An Even Better Recipe for Perfect Push Notifications

Put together data-baked, perfectly-cooked push notifications your users will love. This guide serves up sample recipes to help you run smarter app marketing.


An Even Better Recipe for Perfect Push Notifications

Put together data-baked, perfectly-cooked push notifications your users will love. This guide serves up sample recipes to help you run smarter app marketing.

Push notifications have come a long way over the past year and a half since launching our original eBook on this subject. For starters, we've moved away from calling them push messages since the widely accepted industry term is "push notifications". More importantly, though, they have become one of the most effective mobile engagement tools.

The silver lining? The effectiveness of push notifications is still heavily dependent upon crafting the perfect recipe; a mix of data and creativity, that, when used together, delivers exactly what your app users are looking for.

Read on to learn the new and improved recipe for push notifications.


Know Your Roots

Know Your Roots

Before we can dig into formulating your perfect push notification, we need to cover a bit of history on the subject. Push notifications were launched into the world by Apple in 2009, as part of their iOS3 update in June called, "Apple Push Notification Service". Since then, they've become a widely adopted form of engaging with users outside of the app. According to our data, about 52% of users have push enabled on their mobile devices, and that group of users account for 171% more app launches than other users.

However, despite their growing success, push notifications have gotten a bad rep. Between perceived notions of limited design and content options and the nature of interrupting (or irritating) app users, this marketing tactic has been cast in a poor light, and over 50% of app users still find push notifications annoying.

We can fix this. By tapping into your user insights, you can create messages that users want to receive. In this guide, we'll cover the four essential elements you need to create powerful push notifications and how to "cook" them to perfection, plus four sample "recipes" of great campaigns.



Essential Ingredients for Push Perfection

Essential Ingredients for Push Perfection

Not sure what app users are hungry for? When it comes to push notifications, there are certain ingredients that are proven to please. These five data-backed practices will ensure you deliver a great push message every time.



When it comes to effective push notifications, timing really is everything. While you may think that it's common sense not to send messages to users too late at night or early in the morning (even for breaking news - although there are always exceptions to every rule!), I'm sure almost all of us can recall receiving a notification at an off putting time. Ill-timed messages are not only really annoying, but can also be severely detrimental to your app, as they're one of the key reasons users churn.

So, what are the elements of perfect push timing?

Time of Day

While our data suggests that there is a slight uptick in click rates for push notifications sent in the late morning and early afternoon (10am-1pm), the reality is that it's less about benchmarks, and more about aligning your push timing closely with the end user. An effective push notification takes the below timing factors into account:

  • Time Zone: Knowing which time zone your user resides (or is currently) in is crucial to ensure you don't interrupt them with news about your shoe sale at 3am and risk them churning. Segment based on time zone, or risk app death by annoyance.
  • App User Preferences: Does your user tend to visit your app at a certain time of day? If so, take advantage of this data and let it guide your timing. For example, if you're a fitness app, test sending a push notification in the evening to morning users to set them up for success for their morning workout.
  • Content of Push: Great push notifications are highly relevant and should tie into a specific time of day or a triggered event. For example, if a user takes a specific action within your app, sending them a transactional push notification with relevant information or next steps soon after just makes sense.

While the above best practices should guide the majority of your push notifications, there will be times when you can't tie your push notification to a specific time of day (for example, app announcements, transactional notifications, etc.) That's where A/B testing come into play. Send the same push notification to your segmented group of users during different times in the day to see if a certain time is more effective than another.

Real Life Push Notification Example: Redbox sent the below push to users at 2:36pm on a Monday afternoon. Perfect opportunity to get them out of a midday slump: 


Another extremely important element of timing? Frequency. Knowing how often to communicate with users via push can make or break your relationship with them. And while there is research behind appropriate cadence, it varies greatly by industry.

For example, a social media app could send push notifications several times a day based on social interactions, but if a retail app did the same they would come off as spammy. 

Keeping the above in mind, below are some stats in regards to frequency best practices for push notifications:


Last but not least, take advantage of holidays or relevant happenings with your push notifications. This can be an extremely effective tactic as it provides a sense of personalization to your messaging which users respond to. Even better if you can tie into regional or local events, such as Marathon Monday in Boston or SXSW.


