Push Notification Best Practices: 35 Tips for Dramatically Better Messages

Push Notification Best Practices: 35 Tips for Dramatically Better Messages

Ask anyone what their favorite part of the mobile experience is and it’s unlikely they’ll say “push notifications.” Push notifications are often seen as disruptive and invasive. Notifications might come at inconvenient or downright annoying times. Or they might feel impersonal or irrelevant. That’s why smart marketers apply a little empathy check — they consider the user experience and follow essential push notification best practices.

Push Notification Best Practices: 3 Things Every Successful Push Needs

Push notifications themselves aren’t the problem. The way marketers use push, and how frequently it’s used across a multitude of mobile apps, is.

It’s a sobering fact that 60% of app users turn push notifications off permanently.* Marketers who don’t put push notification best practices into play may hurt their ability to reach and retain users.

But there’s a bright side to these statistics: It’s entirely possible to engage your customers instead of annoying them. Just make sure your push notification adheres to these three tenets:

  1. It’s relevant and timely: The user’s behavior, location, or preference triggers the notification.
  2. It’s personal: The content of the push appeals to the user as an individual.
  3. It’s actionable: The push makes it clear what the user should do next.

Push notifications are an effective and vital way to retain your mobile users. If you gain a deeper understanding of push notification best practices, then you can use them to level up your marketing game.


A great push notification is three things. - quote on push notification best practices

35 Examples of Push Notification Best Practices In Action

Now that you understand why “timely, personal, and actionable” should be your watch-words whenever you create push notifications, let’s take a closer look at how those principles play out in a well-planned mobile marketing strategy.

Below, you’ll find 35 tips inspired by push notification best practices along with examples that show each strategy in action.

1. Tell users their input is invaluable

NZBlood


NZBlood - push notification best practices

Timely: It’s hard to deny the timeliness of this push notification. A user donated blood, and now they’ve learned that their donation helped someone in need and possibly contributed to saving their life. The push references the date of the donation. Even if the user donates blood regularly, they’ll be able to understand exactly which donation made an O-positive difference.

Personal: The copy lets the user know that they’ve made a direct impact and sandwiches that message between two thank-yous.

Actionable: Whether or not the user taps on the notification, one thing’s clear — a person who has just learned that their blood donation made a difference is more likely to give blood again.

2. Pique curiosity

Curiosity

Curiosity - push notification best practices

Timely: This push was sent at a peak time for smartphone use (after work, before bed). It uses an engaging message to inspire curiosity and stand out from the rest of the notifications sent at this time.

Personal: The Curiosity app was designed for life-long learners, so each notification presents an opportunity to learn something new.

Actionable: You wouldn’t name an app Curiosity if it wasn’t able to inspire that very emotion. The Curiosity app tempts the user to engage with phrases like “The World’s Most Important” and promises to give the user a glimpse at something usually “hidden.”

3. Help users meet their goals

Fitbit

Fitbit - push notification best practices

Timely: Users specify their ideal bedtimes inside Fitbit. Then, Fitbit sends a reminder to help keep them on track.

Personal: Because Fitbit has info about the user’s bedtime, the app is able to send a notification that feels like a gentle nudge from a friend. Adding the user’s first name would make the push even more personal, but you can’t argue with the simplicity.

Actionable: Beyond going to bed, there isn’t anything directly actionable here, in terms of engaging with the app. But that’s not the point — getting some sleep is! Bonus points if the user tells their family and friends that they have to go because their Fitbit just reminded them it’s bedtime. Let’s hear it for brand recognition!

4. Issue a challenge or make an assumption

Tinder

Tinder - push notification best practices

Timely: This message is pushed to Tinder dating app users when someone swipes right to indicate interest.

Personal: Oh, it’s personal, all right — and borderline rude! But given Tinder’s niche and brand identity, they can get away with a little “negging.”

Actionable: By saying it’s “probably not gonna work out,” Tinder has thrown down the gauntlet and challenged the user to say, “Oh, yeah? Watch this!” Whether the potential love connection works out in the end or not, the user’s likely to be curious about the vague “new person” and swipe the app.

