Last Updated on
July 5, 2024

How to Boost Mobile App Engagement With Push Notifications

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If you have a product business, community website, or a news site, you already know the difficulties of keeping your user base engaged as time goes on. This is normal - with time, all marketing channels decrease in effectiveness. Brian Balfour believes you need to regularly find new marketing tactics if you want to see continued engagement with your audience, no matter what kind of business you have.

Cycle of growth tactics push notifications

If you'd rather watch a video on this topic, check out this video on our YouTube channel:

Social media went from being a key growth driver for businesses all over the world, and turned into a pay-to-play model. Facebook has reduced reach for businesses, and the only way to stay being seen by your audience is with paid advertising. This isn't always sustainable in the long run. Your email marketing likely remains a key part of your marketing and engagement strategy, but like social media, it's becoming less effective than ever. Your weekly newsletters might be ending up in the Gmail promotions tab, where you're going to be seeing a huge reduction in how many of your subscribers see your email. There's probably nothing wrong with the emails you send ether - but it peaked in effectiveness in 2006, and is unlikely to ever reach that point again. You need to keep adapting to the channels your audience will engage with you most on.

Channel cycles of effectiveness

One of the most important channels to arise in recent years that you may not yet be using are Push Notifications. Not only are push notifications an effective way to reach your audience in real time, but they are a great way to retain your audience over longer periods.

eMarketer App Retention

Research from Localytics discovered that mobile app users who received push notifications were much more likely to keep using an app (and log into it regularly) when subscribed to push notifications than those who weren't. They are also proven to be an especially powerful tool for content publishers, as they provide a much easier way to get time-sensitive updates and stories into the hands of readers.

The New York Times has had so much success with push notifications that they now have a dedicated team to handle the development and scheduling of push alerts to subscribed app users. If you’re tired of your content getting lost in the noise, and want to grow pageviews and engagement push notifications may be just the marketing tactic you need to try. In the following guide, we’re going to tackle:

  • The Key Benefits of Push Notifications
  • Web Push Notifications vs. Mobile Push Notifications
  • Why Should You Use WordPress Push Notifications?
  • How To Get Started & Setup Push Notifications
  • How to Configure Push Notifications to Boost Engagement

We will cover all this and more, so you can make the right decisions regarding your own web and mobile app push notification strategy.

The Key Benefits of Push Notifications

There’s so much to be gained from push notifications:

  • Direct access to your audience and they don’t even need to be in your app or on your site.
  • You get real-time traffic on your apps and sites, which helps with the virality of content and boosting reach even more.
  • Urgent and timely notifications also make your app the go-to source for information subscribers can use on the fly.
  • It’s a great way to get out news about new product launches or content that users wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.
  • When push notifications add value, you create an overall better experience on your apps. Just look at the New York Times. Its mobile app subscribers are much more loyal and willing to pay for access than those on desktop.
  • Social networks would benefit from this continual push of activity back to the app. As more users return to the app on a daily basis, the more app activity goes up--which makes your platform an even more engaging and valuable one for new users thinking about installing it.
  • For mobile apps with an ad monetization strategy, push notifications effectively help increase ad revenue by getting more people to see your pages containing ads.
  • eCommerce websites and apps can also leverage push notifications to increase sales, though messages would be more specifically targeted at shoppers.
  • Data is alone is valuable from push notifications. You can learn a lot about what it your audience likes and doesn’t like, leading you to more aptly adjust your marketing strategies going forward.

As Andrew Phelps, the Product Director of Messaging & Push at the Times, said:

“We used to be standing on a hill and shouting messages at people,” he said. Now, by comparison, “There’s a growing number of users who only engage with us when we send a push.”

Push notifications are really a simple concept. Get your visitors or users to say, “Yes, I want you to contact me.” Then, send them relevant, timely, and helpful messages directly to the devices they want to receive them on.

Why aren’t more people taking advantage of this?

It has more to do with a lack of knowledge of this channel than it does with push notifications themselves. Firstly, many sites think they can't get a mobile app for their website, and think Push Notifications are reserved to only the biggest publishers. With plugins in WordPress, and even affordable tools online, it’s fairly easy to equip a website and mobile app with push notification technology.

Just look at MobiLoud. We’ve taken all of the work out of mobile app creation and push notifications. Simply update settings to your liking, and that’s it! We’ll help you do the rest.

Differences Between Web and Mobile Push Notifications

There’s a big difference between web push notifications and mobile app push notifications. For instance, opt-in rates, click-through rates, and the loyalty of push users is much higher in apps than on the web. Let’s consider this from all angles:

  1. Use cases
  2. Appearance
  3. Functionality
  4. Reach
  5. Opt-in Rates
  6. Engagement Rates
  7. Requirements

Use Cases for Web vs Mobile App Push Notifications 📩

Even if your mobile app doesn’t have a concept that works well on that urgent, need-to-know now level, you can still make good use of push notifications. Take the example of Detroit Free Press. Ashley C. Wood, the director of consumer experience at the paper, explains:

“We think the push alert now isn’t just about giving you breaking news. It’s giving you content that we’re really proud of, that we want you to associate with us, something that’s very Free Press at this moment.”