Having solid copy-text can determine whether or not your push strategy is successful. You have a minuscule window of time to grab the user's attention, so use your words wisely and get to the point. Lead with what's in it for users right up front and entice them to click-through with actionable language. Below are things to consider when formulating the copy for your push notifications: 



The phrase "short and sweet" could have been inspired by push messages (if, of course, mobile apps were around in the 1500's).

Depending on the actual smartphone your push is received on, the amount of words that appear on the lock screen varies. Certain smartphones have smaller screens, which results in fewer words appearing on the lock screen. Because of this, it's not terribly surprising that shorter messages are generally more effective since the entire message will appear on the screen.

What is surprising is the change in click rate by a margin of just one word. Notifications with 10 words or fewer see almost double the click rate than those that jump to 11-20. Those with over 21 words have a paltry 3.2% click rate on average - so it's clear that the "10 Items or Fewer" rule reigns supreme for pushes.



If you want users to stop what they're doing to connect with you, you have to not only make it worth their while, but create a sense of urgency. How? By using clear, actionable language. For example, if I'm a mCommerce app promoting a one-day sale for app users, here are two ways to present the push notification:

"Enjoy 20% off all items when purchasing via our app today."


"Psst! You're invited to our exclusive 20% off sale. Today only."

Both present the offer, but which does a better job at enticing you to click-through? If you don't say the second example, something's gone terribly wrong here.

What does this mean for your perfect pushes? Keep your messages clear, concise, and compact. You want to quickly make clear the purpose of the push notification. With few seconds to catch a user's attention (or sitting as just one in a list of notifications upon check their phone), your message needs to identify the value, goal, or reward behind the notification to prompt an open. Be upfront with the ask, but make it primarily about what benefit the user will gain from clicking through.


In addition to keeping copy short and actionable, it's extremely important to choose your words wisely. Think of push notifications like email copy - how do you get someone to click-through? What kind of language is most enticing to your end user?

By using words that convey the most value for the click. Essentially, how do you best communicate that the user will get something out of the app open?

While this differs by vertical (if you're a retail app your language is going to be substantially different than that of a travel app), but there are themes on the most commonly used and clicked on words:


After spending time crafting the perfect push notification, it would be a shame just to let it fall flat. That's why it's essential not to overlook the power of punctuation and emojis to your push messaging strategy. Both can be highly effective in grabbing user's attention and keeping it.


Tell it like it is

Another aspect of being upfront and concise with your push notification? Don't ask; tell.

The push notifications we studied contained a combination of statements and questions. The messages that delivered a statement performed twice as well as those that asked a question. Asking a question and then answering it may seem smart in practice, but remember that you are working with limited real estate on the lock screen, and most users are looking for more definitive content. 

This is further evidence of what we've discovered: you should be straightforward with your language, and avoid wasting space with questions. Instead, ask this one of yourself: why should the user open this message? The answer is what you need to highlight in your campaigns.


The Emoji Effect

Researchers have found that emojis are a powerful tool for humanizing mobil messaging, which can often feel impersonal and expressionless. Ever misinterpreted a friend's text message or a colleague's email? Then you know the feeling.

Emojis help humanize otherwise bland and seemingly cold digital messaging. And since we know that most consumers operate on emotion over reason (think generic vs. name brand), including an emoji can provide that personal elements needed to get the user to swipe-through.


Following The Push Recipe Instructions

Following The Push Recipe Instructions

Start With Segmentation

All great recipes start with a base. When it comes to push, segmenting to create user audiences is your base.

User audiences are groups of similar users who have all completed the same action or set of actions in-app, within a given time period. These can be reflective of your buyer personas, or just groups of users based on their app behavior.

When you create user audiences, you already have targeted groups of users you want to engage with your push notifications or reach out to with personalized offers on notifications.

Segmented push messages (or, those sent to a specific user audience) have almost double the open rate of broadcast push messages. But how exactly should you segment? Our research shows that segmenting by both Behavior & Profile results in over a 50% uptick in click rate:

Additionally, 54% of users who click on a segmented push end up converting, as opposed to 15% of those who click on a broadcast push message. To recap?

  • Group people based on important characteristics
  • Target push messages to right segments
  • Remember it's never one-size-fits-all


Determine The Best Offer

Audiences also help you determine the best content or offer to use in your push message. What is the purpose of receiving the push? Typically, it contains an offer, discount or special announcement that your users want to receive. 

But, the best pushes are those that personalize the offer in each campaign to a particular set of users.

