How to Boost User Engagement with Push Notifications and Bring Users Back to the App

December 12, 2014

It’s tough for mobile developers out there. Not only it’s a big challenge to get noticed on the App Store among myriads of apps, getting your app downloaded doesn’t guarantee a success. Nielsen’s polls show that on average users have 48 apps on iPhones and 35 on Android devices. How to keep your users attention and ensure they come back to your app?

What’s more, turns out it’s important to keep users engaged not only for the sake of existing users, but for your overall ratings in the app markets as well. After the last tweaking of rating algorithm, developers are now being judged even more on how often users are coming back to their apps (and not only on the initial number of downloads as it used to be some time ago). It looks like a vicious circle: hard to acquire users – hard to keep them – if you don’t keep the ones you have, it will be even harder to get the new ones.

Luckily, there is a way out of it. Many mobile developers have already started to employ it – building consistent communication with their users through push notifications, sending alerts, offers and reminders.

Why push?

According to Urban Airship findings, an open rate for push notification across many app categories is over 90%. To compare with other marketing channels, for example, for retail brands coupon redemption from emails averages at less than 1%, from SMS -15%-20% and for push notifications it can be as high as 30%. One thing that has got to do with such success rate is that push notifications are instant per se. They are right there on a smartphone and prompt users for immediate reaction. Stats also confirm that an average of 6 out of 10 users users return to a mobile app within a month if they are being engaged with push messaging. It’s a great to tool to drive more brand awareness and secure higher conversion rates.


The study also found that highly relevant push messaging strategy can increase user engagement by 293% and double app retention rates. Taking into account the low distribution costs, high delivery speed, clear position of sender’s identity, and vast potential for user engagement, push messages might be considered to be the new ‘it’ in today’s mobile marketing.

Craft your push messaging strategy

The numbers above look very exciting, and one might feel galvanised to start pushing messages right away. Indeed push messages are very straightforward and rather simple to set up from the tech point of view. However, you have to be careful not to repel users by over-communicating or sending notifications for the wrong reasons. If you do, users might either delete your app or turn off the notifications, which will close a great communication channel with your consumers. What is more, unhappy customers are usually willing to talk much more than the happy ones. Thus, their unfavourable comments might push away many of your potential customers right there.


Before you start pushing, make sure to get your metrics right. If you send too many, you risk annoying your users, getting them to ignore the important messages or deleting your app. If you send too few, you might be missing out a big time. It’s essential for mobile marketers to find the right balance by tracking and mapping out the effectiveness of your notifications. Start by setting up a baseline and the key metrics such as push adoption (percentage of daily active users (DAU) that can receive a push), push reach (a percentage of DAU that did receive a push) and push effectiveness (a percentage of DAU that received a push and acted upon it). It’s also important to track how push notifications affect daily/weekly/monthly active users (DAU, WAU, MAU) on a larger scale. Be prepared to track and analyse all this data, tweak your strategy and improve users experience. If you current strategy doesn’t work, stop, reevaluate and do something different.

How to send the ‘right push’

Give users some control. After downloading your app, users have a choice either to allow push notifications or opt out. This is your first step in building relationships with your future customer, so transparency is important. You need to communicate the value of push notifications (whether those are going to be reminders, alerts, updates etc.) and clearly state how users can benefit from them. Give users a chance to make an informed choice and be in control of their time & devices. Make it easy for them to choose what type of push notifications they want to receive, how many and how often, and, of course, give them a chance to opt out. Instagram might serve as a good example here: it helps users to set up their profile and choose which notifications they’d like to receive (updates, likes, comments). Even though some users might opt out, don’t give up on them right away. Educate them throughout their app experience and encourage them to opt in by providing valuable pushes.

Target and personalize. Ancient Romans used to say: “Divide et impera” – divide an conquer. Same principle works for marketer in segmenting markets and personalising their messaging. Localytics data shows that targeted pushes vs blast messages bring 3 times higher conversion rates.“When push messages are based on user’s actual in-app behaviour, marketers add value for their customers by providing them with relevant information and engaging with them in a helpful way, which is a win-win for both parties.” said Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Localytics and offered a couple of suggestions from on how to segment user base to boost user engagement:


I’d like to underscore that personalising push notifications is a tedious job that requires an ongoing effort and constant A/B testing. Test various call-to-actions until you come up with the ones that really work. After all it all comes down to test, push, test, push!

Time it. Timing is everything. Users are interested in important and urgent information. So, whatever you push, make sure it falls under one of those two categories. After some time you might consider cutting off the ones that get less than 5-7% CTR. Except for the time-critical information, you may want to test some retention notification for less engaged users that will re-engage them with the app. The important thing is to account for users location/time zone to make sure you don’t interrupt them at the wrong time.

Push the value. The last but not least, if not first, is to be receptive to users needs. It’s essential to understand what your consumers value about your service and tailor your messaging based on their needs. For example, hospitals might push appointment, paperwork reminders, prescription notifications. Retail stores, on the other hand, might share welcome and thank-you messages, special discounts, and location-enabled offers. Solve real problems for your users, and they will not want to change your app for anything else.


Still hesitating? Start pushing!

With careful planning and smart implementation, push notifications can help you reach your customers more effectively than ever. According to Emarketer, users with enabled push messages are about 2-3 times more likely to launch the app over the four months post-download. That’s why, more and more mobile marketers across many industries try to leverage push notifications for their timeliness, targeting, high conversion rates and relevance for users. Bear in mind that notification tolerance varies across app industries and individual users, so your success is all about sending the right message to the right person at the right time.

There are still a lot of pitfalls in utilizing notifications. Whereas smartphones are inherently very personal devices, many push messages are still very intrusive and annoying. Making sure that your push messages are properly timed, personalised and bring well can help optimize the performance of your campaigns, drive user engagement and ensure high retention.

On the last note, how many time do you look at your phone a day? An average adult checks his phone 37 times a day. We rely on mobile devices to be connected. We want and expect to be informed, incentivised and engaged. So, if your app isn’t providing value for users and doesn’t make their lives easier, the chances are high they’ll just forget about it. At the end of the day, looks like push notifications are the most mobile-friendly and cost-effective marketing channel today to make sure your app sticks.

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