5. Use selective capitalization for easier scanning

MyFitnessPal

My Fitness Pal - push notification best practices

Timely: This push is sent after dinner if the user hasn’t engaged with the app to track the details of what they ate. The selectively capitalized word — “Dinner” — pops out from the text as the user scans. (Selective capitalization is a stealthy push notification best practice we’ll talk about in a moment.)

Personal: This notification is a gentle, personal nudge. Without judgment, it serves up a request encouraging the user to track their eating habits.

Actionable: The push invites the user to log their meal with a friendly question: “Would you like to do it now?”

6. Nudge users when they go inactive

Facebook

06-Facebook - push notification best practices

Timely: This is a behavior-based push sent after the user hasn’t taken action over a specified period of time.

Personal: This push notification may be a small attempt to guilt someone who runs a Facebook page into opening the app, but it’s lessened by the casual “haven’t heard from you in a while.” It also encourages admins to keep making personal connections with followers.

Actionable: “Write a post” tells the user exactly what to do.

7. Remind users to complete an action

Jet

Jet - jet-push notification best practices

Timely: This abandoned cart message appeared a few hours after a user placed something in their online shopping cart but didn’t check out.

Personal: “Forget something?” is a poke that just might trigger the Zeigarnik effect — the idea that people remember an interrupted or incomplete task better than something they’ve finished.

Actionable: “Check out now” is a timelessly effective call to action that encourages the user to close the incomplete loop and complete their order. The addition of free shipping is a clever way to nudge someone who might’ve been on the fence about their purchase.

8. Present an exciting update

Spotify

08 - Spotify push notification best practices

Timely: Spotify pushed this notification out to users when it added the Beatles’ discography to its library.

Personal: It’s likely that users who received this push listen to music like “classic rock” or “oldies,” which makes this push personalized to their taste.

Actionable: “Play music’s greatest catalogue right now” tells the user what to do and promises an enjoyable experience.

9. Use flattery

Lyft

09-Lyft-push-notification-best-practices

Timely: This push shows up at the end of the day, and Lyft definitely seems to know that the user has been at work, probably because they’ve enabled Location Services.

Personal: OK, it’s a bit presumptive to assume the user has “accomplished a lot today,” but it’s nice to be given the benefit of the doubt!

Actionable: The call to action “Try it out” — with no ending punctuation except for a caret pointing in the direction of a swipe — makes requesting a Lyft shuttle seem like an easy way to treat yourself. Go ahead! You deserve it.

10. Align yourself with authority

Happier

Happier - push-notification-best-practices

Timely: The user has expressed interest in tracking their gratitude, and this push is meant to remind them to do that. It’s a “you asked for it” kind of thing.

Personal: Happier wants you to share a little gratitude and cheers you on with a message that lacks ending punctuation (like most personal text messages) and includes a friendly smiley emoticon. The social proof behind the words “studies show” promises that sharing a moment of gratitude will help the user feel less stressed out.

Actionable: Happier encourages users to record their happy moment with a subtle promise that it will help lower their stress levels.

11. Be conversational

CNN

CNN - push notification best practices

Timely: This is an unusual piece of news. The user may have indicated an interest in religious content or in Nebraska news.

Personal: The parenthetical comic aside shows that CNN knows exactly what readers are thinking after reading the first part of the sentence.

Actionable: This dose of humor might make a user think, “Well if it’s not a joke, what is it?” That curiosity could inspire a click.

12. Ping users about a price change

Skyscanner

Skyscanner - push notification best practices

Timely: The user has signed up for price alerts on this flight. The push is sent when the price changes.

Personal: Notice the clipped phrasing of this notification. Its sole purpose is to give the user the information they’ve asked for without wasting time. It’s also thoughtfully constructed: It gives the new flight price ($414) and the amount that price has gone down ($104) — no math required!

Actionable: If the deal looks good, the user can open the app and book the flight. And even if it isn’t, they may click to set up a new alert or browse alternatives. Either way, Skyscanner has added value and earned its place as an app worth keeping.

13. Help users get more out of life

GoPro

Skyscanner - push notification best practices

Timely: Sent at the start of the weekend, this push reminds GoPro users, who tend to be active outdoors, not to leave home without their camera to capture the action.

