Push notifications: the highway to readers’ attention

Push notifications

Since push notifications were first introduced in iOS 3.0 in 2009, two key lessons have emerged. First, push notifications can help increase reader engagement, with readers who enable push notifications being 88% more engaged with a nearly 3x higher retention rate. Second, enabling push notifications is an act of trust that comes with a great responsibility for publishers. A poor push strategy can cause readers to turn off future push notifications, or even uninstall an app.

We’ve already studied how different industry leaders approach push notifications, learning from Buzzfeed’s rule of asking if their readers will appreciate the notification before sending it, to The Guardian’s increased personalization of notifications. It is The New York Times however that has emerged as the industry leader in push notifications, thanks to their dedicated push notifications team and focus on fine-tuning their strategy. This time they’ve made the news with their foray into the world of emojis. At first the idea was to use three emojis, but Jack Silverstein, the magazine’s editor, pushed for even more emojis, arguing “I think we can make this even more fun and delightful.”

The lock screen is the new inbox

Deputy Managing Editor Clifford Levy explains this new approach: The lock screen is where you get texts, We need to evolve for push notifications.” With this more conversational tone, The New York Times has found that a good push notification can drive three or four times more swipe-throughs to their app.

At Twipe, we conducted our own experiments on the effectiveness of push notifications for ePapers and digital editions. During our last Growth Hackathon, one of our teams focused on reader reactivation. Jasper Vandegaer, who ran the experiment, explained: “We believe that subscribers can be activated by increased use of push notifications based on user profiling, big data, and machine learning.” In this test case, we found that engaging with readers in the morning resulted in a 15% higher reader activation throughout the day.

To benefit from the increased reader engagement through push notifications, we’ve created three guiding principles for publishers:

1. The push notification’s tone must be conversational, with added context.

Readers may just read the alert without clicking through to the larger story, so they must be able to understand the main highlights of the story from the alert alone. When The New York Times broke the story about fired-FBI Director James Comey’s memos regarding his interactions with President Trump, they pushed two notifications in quick succession to give readers highlights of the full story.

2. Push notifications can be more than just breaking news alerts.

If you segment your readers according to preferences and interests, you can send more personalized alerts as well. The Wall Street Journal focused on increasing the level of personalization in push notifications so that while the total volume of alerts have increased, each reader only receives the ones that matter most to them.

3. Take the time to experiment with your push notifications.

Try testing how many notifications to send per day or even A/B testing the text itself. The Guardian’s Mobile Innovation Lab experimented with different formats for notifications. For election results, they created notifications that automatically refreshed themselves as more results came in, while alerts about candidates had pixel art illustrations of the candidates themselves. They even experimented with allowing readers to decide if they wanted to read the “good news” or “bad news” about an economic report in a push notification.

Towards a push future?

As technology advances, ePaper publishers have access to more and more tools to increase reader engagement, from advanced analytics to auto-downloading. Despite these advances, something as obvious as push notifications shouldn’t be ignored, especially when they can be personalized. They are, after all, a highway to a reader’s attention.

This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.


Team Twipe

Get insights on Digital Publishing direct in your inbox

Subscribe to Twipe’s weekly newsletter and receive insights, inspiring content and event invitations directly in your inbox!

Subscribe to our Future of News newsletter