App Push Notifications – The Complete Guide


App Push Notifications – The Complete Guide

November 3, 2017

Introduction to app push notifications

There’s so much written about how to create high quality app push notifications. What are mobile push notifications?What constitutes a successful mobile push notification strategy? Which is the best push notification service? How can you use mobile push notifications to boost app engagement?

These questions are repeatedly asked by mobile developers. There’s a wide range on answers on the topic of app push notifications and what effect they have on a mobile app engagement strategy. For developers, it can be difficult to understand exactly which push notification service is best for your app.

That’s why we’re going to try and cut through the noise and help explain what in app notifications do and  what makes a successful push notification today.

This is an ultimate guide – so it’s does go into some detail. We’ll begin writing from the perspective that you have no previous experience with push notifications. Please use the contents to find the relevant section for you.


The basics of push notifications

What are push notifications?

A push notification is a method of communication between a mobile app and a user. Push notifications are used to communicate information with users in real-time. A push notification is delivered instantly to a mobile device, regardless of whether the device is locked or unlocked. The push notification is delivered even if the user is in a different app or away from the app sending the push notification.

Push notifications are constantly being updated and they have developed significantly since they were initially introduced back in 2009.


Android push notification vs iOS push notification

Android notification v iPhone notification

iOS push notification

On Apple devices, the app push notification first appears on the lock screen. The user can swipe the push notification to activate the message. Once they unlock their device the push notification is moved to the notification center.

As you might have noticed – these two giants of mobile OS are placing ever more emphasis on user needs. Meaning that developers must adapt with their push notifications. Something that we’ll come back to later on.

Android push notification

In August 2017 it was announced that Android devices would adopt push notification channels in mobile apps.

This allows users to group their app push notifications into notification type and means that users can determine how different kinds of notification appear on their device. It also allows users to set push notification priorities – essentially means that users have greater control over which notifications they receive and when.

Why are app push notifications used?

Mobile push notifications form a part of an effective mobile engagement strategy. They provide communication between apps and users, providing value by delivering relevant information within the push notification.

Mobile push notifications can also be used to deep link to relevant app functions to add extra functionality to app push notifications.

Generally, in app push notifications provide a valuable channel of communication for app publishers. A push notification is more immediate than other methods of communication, such as email. There’s no chance of them being caught in spam filters, so mobile push notifications to form an effective way of reaching users with important information.

App push notification opt in

Every channel of communication has it’s spam filters.  App push notifications are no different – however they are filtered in a slightly different way. Mobile push notification delivery is based on an opt-in feature. This means that the user is given the choice as to whether they wish to receive push notifications.

More emphasis is being placed on explaining to users the value of the push notification. Increasingly, users are opting out of notifications due to irrelevant communication and abuse of the app push notification service.

That’s why it’s important to have a clear opt-in process for your mobile push notification strategy. Explain exactly why you want your users to opt-in to your app push notifications. Make sure that you do this at the right moment.


App push notification opt in rate by industry

opt-in rate app category push notifications
iphone notifications opt in

Finding the right moment to opt-in

When is the right moment? Well, it will be different for every app. Let’s look at an example – you’ll see a much higher opt-in for app push notifications if you do the following.

If your app provides content for example. You could ask your users for opt-in permissions at a relevant time.

When the user is reading an article you could have a bar appear at the bottom of the screen which says something along the lines of ‘want to be alerted of stories like this?’ Clicking this will bring up the OS dialogue asking for mobile push notification permissions.

How are mobile push notifications received

The user will receive a push notification as a banner alert if the phone is locked. If the phone is unlocked the user will see a banner alert from the top of the screen that will appear for a few seconds before disappearing.

An iOS push notification can be altered in settings where the user can decide if an app should allow sounds, how the iOS push notification appears (banner, popup etc). They also have the choice of whether the iOS push notification triggers a red number alert on the app badge icon itself.

An Android push notification operates in a similar way to a iOS push notificayion  – however, the OS reminds them of the notification with an icon in the top left corner of the screen. As a result of this the average Android user is less likely to miss a notification than a typical iOS user.


Benefits of app push notifications for developers

To understand the benefits of mobile push notifications you’ll need to think of them in the context of app engagement and retention. App push notifications should also be understood in relation to your app monetization strategy.

Driving app engagement & retention with push notifications


Mobile push notifications are a fantastic tool for driving app engagement. But what exactly is an engaged user? Often a user downloads your app with the intention of using it. But sometimes the user will forget about the app, or it will sit inside a folder that is rarely accessed.

This is why you need app push notifications to engage your mobile users. Low app engagement doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a bad app – it just means that you need to communicate with your users.

With mobile push notifications, it’s about getting your app front of mind, reminding users of the value that your app brings, and ensuring that your users continue to achieve this value in the relevant moments.

Mobile retention over time is pretty bad according to research. Let’s say 100 new users download your mobile app. After 24 hours you can expect this number to be reduced to 20. After 10 days this number will, on average, fall to 8. After 90 days the typical app will only retain 2 of those initial 100 users.

app user retention

That’s why app push notifications are so important for developers. The figures also demonstrate this. Retention rates are almost doubled for users that have push notifications enabled.

These figures are typical for an average mobile app – that means that there is even more room for improvement for developers. Typical push notification strategies don’t take into consideration relevancy, personalization, and localization – all concepts that we’ll return to later in this piece. This means that there’s a huge opportunity for apps to increase their retention rates.

Mobile push notifications are incredibly effective at boosting app engagement and retention, and in reality, you don’t really have an effective app strategy without them.

Driving app revenue with mobile push notifications

The more experienced developers amongst you might already understand the benefits of app push notifications in terms of mobile app revenue. There’s a simple equation here and it goes as follows

If you can just increase your retention (downloads) and boost engagement (MAU) with an effective mobile push notification strategy, then very quickly you will begin to grow your app revenue.

Therefore, app push notifications are fundamental to any developer that wants to create an effective mobile business. Let’s not forget to add into the equation the rising cost of user acquisition. With all these considerations – you would be rather foolish to ignore the power of mobile push notifications.



Best app push notification practices

This is the part where we look at what makes the best mobile push notifications. This is the difference between using app push notifications because you see other apps doing it, or generating a larger engaged audience that will boost the app experience, and improve app monetization.

Mobile push notification relevancy

One thing that should be at the forefront of your mobile push notification strategy is the relevancy of your app push notifications.

That means you’ll need to really understand your app users, what they want from your app and where they are getting the most value. This requires you to place user experience at the center of the app push notification experience.

Mobile push notifications are much more effective if they are delivered to your users in the best possible moment. Defining when this relevant moment is the challenge – and the solution eludes many developers.

This can be achieved in multiple different ways. But a good place to start to discover app push notification relevancy is to hypothesize and test these push notification moments.

The cycle of mobile push notification relevancy

push notification relevancy cycle

Make sure your mobile push notification service can deliver you with the necessary feedback around app push notifications and key delivery metrics – not just based on time, but also message type, audience segment, and location.

Personalisation of mobile push notifications

This really is the number one rule of mobile push notifications – keep your communication via push notifications personal. For developers, there’s a few different methods you can employ to ensure your app push notification strategy stays personal.

Of course, there are the basic methods of personalisation – identify your users by name, in the right language, on the right device, and with the right content. But you can take your push notifications to the next level with these other personalization tactics.


Personlized timing

Mobile push notifications are more personal when sent at the right time. This is more basic but can have a nice effect on app push notification interaction and app engagement. Message personalization based on the time of day is an effective way to increase personalization of mobile push notifications.

This is the first layer of personalization around app push notifications. It’s a good start, but to retain a modern user you’ll need to take your push notifications further.


Personalized mobile push notification triggers

This is where app push notifications start to get interesting. As an app owner, you have the potential to generate a huge amount of data around your user’s behavior. This data can be used to improve the personalization of your in app push notifications.

Of course, this is dependent on the function that your mobile app serves to your users. But, you should be  thinking about how you can leverage data to improve your app push notification strategy. Do you have data around user behavior that can help you deliver more personal mobile push notifications? If you do – you should certainly be utilizing this.

Remember, higher personalized app push notifications mean better engagement, and this means increased revenue. All of the efforts that you put into your mobile push notification strategy will benefit you multiple times over in the long run.

User data can help with push notification engageemtn


Most app owners have the ability to leverage user data to create a better engagement strategy. Identify how your mobile push notification strategy can take advantage of the huge amount of user data out there.

App push notification personalization with location

The holy trinity of mobile push notification personalization is completed with location data. Accurate mobile app location data can distinguish exactly where your app users are. This means that you can deliver app push notifications in precise locations that make sense for your users. This leads to higher app engagement and retention.

This level of personalization will become compulsory for apps that want their mobile push notifications to provide true value for their users. Using accurate location data you can understand where your users go and how they behave when receiving app push notifications. using this data, you can determine the best micro moment in which to send the push notification to users.

Let’s a look at a few examples to illustrate what makes a great location personalised mobile push notification.

duolingo push notification
IMBD location based push notification
location based push notification

The possibilities are endless and but the important thing to remember is that applying the three layers of mobile push notifications will help you to provide your users will value. Creating a better experience will then follow.

Deep linking app push notifications to relevant content

This level of personalization isn’t easy to attain. That’s why you have to think about where your app push notification takes the user. Many apps overlook this part of the mobile push notification process, but it can be just as important as personalization.