Personal: The push suggests that a person who owns a GoPro would have weekend plans exciting enough that they need to be filmed. It also nurtures the user’s existing brand relationship by reminding them to bring their buddy, the GoPro camera, along on their adventures.

Actionable: If this user does decide to film over the weekend, odds are good they’ll be using the GoPro app
.

14. Use clever, playful language

Buffer

Buffer - push notification best practices

Timely: Buffer is a platform for scheduling social media posts. This notification is sent when the last queued social update is posted from a linked account.

Personal: Buffer specifies the Twitter profile queue that’s empty, which is useful for people managing more than one account. The word “zoinks” adds some personality to an otherwise dry update. (Bonus: It’s guaranteed to make any Scooby-Doo fan feel nostalgic.)

Actionable: “Head over here to fill it back up easily” not only tells the user what to do but reminds them that it’s simple.

15. Evoke self-reflection

Headspace

Headspace - push notification best practices

Timely: The frequency and timing of these “Mindful Moment” pushes are user-determined inside the app.

Personal: The push addresses the user as “you” and asks compelling questions. These thought-provoking notifications stand out in a blur of calendar events and social media updates.

Actionable: Consider how these pushes would foster a mindset that encourages the user to meditate.

16. Make a joke

Imgur

Imgur - push notification best practices

Timely: The early evening send corresponds to a time of day when most people are off work and ready to relax — possibly with some entertaining memes.

Personal: This push notification asks you a question, includes a delightful eye roll-inducing pun, and adds a pop culture reference (Lionel Richie, in case you’re confused). Home run!

Actionable: If it is indeed memes the user’s looking for, now they know where to find them.

17. Be absurd or playful

Five-O Depot

Five-O Depot - push notification best practices

Timely: The push copy refers to the day of the week. (We wouldn’t be surprised if this was a regular weekly promotion.)

Personal: As long as there are no actual zombies on your front lawn, it’s fun to imagine the zombie apocalypse. Casual language plus creative use of selective capitalization (“NOW,” “Ready to Eat”) make this push feel lighthearted even while it sells. Plus, humor is known to distract us* from the fact that we’re seeing an ad.

Actionable: “Save $25 NOW” tells the user exactly what to do and when to do it. Just “Press for more”!

18. Use hyper-specific copy

Jet

Jet - push notification best practices

Timely: Someone on the CleverTap team got this push notification the same day they installed Jet and tapped around for a few minutes. It was the first push Jet sent. Pretty timely!

Personal: A welcome message is always, well, welcoming. And for our team member, the parenthetical hint was not only specific but weirdly accurate. Maybe Jet drew on demographic data and assumed that because their new user was a millennial he loved LaCroix. (Newsflash: They were right!)

Actionable: Jet takes this opportunity to reiterate its value proposition: buy things together and they’re cheaper. Even if you don’t want to “Go crazy on LaCroix,” you know that buying multiples of any product will trigger savings.

19. Make users feel like an insider

LinkedIn Jobs

LinkedIn Jobs - push notification best practices

Timely: The user probably submitted that résumé while crossing their fingers and silently hoping they hadn’t just sent their career history deets into a deep dark void. Knowing it was viewed is definitely relevant!

Personal: The push tells the user the name of the company and the role they applied for.

Actionable: There’s no specific call to action, but knowing that an employer viewed their application might encourage the user to tap to find out more or to see other relevant notifications.

20. Hype up an upcoming event

Target Cartwheel

Target Cartwheel - push notification best practices

Timely: This push was sent a few days before an upcoming football game. And who doesn’t need snacks for game day?

Personal: The peppy tone of this copy — not to mention a couple of exclamation points for added hype — matches a fan’s enthusiasm for the sport. The football emoji is a great visual trigger to drive the point home.

Actionable: Because this offer is time-limited, it encourages users to check out Target for game day snack inspiration.

21. Be insolent or profane

Saucey

Saucey - push notification best practices

Timely: Saucey likely delivered this push just before the start of the weekend, knowing that its users are probably looking for ways to have fun and unwind.

Personal: The goal is to relax. Is tequila the answer? For Saucey users, heading to Margaritaville might be just what the weekend calls for. Saucey had fun turning the tired “When life gives you lemons” adage into an edgy invitation to defy platitudes, softened slightly by a sheepish grin emoji.

