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Pro tips on push notifications with iOS

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

How important do you think push messages are for developers?

Kaya Thomas: I think push notifications are incredibly important for one of the reasons is they do allow you an opportunity to reengage your users. And I think if someone hasn't visited your app in a long time, potentially a push notification is what reminds them that they even downloaded your app in the first place, right? Or it takes them back into your app. The other side of it besides the engagement part is it allows you to disseminate important information to your users, right? Without them having to go into your app.

It potentially could allow them to take actions on things outside of the app. So without having to burden them open the app, clicking into stuff, they can potentially do and still interact with your app with a push notification. So I think those two are the great things about push notification, the engagement aspect, and also getting that important information to your user and allowing them to interact with that information without having to go into your app.

“I think push notifications are incredibly important for one of the reasons is they do allow you an opportunity to reengage your users.”

Paul Hudson: Certainly the latter one is critically important for apps that are based around communication, like Slack, like Twitter, like any of them like that, anywhere where this has happened right now. The news with Apple makes sense. But the reengagement thing I think is dramatically undervalued by our community. And when you see it done well, like an app such as Duolingo, where they're saying, “Hey, come back,” It ends by saying, “listen, it's been five days now you aren't going back. I'm just going to stop talking to you.” They don't keep on harassing you. But it does give a little nudge, “Hey, this thing you wanted is still awesome. It's still great. It's still, or it's perfect. It's ready now what you asked for, it's now here.” So getting folks back into app with push or even local notifications is just so important.

Kaya Thomas: Exactly. That re-engagement is really important. And I think what you said is key done well because there are definitely ads that don't do it well, right?

Paul Hudson: Would you name any Kaya?

"So I think it's also important to be very careful about the type of notifications you send."

Kaya Thomas: No. Nope! Nope. But if I get a huge marketing blast that has nothing to do with anything I've interacted with in the app or anything that I'm interested in, if it's not useful and that can actually lead to people to delete your app. So I think it's also important to be very careful about the type of notifications you send. Because if you send out a large blast to all your users that's not necessarily related or individualized to them, they may say, “oh, what is this app?” Delete. I've done that personally with apps. And so it's important to be very thoughtful about what type of notifications you're sending.

Paul Hudson: So also the App Store rules did just change a week or two weeks ago, saying that now you can use adverts as long as the user can say, “I don't want these things.” So it's an opt-in/opt-out relationship, which is huge because it was already happening. As you said, it was happening no matter what people were saying.

Netflix uses push quite a lot saying, “There's this new show that you're going to love.” And of course I never actually watched it, but they're marketing to me. So it's happening anyway. But now they're saying, “okay, we give up trying to enforce this, but at least make sure you have that user opt-in first,” which is huge.

“If you notice that there's not any engagement with your notifications, figure it out why. Maybe you need to have more granular or specific settings and allow people to really show what they're interested in and have notifications around that because otherwise they might not care about the notifications.”

Kaya Thomas: Yeah, it is huge. I appreciate them acknowledging that this was something that was already happening and they obviously weren't enforcing the guidelines as strictly when it came to notifications. But that user often I think is incredibly important. Like having granular notification settings.

I say this a lot in my talks and things about notifications, but allowing your user to have the power to control what types of notifications they're receiving is really important. So if you're sending a bunch of notifications, but then I can go into the app and I don't have any notification settings or ability to edit them or change them, you're really, I think, losing that trust that you have with your user, right? And providing them the setting allows them to still receive the notifications, just the ones or types that they want to. So you can still have that engagement piece, but then it's personalized and they have the power to set their own preferences.

Paul Hudson: That’s a major tip there, folks: if you're going to do push, give folks the chance to say what kind of push interests them to customize, to filter, and in some respects, yes, it means they're going to get fewer messages, but they're going to care more about those messages. These are the ones that are tailored to me personally, the things I care about and it might be adverts. Yes, tell me about great sales in my area for hotels. It's an advert, but I personally care about obviously not having much right now, but things that I personally act once on is still an advert, but I want it. I want that kind of thing telling me now, before it gets snapped up by somebody else. So tailoring is huge.

“So think about the small, simple interactions that only take a couple of seconds that happen in your app and you can potentially bring into a notification and you can easily do that with like or comment. Don't over overload the interactions of a notification.”

