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Push notifications. How to write push notifications that won't piss you off

Level of difficultyEasy
Reading time11 min

Push notifications are similar to promoters. You're peacefully walking down the street, and suddenly promoters approach you, urging you to take their flyers. You take them, but you don't read them and throw them into the nearest trash can.

The same goes for push notifications. You're reading an article, and suddenly a notification pops up with a promo code for free delivery of products. Then another one arrives, informing you about a giveaway. And then another one, offering a discount on all fruits. Notifications can appear on your screen at any time. If there are too many of them, your reaction is either to ignore them or disable them.

In this article, we will talk about how to write push notifications that people will click on and show you how to build a push notification strategy. At the end, we will provide a template for a push notification strategy.

Push Notifications - What is it?

A push notification is a pop-up message on a smartphone screen. To send one, you need to use a delivery service. You can send a notification instantly, schedule it for a specific time, or set up a trigger-based delivery - a chain of notifications that will be triggered by specific user actions.

Triggered push notifications are sent after a specific action is taken. For example, if a person starts adding items to their cart but doesn't complete the purchase, you can send them a notification urging them to complete the transaction after a certain period of time.

Notifications are sent to users who fall into specific segments for targeting. Segments are formed based on specific events. For example, the event "6 hours ago, a product was added to the cart but no purchase was made" will divide users into two segments: those who made a purchase and those who didn't.

To ensure that notifications yield the desired results, it is better to plan them in advance. In this article, we will delve into how to create an effective push notification campaign.

Push notifications are an aggressive format that can be irritating to some users. However, if you don't send an excessive number of messages and provide useful information in them, everything will be fine.

For example, an onboarding application promised "pleasant news about orders and discounts," but ended up bombarding users with discount notifications.

To avoid going overboard with push notifications, it is necessary to develop a strategy for their delivery by answering questions such as: Will this push notification be useful to the user right now? What is important for the user to know and why?

But first, let's understand the types of push notifications.

Service Notifications:

There are service notifications that inform users about changes in order status, bonus accruals, or actions they need to take within the app. It is generally clear to whom and when these notifications should be sent.

Marketing Notifications:

Then there are marketing notifications. They are intended to engage users at different stages of the funnel. There are three main stages where push notifications are involved: onboarding, engagement and retention, and reactivation.

One needs to be cautious with marketing push notifications. If you send them too frequently or to the wrong users, they will stop responding.

Both marketing and service push notifications should be written in a consistent style. A good example is the Headspace app. Their push notifications and interface text are calm, respectful, and align with the brand's tone of voice.

Once you have understood the types of push notifications, the sequence of actions is roughly as follows:

  1. Analyze your target audience (TA).

  2. Define goals for each stage of the funnel.

  3. Identify segments for each stage.

  4. Determine triggers and brainstorm ideas for push notifications.

  5. Prepare the text for push notifications.

  6. Review the notifications with the person responsible for communication.

  7. Set up the delivery.

  8. Experiment and iterate.

Types of push notifications at different stages of the funnel

We will consider push notifications at the onboarding, engagement and retention, and reactivation stages.

Push notifications during the onboarding stage

Onboarding is the stage between the lead (registration/authentication) and the completion of the desired action. It can be conducted in various ways.

The following goals are set during the onboarding stage:

  • Help the user complete the registration process.

  • Encourage the user to perform the first desired action.

  • Prompt additional auxiliary actions that increase the likelihood of user "stickiness" to the product. This can include providing additional data such as filling out personal information, giving ratings, or linking a card.

All notifications during the onboarding stage should lead to the completion of the desired action. For a social network, this could be the first post, while for a fitness application, it could be the first workout.

Vkusvill's target action is the first order, so the company offers a discount for it. YouDrive informs about the cost of their trips.

Push notifications during the engagement and retention stage

Engagement and retention are the stages that come after the first desired action. The goal of push campaigns at this stage is to form a habit and increase the frequency of product usage. Notifications should encourage users to repeat the desired action.

Notifications can be personalized. For example, Spotify creates personalized playlists for users.

Simple uses reminder notifications that they notify in advance. This way, the app shows care for the user.

Sometimes it is possible to use humor in notifications. However, caution should be exercised, and jokes should not contradict the brand's policy and positioning. Duolingo created "passively-aggressive" engaging notifications that even became a meme at some point.

For Duolingo, these push notifications turned out to be a discovery: users shared screenshots of the notifications on social media, attracting attention to the brand. However, it is important to understand that going too far with a joke can offend users and attract negative attention.

Offering some benefits to users is also possible, such as discounts, promotions, free delivery, contests, or cashback.

Situational push notifications can also be used for engagement. They are triggered not by a specific user action but by a specified time. The occasion can be a holiday, an event, or news.