As such, do keep in mind that every website and mobile app should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Pay attention to your analytics and user personas to determine how push notifications would best be used.

Appearance of Web vs Mobile App Push Notifications 🔔

In terms of appearance, there actually isn’t much of a difference between web or mobile push notifications. Here is an example of both web and mobile app push notifications:

Appearance of Web Push Notifications:

web push notification example
Web push notification opt-in appearances

Appearance of Mobile App Push Notifications:

mobile app push notification
App push notification appearance

Both allow publishers to send text messages, and they can be accompanied by images and video. Oh, and messages can include advanced characters like emojis, too. In fact, LeanPlum found that emojis nearly double the open rate of push notifications:

LeanPlum Push Emoji

Functionality of Web vs Mobile App Push Notifications 🛠️

In terms of how push notifications work, the delivery system is essentially the same, but they have differences in terms of how they can be customized.

WhatsApp Main Notifications
Personalization options for mobile app push notifications

Reach for Web vs Mobile App Push Notifications 📣

I’ve already touched on this point a little bit, but I’ll sum it up once more. Mobile apps win here, as mobile users spent over 87% of their mobile time within apps, rather than on the mobile web.

This is why news publishers like The New York Times and CNN, or social media apps, have so much success with mobile push notifications.

Opt-in Rates for Web vs Mobile App Push Notifications ✅

The first step in being successful with push notifications is getting people to actually opt in to them. As we’ve seen already, it’s typically a simple choice: Allow or Block. But the content of your site or app, as well as the level of customization available for notifications, can dictate how high your opt-in rate can go.

CTRs for Web vs Mobile App Push Notifications ☝️

A little later, I’m going to share some success stories of push notifications from a number of websites. One of the key comparison metrics is click-through rate. Let's take a look at how the two compare.

Brett Caine of Urban Airship explained why some companies see far more success than others:

“As more and more apps turn to notifications … it’s natural users will become more selective about which apps they allow to send push notifications.”

Of course, you need to take into account industry differences, as there are certain types of businesses that have more click-worthy messages than others. If your business relies on engaging with your audience in a relevant and timely way, than mobile app push notifications are the way to go - just make sure you personalize them and don’t waste your spot on their device lock screen.

Requirements for Web vs Mobile App Push Notifications 🔑

It’s easy to start using Push Notifications for your own business and both web and mobile app notifications have relatively low barriers to entry.

If you think a mobile app is too high of a barrier to entry, don't worry - they're not only reserved for the biggest companies anymore. A service like MobiLoud will build, publish, and maintain your mobile app in a relatively short time without the pain point of using a DIY builder or hiring a freelance app developer.

In addition, MobiLoud makes the setup and configuration of push notifications easy for website owners who want to start taking advantage of the mobile app market.

Why Should You Use WordPress Push Notifications?

As you consider your options for building a WordPress website and converting it into a mobile app, you should also think about what the best delivery system for real-time notifications will be.

Let’s first start by looking at WordPress push notifications. Even if you’re learning towards a heavier emphasis on your mobile app, many apps start with a strong website base. If you can master push in WordPress, this will make the move to mobile all the more easier.

WordPress web push notifications might not be as attractive of an option as those on mobile app, but they’re still an essential part of marketing and communication for your brand if you intend on having a website.

Oh, and let’s not forget about how easy and cheap it to set up WordPress notifications. So long as you know where to start and which tools to use (which I’ll cover later), there’s really no reason nor obstacles that should keep you from doing this.

Any additional marketing channels you can add to your strategy--and ones as effective as push notifications are--the better! Especially in light of how low the return on investment can be for other marketing channels. Take email, for instance.

The Case for Engagement

As explained by Will Oremus of Slate, social media does a good job of getting news in front of readers in a timely fashion, but it is killing brand recognition:

“[Y]ou see the headlines in your Facebook feed, but who they're coming from, what news organization those headlines are coming from is — you know, that's not the first thing you see. And so you click the headline rather than selecting your source, as you used to do in the print days. You know, you would buy the Times or the Post and then read whatever headlines they had. And the issue for the media companies has been that that has eroded their direct connection with readers.”

Push notification marketing doesn’t suffer from the same problems. Not only does it enhance brand recognition as alerts are directly tied to the source, but it does engagement really well--both on web and mobile.

