David Shackleton
David Shackleton 16 October 2019

Personalize Your Notifications: How To Engage – Not Put Off – Your Users

Push notifications are a double-edged sword; when done well, they can boost user engagement and provide optimal value for your mobile app users. But when done poorly they can be seen as an annoyance... how can you navigate that fine line? The answer: personalization!

There are a lot of mixed feelings floating around out there about push notifications. On one hand, when poorly done, mobile users can see them as a distraction, a nuisance, or an invasion of digital privacy. But from a marketing and communications perspective, they’re digital gold dust. Push notifications are fast, reliable, versatile, and can be segmented in real-time according to users’ interests, geolocation, purchases, browsing history, and thousands of other variables.

With 72% of adults in the UK saying their smartphone is their most important device for accessing the internet, it’s obvious push notifications have become a key means of communication for mobile apps. They’re a means of getting your message right into your user’s hand – literally! – and their potential for personalization is limitless.

What Is Personalization?

Have you ever had an experience where you’ve bought something online, and for weeks afterwards you keep seeing ads for that same product? This personalization, only very badly done – algorithms that track your online activity and through machine learning attempt to offer you experiences that might appeal to you, based on something similar you visited or purchased. The problem is that a lot of the time the algorithms don’t take into account that humans’ interests or situations can change, or they have a finite need for a particular product or service. Lazy digital marketing can be so over the top that it actually alienates prospective customers instead of providing them information or products that they might find valuable.

With push notifications, personalization is key. Mobile apps users provide a wealth of data triggers that can be leveraged to design a push campaign, in terms of content and timing. This can be as simple as addressing your user by name: a notification beginning, “Good morning, Sarah” is going to spark their attention rather than a generic “Dear user.” On one level, it’s basic psychology that people respond positively to friendly language and being addressed by name. On another level, users know that a notification that is clearly well-informed of their identity and interests is more likely to contain something valuable, rather than being spam.

The Timing Has To Be Perfect

Another key aspect of personalization is to take timing into account. If you send a push notification at the right moment, the likelihood of the user clicking on it increases significantly. And in this case, “right moment” means convenient for the user – not convenient for the marketer. When is a leisurely moment when a notification will not be intrusive? You can rule out long periods of time when the user’s device is turned off or inactive (these are likely work or sleep hours). You can also rule out commuting hours, as well as time spent getting ready and then decompressing from work. You can inform your timing with other caches of data, such as the user’s calendar (do they have an important presentation or family event they won’t want interrupted?) or time zone.

Yes, this makes for very narrow windows of opportunity. Still, it’s better to send one or two perfectly timed notifications than spamming your users with notifications when they are unable to engage with them. This tactic has a high likelihood of alienating users, which could result in their turning off notifications or even deleting your app in extreme cases.

Rich Media, Deep Links, and More

Of course, in this age of media oversaturation, it’s not enough to send useful information at the right time. If you want to break through the white noise of the attention economy, you need to get creative with your content. This means not only in terms of writing style – although a good content writer is worth their weight in gold – but in using rich media, such as images, GIFs, videos, and more. Most push notification SDKs offer support for rich media. The idea is to pique users’ interest; with our smartphones, we’re accustomed to being entertained at all times, so seeing a block of straight text can be a turnoff.

Deep links are another way to offer your user a more immersive push notification experience. Deep links are essentially the mobile app version of a URL link on your desktop browser. A deep link, when clicked on, takes you to a specific page within an app. For example, say you offer a user a discount code to a pair of boots in your ecommerce app. If the link only takes them to the app landing page, leaving the user to search through the app for what they want to buy, they may lose interest. The effectiveness of push notifications very much hinge upon spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment action. Therefore, you have to maximize convenience in order to maximize user engagement.

Keep Things Smooth With Reliable Notifications

Reliablility is out of the hands of marketers, but it’s worth mentioning anyway since it’s a big factor in how users experience your push notifications. Basically, while most push notification SDKs’ reliability factor is a huge improvement on, say, SMS, there’s always the risk of a fluke, where a push notification hits a time lag or gets stuck in the backend server.


This can result in a campaign of carefully spaced out push notifications all hitting the user at once, or arriving in a jumbled order… or even not being delivered at all. This is at best an annoyance for the user. At worst, it can result in crucial information lost or rendered meaningless – which can be a make-or-break situation for apps that provide real-time information. For example, if your travel app sends users notifications about flight delays or other changes in schedule, your users need 100% reliable delivery rates.

Clearly, mobile engagement is not an exact science – start with a high-quality push notification SDK, with the highest capacity for data triggers and maximum reliability. Then add some great, personalized content, useful information, and careful segmentation to make sure your users feel as valued as they deserve!

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