However, building relationships solely based on discounts is not sustainable. Once the discounts end, users might leave as well. Therefore, it is necessary to explore other ways of influencing users.

It is important to remember that even the most active group of customers cannot increase usage frequency infinitely. There is a reasonable consumption frequency - the maximum frequency possible for a person to consume a specific product within specific time frames. If a user has already reached that frequency, there is no need to push them to use the application more frequently.

Each product will have its own reasonable consumption frequency. For example, for a fitness app, it could be once a day, while for a pizzeria, it could be once a week.

For example, for the food delivery aggregator app UberEats, the maximum reasonable usage frequency is three times a day. Determining the maximum reasonable frequency could be based on the fact that a person typically eats three times a day: morning, noon, and evening. However, this does not mean that messages should be sent with that frequency. It indicates that achieving such an order rate is desirable.

Push notifications during the reactivation stage

Reactivation is the stage when a user deviates from the typical usage scenario. For example, they used a fitness app every day but then disappeared for 10 days. This indicates that it's time to initiate reactivation.

The goal of marketers during the reactivation stage is to bring the user back to the standard pattern of product usage.

Sometimes a sudden deviation from the basic scenario can occur due to forgetfulness, being out of town, or other reasons unrelated to the product. However, there are situations where the user may have had a significantly negative experience. In such cases, marketing push notifications may not help.

The algorithm for customer reactivation may vary for different products, but it usually includes the following elements:

  1. Identify criteria for users who will enter the reactivation pool. The main criterion is a deviation from the usual scenario for a significant period relevant to the product.

  2. Segment the customers. This is necessary because not all customers are worth reactivating. If a customer of a food delivery service orders very infrequently and for small amounts, the cost of their reactivation may exceed the revenue.

Reactivation costs involve the money spent on special offers. For example, a company may want to bring back a user by offering a 15% discount on their next three purchases. The company aims to "hook" the person on their product. However, it is possible that the discount will expire, and the customer will leave or continue ordering minimally. In such cases, the profit from the user will be less than the sum of the discounts.

Properly segmenting users can be done using RFM analysis. To enhance the effectiveness of emails and push notifications, it's important to identify segments within the target audience. Personalized messages are then sent to each segment using RFM analysis.

The entire audience is divided into segments based on three criteria:

  • Recency: When the user made their last purchase.

  • Frequency: How often the user made purchases.

  • Monetary: How much revenue the user has generated in total.

This approach works well for e-commerce products or games with in-app purchases.

  1. Send reactivation messages to users who are included in the reactivation pool. These messages can include simple reminders or special offers. The key is to ensure that the cost of reactivation does not exceed the individual's value.

One can remind users of their presence by appealing to their emotions, as done by Citymobil and Nike Run Club. Situational notifications can also be used, as done by Fitmost. In Duolingo, if a student misses several lessons and does not respond to notifications, they receive a message about the termination of the subscription.

How to Create Push Notifications

Let's start by analyzing the target audience.

  1. Analyze the Target Audience

To create effective push notifications, it is important to understand the audience's pains, needs, preferences, and dislikes. You need to showcase the values that are important to the audience and address their pains and needs.

Here's an example of the primary target audience profile:

  1. Define Goals for Each Stage of the Funnel

Push notifications are used at the stages of onboarding, engagement and retention, and reactivation. You need to determine the goals for sending messages at each stage.

Let's break it down using the example of a product delivery service:

Onboarding stage goal: To encourage users to place their first two orders.

Engagement and retention stage goal: To motivate users to place an order every week.

Reactivation stage goal: To entice users to return to the platform and place an order once a week.

  1. Define Events and Segments for Each Stage

Users are typically segmented based on analytics within the product. This involves capturing user actions as analytical events within the analytics system. For example, button clicks or form submissions are considered events in the context of push notifications.

For instance, it's important to push users who haven't completed the registration process. In this case, the event would be completing the registration, which divides users into those who have completed it and those who haven't. Different actions can be targeted to these segments, such as completing the registration for some and making a purchase for others.

Onboarding stage:

Event: First purchase made.


Users who haven't made their first purchase.

Users who have made their first purchase.

Event: Second purchase made.


Users who haven't made their second purchase.

Users who have made their second purchase.

Engagement and retention stage:

Event: App opened in the last 7 days.


Users who haven't opened the app in the last 7 days.

Users who have opened the app in the last 7 days.

Event: Repeat purchase made within 7 days after the previous one (starting from the third purchase).


Users who haven't made a repeat purchase within 7 days.

Users who have made a repeat purchase within 7 days.

Reactivation stage:

Event: User hasn't made a repeat purchase within 21 days.


Users who haven't made a repeat purchase within 21 days.

Users who have made a repeat purchase within 21 days.