Audience: Users who opened the app 2+ times in one week and looked at restaurants in Boston Potential Campaign: Send users a notification of a new restaurant opening in their area including an exclusive coupon.

Push Message: Posto in Cambridge is now open! Get our special offer for app users: $20 coupon for your first visit.

The best way to ensure your push campaign is attractive to users is to give them something they're actually interested in redeeming or learning more about. Over time, you can create smaller, more personalized segments and campaigns in an effort to boost conversion. 


Automate for Efficiency

If you're cooking for a large group of people, chances are you're relying on some pretty important tools to facilitate the process. 

As your app grows, so will your MAUs. So, creating, managing, and measuring push messaging campaigns for larger groups or multiple segments can get tricky without the right tools. Marketing Automation makes it easy for you to keep track of ongoing campaigns and keep users engaged (through more than just a one-time message).

Using automation, you can: 

  • Auto-enroll new users into campaigns, so that when a user qualifies to receive a message based on their in-app behavior, they're automatically added to the campaign. 
  • Chain push messages together in a series, the same as you would for an email nurture campaign. This allows you to create a campaign that touches users multiple times in a more sophisticated effort to increase app opens and engagement. 


Put on the Finishing Touches

The cherry on top of any good campaign? Personalization. Whether it's a real-time notification to a user containing pertinent details (see "the transactional push" recipe, blow) or a campaign that's targeted by audience, in-app behavior, session data, or profile data from outside of the app (such as store credit or email opens), the more relevant the push, the better received it is by users.

In fact, personalized messages elicit 3x more conversion than broadcast messages.

Granular targeting and personalization is dependent on collecting user information from inside the app and on tracking their interactions with your brand across channels. To get started planning and tracking this information, try this guide.


Four Sample Recipes for Smarter Marketing

Four Sample Recipes for Smarter Marketing

1. The Transactional Push

Transaction push messages are real-time, highly-personalized alerts pertaining to specific action a user completed in the app. Ever ordered a pizza using an app? The alert push notification you receive that updates the delivery time and order progress is transactional - it's specific to your order and timely.

Winning recipe: Say you've been perusing your credit card statement trying to understand how in the world you managed to spend an exorbitant amount on take-out last month. After leaving the app in the hurry to forget about it, Capital One sends you a friendly transactional push notification alerting you that they'll end the session for you:

Essential Ingredients: timeliness (immediate), relevance, personalization


2. The Mobile-Only Discount (Typical To Retail)

If you sell products via your app, chances are one of the primary reasons users download it is to access exclusive offers and discounts. This expectation is one reason deal-based language prompts such high click-throughs. Users who enable push do so because they're expecting value, and there's no better (or easier) way to deliver than that by providing offers just for them. 

Winning recipe: Shopbop wants to target active users in the past 30 days who made a purchase and then did not have a session with a re-engagement campaign. They  may decide to reward loyal customers with a special offer that will also work to bring them back to the app:

Essential ingredients: language, urgency, wording.


3. The "New For You" Notification

By now we know that relevancy is key, and using data to inform campaigns is the best way to ensure success. Music apps, for example, can create highly-personalized campaigns based on user favorites, playlists or saved artists. Understanding your users' interests gives you a strong platform for running campaigns introducing them to new content that will get them back in the app. 

Winning recipe: Music app iHeartRadio often looks for ways to get users to spend even more time in-app, and engage with more features, like playlist creation or sending music to friends. One way is to utilize push campaigns to send users notifications of music they would like based on their interests, new albums available from their favorite artists, or playlists they might enjoy.

Essential Ingredients: day of the week, timing, segmentation.


4. The Upgrade To Save

Free-to-download apps offer users a variety of ways to interact with content, features or activities. But when it comes to games with premium features or news services that require subscriptions for unlimited access, the ideal conversion event is clear: get users to upgrade to paying customers.

Winning Recipe: Spotify wants to notify users about their newest premium offer, Premium for Family. They want to target paid users who are daily or heavy listeners with their newest subscription offer:


Essential Ingredients: segmentation, relevant offer.




Repeat to Perfect

Repeat to Perfect

It's normal to get a recipe wrong or not quite right on your first try, which is why trying, learning and repeating is the best way to create campaigns that work. And, as your users and their expectations evolve over time, so will your push messaging strategy. We've compiled the best practices, but determining what best suits your users is a task up to you and your mobile engagement platform.