How to Design Push Notifications That People Wait For

How to Design Push Notifications That People Wait For

Push notifications. They keep distracting us throughout the whole day.

It starts in the morning, when you look at your phone for the first time. A lot of them arrive overnight, making you anxious right after waking up. A few bots followed you on Instagram and there's this sweet new deal at a local cafe.

As you sit at your desk later that day, you hear your phone buzzing once in a while. Someone tagged you on Facebook, new app updates, breaking news... Should I check it?

Your evening chill out is interrupted by group chats and two fitness apps reminding you to do your daily workout. Something breaks inside you. You turn the phone off.

Everyone's Fighting for Our Attention

Smartphones introduced a huge amount of distractions to our everyday lives. It was no longer only phone calls and SMS that could bring our attention to the phone, but every single app that we installed.

It opened a new way of communicating with users. No more hoping that they'll open your emails. You could send messages directly to their screens.

Then, companies started overusing this medium. Everyone's trying to engage their users more and friendly messages became desperate shouts.

Useless push notification

Phone screens became filled with red indicators, saying there's something important inside. But when everything is important, nothing is.

People Don't Allow Notifications Anymore

People noticed that too and started protecting themselves from too many distractions.

An app asking for permission for push notifications

They think twice when they see this message. According to various studies, the number of people who allow push notifications declines steadily. In 2016, only about 40% of iOS users opted-in for them in the apps they use.

Each year, more people start treating push notifications like spam. In response, marketers are doubling their efforts in convincing them to sign up for it. Optimizing the copy, urging users "not to miss anything"... it all works for a while, but is still a mere optimization rather than solving the underlying problem.

Taking a step back from the optimizations, what makes a notification useful for the user?

Notifications That People Won't Ignore

Amongst all the notifications that people see every day, there are a few that are so useful that nobody will ignore them.

We can divide them into three categories.


Imagine you're waiting for your Uber, looking out for the white Toyota that will come to pick you up.

Uber arriving

Is it already here? Did I miss it? Then your phone buzzes. There's a message on your lock screen saying that your driver is arriving. Isn't that useful?

Or when waiting for your Tesla to charge. Instead of checking the progress all the time, you can just relax and wait for the notification.

Tesla charged

These notifications are follow-ups to your prior actions. They take away the pain of checking the status manually.
People wait to get them.

The Ones THEY'VE Asked For

If you're waiting for a video game to be on sale, you'll be excited when the store notifies you that it is.

Same with Netflix series. If you've watched all the episodes of House of Cards, you probably can't wait to see more. When your phone rings saying that the new season is out, you won't miss it. You'll be waiting for the evening.

Watching a TV show

The great thing about such notifications is that they are about things that people care about. You don't turn them off, you wait for them.

There's one minor problem with them - people have different tastes, so you need to figure out what each of your users wants to get. If you're Netflix, you can make pretty accurate guesses based on their viewing history. If not, even a simple "Notify Me" button will do a great job.

Things You Need to React Upon NOW

Imagine driving a car and seeing this.

It's the kind of message that you won't "postpone". You need to hide, now! You'll be grateful for receiving this alert.

Aside from natural disasters, a calendar reminder urging you to leave for a meeting can be helpful as well.

Other than that, there are not many things that may require immediate attention. Be careful when trying to create a sense of urgency with events that can wait.

Flash sales and promo codes... they're somehow urgent, but there are better ways of notifying about them. Respect your customer's attention.

Designing Push Notifications With High Open Rates

Push notifications are an incredibly powerful way of communicating with users. But this power needs to be used with responsibility. If you overuse them and add too many meaningless distractions, you can be more than sure that your users will mute you.


How to stay ahead and make sure it doesn't happen?

Most importantly - limit their frequency.
Don't notify them about just anything, but rather focus on things they really care about.

Make sure that every time you distract them, it's a notification that they really want to receive. Make them personalized and contextual. If you can figure that out based on data, that's great. If not, let them pick what they want to be notified about.

Without that, your notifications will quickly become another source of noise. The days of people happily checking their phones all the time are coming to an end.

In order to make the best out of this communication channel, you need to make it useful for them.

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