A Few Examples of Kickass Engagement with Web Push

PushCrew published this case study from LA Tourism. In it, they explain how Bao Truong, a developer from the website, reached out in the hopes of developing a new marketing channel for the brand.

Here is what he had to say about how positive the experience was with web push notifications, right from the start:

LATourism-Web Push
“Our very first push notification was a massive hit! We saw an astonishing click-rate of 16%. Truth be told, my team and I were a little skeptical about using Web Push Notifications for LA Tourism. We didn’t want to overwhelm our users. However, once we started using them we realised that Web Push Notification as a channel is both attention grabbing and non-invasive.”

Chargebee is another great example from PushCrew on how web push notifications greatly improved their brand’s marketing efforts. After implementation, the website began to collect around 30 new daily blog subscribers through push notifications alone. In addition, their click rate rose by 200%.

Preethi of Chargebee expanded:

“With traditional email list building and other engagement channels, the subscriber rate was far lower when compared to Push Notifications. The engagement with other channels in terms of click rate is 3 – 7%. With Push Notifications, our average click rate is over 14%.”

Then, there’s the case of Tiendeo. They discovered a significant difference between their email marketing efforts and what they were capable of doing with push. When compared side-by-side, push notifications received 30% more engagement than newsletters did.

Not only that, but their push notifications do such a good job that they’re solely responsible for the 49% of visitors that return to the site.

How to Configure Push Notifications to Boost Engagement

In recent years, publishers have gotten excited about the power of push notifications to boost mobile app engagement.

Unlike email marketing, which was once the most coveted customer engagement tool, a push notification is difficult to ignore. Push notifications allow you to reach out to users at just about any time. Whether they’re eating breakfast, at work, or using other applications on their device; you still have a way to communicate with your audience.

This is also why the strategy has so much potential to fail. A marketing channel that’s so disruptive carries a lot of risk for misuse. Even giants like CNN, Spotify, and Facebook have blundered their way into the headlines for doing so. Here are some tips to make sure you’re pushing the right way.

1. Decide Why You’re Using Them

A push notification sent without purpose is one that is doomed to fail. Really consider why it is you want to send them and what your users will ultimately get from receiving them.

For instance: Is it to get more people to read and comment on blog posts? Do you hope it will increase sales in your ecommerce store? Does your BuddyPress network generate a lot of activity worth notifying members about?

Ensure that your notification strategy will be useful to your audience, and won’t lead them to be be left with a bad impression and, inevitably, unsubscribe. To do this, utilize best practices and proven strategies to make your push notification strategy work:

2. Develop an Effective Opt-In Message

Before you can even reach visitors or users with push, you have to get them to opt-in (although Android users are automatically opted-in).

So, how do you encourage them to opt into push notifications when many websites and mobile apps tend to use the same lifeless Allow/Block message? With web push notifications, unfortunately, you don’t have much choice. This is how the opt-in message will appear on all websites:

Business-Web Push

With mobile app notifications, however, you have a lot of room for personalization. And the more welcoming and personalized the message feels, the better your chances are at getting quality users to opt in (i.e. the people who will remain loyal for a long time).

“‘Look, we would like to send you push notifications based on your profile and your interests in your specific news areas, and we will send you a customized notification once a day, or when there’s breaking news, you can …’ and you tell the user why they should opt in before you ask them to do it, you’ll increase opt-in rates by 20–30 percent, and you’ll move it from 50 into the 70–80 percent opt-in range.”- Christopher Dean, CEO, Swrve

It’s tempting to make opt-outs difficult for your user, because push notifications are so effective. However, forcing your users into communication destroys customer loyalty.

Make opting out whenever they want as easy as possible.

That said, don’t assume the easy opt-out gives you a free pass to spam. Even if they can ditch you, overdoing things still leaves a bad taste in their mouth concerning your brand. It’s imperative to make management of preferences easy.

Why? Users may get overwhelmed by your notifications and opt-out completely.

You should make it possible to choose what types of alerts they get, when notifications are on or off, and specified quiet hours. This added control goes a long way toward building trust and minimizing irritation. MobiLoud follows this and other best practices by letting users easily opt out of push notifications for articles and news based on their category.

3. Make Push Notifications Timely

Not all push notifications are equal. You want the more annoying ones or less relevant ones to be less intrusive – that means timing becomes more important than ever.

Push cadence is important, too. Don’t send too often, but don’t wait too long or they’ll forget who you are and feel interrupted when you start contacting them again.

Look at the New York Times mobile app, for example. Breaking news goes out when the story is actually breaking. If they were to send it a day or even a few hours too late, their audience would likely have already heard the news from another source.

"The brands who win with push notifications will be those who prioritize delivering impact not impressions, customer utility not message frequency."- Bradley Simpson, CEO, Vection Group

That said, you have to make sure push notifications go out at the right time of day for your particular audience. According to LeanPlum research, this can change based on industry as well as geolocation.

