Get Closer to Your Audience: The Value of Push Notifications (Plus, Best Practices)

Direct-to-consumer brands are really on to something. They build dynamic user experiences and create one-to-one relationships with their audiences, turning customers into loyal fans. By owning the relationship from end-to-end, they collect a huge amount of data that strengthens the direct connection giving them the upper hand of really knowing who they’re talking to. It’s a person, not just a customer.

DTC brands master the art of engagement with personalization at its core. It’s a mighty strategy that publishers should hope to one day crack, especially as their reliance on social media as an engagement channel inevitably decreases.

Social media’s shifting algorithms and fluctuating prices have proven extremely challenging for publishers looking to earn the large quantities of traffic and engagement their advertisers want to invest in. As a solution, publishers are increasingly reinvesting in their email monetiziation strategies to foster a direct connection with their audiences.

Some have even developed newsletter-first or newsletter-as-a-platform strategies, like Quartz with their Daily Brief or theSKimm or Morning Brew, where the end game focuses on engaging the reader within their inbox rather than bringing them back to a website. As audiences progressively turn back to trusted publishers, it’s proven effective as a revenue channel too.

PowerInbox provides publishers, marketers and agencies with dynamic, real-time and personalized email solutions which increase email engagement and revenue.

But as tablets and mobile devices continually become consumption apparatuses of choice and consumer attention becomes an even greater commodity, publishers seek additionally creative and effective avenues for reaching people right where they are in ways that make sense.

A recent study from PowerInbox and Mantis Research, “How Adults Consume and Filter Information Online,” found that Gen Z, the largest US generation also known as digital natives, is completely open to receiving web notifications. As well, three-in-four adults (primarily men and Gen Z) are open to seeing ads in those notification, as long as they are useful and related to the website.

More-and-more, converting visitors to loyal fans is based on providing a meaningful cross-platform experience. That’s why push notifications are emerging as an exciting channel: they can be implemented on any device, they’re opt-in, they’re not impacted by ad blockers, they have an impressive acquisition and retention rate, they’re instantaneous (no digging in an inbox to find them).

More importantly, web push notifications are cost-effective as they’re more easily and inexpensively created and deployed—ROI can be significantly higher than other channels. Plus, they can be monetized as either standalone campaigns or extensions of existing ones.

What Are Push Notifications?

Anyone with a smartphone has received a push notification on their homescreen, or maybe even in-app, featuring a friend’s status update encouraging you to open the app or information about the app’s latest update. But what we’re talking about here are web notifications, the kind you receive at the browser level that can be pushed across devices—whether the user is on their computer or handheld device.

“If you think about where users are migrating, it’s good to know they’re open to receiving push notifications that could be mobile or desktop because those are opportunities for publishers to reach out to their user base—especially a known user base—and be able to attract them back to the Web,” says Jeff Kupietzky, CEO of PowerInbox.

Browser-based or web-push notifications are a small piece of real estate that pop up and usually rest in a peripheral location somewhere atop the browser. These notifications can be crafted in a manner that’s completely engaging and not distracting to the user experience at all.

Maybe the alert features the top story or product of the day, or the most recently updated content, or even better something related to an item the visitor clicked on before. As a benefit to the user, minimal effort is required on their part, since all they have to do is either click-thru or click closed.

“Push notifications give the publisher control over frequency and content and the user control in that they can opt out if they choose not to consume it. But generally, we find that engagement rates are relatively high if the content is relevant to them,” adds Kupietzky.

Rules of Engagement

There are three keys to successful push notifications: 1) content, 2) frequency or cadence, and 3) timing. With a little testing you can find the right permutation to master an enticing mix of notifications that your audiences love and your advertisers want to invest in.

It’s really a win-win formula. On one end there’s a subscriber customizing content frequency and style, as well as the content itself, and on the other end there’s the publisher controlling distribution and taking ownership of the channel without any third-party involvement.