  1. Determine Triggers and Ideas for Push Notifications

Now that we know the user segments to whom we'll be sending push notifications, we need to select triggers that will initiate the message delivery and come up with ideas for the notifications.

Triggers are necessary to automatically send notifications within a specific time frame after a user's action.

Onboarding stage:

Trigger: No purchase made within 24 hours after registration.

Idea: Encourage making a purchase by offering free delivery and a 15% discount on the first order.

Trigger: 24 hours have passed since the first purchase.

Idea: Congratulate on the first purchase and offer a 10% discount on the second purchase.

Engagement and Retention Stage:

Trigger: The app has not been opened for 7 days.

Idea: Introduce new product collections for recipes.

Trigger: The app has been opened, but no purchase has been made within 7 days.

Idea: Provide a promo code for free delivery.

Reactivation Stage:

Trigger: Abandoned cart - when a person adds items to the cart but doesn't make a purchase within 6 hours.

Idea: Encourage completing the order.

Trigger: No repeat purchase has been made within 21 days.

Idea: Remind and offer to provide feedback if something is not right.

  1. Prepare text for push notifications.

Once we have a push notification idea, we need to write it. The text of the notification plays a significant role in whether a person will take the desired action. There are four rules for a good push notification:

  1. Keep it brief.

Each device has limitations on the number of characters. If your app is available on older phone models, it is recommended to fit within 40 characters. If the app only works on newer models, you can use 120 characters in the body of the push notification.

  1. Send relevant messages.

The message should be relevant to the user. A marketplace can send push notifications about new shoes to everyone, or specifically to those who have shown interest in shoes in the past 7 days. In the first case, the notification is irrelevant to most recipients, while in the second case, it is targeted and relevant.

  1. Avoid manipulation.

People can sense manipulation and tend to avoid it. If you constantly convey a sense of urgency, create a fear of missing out, or use similar tactics, users will start to avoid your notifications.

  1. Maintain Tone of Voice.

To maintain a consistent brand image, it is important to develop a Tone of Voice and adhere to it in all communications, including push notifications. Tone of Voice (ToV) is the style and sound of the brand that is consistent across all points of interaction with users. Remember, it's not just what you say, but how you say it.

Let's consider some unsuccessful examples of push notifications:

When a new law about penalties for illegal rentals was introduced, Yandex.Real Estate decided to inform its users. However, they didn't consider who needed this message and how to present it effectively.

As a result, the notification looked like a penalty notice. This push notification didn't evoke positive emotions in anyone. Moreover, it was irrelevant to those who don't rent properties. The message text said: "Penalty for tax non-payment."

Such notifications can generate negative mentions about the company online. Therefore, before sending a message, it is worth thinking several times whether it is necessary for the user and if they will understand it correctly.

Another case to consider is when Profi sent a push notification before the New Year with the text "They won't accept you." In the body of the notification, they explained the meaning - you need to make an appointment in advance. But initially, people saw a headline that triggered negative emotions, especially for those who had already made appointments.

  1. Coordinate push notifications.

Before sending out a campaign, it is advisable to show the push notifications to other people, ideally to an editor or someone responsible for user communications. When the message is limited in terms of characters, there is a risk that the meaning of the message will be distorted. It is especially important to test messages if you want to make a joke, as some jokes can harm your reputation. To avoid this, conduct a small corridor testing with colleagues - ask them to review these push notifications.

  1. Prepare notifications for distribution.

You can set up notification delivery using service providers such as OneSignal, Braze, or Firebase. First, you need to complete some basic steps: register, choose a plan, and upload the contact database if you already have one. Then you can configure the distribution - it doesn't require any special skills, just follow the instructions.

You can preview how notifications will look in tools like the free tool from OneSignal.

  1. Experiment.

There's one more important thing to understand about push notifications. You may think your pushes are brilliant, but the click-through rate might be low. Therefore, it's essential to see what resonates with your audience.

To do this, you need to test different hypotheses, such as timing, using personalization, or the number of emojis. To understand how to formulate hypotheses, it will be helpful to read an article on the topic.

The most common method for testing hypotheses is A/B testing. The concept is simple: divide a segment from your user base into two test groups that receive different notifications. The goal is to determine which push notification generates a better response.

The most critical aspect of conducting a test is to ensure that the group size is representative. Generally, to obtain representative results, each group should have at least 1,500 people. The groups should also be homogeneous.

In summary,

Push notifications are a one-on-one communication with the user. Few people would want to engage with an annoying interlocutor, but with a pleasant and unobtrusive one, why not?

Think of push notifications as an opportunity to get closer to the user. Don't try to sell to them in every possible way. Identify their needs and help fulfill them. In the moment, it may not lead to increased sales, but in the long run, you'll gain a more loyal customer.

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