Kaya Thomas: Exactly. 100% and exactly what you said because if you're able to tailor people will care more about the notifications. That caring aspect is important and will actually help with that engagement because if folks are not engaging, you can track, right, engagement for your notifications. If they're pushing, if they're clicking on your notification or interacting with it at all, you'll get that call back in your app, right?

And so you may have like an analytic of that or something that you're tracking there. But if you notice that there's not any engagement with your notifications, figure out why. Maybe you need to have more granular or specific settings and allow people to really show what they're interested in and have notifications around that because otherwise they might not care about the notifications. They may turn off notifications completely for your app.

Paul Hudson: Let’s just backtrack slightly, because you just dropped in absolute nugget of gold there. When the push goes out to someone's screen and they interact with it as it launches your app, something happens with your push. If you have analytics, if you're tracking stuff, track that being used. It will tell you this message was sent to 50,000 and only 300 opened it – that's a very, very low open rate. So you can start to figure out which messages work well, which ones worked less well. And it takes two lines of code to do. It's easy, right?

Kaya Thomas: Exactly. It's not a huge lift for you as a developer, but it will give you immense value.

Paul Hudson: So what do you think makes for a push message notification that makes folks really want to open? Hopefully not the “one weird trick from a doctor in your area” kind of thing – what makes for a really good, interactable push?

“When you have those short, quick interactions that someone can easily just do from the notification, you're allowing the user, you're trusting them their time.”

Kaya Thomas: I think it depends on what type of app you have, right? Let's say like Instagram or something: someone makes a post and let's say you have notifications on for someone's particular Instagram account. So you click on that notification and you can see the picture, the number one interaction, right? You want to be able to like that picture. You can do it in the app. Of course you can go into the app and click like, but you got the notification so why not click like there? You may want to comment real quick, right? “Great photo!” You could do that from the notification. Again, you can do it in the app, but why stop what you're doing and go into the app.

Maybe you're already in another app doing something – you can still interact with the notification without having to go into the app. So think about the small, simple interactions that only take a couple of seconds that happen in your app and you can potentially bring into a notification and you can easily do that with like or comment. Don't over overload the interactions of a notification. I usually think three is a good amount and then four, max. I don't think you should have more than four interactions on the notification, but definitely think about what are some really quick things that people can do. My favorite notifications personally are from single sign on apps, where you sign in and they send you a push.

And then you verify that right from the push notification. Just clicking yes or no. I love those single sign on verification apps because it's super simple, super easy, I don't have to go into their app. I might be already doing something, I just want to sign in. So that's a really good example of some really useful interactions.

Paul Hudson: And again, just stacks of brilliant ideas and what you're saying. So it sounds really much like, yes, of course we want folks to launch our apps. We want folks to go to our apps and spend time with our app. But the main thing, the main benchmark for us should be is someone actually interacting with our app somehow. And if that is likely to be improved by having those interactions inside the push message, as opposed to in the app, then put in the extra legwork, make that happen, make those push actions exposed with comment boxes or like or whatever as you said, because it means they're more likely to reply immediately. And that's the big thing here, right?

Kaya Thomas: And that's a big thing: it's still engagement. I think, of course like you said, is that we want people in our app, we want them using our app, but don't view them interacting with a push notification or doing actions as a push as not engaging because it is engaging, right? They took the time to click on the notification, see what it is, see what actions are there and then still continue. They didn't have to open the notification, right? They could've just deleted the notification.

So it did show that they care. They have some engagement there. And then there's other ways you can pull them into the app. And there may be something more important, like for example, a messaging app, if it's a really long message, they're probably aren't going to go into the app to continue and have that conversation.

“I love those single sign on verification apps because it's super simple, super easy, I don't have to go into their app. I might be already doing something, I just want to sign in. So that's a really good example of some really useful interactions.”

When you have those short, quick interactions that someone can easily just do from the notification, you're allowing the user, you're trusting them their time. You're not taking their time away because if I'm busy doing something in one app and I get a notification and I oftentimes, because I've worked on notifications for so long, I will force touch into a notification. And if I don't see any actions and I'm like, great, now I have to stop what I'm doing, go in to the app. Versus if there was a nice, quick notification action, I'm like, great. I can handle this later, but I just want to do a quick reply or something like that. And so you're really trusting the user with the time and if they do engage with the notifications, most likely they're also going to go to your app and engage with it there.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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