Increase Mobile Retention Rates with Better Push Notifications

[fa icon="calendar"] May 2, 2017 12:21:08 PM / by Guest

Noah Weiss of Foursquare and Slack fame said it best when he said, “customer acquisition propels an app, but user retention builds a business”.

This should resonate with almost all of us in the app economy.

The first step in acquisition is of course generating awareness and driving the install, but what happens next to ensure a user engages with your app can have a huge impact on results and revenue.

At another e-commerce app centred business I am on the board of, we once calculated that for every 1% increase in monthly app users, our profits would increase by more than 20% annually given the month on month growth – an enormous gain over time. And while it takes focus and effort to increase usage by 1%, there are many things that can result in increases of that level.

david shackleton notifications.png

In terms of communicating with your user, one of the most exciting components of mobile apps is the ability to message someone via a notification without ever needing to collect their email address or phone number. This is what makes push notifications unique.

Even more exciting - and just beginning to be embraced by leading apps - is the fact that notifications can be customized for each user in real time, really making use of the power of smartphone data.

Taking advantage of this makes notifications more likely to be timely and appropriate as well as useful for users. Get all that right and you’ll see big impacts on engagement.  

The Three Dimensions of Great Notifications

There are three dimensions to think about when making great notifications to drive engagement.

  1. Usage & Behavioural Data

It all starts with the data.

Make the most of any custom user data you can track and use in your app which would improve the customer experience. Things like:

  • How long since they last opened?
  • What time of day did they last open your app?
  • What categories or content or parts of the app did they look at and use?
  1. Personalization

As with email, personalization of content is already well known and proven to increase the effect of notification, such as a) including a user’s name or b) specific details based on their app usage - which level they reached on a game or which category of content/product they engaged with.

  1. Delivery Moment

With a little work, the real world moment when notifications are delivered to each user can be customised by using device data from the phone. These include system language information or whether they only unlock their phone in the evenings. This increases not only the chances of a user engaging with your app, but also improves their experience.  

Averaged across a 5 million app install data set, using device data like this has been proven to increase click-through-rates (CTR) on notifications from 2% all the way to 13% CTR.

A massive impact – but not hard to understand when every one of your users gets a notification with slightly different content at a slightly different moment that makes sense just for them.

Combining all of the above data can yield incredible results in terms of engagement, but the diligent app marketer will also keep a close eye on opt-out rates. If you do a bad job and annoy customers it means they will opt-out (or, worse, uninstall) and remove all chance of engaging with them again.

If your notifications aren’t providing users’ with value, they will punish you for it.

Measuring notification campaigns

The key metrics for every notification campaign are:

  • Delivery rate (i.e. how many notifications are shown to users, not just sent out from backend servers).
  • Click rate.
  • Opt-out rate.

We believe notifications have already become the primary interface on mobile. The best apps are getting better at engaging users at the right moment and are reaping huge rewards – so much so that notifications should not be thought of as something that is bolted into the app at the end, but something that is ideally designed as part of the user experience as your app evolves and improves over time.

There is some easy-to-control and quick-to-setup basics to ensure you get right:

  • Encourage exploration. Always let a user engage with your app for a while before asking them for permission to send them notifications. In some cases waiting till they complete some action or get to some stage in your app is best, in others perhaps you want to wait for the 2nd or 3rd time they open the app.
  • Give a heads up. Always tell the user that you are about to ask them for permission and give them a good reason to give you a chance – tell users the value you will deliver.
    • In our experience, using a system formatted dialog box for that pre-permission dialog increases the opt-in rate by 22%.

Understanding what is possible with notifications, and then taking a few hours with your team to plan out a notification strategy will yield the best results to measure and improve on.  The approach we usually recommend is to keep things very simple and straightforward at first, often just focusing on just 2 or 3 use cases at a time. Get those right and measuring them before adding any more.

You can divide notifications into two groups:

  1. Informational - where the app is telling the user something they want to know because they installed your app.
  2. Promotional - where the message aims to get the user to do something that is the apps’ objective.

The most effective notification strategies balance both Informational and Promotional notifications. Informational use cases can convince users to give you permissions - so they generally come first. After that, your Promotional notifications can help drive engagement and other business goals.

There is so much opportunity with simple notifications to be seen as useful, personal and exciting, which is what really drives engagement and long lasting positive relationships with users.

Top tip: Often the simplest notifications work the best. Don’t forget to add an emoticon or two, we’ve seen them improve click through rates for the first few campaigns by 85%+.

Delivering smart notifications can deliver wonderfully improved user experiences as well as increasing engagement and usage of your mobile app. It’s all about putting the user first and measuring and improving things by using the best tools.


Written by David Shackleton, CEO @ OpenBack


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