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December 13, 2016 |

Sending Powerful Pushes

Using push notifications can be an effective and powerful way of gaining reader attention and boosting engagement on mobile apps. But what is the best way to implement these and maintain readership?

The challenge with push notifications is to not over abuse the function as this could lead to users either turning off the feature or deleting the app. Notifications need to either be insightful or offer value.


A study by the Engaging news project confirms that mobile news app users who allow push notifications open them significantly more often than those who don’t allow notifications; 27% of users who turned on notifications opened the app daily vs 12% who didn’t have alerts on.

A study by Newscycle across more than 1,000 news, sports and weather mobile apps, found that when an article is sent to a user via push notification the average time spent in-app is 3 minutes 17 seconds. In contrast, the average time spent in the same app without an article push is just 44 seconds. A 78% increase in app engagement time over a user who navigates an app separately from the receipt of a push notification.

A survey by Localytics revealed that the most popular alerts among 100 respondents were personal sales offers, followed by breaking news and thirdly personalised content and location-based offers. 52% of the same readers, also found push messages to be “an annoying distraction.” Trust is critical to the successful relationship between publishers and their readers. There is a need for balance between getting user attention and respecting their other time commitments.


For years, publishers have been used to being able to reach out to readers with text based notifications but there are now many more options available.

The Guardian are building additional functionality into their app allowing for greater customisation and using behavioral data to prompt personalised push notifications. E.g. If you are reading sports & tech news, you might be asked if you would like push messages on them. “We want to give our readers as much freedom in following the stories they want and looking at options to take that forward,” said Subhajit Banerjee, Mobile Editor.

Instead of re-creating the front page of a website in the form of a mobile app, breaking news.com engage users with personalisation and push notifications that have resulted in higher app store ratings and increased usage.

Whenever The New York Times breaks a big story, within 24 hours, up to 60 percent of all global traffic to that story can typically come via push notifications. That’s not due to the magnitude of the news alone but a carefully crafted push-alerts strategy. Now, the publisher is ramping up how it tailors push notifications to be more locally relevant to its international markets, starting with the U.K. and Australia.

“For a long time, push notifications were really a broadcast experience. You hit the publish button, and it lights up on millions of phones. But people expect more granular control now. Push notifications are a natural extension to how we reach new audiences” said Andrew Phelps, New York Times product director.

“As we evolve, thinking how our journalism meets certain readers’ needs will be an interesting question we have to grapple with,” added Eric Bishop, a Times assistant editor.1

Users of the Newsday app can follow a developing story, automatically receiving updates as the story unfolds. A reader opts to receive push notifications; these contain teaser content whenever a journalist updates a specific story. Newsday promoted this during the US Election, so that subscribers could see the latest comments, videos or galleries as the story progressed throughout the day.

In addition to Newsday, The Sun & The Telegraphs have recently implemented deep-linking push notifications to their live news feed Apps that takes a user from a push direct into the story, rather than just the homepage which results in a far better experience for the user.


Publishers are continuing to experiment with personalising their messages, but obtaining personal data to differentiate notifications remains challenging.

Peggy Anne Salz, Chief analyst at MobileGroove, wrote an article for EContent Magazine where she describes the challenge succinctly; “If it’s going to be personal, there needs to be value, and that value comes from knowing and understanding me… & reflecting that in how you communicate with me by push notifications.”

Urban Airship is one of the most popular mobile engagement and marketing platforms in the market. It offers an automated solution which allows pushing 300,000 in-app messages every second. It enables you to set a custom rules-based engine with up to 20 rules per app for delivering targeted mobile marketing campaigns to thousands of audiences. The platform also offers a segment builder using location history, real-time analytics and engagement reports to allow sending push notifications based on user segmentation and location.


Content may be king, but delivery is queen. With all the noise, competition and fake news out there, the battle for digital space has never been so fierce.

Perhaps most encouraging for publishers is the fact that mobile push notifications measurably boost audience engagement, which in turn leads to greater content monetisation opportunities. A study conducted by the University of Texas showed that, over half of those receiving news notifications opened the app or went to the news website to learn more about a notification. “37.1% searched for more information after seeing a notification and 23.4% turned to social media after seeing a notification.”

It is important that publishers take full advantage of push notifications. By finding the right balance between commanding attention and respecting audience preferences, push notifications will continue to be a valuable and engaging weapon in the mobile content arsenal. Further to this, driving engagement will also enable publishers to charge premium ad rates, especially when adopting the CPH metric.


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