, only 31% of users will come back the next day on average, and the number drops to almost 10% in two weeks. The cost of losing users gets exponentially higher as days pass.

Only 37% of users return to an app one month after, then drops to 22% in the third month. (Source: BI Intelligence)

Don’t forget people can be annoyed by push notifications

According to a survey conducted by Localytics, more users were accustomed to receiving more push notifications per week in 2017 compared to 2015. At the same time, users today are more likely to mute or turn off annoying push notifications rather than leaving them.

More weekly push notifications per app (Source: Loyalytics)
Users are likely to respond to apps with more push notifications (Source: Loyalytics)

From iOS 12, push notifications are grouped together in an iPhone’s lock screen. The upgrade is positive because notifications are grouped, and each app has a higher chance of being displayed. Individual messages are hidden behind the most latest push notification of the app. The upgrade also gives access to managing push notifications directly from the lock screen, and there is a higher chance for your push notifications to be turned off.

Everything New with Notifications in iOS 12 on iPhone & iPad | AppleInsider

Manage users’ expectations

In this landscape, it is critical to communicate expected content and frequencies before asking users to opt-in. The iOS native permit request does not give clear context around this, therefore many apps now-a-days show custom designed pop-up screens explaining the benefits before showing the iOS request.

Weather app focuses on the local weather alert (Source: One Signal)
It’s recommended to keep the message concise with some graphics. (Example: Slack)
Night Sky, an AR planetarium app explains what notifications will be about (Source: Nielsen Norman Group).
The StreetEasy (left) and Facebook Messenger (Right) uses the prompt looking just like the native permit prompt.
Google News

Although this practice is very common in many apps these days, popular social media apps such as Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and Medium haven’t followed this trend. Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram are very active with push notifications to introduce trending content or tease with endorsement feedback users get. Without a doubt, they are important tools to drive users back to the apps, but they may not need to over-sell because users know what to expect from these famous services. In the case of Medium, they seem to rely more on their email communications to drive users back.

Instagram uses the native permit request but changes the wording to explain the context better. It also explains triggers which helps users to estimate the frequencies. (Example: Instagram)

Similar to social media apps, push notifications are crucial for chat apps to keep conversations going, but the hurdles for getting users to opt-in is lower due to users’ expectations. Skype bundled almost all permission requests together in the onboarding process, including for camera and microphone. It’s quicker if users say OK to those requests. However, users who initially opt out need to open iOS settings to turn them back on. A user may need to rush for a video conference, and it could annoy them if they have to find the settings to turn them on.

Skype asks camera and microphone permits together with push notifications.

The news organization Mic, targeting millennial audiences, revealed an interesting approach, marrying push notifications and their opt-in process with the overall app experience. Their push notifications attach a short video explaining a story, so users only need to open the app when they want to know more details. Adding a story to their read later list or giving like reactions can also be done directly from the lock screen. All of these rich push notification features are accessible with force-touch. The feature was first introduced in iOS 10. However, awareness of the feature is weak, because of a discoverability issue with force-touch. Also, media companies heavily rely on advertising revenues, strictly tied together with page views of the app. Providing a teaser that uncovers enough information like in the case of Mic, is helpful for users on one hand, but reduces the necessity of opening the app. While the app was extremely innovative, it stopped providing the service a year after the launch.

Mic even shows a short video explaining how to utilize its push notifications, encouraging users to opt-in. (Source: Columbia Journalism Review)

CNN lets users choose push alert frequency depending on their appetite for it. This personalization helps the newsroom to send more push notifications without disturbing those who don’t want as many. The Wall Street Journal made a huge leap in push numbers from 16 per week in 2017 to 72 in 2018. This was possible after they introduced different push types users can opt-in for, such as featured reads, deals, markets, economy, politics, technology, science, and opinion. At the same time, the newsroom workflow becomes complex as they have to find and select stories for the right segments.

CNN lets users select push alert frequency in the onboarding process. (Source: Columbia Journalism Review)

OpenTable, the restaurant reservation app, asks users to allow receiving text messages as they make reservations, instead of push notifications. Text messaging makes sense for reservation reminders, because it’s easier to revisit messages later and also to see the conversation history. In contrast, push notifications can be missed easily, and users may accidentally clear all notifications all-together. Also, OpenTable communicates the benefit well to users in its pop-up.

OpenTable asks users to opt-in for text messaging for reservation reminders

Give a second chance

The other benefit of showing custom pop-ups before the iOS permission request is the second opportunity to ask users again. The iOS request can be shown only once as I mentioned earlier. A user may not be interested in push notifications when they are asked for the first time, but they may change their mind later as they spend more time understanding the benefits the app provides. Some social media apps send in-app notifications asking users to turn on push notifications. In-app notifications serve a similar purpose as push notifications, so users checking those may have a higher probability of turning the push notifications on.

The diagram shows how pre-permission prompt is beneficial. (Source: xtremepush)

Keep it easy to turn off the notifications

With all efforts to make push notifications smart and useful, they don’t work for all users. Apps should always provide an easy way to manage push notifications. Otherwise, users may delete apps just to stop push notifications. A better practice is to give an option to manage push notifications by types. For example, social media apps go extremely granular and users can turn off specific notifications such as friend requests or likes they receive. This way, apps may keep the opportunity to re-engage with users with some push notifications that work better for them.

Elevate also gives you an option to change the timing of push notifications.
Instagram provides extremely granular settings, which can be toggled between everyone and people you follow.

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Pushed Even Further: US Newsrooms View Mobile Alerts as a Standalone Platform | Columbia Journalism Review

Five Mistakes in Designing Mobile Push Notifications | Nielsen Norman Group

How Consumers Perceive Push Notifications in 2018 | Localytics

How to Convince your App Users to Opt In for Push Notifications | xtremepush

Pushed beyond breaking: US newsrooms use mobile alerts to define their brand | Columbia Journalism Review

Hate them or Love them: Mobile App Push Notifications Impact — Statistics and Trends | Invesp

Here’s how app developers are combating declining retention | BI Intelligence

Everything New with Notifications in iOS 12 on iPhone & iPad | AppleInsider

Master the Dos & Don’ts of Location-Based Push Notifications | LEANPLUM

Push Notification Best Practices: 35 Tips for Dramatically Better Messages | CleverTap

Mic launches a news app that you might never need to open | TechCrunch

Getting Rich With iOS 10 Rich Push Notifications | Pushwoosh blog

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