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Last update: July 2019

4 mins to read

What Is a Push Notification? How Do They Boost Engagement?

We’ve all received them. In fact, they probably seem commonplace by this point. We’re so accustomed to seeing push notifications pop up on our phones and swiping them away that they don’t even register anymore.

But in a fast-paced marketing ecosystem where the smartphone lock screen is the primary interface a brand has with their customer, a savvy push notification campaign is a crucial means of communication.

From the user’s end, they’re indistinguishable from SMS text messages. However, push notifications come from apps that have been downloaded, and in the traditional delivery model are filtered through third-party servers.

They are necessary for getting marketing communications and other updates to your customers. However, if you overdo it, you run the risk of being muted, or even having your app deleted.

So what really is a push notification? And what’s the best way to handle your push notification campaign?

What Is a Push Notification and Why Are They Better Than Text Messages?

First, the similarities. When they show up on the lock screen, push notifications and text messages look and behave similarly. If you swipe or click on them, they take you to either your phone’s messaging center or into the app that sent it.

But there are a few small yet important differences that make push notifications the medium of choice for an app to communicate to their users. First of all, push notifications are at their most effective when they have a limited number of characters. This is because they need to get their message across on the lock screen, as once they’re interacted with they take the user into the app.

Second, some phone plans charge their users for receiving text messages… and making your users pay for the privilege of receiving marketing from your brand is NOT a good impression to make. Push notifications, on the other hand, are always free for the user to receive.

Finally, brands sending promotional messages via SMS can come off as spam to their users, especially if it comes from an unknown phone number. And in the United States, sending spam over text message is illegal, with spam meaning any sort of commercial message sent to someone unless they have an overt relationship with you.

Push Notification Campaign Do’s and Don’ts

When it comes to sending push notifications, there’s a very fine line between helpful communications and harassment. Depending on what the nature of your app is, a few well-placed push notifications per day will work wonders, whereas blasting your user with dozens of generic, poorly timed notifications will hurt your relationship with them.

A good place to start is to consider when would be most beneficial for your customer to receive a notification. When will they have the leisure and the interest in hearing about your app’s new features, or a sale you’re having, or that they have items left in their shopping cart? Common sense would say not before or during their work hours.

So does that mean sending them notifications on the dot of 5 pm? Well, no. You still have to take into account that most people will be commuting home at that time, and will probably be busy directly after making dinner, working out, showering, etc. Some of your users might not work regular hours. This is where the use of device-side data comes in: Google or Apple calendars, local traffic conditions, habitual phone activity, and more can all provide metrics to map out your user’s schedule so you can time your notifications to be delivered at the most convenient moment for them.

Increase Customer Engagement

With mobile apps, engagement is the key. This means from the moment you’re downloaded, kick off with a great first impression and then continue to provide beneficial, engaging messaging that your users won’t want to go without. This can be more difficult with some users than others; Apple phones, for example, only send push notifications if users opt in from the beginning. However, this may be set to change soon, with the iOS 12 offering provisional notifications, possibly in a move towards an opt-out model like Android has.

Meanwhile, do what you can to demonstrate your value as an app. Offer a stellar splash page, the window that pops up when a user first opens your app. Interactive features such as a tour or a beginner’s tutorial might pique their interest enough to opt-in to notifications, as will promotional codes or discounts.

Continue to build a good rapport by sending personalized notifications that complement and build on users’ interests and past interactions. Device-side data provides a wealth of metrics – including information from calendars, ecommerce purchases, social media profiles, and more – that you can leverage to offer targeted notifications for user retention.

How Do I Get Started With Push Notifications?

There are many SDK platforms out there that offer a range of packages for apps to send out push notifications. However, OpenBack goes above and beyond in terms of sophistication, number of data triggers, and tools for putting the user first. Our unique, device-side model for sending out notifications lets all of the action happen app-side, without the need to send data into third-party servers, resulting in a secure, real-time experience that puts the user first at all times.

Visit our website to learn more, or talk to one of our experts to set up a demo.