How news push notification strategies have matured in 2020

The recent Reuters Digital News Report found that the use of push notifications for news has been growing in recent years. With more and more alerts on readers’ lockscreens, how are publishers working to stand out? To answer this, we dug into examples from MittMedia, The Times, BBC, The Dallas Morning News, Ouest-France, DuMont and more.

Join us as we share three key ways push notification strategies have matured in the past years.

More than breaking news

It should come as no surprise that push notifications have matured beyond simply breaking news, with successful publishers viewing push notifications as a distinct platform for their content. We’ve seen as well that breaking news alerts are less effective in driving traffic back to a news website or app; instead, editorial or marketing alerts are key. Publishers have also experimented with sending follow up push alerts after a breaking news notification with additional analysis or context — in hopes of rising above the noise.

Push notifications are important for more than just news websites and apps: they are key for edition products as well. We’ve seen how crucial editions are for habit formation strategies, with their set publication time helping to reinforce habits. Join us September 1st for the next event in our ‘Future of News Webinar Series‘ as we dig into the strategic importance of edition products.

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This set publication time can be further re-enforced with an external trigger, such as a push notification. That’s one of the reasons why we have been experimenting with automatic push notifications on our platform that alert readers to the new edition with the top three stories of the day. This is done through the use of our EngageReaders technology, which is able to predict by 9 am the most engaging stories in the edition based on the reading behaviour of the first readers. Ouest-France has been the first publisher on our platform to experiment with this technology, and now we are bringing this feature to other publishers. In Germany, DuMont will use this technology to specifically alert readers at risk of churning.

There can be too much of a good thing

In Sweden, MittMedia (now Bonnier News Local) has done fascinating research on churn and one interesting point that stands out is that opening push notifications has a high correlation with churn. Readers who receive more than 20 push notifications in a month (less than one a day) had a 10% increase in probability to churn compared to readers who received less than 20 push notifications. This does not necessarily mean that push notifications are bad, but instead that publishers need to think strategically about how many push notifications they are sending. While publishers can expand the number of push notifications they send overall, they need to reduce the number of push alerts that any one reader receives.

It is also important to note that the team at Mittmedia found that 29% of loyal users (those who have less than a 10% risk to churn) have disabled push notifications while only 1% of risky users (more than 90% risk to churn) have done so. This finding echos the learning from our JAMES project where highly engaged readers were not as responsive to personalised triggers. It is interesting to see this trend of engaged readers taking their news journeys into their own hands.

In the UK, the BBC has also examined the frequency of their push notification strategy, with mobile and new formats editor Nathalie Malinarich noting alerts can be “very intrusive”. As such, they have also added the option to send silent alerts for less important stories or for alerts going out when the audience is likely to be asleep.

The Dallas Morning News has enacted a “smart-targeted” strategy for their push notifications. If a reader clicked on a story about a court case for example, then the reader would receive push notifications whenever there was an update on the case. This helped them increase their click-rates to 20 – 25%, a great increase from the industry benchmark of 5%. Of course there is debate in the industry over whether click rate is a valid metric for evaluating push notification success. They are inherently designed to give the news you need at a glance, so a reader might still find the push alert valuable even if they do not click through to find out more.

Beyond mobile alerts

Of course, when discussing push notifications, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just mobile push notifications. Web browser notifications are also something publishers are experimenting with.

The Dallas Morning News is one such publisher, with more than 800,000 users subscribed to their web push notifications. Now 4% of overall views and 11% of returning views are thanks to web push notifications. This new strategy has helped more than double their return visitors year-over-year and is also responsible for spurring hundreds of new digital subscriptions. The web push notifications even outperform their social media accounts, with on average 2,270 clicks per push notification while on Twitter they see 77 clicks per post and on Facebook 1,162 clicks (based on data from October/November 2019.

Elsewhere in the US, The Seattle Times has also had success with their experimentations:

Desktop notifications have been heavy lifters. We’re pushing them out regularly throughout the day. There’s no fatigue. And we’re just revisiting all our strategies and things we know around retention.

Curtis Huber, Senior Director of Circulation and Audience Revenue at The Seattle Times

While it will be interesting to see how other publishers experiment with triggering readers this way, they’ll have to be smart about how all their various triggers work together. Should one message be sent in both a mobile push notification and a browser notification? Or do these platforms have differing audiences and use cases and thus necessitate different messaging strategies? It will be interesting to see how web browser notification strategies continue to evolve and add more elements of personalisation.

Ultimately all types of push notifications are a strong way for publishers to directly reach their audiences and not have to rely on other platforms. Strategies for push notification success will undoubtedly continue to evolve and mature.


Team Twipe

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