Finding a sweet spot comes down to how well you take advantage of the automation and personalization features that push notifications afford. But before you even get there, there are a few effective push notification best practices you should keep in mind.

  1. Ask for permission first – You don’t want to annoy your user or cross privacy lines. Ask for opt-in permission before you start sending out notifications to individual users. One best practice is to educate visitors on your push notification benefits to encourage them to subscribe. Once a user trusts you, they’re going to want to keep up on what’s happening.
  2. Keep it short and sweet – As notifications are more likely to be encountered on mobile than anywhere else, the shorter and more to the point they are, the better. According to mobile engagement platform Localytics, 10 words or fewer is the ideal length to garner the best click-thru rates. Of course, adding images will increase engagement rates, but you don’t want to make them so large that a user has to swipe or click through just to get to the actual content.
  3. Create headlines that pop – Before making crafting an engaging message, you have to create an enticing headline first. Use active language and keep it poppy, remembering it’s what a user will see first.
  4. Let the user decide – Ask users about their interests, so you know which verticals to promote to them. You wouldn’t want to lead someone to the technology section if that’s not something they’re interested in. Or worse, send them to an article they previously read (there’ll be more about that later). Also, be sure to ask them how often they’d like to receive notifications and at which times. The worst thing you could do is send push notification spam.
  5. Test and test again – Making sure your content is right is a top priority. Copy and creative are both important, but making sure messaging delivers on your business objectives is equally important. Delivering compelling content relies on A/B testing tied to success metrics for the specific target audience, no matter what channel you’re delivering it in. And don’t just test the creative, test the time of day and frequency too.
  6. Plot the journey – The journey doesn’t end with a notification. Plan for what you want the user to do next. It’s one thing to entice them to click and another thing to have them click thru to an irrelevant location. Ensure you get your users to the intended goal.

Winning Over Advertisers

Thanks to the powers of personalization and automation, push notifications can be a successful revenue source for publishers. Since all subscriber behavior is monitored, segmentation is that much easier. In building your push notification subscriber database, you’re building a database of loyal visitors who signed up because they don’t want to miss anything their trusted publisher has to share.

A publisher can personalize push notifications that tie back to browsing history, allowing for each user to have a customized experience akin to what DTC brands offer their customers. And with mobile devices in play there’s the added benefit of geolocation data in the mix.

Once a publisher has a robust database in place, they can leverage users’ preferences, interests and behaviors to advertisers’ messaging in the form of custom-curated ads native to the publisher’s platform—with a high likelihood that they’ll be acted upon. They’ll also receive higher visibility than web ads, since every push subscriber sees them. And when monetized through a push notification ad network, those views will generate over $5 RPM with 1.4% CTR compared to just .05% CTR for display.

Although you’re building a separate database for push subscribers, you also have the opportunity to bring other user data out of their silos and merge them to better connect the dots. Say you sent a push notification that someone doesn’t act upon, you can then tie that information back to their unique ID—their email address—allowing you to send them a follow-up email or vice versa. Targeting with push notifications is extremely more effective because you’re not relying on cookies or browser data—just a known user profile.

And since no two people are alike, push notifications are not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of scenario. You’ll need to set up the right automation parameters to ensure detection of which subscriber has done what and when so that you can make their experience more specific and customized to them. Think of it like each subscriber getting their own microsite to visit. Automation also enables cross-channel communication, so that you’re delivering the right content at the right time on the right device.

Given the many choices that consumers have for content nowadays, owning audiences and keeping them engaged is a magical feat. But it’s not entirely impossible. Utilizing context as a driver tied to a unique profile can empower a publisher to distribute engaging content that keeps their fans coming back for more. They can also provide advertisers with that direct connection to audiences that they so crave, just like what the DTC brands have been able to accomplish.

This is the third article written in a series with the support of PowerInbox: 

  1. The Future of Email Monetization: A Conversation With PowerInbox’s Jeff Kupietzky
  2. In Email We Trust
  3. Get Closer to Your Audience: The Value of Push Notifications (Plus, Best Practices)