5 Dos & Don’ts of Push Notifications

5 Dos & Don’ts of Push Notifications

Has a push notification ever irked you into uninstalling an app? 

If so, welcome to the club. While push notifications work wonders in terms of triggering instant engagement and involving users who are not currently using an app: when mistreated i.e. frequently sent, a push notification is nothing but a stale attempt at promoting app usage. 

Therefore, you have to find the right ‘balance’ i.e. the key elements that make for a great push. Before we get to the dos and don’ts of a push notification, let’s do a little recap of what a push notification is.

What is a push notification? 

They are like your average mobile alerts and text messages that appear on your smartphone’s home screen if you have installed a particular app. You don’t have to be in the app or using your mobile phone to receive them. 

A push notification can be anything, from a drink-water-to-stay-hydrated reminder to keeping you posted on the latest sports scores or giving you a heads up on events such as a flash sale.  All mobile platforms have support for push notifications. iOS, Android, Fire OS, Windows, and BlackBerry – you name it – all have their own services.

Here’s an example of a push notification

push notifications

Every now and then when I miss my Chinese or German lesson on
Duolingo, it sends me a simple reminder in the form of a push notification as well as an email.

‘Got 5 mins?’ withAce your learning and practice Chinese or German now!’ in the one-liner detail part. Nothing too texty. 

Sweet and thorough. The email usually has all the details.

The text, email, or missed call notifications that appear on your lock screen are another typical push notification example.

Let’s get back to the 5 dos and don’ts of push notifications now!


5 Dos and Don’ts of Push Notifications

Here’s a list of 5 dos and don’ts to practice and avoid getting dumped by the users.

Push Notifications: Do’s

1. Personalize the message

Push notifications are a direct way of interacting with your users so tailor them in a way that suits your users’ self-interests. Remember, it should be regarded as a privilege and not a right to be able to send messages to users in the form of a push notification. As an app publisher, you need to offer value to the users as anything useless could result in notifications being turned off or worst-case scenario, the app will be uninstalled.

2. Less is more & meaningful 

Couldn’t iterate it enough. Aim for quality and not quantity with push notifications. Because your users likely also receive notifications from all a plethora of other apps! Besides, isn’t there a limit on the number of characters?

It is strongly recommended here that you send about 3-5 notifications a day instead of opting for a higher number such as 10-20. 3 – 5 notifications a day are more than enough and in certain cases too much. Make sure that you send personalized content-rich updates, to get users to tap on it and not swipe off their screen.

Duolingo is a very good instance of ‘less is more’ in push notifications.

3. It’s all in the timing

Yes, it’s important that you schedule your push notifications. Rather than sending one at random, figure out the best time to send a push notification to your users. It is imperative that you keep in mind the geographical location of your users when scheduling your notifications. You need to assess the timings when your users aren’t occupied with other stuff like work. Profiling your users would help you come up with the best schedule. Apply A/B testing here to assess the best time to get your user’s attention without interrupting them.

Do you think that Starbucks or McDonald’s just send out notifications at odd intervals? It’s all predecided and well thought of. Think of it this way, what would be the best time to send a notification on a very hot McDonald’s deal?

4. Greeting your users (initially) is common courtesy

Imagine someone rings your doorbell. As you open the door, this salesperson starts selling you his product without an introduction or a courteous ‘hello’. How uncivil and unethical! You’re probably thinking, this salesperson is doomed for eternity. Well, guess what, so is your app, if you don’t eventually rethink your strategy. Push notifications are kind of similar in this regard. Not only are they like uninvited guests but they are also aiming to sell something.

Therefore, if you wish for a dramatic boost in your push notification campaign’s performance, you need to segment your users and treat each new user as a unique person. Greet the users by their name as it helps create a bond of familiarity as well as build confidence in your app.

5. Opt for Geo-triggered / Location-based push notifications

Remember how I mentioned that, a personalized message is imperative to a successful push notification campaign. But do you know what else goes hand-in-hand with a personalized content-rich message? A location-based or geo-triggered push notification! Actually it works in close relation with all the other dos.

Many famous brands like Starbucks have incorporated location-based and Geo-triggered notifications in their push notification campaign.  Location-based push notifications are sent to app users based on the data that you have already acquired from them. This data is IP addresses or information they had provided on their order forms like that of a  region, city, or country. 

Geo-triggered push notifications meanwhile are triggered in real-time, say when a user is within the vicinity or near a specific geographical location. That is if they are sharing their device location.

Push Notifications: Don’ts

5 points that could derail your push notification campaign and cause people to uninstall your app.

1. Avoid the notification blasts at all costs

Sending notifications on a burst mode to all your users may sound tempting but it isn’t. It will overwhelm them. You may think they would remember your app or visit it more often but in actual they would remember to uninstall it as soon they get off duty and have some leisure time at hand. As I said earlier, 3-5 is notifications a day are more than enough.

Wunderlist, a to-do–list app, sends notifications about your due tasks. Imagine receiving butt-load of notifications. Not only does it hog all the space but is frustration taken to the next level.  

2. Don’t add the non-juicy bits to the notifications

Remember, the primary purpose of a push notification is to encourage your app users to open and engage with it more often.  Therefore, they aren’t an excellent place to introduce your users to the app’s particulars. Instead, you could try deep-linking to a News Feed Card or the section of your app where those particulars are discussed in detail. Or send out the details later on in the form of an email.

I often receive details from Duolingo in a separate email. Meanwhile, push notifications are usually brief reminders for me to continue my lessons.

Don’t forget, less is more and meaningful!

3. Whatever you do, don’t ask users to enable notifications right after your app’s launch

Users who have just installed your app do not have a decent knowledge of the benefits it offers. Let them experience your app’s value proposition. The app has yet to earn their confidence at this stage, but it is asking for their approval to even show up on their screens. Why on earth would any first-time user take this plunge and place their trust in it? The user would most likely tap on the decline and move on with their life.

There is a solution to this recurrent offense, however. Leveraging the principle of reciprocity you can offer something of value to users first. Let them explore the app a bit and get familiar before you ask them to accept any updates.

4. Don’t forget to tell users what info notifications contain

Providing your app users with information regarding the push notifications will help them decide if it’s something they need. Besides, being utmost honest and transparent about it could help add to the credibility and trust of your app.

One of my favorite apps, ‘Night Sky’, an AR planetarium app tells you about the nature of the notifications, so you can decide if you want to receive notifications or not.

5. Don’t complicate turning off notifications

Because it’s like offering a genuine reason to your user to uninstall your app. You don’t want an exasperated user searching google on how to turn off notifications.

There could be a number of reasons why a user may want to turn off notifications:

  1. For starters, they are receiving way too many notifications (not just from you
  2. Your content is hardly tailored to their interests
  3. They are distracting

Never attempt to yank the ‘turn off’ feature from your users, no matter the excuse. It is deceptive and discouraging and minimizes a user’s faith in the company and application.


Push notifications, like any marketing strategy, require a substantial amount of time and effort. Carry out some A/B testing, assess your findings, and go with the beat that suits your app type the best! 



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