Creating an Effective Push Notification Strategy

Written by: on February 19, 2016

There is no question that push notifications are changing the way we advance in our daily lives. These brief interruptions cultivate a close relationship between us and our technology. This interaction is no longer restricted to email, phone calls, or text, but to individual apps on our phones, tablets, and wearables such as watches that travel with us wherever we go. Push notifications have become a must-ship feature for apps. Just as go-to-market strategies are necessary to ensure the success of any app, so is having a push notification strategy.

With this prevalence of mobile devices, how can we leverage push notifications to create rich and meaningful engagement?

Provide an Opt-In Experience

PNS3The power of notifications comes from the user’s ability to have a choice about whether to enable them. Because notifications disrupt users from their daily routines, notifications as an app feature must add value for the user. The stakes are high: A disgruntled user will disable notifications for an app. Or they will delete the offending app from their device and write one-star app reviews.

An effective push notification introduction should explain why the user can choose to receive a push notification, but should make sense in the context of the app. Getting this right is especially important on iOS where an app is only given one opportunity to ask to send notifications. This means the timing of the ask is critical, and there is no worse timing than on the first launch of an app. This is because the user does not yet understand why the app wants to send notifications. If they decline, there is an additional cost to enable notifications later as the user must be compelled to manually enable them.

Actions the user takes while in the app can naturally show that they want to receive notifications. Selecting a favorite team, choosing a news topic they are interested in, or initiating a social interaction that they want updates about when outside the app are all opportunities for asking that increase the likelihood users will say “yes.” According to a study published in TechCrunch, providing a good introduction to push notifications brought one app’s acceptance rate from less than 44% up to 66%.

Keep It Relevant

PNS2 Keep notifications relevant by considering how the user moves about their daily life. “Yahoo News Digest” is a great example of an app that takes the needs of users into consideration from the get-go. Many people read the news in the mornings or evenings and rarely read at any other time of day. Instead of sending a notification for each breaking news headline, the app sends two daily reminder notifications for curated news headlines.

By giving people control over the kinds of notifications they wish to receive, the notifications they do receive are much more likely to be interacted with. Selecting a news topic of interest, choosing a daily reminder time for a recap of the day’s stories, or opting to receive groundbreaking news are examples of the kinds of notifications a user might choose to receive in a single news app. Fewer overwhelmed users translates to happier customers and better app reviews.


Interactive push notifications allow users to engage with an app in interesting and productive ways, even while they’re outside of it. Your notifications don’t have to be passive! Allow your users to keep connected with your app in a non-intrusive and active way. For example, a calendar app might offer a reminder for an upcoming event, and a user may choose to snooze it for a reminder to a later time quickly without having to enter the app.

Dive Deep

When a user opens the app through a notification, deep-link them to the relevant spot in the app. If their friend sent them a message, send them to the conversation with that person. If a team just scored a goal, send them to the play-by-play view for that game. If there was breaking news, send them to the article for that story. And with the emergence of app indexing for search, deep-linking has become evermore important to get right.

On the Wrist

Receiving notifications on your wrist is no doubt the killer feature for watches and other wearables. According to a survey conducted by iOS forum, iMore, 98% of Apple Watch users say notifications are their favorite and most-used feature. On the iPhone, an apps push notifications automatically show up on the user’s watch, too. So, building an effective push notification strategy for your app also automatically grants you a major presence on their wrist!

Notifications are powerful and their potential is only beginning to become realized. We’re constantly rethinking the role that push notifications play in our daily lives. This is an opportunity to get creative and thoughtful about the new interactions we are able to create with the technology at hand.

Take advantage of the conventions that each mobile platform provides. Be sure to consider how the user is using your app. After all, a user might be fighting dragons in a game or fighting metaphorical dragons in real life when they receive that glorious, game-changing notification.

Christopher Hale

Christopher Hale

Christopher is a multidisciplinary software engineer and a bouldering enthusiast. You can follow him on Twitter.

Add your voice to the discussion: