Push notifications are a contested issue in the UX design community. For marketers, they are a great way to get users back into your app, give them a gentle reminder or send them your latest offerings. However, for some users, push notifications are a nightmare which kills productivity and hinders the user experience.
The world of good user experience design is subjective. One person’s delightful user experience is another’s nightmare. This leads us on to the topic of this article. Are push notifications: nifty or a nuisance?
A recent study of over 63 million app users reveals that the more frequently one messages their users, the more likely they are to increase mobile app retention – typically by 3 to 10 times.
The same study revealed that going from zero notifications to weekly notification doubled retention on iOS and increases it sixfold on Android.
But are push notifications really the answer? In this article, we will find out when to use push notifications, when to avoid them and a few pointers on getting them right the first time around.
What is a Push Notification?
A push notification is like a text message sent to your phone except instead of being submitted by your friends or family; it is posted by an app you have on your phone. You can also receive web notifications, which will appear on your computer after you have granted permission to a website through your browser.
These actionable pop-ups can be sent at any time and are used for a variety of different reasons, including:
- Asking you to do something (for example to share your post on social media)
- Highlighting a special offer, promotion or coupon code
- Giving you news or relevant information (e.g. the score of a football game)
- Reminders and order completions
- A new activity you might have missed
The list goes on. However, the general idea of the push notification is to inform you and get you back to the website or app.
Different Types of Push Notification
Push notifications are not all the same. In fact, they can be classified under these different categories:
- Alerts: Notifications which appear on the screen and require an action from the user (to open or dismiss them)
- Banners: Banners appear momentarily on the screen and disappear soon afterwards
- Badges: Small red circles which float in the corner of the app’s icon
- Sounds: Sounds accompany the different notification types
As a relatively new marketing channel, web notifications are a way of talking to your users without getting their personal details.
On the surface, it seems push notifications are the solution to many problems. They are useful when you want to instantly let your users know something that can bring them value.
However, it is not all joy in paradise, as companies are increasingly making it easier for users to banish them entirely.
When to Use and When Not to Use Push Notifications
Push notifications have been shown to increase app engagement by 88%. That sounds like a good enough reason to schedule push notifications from sunrise until sunset. However, in spite of that high figure, 60% of users opt-out of push notifications.
It seems that push notifications work when they are good and do not work when they are bad. So what is a good push notification and what is a bad one?
The push notifications of some apps out there only serve to remind you to use the app. Maybe it has been a week since you last opened your language learning app and you will get the typical “It has been a while! Come back” type of push notification.
The problem with this type of notification is that it is not exactly enticing. There is nothing in it for the user, and the notification comes off as desperate and needy.
Then there are others, like Uber, which tell you precisely when your ride has arrived or if ride rates have dropped. This type of push notification is effective because it is integral to how the Uber app works. It is the sort of notification your users want.
Volume is another important factor in the push notification game. 22% of users would stop using an app if they received between 2 and 5 push notifications over a week-long period. Therefore, getting the amount right can be the difference between an engaged, regular user and your app ending up in the recycling bin.
For UX designers and marketers, getting the push notification right is critical. Moreover, getting it right involves knowing what sort of thing to push onto your users.
In the report Breaking Barriers to Push Notification Engagement, it was revealed that 63% of mobile marketers who send push notifications send them at the wrong time.
The main factors at play when it comes to successful push notifications are:
- What time you send the notification
- How many notifications you send over a period
- What the notification consists of
However, what about when it goes wrong? For some, notifications are evil – a needless distraction that kills productivity.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to push notifications is to give control to your user. That means asking for their preferences and sticking to it.
If you do as you are told when it comes to push notifications, then your user is more likely to use your app. Deviate from that, and your user will feel nervous, annoyed or even harassed. Jim Nichols tells of how one retail company got a lesson in trust when it went from a 700,000-strong mailing list to less than half of that because they upped the frequency of their mails.
David Pierce wrote in Wired that push notifications were ruining his life. When you get notifications from Facebook about a stranger commenting on a photo of an acquaintance from way back, then it is easy to understand why.
Push notifications work best when they are tailored, specific and personalised. If they are sent at random times (nobody wants to be woken up at 3 am by an app asking you to use it) and have no relation to the user, then they are merely a distraction. In this case, push notifications become as distracting as responding to a text or a phone call.
A study by Deloitte found that Americans look at their smartphones more than 12 billion times a day. Push notifications may have a significant role to play in that number. Is that a problem?
A push notification was useful when it let you quickly see how important an email is. It saved you from having to open your phone and look into your email client. Now, however, they are used to draw you into an app. Moreover, this change in utility that may play a role in why so many choose to opt out.
How to Get Push Notifications Right
Seventy-one percent of all app uninstalls are triggered by push notifications. If you do not want to be a part of this statistic, then you will need to:
1. Send personalised push notifications, tailored to your users’ interests
You want your user to think that the push notification is for them and only them. That requires personalisation based on the user’s preferences, location and interests. Use their name, if you have it.
A retail app ought to send different notifications depending on the type of customer in their database. A previous buyer versus a window shopper will have different needs and expectations so the notifications should reflect that. Ultimately, they have to be relevant.
To get your message just right, consider prototyping push notifications with different copy lengths and tone.
In Justinmind, you can prototype push notifications to appear conditionally based on user actions and have full control over the visual aspects of your notification with vectors and SVG files.
Combined with widget libraries for iOS and Android, you can replicate the notification toolbar to look just like the real thing.
2. Send push notifications not when you want but when your user wants them
Since people sleep, do not send push notifications at a time when they are likely to be asleep! Likewise, figure out the right number of push notifications to send and take account of the timezone your user is in. Bombarding someone with 20 marketing notifications in the middle of the night is not going to win you any UX awards anytime soon.
3. Avoid jargon or extraneous words
You have very little time to engage a user when you send a push notification. There is no room for long explanations or verbose copywriting in such a small space. You have to be direct and to the point. Sam Jarman says you have got to use no more than 10 words. Push notifications under 24 characters have higher conversion rates. Use them wisely.
4. Ask for permission and highlight value
Be sure to explain clearly to your user the benefits of receiving your push notifications. Why should your user give you consent? What is in it for them? Explaining the value (something which you can do in your app’s onboarding), can help raise your opt-in rate.
The best kind of push notification is one which takes into account a user’s preferences and adapts accordingly.
Any notification which deviates from what the user wants and expects is likely to cause frustration and create a negative user experience.
Striking a balance between tailored content sent at the right time and overkill is a fine line but hopefully this article has provided you with enough pointers to be able to strike that line.
Want to learn more?
If you’re interested in mobile UX, you could take the online course on Mobile User Experience. It includes templates you can use in your own projects and you’ll get an industry-recognized certificate to improve your career. If, on the other hand, you’d like to…
- learn all the details of Usability Testing
- get easy-to-use templates
- learn how to properly quantify the usability of a system/service/product/app/etc
- learn how to communicate the result to your management
… then you might take the online course Conducting Usability Testing.
Lastly, if you want to brush up on the basics of UX and Usability, the online course on User Experience could provide you with the necessary knowledge. Good luck on your learning journey!
(Lead image: Depositphotos – affiliate link)