Actionable: If the user decides to tap through and make lemon margaritas or lemon drops, great. But even if they opt not to enjoy some adult beverages, they’ve still received an entertaining push from a brand that knows how to speak to its target users. Good feels all around!

22. Ask a simple question

Balanced

Balanced - push notification best practices

Timely: This push notification from a meditation app arrived at the end of the day — a good reminder for the user to check in with themself.

Personal: The notification addresses the user as “you” and asks a thoughtful question. (But there may be a missed opportunity to address the user by name.)

Actionable: This is an implicit ask. Balanced is banking on the user wanting to answer the question they’ve posed, which will motivate them to tap. (A more directly actionable approach would be something like: “Have you rewarded yourself today, Kristen? Go ahead; you deserve it!”)

23. Create a sense of urgency

Opentable

Opentable - push notification best practices

Timely: Valentine’s day is just five days away! In pure calendar terms, this push is as timely as it gets.

Personal: If you’re making plans for Valentine’s Day dinner with someone special, the push is plenty personal. Even so, the straightforward copy wisely avoids directly assuming the user has romantic plans. Maybe Galentine’s Day is on the agenda!

Actionable: “Find a table before it’s too late” conjures visions of fully booked restaurants. If an offer is time-limited or based on a calendar event, giving the exact time left to get the offer is a push notification best practice.

24. Specify geofences and target locations

NFL Mobile

NFL Mobile - push notification best practices

Timely: This is an excellent example of a location-based push. The user’s location data indicates that they’re near where this activity is taking place when the push is sent.

Personal: The user is presumably a football fan who’d be thrilled to have a photo with the Lombardi Trophy. And we like the emphasis on taking a photo with the trophy as opposed to taking a photo of the trophy.

Actionable: “Get your picture taken” is a straightforward call to action, and the push lets the user know where they can go to access the trophy.

25. Be self-referential or “meta”

BuzzFeed News

BuzzFeed News - push notification best practices

Timely: Although 2025 is far off, Brexit happened fairly recently, and it’s expected to have a worldwide impact.

Personal: The copy references BuzzFeed itself, lending a lighthearted spin to what seems, on closer inspection, to be a doomsday prediction. And hey, existential dread feels, well… pretty personal.

Actionable: The user will read this and want to connect the dots between nuclear science, Brexit, and the loss of electricity.

26. Ask for a rating or review

Airbnb

Airbnb - push notification best practices

Timely: The app sends this push a short while after a user has checked out of their Airbnb.

Personal: Airbnb gently encourages the user to rate their recent stay while assuaging any worries about the rating system.

Actionable: The phrase “It’s time” instills urgency. The user may think, “I’d better do this now before I forget!”

27. Show a message preview

Asana

Asana - push notification best practices

Timely: This push notification is sent immediately when a user receives a message or comment in the project management platform Asana.

Personal: By giving a truncated preview of the message content, Asana engages the user and encourages them to respond. Although some users may disable notifications like these in the name of work-life balance, users who enable them will appreciate the immediacy.

Actionable: If you’ve ever tried to resist responding immediately to a message notification because you were busy doing something else, you know just how actionable this push is!

28. Set up an irresistible story

The Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal - push notification best practices

Timely: It might be a universal truth that sloths are always timely.

Personal: We humans love our animal friends — no surprise there! And it’s possible the user has even seen a video or two of someone sobbing over a sloth sighting.

Actionable: Why do people burst into tears when they see a sloth? Of course, the user will want to find out. (Did we mention there are sloths involved?)

29. Tell users when people they follow are active

Instagram

Instagram - push notification best practices

Timely: Notifications like these tend to be sent instantly or soon after a friend or someone the user follows goes live.

Personal: When a user has these types of notifications enabled, that indicates they like to see live videos as they happen.

Actionable: There’s new stuff to view! And who wants to sprint through that report they’re writing, anyway? “Watch it before it ends!” adds urgency so the user is likely to “press for more.”

30. Use lots of emojis

The New York Times

New York Times - push notification best practices

Timely: This notification was sent in conjunction with the release of a special edition of the New York Times Magazine.

Personal: The freewheeling use of emojis to replace words in this push make it stand out when you consider NYT’s usual staid brand image. And the user will spend a few seconds deciphering the message in their head. (New York does indeed have a lot of taxis and hot dogs!)

Actionable: There’s an ALL COMICS (note the strategic use of caps) issue to be viewed! And if the push notification is this much fun, the issue should be, too.

31. Make personalized suggestions

Pandora

Pandora - push notification best practices

Timely: This push was sent at the beginning of the day when this user was likely to be picking out work music.

Personal: This push relies on user data — an undeniable push notification best practice.

Actionable: The “Listen now” imperative is simple and effective.

32. Promote a limited-time offer

Ixigo

Ixigo - push notification best practices

Timely: This push was sent at 8:30 a.m. to promote a same-day 9 p.m. flight deal. It passively sparks a little FOMO, too — you don’t want to miss out on a cashback deal.

Personal: Flight deal apps tend to rely on the user’s imagination (“Wouldn’t it be amazing to score a cheap flight to Bangkok? What would I do? How long would I stay?”) to make their benefits personal.

Actionable: There’s a ton of info packed in these few lines: the exact terms of the deal, how long it lasts, how much cash the user will get back when they book, and the code to use to score the deal.

33. Use rich media

YouTube

YouTube - push notification best practices

Timely: The user has subscribed to cycling channels on YouTube. That means they’ll likely be interested in fresh push content about races, gear, and riders.

Personal: Because this push relates to the user’s interests, it’s automatically personalized even though it lacks direct personalization.

Actionable:. Look how much real estate that picture of the bike in question takes up. It invites the user to click, even without a call to action such as a “Watch” button.

34. Be extra kind or thoughtful

DoorDash

DoorDash - push notification best practices

Timely: DoorDash updates the user when their food is on its way so they can be ready and waiting for it. These types of pushes fill the gap between placing an order and waiting for a knock on your door, helping users feel more informed.

Personal: Not only does this push notification include the user’s name, but it also includes the name of the restaurant he ordered from and even a friendly smiley emoticon. In a digital world of formulaic auto-messages, this one stands out as extra-thoughtful.

Actionable: The user can assume that when they tap, they’ll see more information on the location of their Dasher and that tasty Mexican food they ordered.

35. Highlight a featured item in a digest

Quora

Quora - push notification best practices

Timely: This push notification arrived just before users with 9-to-5 jobs needed to be heads-down at their desks. Quora seems to be banking on people spending a few minutes to read career-related threads before starting work in earnest.

Personal: The push references the user’s existing digest and lets them know exactly how many items are saved for them to read. It’s also relevant to the interests they’ve shown while using the Quora app.

Actionable: By showing a specific question related to the user’s area of interest, Quora invites the user to either learn what others had to say or weigh in themselves.

4 Push Notification Mistakes to Avoid

Now that you’ve been inspired by what works, let’s cover a few push misfires to avoid. Steer clear of these common mistakes:

  1. Sending generic blasts: Mobile users get push notifications all day every day. The last thing they need is to be the subject of a generic mass campaign blast that isn’t relevant to them. Make sure you’ve carefully segmented your audience so you don’t contribute to the daily digital noise.
  2. Sending notifications at the wrong times: If you’ve ever been awakened by a push notification, you know how frustrating it is. Make sure your notifications are localized to the user’s time zone and then be mindful of when it’s most appropriate to send the push. A user who appreciates a midday work-related notification might be annoyed by the same notification when they’re winding down for bedtime.
  3. Clickbait without substance: Yes, you always want to pique your user’s curiosity. But if you promise that a user is going to experience something worthwhile when they click on your notification, then you’d better deliver. Your push notification should never write a check that your content can’t cash.
  4. Rich media without context: Rich media like images, videos, and animated gifs can make or break the user experience. Done well, rich push notifications delight and engage users. But some mobile devices struggle to display rich media properly. Always make sure your message makes sense both with and without the rich media.

When you create and send push notifications, remember that the most important push notification best practice is to think like a user and value your user’s experience. The better you understand your user, the easier it will be to keep them informed, entertained, and engaged.

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Last updated on October 21, 2021