If you personalize the app push notification then make sure you personalize the experience that follows. That’s achieved using deep linking. Make sure your users are pointed to the relevant section of the app. It can seem rather complex at first, but the reward is worth the effort. Check this useful guide for a more in-depth overview

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing content in a app push notification which appeals, to find the link go to the app home screen. If you forget the original content of the push notification then it’s impossible to find the original content. Remember, on iOS devices, the push notification disappears once it has been swiped.

Deep linking is especially important with personalized, time-sensitive mobile push notifications. If your notification is personalized then the landing screen will also need to be.

Frequency of mobile push notifications

A common question for most app publishers is ‘how often should I send push notifications?’

In general, less is more when it comes to mobile push notifications. Try and value quality communication over quantity. Again this comes down to providing value with your mobile push notification strategy.

You’ll be able to understand the peak number of app push notifications to send over a set time period once you start looking into the data around app communication. Use an app push notification service that allows you these insights – they will be invaluable when you are growing your audience.

Conversion with app push notifications

Mobile push notifications can also be used to increase conversion. If your app consists of sales or a lengthy on boarding process then app push notifications can be a method of increasing completion.

Remember – at the heart of every successful mobile push notification strategy lies personalization – and the same applies for conversion. So if you send a notification to remind users to complete the on boarding process, try personalizing the app push notification by changing the copy based on where the user is in the on boarding process.

The same applies for sale completions. Remind the user of what was in their basket rather than just providing generic app push notifications.

Understand the difference between an iOS push notification and an Android push notification

It’s important to tailor your mobile push notification strategy based on different mobile platforms.

In general push notifications see a higher open rate on Android devices. iOS users interact with notifications quicker than their Android counterparts.

To adapt your strategy to android push notifications and iOS push notifications you’ll need to adapt and think about how the experience will change on both platforms. That means you’ll need to utilize other methods of communication where appropriate.

In Android, the user will have to remove the app push notification manually once they open the phone. On iOS, the notification is more ephemeral and requires more effort to interact with, if this doesn’t occur on the lock screen.

It all demonstrates that there is no single mobile experience – be thoughtful about how OS can affect the mobile experience involved in sending mobile push notifications. Understand the data around your app on both platforms – it might be different to the general trends.


Mobile push notification feedback and insights

Be aware of vanity metrics

It can be tempting to look at app push notifications click through as a key metric for measuring engagement. Whilst in many cases this is important, sometimes it can be a vanity metric and not illustrate true app engagement.

In fact, there are many mobile push notification strategies that boost engagement without persuading their users to actually engage with the notification.

notification with engaging content

In this case, the notification provides value for the user without them having to engage with the notification. This reaffirms the app’s purpose and will most likely lead to reengagement with the news app at a later date. All of this isn’t initially clear from the push notification engagement statistics.

Mobile push notification timing

Don’t let people tell you that there’s a right time to send app push notifications to your users. Sending all of your notifications in a certain time period will only lead to disengagement.

Leverage the data around app push notifications to understand what suits your users. Break this down into audience segments and hypothesize and test for future push notifications.

Using location for data and insights

Learn and adapt to your users using data. This doesn’t just mean simple open metrics. Use location to understand where in the real-world your users engage most with your mobile push notifications.

In a world with over a million apps, it’s important that you leverage every piece of data that you can around app engagement. You need to make data your best friend if you want to keep developing your app engagement strategy.

If you can get data around your app users that the majority of apps can’t get access to then your onto a winner.

The truth is that many app engagement strategies fail to understand where their users go and how they behave.


Beyond basic engagement insights

For example, you might get feedback around how your users are opening your app push notification, using specific in-app features, or even just opening the app.

These insights might be based on time of day, or maybe you can even get a breakdown of this data based on audience type (depending on which service you use).

But what if you could get a better insight into the mind of your user at that time? Basic insights are great, but it doesn’t always paint the perfect picture. You need to get as much data as possible if you are going to keep engaging your app users.

Location insights around app users can help drive mobile app engagement KPIs. If you can understand exactly where your users go and how they behave then you can create a better idea of how to engage them.


Engagement data that retains users

For example, let’s say you have a sports app and you might send a re-engagement notification that performs reasonably well. You look at the data available to you and you see that a sizeable chunk of these notifications were opened between 12-3pm. Now that is a great insight, but what if you could learn more?

If you layer location insights around that data you might see a more useful pattern emerge. You could see that the majority of these notifications are opened in bars, and even more specifically sports bars.

Now you can really begin to hypothesise and fine tune your value proposition. You can see that the majority of your users are using your scores app whilst they are watching a game in a bar or sports venue.

This all links back to your app engagement strategy. You have a better idea of how and where your users get the most value from your mobile app, and this helps you to develop your app engagement strategy.

By understanding your user’s behaviour you are much better placed to say which factors are most likely to boosts your app engagement KPIs.

Resources, further reading and links 🔗

Why users should turn off news notifications

In-depth guide to deeplinking

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