Push notifications – A good lesson from New York Times

For a very long time, news publishers have considered push notifications way too intrusive to be used on a regular basis. Today, there is no doubt regarding the power of push notifications to generate instant traffic to your app.

88% more app launches

In the last couple of years, it has been proven that push notifications help newspapers to increase reader engagement and loyalty. Whoever accepts your notifications on their personal device is a very loyal reader. Who else would care enough to download your app and give you permission to interrupt their day at a time you judge appropriate with a notification you feel is relevant to them? According to Localytics, push notifications drive 88% more app launches, while more than 50% of people opt-in to push notifications. Users who enable pushes have a retention rate nearly three times higher compared to those who don’t.

In a recently published interview by Niemanlab.org, editor Karron Skog of the New York Times talks about their push strategy.

Think your strategy

Over the years, the New York Times has fine-tuned its push notification process. They tried different strategies and tactics to find the right one for their readers. They started by sending out notifications without linking them to stories, an approach which only brought frustration among people. When they decided to link the alerts to a short story, they faced huge difficulties to make everyone in the newsroom  to understand how they should do it. After a long process of training editors and reporters, the New York Times became good at what they call “the middle game”.

“We got good at getting out the news alerts when news broke, but then the stub of the story would sit there with three sentences for an hour or two hours. We have been trying to work on getting them to file in chunks, because that next hour [after the alert] is really crucial to getting readers back to us.”

Since sending push notifications which are linked to only few sentences was not the best option to retain readers, NYTimes moved forward to fine tune their strategy. Therefore, they start asking themselves some of the most crucial questions:

  • Breaking news notification: Is the story relevant or worth sending an alert?
  • Timing of push notifications: Which is the best time to send them out?
  • Linking of the notifications: To what it should be linked to?
  • Opt-in communication: How do you communicate the benefits of accepting push notifications? How do you allow your reader to change alerts preferences?
  • Language optimization: Which are the best words to generate the most traffic and engagement?
  • Personalisation and relevance: How can you increase engagement by personalising push notifications?
  • Frequency: How often should you send out push notifications?
  • Limits: Is there a limit number if alerts you should send out a day?
  • Decision: Who in the newsroom should decide all these?

The answers to these questions can differ from publication to publication. What is acceptable for one publication might be unacceptable for another. Only knowing your users, using common sense and data analysis can help to form your strategy. But one thing is sure: if used correctly, push notifications can be a very powerful tool to keep your business running.

“We send a push notification. The phone beeps, buzzes, vibrates, lights up and there’s a message on a locked home screen. It allows us to, for all intents and purposes, tap the user on her shoulder. That’s very, very powerful.”