Padraic Woods
Written by Padraic Woods
Published 2014-09-22

Pushing the news, seven things to consider when using news-related push notifications

There is no doubting the power of push notifications to generate instant spikes in traffic to your app. Push notifications have proven to increase user engagement and loyalty to a publication. It can help with conversions and customer retention and they can simply remind the user of how great your app and content is. According to localytics push notifications drive 88% more app launches, 52% of people opt-in to push notifications and users who enable push have a nearly 3X higher retention rate compared to those who disable push.

The users who accept push notifications are some of your most loyal customers. Who else would care enough to download your app and give you permission to interrupt their day at a time you deem appropriate with a notification you feel is relevant to them. This even happens when the app is not running and the screen is locked. This is an incredible act of trust. This trust, if betrayed is difficult to win back. The is brilliantly portrayed by Breaking News in this video

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Push notifications are an incredibly powerful tool to communicate directly with your most valuable customers but “with great power comes great responsibility’. A poor push strategy can at best result in the user turning off push notifications or more drastically they will simply uninstall your app. It is often easier to delete an app than to find and turn off push notifications.

The push strategies of media companies have evolved since push notifications were first introduced in iOS 3.0 back in 2009. Publications tend to be more careful and strategic about what to push, when to push it and who they push to.

Here are some of the considerations and questions to ask when forming your strategy

Breaking News notifications

  • Does this story warrant sending a push notification? Is this push notification relevant to the majority of people who use the app?
  • Who in the news room should make this decision?

Breaking news notifications should be relevant to the majority of your users. The responsibility cannot lie in the hands of journalists otherwise they will end up pushing every article they write. The front desk editor for example can take responsibility for choosing the stories that warrant a breaking news push notification.

When should you send push notifications

  • At what time should the push notification be sent out?
  • Does this push notification at this time add value to this users day?
  • What is the optimal time of day for achieving maximum engagement with the notification
Should you send push notifications at night? For example the passing away of the comedian Roblin Williams 04 am local time.

Should you send push notifications at night? For example the passing away of the comedian Roblin Williams 04 am local time.

Some notifications are time critical and should be sent immediately whereas other notifications can wait. Users should be given the option of turning off push notifications from within your app and ideally given the option to turn off notifications for certain time periods. Data analysis can help you to determine the optimal time to send out non-time critical push notifications. If you have enough user data, you could send each user a tailored push message at a time you know they are most likely to engage with the notification.

Where should you send the user

  • Should you send a push notification before the journalist has finished writing the article you are deep linking to?

Some times you want to be the first news organization in your market to break the story via a push notification. You can choose to link to the front page in the app or deep link to an article within the app. The advantage of linking to an article is that users who didn’t have an opportunity to click on the article the moment they received the notification will be sent to the correct article when they do have the time to click on the notification. They are also more likely to share an article that is complete rather than an article under progress.
The time it takes to break a story is dependent on how quick the front editor can format the push text, the time it took the journalist to write the article, how quick your technical push platform is to transmit the push notification to Apple and Google and finally how quick Apple and Google are to transmit the notification to your users devices. Its possible to streamline the parts of this process you have control over.

Communication about opt-in
If you abuse the trust the user has bestowed on you the threat of app deletion is very real. You should clearly communicate the benefits of accepting push notifications. It should also be easy for the user to change their push notification preferences for turning on and off push notifications for your app.

Language optimization

  • How can you tailor the push notification text to generate the most amount of traffic and engagement with your publication?

Android and iOS devices show different amounts of text on the screen.
It’s possible to tailor the notification text for different devices, browsers and smart watches. You could also personalize the text for each user. A/B testing different push notification texts will help fine tune the language you should use in the push notifications.

Personalization and relevance

  • How can you increase engagement by personalizing push notifications

Personalizing any app increases the users sense of ownership, loyalty and control over the app. Notifications could for example be personalized based on topics, authors or stories the user is interested in or are following. You can push live football scores for a team they follow or push proximity notifications displaying stories breaking near the users physical location. You can use a recommendation engine to deliver automated personalized push notifications based on a users behavior on your site. According to localytics, segmented push notifications have over double the open rate as push notifications blasted to everyone.


  • How frequent should you send out push notification and is there a limit to the amount of push notifications you should send out in a day?

Frequency of push notifications really depends on the relevancy of those notifications to the user. A user who has opted to receive live football scores for a soccer match expect to receive a push notification every time there is a score in a match and won’t be irritated my the number of notifications sent out during the match. On the other hand the user will quickly become irritated over receiving numerous push messages within a short period of time about a subject they have no interest in.

Football Scores

The answers to these questions differ from publication to publication, whats acceptable for one publication is deemed unacceptable for another. Knowing your users, common sense and data analysis can help form your strategy.

Urban airship have created a guideline that may help you to form a ‘good push’ strategy for your app

The release of iOS8 and the soon to be released Android L introduces new and exciting ways to engage with your users through push notifications. Check out Urbanairhips IOS8 interactive notifications guide and the preview of new notification functionality coming to Android L

Written by Padraic Woods
Published 2014-09-22