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App Development Decisions: Push Notifications vs. In-App Messaging

By: Pete Peranzo | 0

Users convert to purchase three times more often in-app than on the mobile web. That’s why installation drives many app development decisions. But what about those who download your app and then forget about you?

Smartphone screens are prime real estate; the average user has 36 apps installed. Getting someone to download your app is an enormous challenge, but it’s only half the battle. That’s because 23 percent of people abandon an app after one use. Even worse, the average mobile app retention rate is 20 percent after 90 days. That’s right: 80 percent of people will dump you within three months. How can you retain those customers?

Answer: Communication. Studies show incentives can prompt renewed interest in apps. There are two options: push notifications and in-app messaging. As you develop your app, you’ll need to decide which method makes sense.

The Difference Between Push Notifications and In-App Messaging

Push notifications are messages that pop up in your smartphone, either the status bar or lock screen. They usually go away once you see them. When downloading an app, you may have seen a prompt asking you to approve push notifications.

While push notifications can appear anytime, in-app notifications only appear while someone is using the app. These pop-up messages typically provide information that assists a user with some of your app’s features.

The Pros and Cons

Each approach has pros and cons:

App Notifications
  • Push notifications - If a user installs your app and then forgets about it, you can still communicate with him or her. Push notifications appear at the top of the screen without interrupting a person’s current activity. Ideally, someone will see the announcement and open your app. If not, at least you have a way to remind the user of your app. On the cons list: too many notifications will irritate your users. Some will disable notifications altogether. These messages also have a limited word count, so if you have valuable information to share, this is not the best format.
In App Messaging

In-app messaging - Users are more likely to interact with a message that appears while they are using the app. These messages don’t have a word count, which means you can create longer and visually appealing messages. Plus, the content is personalized, relevant to your app and its offerings along with the user’s actions. However, you can only use these messages to reach people who are using your app. If someone downloaded your app and forgot about it, in-app messaging won’t remind them to come back. And, just like with push notifications, too many alerts will drive users away.

Best Uses

Push notifications and in-app messaging each have their place in different types of apps.


The best uses for push notifications are time-sensitive content. A weather app sends push notifications of severe weather, for example. Social media users receive notifications that someone has sent them a message. You can also consider this approach in these cases:

  • Abandoned shopping cart - Users quit their purchase early for myriad reasons. Some are simply interrupted. Send a push notification to remind them what they started. You might include a special offer.
  • Payment confirmation - A customer will feel more confident if you confirm payment was received. This is also a handy time to ask for feedback.
  • App abandoners - Craft this message carefully and do not overuse it. However, studies show a quick hello via push notification can bring people back to your app.
  • Time-sensitive alerts and reminders - We mentioned the weather. You might also notify users of items he/she has browsed or the start or end of a sale.
  • Flash sales - Brick-and-mortar stores can put this to good use. A customer might not be nearby when you have a special “today only” deal. Use push notifications to inform.
  • In-app notifications - Use these to point out new features or improve the user experience. In-app messages should relate to the user’s actions in the app. In-app messages are also useful for:
  • Opt-in request - Send a message after a user downloads and opens the app asking him/her to receive push notifications or to sign up for an email newsletter.
  • In-app purchases - If someone is using your app, he is more likely to make a purchase. Send a message about a product or service on sale.
  • Features - New users may need a tour guide. In-app messages can offer tips on how to get the most of your app.
  • Feedback request - If you send this message right after a user tries a feature or your app, you’re far more likely to get the feedback you need.

 

Too Much or Too Little?


Communication may be the key to retention, but either approach requires the Goldilocks touch. Too few messages and they may forget about you, but too many and they’ll disappear just as quickly. Regardless of which approach you use, make sure your content:

● Is relevant. Avoid spamming your users.
● Arrives at an appropriate time of day. Who wants messages at 2 a.m.?
● Makes sense for your audience based on their interests and needs.

Deciding between push notifications and in-app messaging is just one of many decisions during the mobile app development process. Check out 5 Decisions to Make before Developing a Mobile App for more information. 

Pete Peranzo

Pete Peranzo

Pete is a results driven individual with over fifteen years in the IT and software industry. He is responsible for overseeing Imaginovation’s overall business strategy and direction. He offers a plethora of experience and knowledge, having worked in many domains and industries. Pete’s background in customer support is a driving factor in the company’s long term success and reputation. He has embedded customer service into the company's core culture, and feels that fast turnaround, great communication and high quality support are keys to long term business relationships. Pete graduated from UNC Pembroke with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. View all posts by Pete Peranzo →

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