LeanPlum Timing Push

You might also want to consider things like Bedtime Mode:

iOS Bedtime Mode

And Do Not Disturb modes with iOS devices.

iOS Do Not Disturb Mode

These settings let users prevent their phones from making sounds or vibrations during designate sleep or distraction-free periods. Any attempt to reach them with timely updates will fall flat, so watching your users’ behavior is really important. Look at your user data to make sure you hit their devices when they’re ready to receive those messages.

4. Make Push Notifications Relevant

This isn’t all about advertising. You also want to build relationships and credibility.

Even simple things like transaction confirmations and updates about items on a wish list provide an opportunity to get your name out there without being overbearing.

Other opportune times include when instant actions are needed or when crucial info needs to be delivered, such as a flight change. Do not fly by the seat of your pants on this.

Tempted to re-use content from your website for mobile? Don’t. Mobile platforms are more personal, and users expect high relevancy.

The shortcut of using the same slogans and messages you use on your website can be tempting, but mobile is mobile. Never forget your medium.

Needless to say, your push notifications must be useful, which means carefully planning which of your users should receive notifications, too. To send every push to every user is counterintuitive to success. (This is why asking your users for push preferences is really helpful.)

Once you’ve found that sweet spot of delivering timely and relevant messages to your audience, you’ll see their response and interest go up as a result. Urban Airship says that when companies use personalization and segmentation well, those websites and apps experience 4 to 7 times the response rate than the average.

Will Oremus of Slate, an online magazine, said in an interview: “the economy of online news uses attention as a currency. So anything you can do to get people's attention and to get their eyes on your site is going to drive your business.

"Creating a successful push notification requires careful planning, since the last thing you would want is to lose your customer’s trust. This happens when they perceive your pop-ups to be pushy, and irrelevant."- Oksana Chyketa, Marketer, Albacross

Just be careful with notification fatigue, especially if you run a news organization. If you’re producing lots of great content, it’s tempting to send out notifications for as many of them as possible.

But you have to be careful. Backlash at information overload can be a big problem. Let’s use a BuddyPress social network as a an example.

Let’s say someone wants to know when they received a new personal message. That would be worth a notification. However, do they need to know every time someone uploaded a photo or changed details of their profile? No, probably not.

When personalizing, focus on making these messages useful. WooCommerce customers would want to know about promotions. Geotargeting would be especially nice for news outlets trying to deliver the most relevant local stories to users.

5. Use Rich Content

Push notifications are a lot like SMS text messages in that you can deck them out with videos, images, GIFs, and emojis. An Urban Airship study actually found that image push notifications can get 56% more opens than those without images.

But be careful with this. Just because you can use rich content doesn’t mean it adds value every single time. For some messages, a plain text message could be more impactful than a pimped out push notification so long as it clearly and succinctly delivers a useful message.

Plain Text Push

When your mobile app is new, and you want to make a strong impact with users, experiment with rich content. When used correctly, it can result in higher engagement and could be a great way to expedite interest in your app.

6. Track Success of Push Notifications

There are plenty of tools you can use to analyze user behavior and discover what triggers opt-outs or declines in engagement.

To get started, use Google Analytics in your app and measure your users’ activity. This is a good place to start in terms of learning about your audience. But in terms of adjusting your push notification strategy to something that will actually succeed, you need to look at what happens afterwards. It’s not enough to know how many users received your push notifications. You need to see click-through rates, too, as this indicates there’s an interest in more than just getting highlights from your site or app.

When clicks occur, this means your platform is one deserving of engagement. The New York Times initially paid a lot of attention to these tap-through rates, but then discovered that wasn’t the entire story. Once users got back to the app, many didn’t take time to even read the articles or, worse opted out of push notifications altogether. You have to look at the full journey with push notifications in order to assess whether or not they’re working:

  • How many viewed the notification?
  • How many clicked through?
  • How many made a meaningful engagement with the content from the click?
  • Did anyone unsubscribe directly afterwards?
  • Did anyone uninstall the app from their device completely as a result?

Watch for both the good and the bad signs. You can tell a lot about the quality of your push notifications (and your digital property) based on how they react to these brief messages.

Wrapping Up

A new, powerful communication medium like push notifications requires thinking differently about how you interact with your audience.

Push notifications can be extremely powerful when done right. However, from a user’s perspective, they can also be one of the most frustrating marketing tactics.

Keep that point in mind, too. This is about enhancing your users’ experiences; not about getting a superficial statistic like “number of push notifications seen” up higher. This is why you need a comprehensive push notification strategy that begins with your reliable WordPress website base and expands outwards to your mobile app presence. By utilizing push notifications on both platforms, you can potentially reach all users, regardless of browser or device.

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