Email has been the status quo for decades, and it is great for some forms of communication, but are emails actually a good notification strategy? With email comes different email clients, folders, and, of course, spam. Just searching for “email notification” brings up link after link from forums with confused email users, and those looking specifically to turn off email notifications. It’s safe to say that now is the time to rethink our communication strategy and implement something better: in-app notifications.
Emails are falling out of favor (or not making it to your customers’ primary inbox), but that doesn’t mean the end of user engagement. A good in-app notification strategy combined with thoughtful design can actually increase engagement with your product. Email open rates hover at around only 2%, while in-app notifications can have an open rate of up to 75%!
Not to be confused with push notifications, those pesky pop-ups that appear on your screen while you’re doing other things in-app notifications are seen by the customer after they’ve opened the application (though they can be “pushed” to the user once they are inside the app). Not only is this less intrusive and distracting, but it gives users more control over their interactions with notification systems. And since in-app notifications are nicely packaged inside your application, they aren’t getting lost in the hole of internet communication the same way email notifications do.
The top search results for a phrase like “email notifications” are overwhelmingly how to turn them off, or how to fix bugs. This is an indication that, based on search intent, people probably don’t like the email status quo. All email clients are slightly different, with rules, algorithms, and special folders to filter content. This can be confusing and frustrating for users (as well as those responsible for creating email notification strategies).
There were over 306 billion email communications daily in 2020 — or more than 111,690,000,000,000 emails a year. More than half of those emails were spam. Building an email notification strategy can be tricky because you have to take into account things like well-known ISPs, email scores, and spam ratings. The way your developers create emails can also affect which inbox it gets delivered to. There are many intricacies in the process of email development that could affect your email status, like missing alt-text, table layouts, and the position of links and images.
Email clients have filters that move emails from a user’s primary inbox if emails don’t meet certain standards. Email clients also have settings specifically designed so users can filter their emails into promotional, social, or spam folders. Getting email notifications right, and into the right inboxes, can be so overwhelming, there’s a wealth of articles to show how companies can avoid spam filters. What’s been created is a monstrous cycle of competing sets of rules that are hard to navigate for companies and is frustrating for users.
Take a moment and think about how often you check your promotional, social, or spam folder. How often do you think your users look in those filtered folders? If an email notification isn’t going to a user’s primary inbox, how likely is it that they’ll see time-sensitive notifications? Fortunately, emails aren’t the only player in the game. In-app notifications offer a way to keep everything inside your product and engage users in a better way.
With the right strategy, in-app notifications allow you to send messages, or calls to action, to your users at specific points in their journey within your product. With an email notification, you have to trust that it’s getting to the right inbox at the right time and that your customer will both see it and open it. You also have to have confidence the user has the opportunity to act on it when they open it; otherwise, how likely is it they’ll return to act on it later? That’s a lot of obstacles to overcome.
But in-app notifications allow you to get your users attention when you need to, so they can make real-time decisions based on relevant information. By greeting them with relevant notifications in-app, the likelihood users will engage is increased. After all, they’re already choosing to open your app and give it some dedicated attention.
But in-app notifications have their own obstacles to overcome. Over the years, notifications have become synonymous with distractions. Because in-app notifications can take place on mobile, desktop, and web, it’s crucial to have a solid in-app notification strategy.
The combination of relevance, timing, and personalization can be leveraged to create a well-balanced strategy. If notifications feel too annoying or spammy, there’s a 71% chance that someone will stop engaging with the product or remove it completely. A big way to gain trust with users is to allow them to control the settings for their notifications. Allowing users to opt in to notifications and giving them options to customize their settings mean they know to expect notifications from the product, and they’ll get what’s relevant to them.
Once the user has opted in to your notifications, timing comes into play. As an example, let’s look at a notification flow in an app that allows users to favorite items and make purchases. You wouldn’t immediately send a notification to a user about an item they’ve favorited right when they open the app. A better strategy would involve the use of event triggers. Wait for the user to add something to their cart, and then send them a notification reminding them of their other favorited items. This allows the user to make a real-time decision about whether or not to add an additional item to their cart before they finalize their purchase.
Regardless of what you’re trying to achieve with your notifications, utilization of customer data can make notifications both more relevant and well-received. Even if it’s as simple as including your users’ names in the notification, personalization is something users respond to. How far you can take personalization is tied to what data you have about your users and what behaviors they exhibit within the product, but a little personalization can go a long way.
Taking it a step further, test your notifications, and make changes based on data! A/B testing notifications can lead to 10% more engagement. Testing interaction between notification variations can take various forms, from testing color and font choices to testing different versions of the copy. Your notification strategy should include your amazing design and copywriting teams so they can work to keep your notifications and A/B tests in-line with your branding and messaging.
Making the switch from email notifications to in-app notifications is obviously more complex than just telling a development team to build it into your product. We’ve touched on the importance of a good notification strategy, but the user experience goes beyond timing and personalization. In-app notifications can also remain on brand and integrate into your product seamlessly.
Designing a good notification system is important, so you’ll want to partner with different teams within your organization to gather data about what will work best, but regardless of the type of in-app notification, core branding and copy styles can be integrated. Your style guide can be implemented, and your talented copywriter can keep doing what they do best.
A good user experience and user interface from your design and copywriting teams helps keep your notifications clear and accessible. Much like an email notification, in-app notifications can be designed to remain on-brand while fitting into the product flow. There are all sorts of design possibilities with pop-ups, banners, alerts, and modals. Plandisc, a digital circular-calendar tool, increased adoption by utilizing in-app pop-up messages in their product. An indicator at the bottom of their screen shows the user has a message, something the user can choose to open. The in-app pop-up message appears after user interaction and remains on-brand with the rest of their site. Choosing the right style for your product will take some research, but once implemented, in-app notifications can be a success story for your organization.
To provide the best user experience for all users, don’t forget about your keyboard-only or screen reader users! We know you’ve done a good job of making accessibility an important part of your product design 😉, so keep your in-app notifications accessible to all users. Accessibility-friendly notifications should be thought about in the beginning of the design process, from how big call-to-action and close buttons should be to where the notifications appear to where they lie in the tabindex. Well-designed, accessible in-app notifications ensure that all your users will have the best experience possible.
Notifications don’t exist just to tell you when your Uber driver will arrive or what products are on sale. Utilizing well-designed, customizable in-app notifications in your workflow can eliminate distractions and allow you to focus on your main tasks. MagicBell is an in-app system for workflow notifications that can be easily implemented into your product, and customized for your brand. You can focus on building your product while MagicBell takes care of your notifications.
Want to enhance your workflow notifications in as little as an hour? Find out how to integrate MagicBell into your product.
Here are a few related articles!
This is the first part in a series of articles in which we'll design and implement a Notification System from scratch. We'll do this in Ruby on Rails, but the concepts are widely applicable to any web application framework. This part focus on the database design.