What type of notifications is best for your product?
Before implementing the basic framework of a notification system, you should understand the different types of notifications and the benefits of each type.
Messages that can reach your users when they’re actively engaged with your app and require no legal consent.
MOBILE & WEB PUSH
Notifications that can reach users even if they aren’t actively using your app. Unlike in-app notifications, you need a user’s consent to send these.
RICH PUSH NOTIFICATIONS
Notifications where you can incorporate rich media content in your push notifications such as images and videos.
Just like push notifications, SMS is a consent-based notification system. And people tend to read their text messages.
We won’t dive into email too much here, because email is in the aging generation of notifications.
The top search results for phrases like “email notifications” are overwhelmingly how to turn them off or fix bugs. This is an indication that, based on search intent, people probably don’t like the email status quo.
All email clients are slightly different, with rules, algorithms, and special folders to filter content. This can be confusing and frustrating for users (as well as those responsible for creating email notification strategies).
While email notifications benefit from sending longer messages with visual identities and embedded media, they face many obstacles.
Consent is required for email communication, and spam ratings affect whether emails end up in the inbox, promotions, social, or spam folder.
While both in-app and push notifications can deliver important messaging to your users, they are sent in completely different contexts. Push notifications can reach users even when they’re not using your app, while in-app messages reach your users when they’re actively engaged with your app.
In-app messages are not limited in copy and visuals the same way push is limited. There is no word count or default UI you have to take into consideration before designing your notification.
When the app is actively being used, a notification can be sent based on a user’s action, like navigating a particular area or filling out a form. While you can use push notifications by sending them based on the same user triggers, it makes less sense for users to receive a push notification outside the app.
In-app notifications can be extremely timely. They are a great way to point users to parts of the app you want to highlight. Did your product update its user interface based on user feedback? An in-app message (or series of messages) would allow you to relay that information to users while they’re actively using the app.
The stand-out here is that there is no legal requirement to ask for consent before sending in-app messages, though it is still good practice to do so.
Product updates and new features
Your active users will want to know what’s new with your product. If there have been some changes, an in-app notification will keep them up to date the next time they use your app.
If users need to complete a process, like making a purchase or signing up for a service, an in-app notification indicating success will let them immediately know their process went smoothly.
New users can be guided on the best way to navigate your app through a series of in-app messages pointing out features and navigation options. If the app has gone through a redesign, it’s also helpful to show returning users how to navigate the new design successfully.
Feedback and survey requests
A feedback or survey request sent immediately after a user action, like using a new feature, will get a response when the interaction is fresh in the user’s mind.
MOBILE AND WEB PUSH
We’re grouping these two due to similar behavior and usage.
Unlike in-app notifications (which are considered part of the product), mobile and web push notifications need a user’s consent before they can be delivered.
One of the biggest reasons to use push notifications is simply to reach users even if they aren’t actively using your app. If a user stops using your app or forgets it is installed on their device, you can still send them notifications.
These messages will get prime real estate right on their mobile notification screen (or on their desktop).
IOS & ANDROID
iOS and Android push notifications give you the ability to have a custom (or full interface) notification after a user engages. This means that instead of the limited fonts and tiny icons of the default push notification UI, you can expand on the UI with things like custom fonts and larger images.
DELIVER TIME-SENSITIVE INFORMATION
Push notifications are leveraged to deliver time-sensitive information. Let’s say you check-in for a flight through the airline’s app and two days later there’s an update to the flight’s status. A push notification has a much higher chance of being seen in a timely manner than an in-app or email notification.
Because push notifications are quite literally pushed in front of you, they can be extremely useful in your workflow tools—updating you if you need to review something, or another actionable task.
Abandoned shopping cart
Users get distracted and multitask. If they’ve added items to their cart and didn’t complete the purchase, either intentionally or unintentionally, a notification will remind them of their previous purchasing intentions.
According to Simform, on average, users have 40 apps downloaded on their phones. All those apps don’t get equal attention, and a lot of them are probably forgotten about. If the user has given permission to send them push notifications, they at least had some level of interest in the product.
Sales drive more people to your business, so it makes sense to send push notifications to tell users there is a great reason to use your app or visit your site.
Alert users to new content, like blog posts. This can both engage active users and remind inactive users of your content offerings.
Alerts and reminders
One of the biggest use cases for apps, and probably most welcomed by users. For example, calendar apps, transportation apps, flight trackers, and social media apps all use push notifications to send helpful and important reminders to users.
"Whether you use push notifications or in-app notifications—or both—you should always strive to send personalized and meaningful notifications to users."
RICH PUSH NOTIFICATIONS
Rich push notification is fairly easy to understand — you can incorporate rich media content in your push notifications.
This content aligns with your copy, creating a more visually appealing and on-brand experience. In a traditional push message, the copy is the focus, and an image (if included at all) occupies a small space.
The first instance of rich push was the ability to include large images with the release of Android 4.1+ in 2012.
Apple followed a few years later, adding even more support for different kinds of rich media with the release of iOS 10 in 2016.
The types of rich content supported on iPhones and iPads running iOS 10:
- Large images: JPEG, PNG, and GIF files
- Video: AIFF, WAV, MP3, and M4A files
- Audio: MPEG, MPEG2, MP4, and AVI files
The types of rich content supported on Android:
- Large images: JPEG, PNG
The types of rich content supported on Chrome 56 and higher:
- Large images: JPEG, PNG
Just like push notifications, SMS is a consent-based notification system.
And people are prone to reading their text messages, if for no other reason than to get rid of the little annoying red badge.
Unless you love answering calls from unknown callers 🤨, you’re probably in the same boat as a lot of other people.
You mostly ignore unknown calls, but open, read, and either delete or perform the intended action on an SMS.
SMS can serve as an effective marketing strategy, sending users to any point on the web, not just back to an associated app, like mobile push.
How to use notifications in a meaningful way?
In order to deliver a successful notification strategy, it’s necessary to provide customers with the right message at the right time. But timing means much more than simply segmenting your users by time zones, or customizing messages according to the seasonal calendar.
Send notifications when they are relevant. Gather data about the peak times of your app usage. See if you can identify pain points users have while using the app so you might address them with notifications. If there is data on users to pull from, use it to figure out when specific notifications might perform best for certain segmented groups.
This can come in many forms—using their name in the title or description, knowing their preferences, or telling them their action had an impact.
Whether you want a user to fill out a survey or want them to check out a new feature, creating a sense of urgency lets users know their action or feedback is important.
Whether you use push notifications or in-app notifications—or both—you should always strive to send personalized and meaningful notifications to users.
Information reported by CleverTap shows that 30% of users will delete an app if they feel like they are receiving too many notifications. If we break down each of the three elements Weiss mentions, the structure of a basic notification strategy can be built.
According to Noah Weiss, the Head of Search and Learning & Intelligence at Slack:
“A great push notification is three things: timely, personal and actionable.”
Focus on in-app and push communications
With the exception of in-app messages, all other forms of notifications are required to have an opt-in or consent process.
Each user’s personally identifiable information needs to be stored and managed. There needs to be a way to easily delete user information if they decide to opt-out, or update their information if they need to change their email or phone number.
When a notification system scales with user growth, this can be overwhelming to take on if notifications are not your core product.
While the reality is email marketing campaigns are unlikely to go anywhere soon, efforts should be focused on in-app and push communication. Since in-app notifications have few limitations, design strategies from email campaigns can be carried over into in-app design (more on that later).