The Ultimate Guide to Creating Effective Push Notifications

Posted on November 9, 2017 | Updated on March 1, 2021

Push notifications are a relevant and innovative way to keep us in touch with the mobile apps and services we value most. The problem is, nearly every app takes advantage of the feature, sometimes too frequently.

Ever notice how you are bombarded with notifications upon return to your phone, even after just a few minutes? This usually inspires one of several actions. Either you swipe away or ignore most of the notifications, enter settings and disable them for a particular app or uninstall the offending app completely. Sometimes, though more infrequently, you interact with the notification as the app wants you to.

Consider the apps with notifications you do value against the useless ones you swipe away. Notice something about them, a pattern or a trend?

They are more annoying than they are useful or engaging. But this can be fixed at the development and design level.

The Ideal Push Notification Publishing Strategy

Courtesy of Giphy

Above all else, push notifications must convey value. Relevance, content, timing, these are all important, yes, – and we will get to that – but the primary goal is to deliver valuable and useful notifications.

Let’s consider the notification for a simple text message or IM update. It reveals the content of the message received and interacting with the notification will bring you directly to the messaging app, specifically the appropriate chat window so you can reply. You can also often reply directly from the notification.

This is useful and convenient. It offers a quick way to take action and react to the message content you receive. This is unlike most notifications, which are designed to merely inform.

A push notification for a game telling you that your energy is full and urging you back to the app is not useful for anyone. In fact, the only thing it’s doing is begging, essentially. And it’s notifications like these that people dismiss and don’t want. The same is true of promotional content or adverts. You can send this type of content through a push notification, but it’d better be useful to whoever is receiving it.

How to Establish Value for a Push Notification

Courtesy of Giphy

There are some surefire ways to ensure that your push notifications design is top-notch and that your notifications and useful to your audience. It all boils down to a UX based system because that’s what push notifications are. You could even argue they are decidedly anti-UX, but that’s beside the point.

If you want to make an impact with your notifications, follow these tips.

1. Timing Is Everything

On one hand, you don’t want to deliver push notifications so much that you annoy your users. On the other, you don’t want to send them so infrequently that they offer no value. Striking a balance between those two extremes is difficult, especially without proper testing and feedback.

In terms of usability and convenience, timing is everything. Find a schedule that fits for your audience and what you’re trying to achieve. Furthermore, use analytics and customer data to research future ideas and strategies. If a particular notification is not going over well with your audience, then stop using it.

Ticketmaster uses geo-targeting and user history to deliver relevant notifications to its audience but also takes timing into account. That way, the brands push notifications are useful for the user, but they also appear at times when people will likely take action on them.

2. Do Something

We cannot stress this enough. Do not deliver notifications that don’t help users in any way. For example, timing a notification so that it shows promotions and discounts on a holiday is a great idea. But make sure when users interact with that notification, it takes them to your online store or a page with a promo code they can use.

Push notifications aren’t made to inform or educate. They’re designed to provide shortcuts. Text messages, as we already discussed, provide a great example of this. It allows you to see the message content from a contact and either ignore the notification or take action by responding.

Make sure your push notifications always have a purpose and ensure they do something useful.

3. Get Personal

You are delivering push notifications on a mobile device, which by itself is incredibly personal to its owner. Furthermore, you are likely doing so through a mobile app they have installed, related to your brand or products. This means that you have plenty of information on your audience, enough to personalize the message and create a custom-tailored notification.

Netflix, for instance, tracks the shows and types of movies a user is watching. It will then deliver targeted recommendations through push notifications – but not just for random content. It provides usable information on new seasons, episodes and shows that someone is interested in.

In retail, you could use this to let a customer know about a new model or product update. You could inform someone of a product launch or release, especially if they were interested in the pre-order phase. There are hundreds upon thousands of things you can do, just make sure it’s personalized.

4. Stay Clear and Concise

Ever had trouble trying to trim down a message or piece of content you wanted to fit on Twitter? It forces you to be more efficient with your words. You should adopt the same approach for mobile push notifications. You only have so much room and space to share content, and it compresses even more when there are additional notifications available.

Make sure your message and related content are always clear, concise and easily readable at a glance. Chances are, the end of your notification or message is going to be cut off, and that’s fine. Just make sure the bulk of the content conveys your message and captures people’s attention.

5. Invite Feedback and Test Rigorously

Courtesy of Giphy

A/B testing works well for push notifications – so use it. The same is true of customer feedback and reviews. Reach out to your audience and get their thoughts on your notification content.

Don’t just consider yourself a design expert with all the answers. You may or may not know what a demographic wants.

Want a real-world example? Look no further than popular floral company 1-800-FLOWERS. They used A/B testing to float a few notification options by their audience. One of those notification versions included a 15% promo code, while the other was a simple reminder. The goal was to bring customers who had added an item to their cart and abandoned it back to the app.

You’d think the notification with the promo code had the most success right? No brainer, right? Actually, the simple reminder message generated 50% more revenue and resulted in fewer app uninstalls. And the only way the brand found that out was through A/B testing, which goes to show just how vital it is to understand your audience.

Push notifications can either annoy customers and make them uninstall your app or encourage them to visit your app and increase your revenue. Which outcome rings true for you depends on how well you design your push notifications and your strategy for sending them.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at

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