In-App Notifications Explained: Best Practices and Actionable Tips

Transform interruptions into value by delivering well-timed relevant information to your users.

Paula Becchetti
9 min read
In-App Notifications Explained: Best Practices and Actionable Tips

What are in-app notifications? #

Many describe them just as “all communications that occur within an app.” In Chameleon, we go a little further – we consider them the primary tool for keeping users engaged with a product.

It may seem obvious, but let's not forget that in-app notifications are sometimes still seen as interruptions within the user's experience journey. But they can be a powerful tool to improve the overall user experience. So, how can we make sure app messages drive user engagement?

The key to in-app messaging is relevance and timing #

If you want to engage users, you should only share relevant product content information, and always at the right time. We need to use this tool as a product value generator: every time users struggle to perform a specific task, it's the exact moment when app notifications should pop up to push them forward. If your app message leaves them confused or irritated, you're doing something wrong.

There are many different mobile marketing techniques (email, SMS, or in-product notifications) to help you reach out to customers but not necessarily deliver value or increase engagement. And guess what? It all comes down to avoiding any interruption on a user’s flow.

That's the reason why it's so important to coordinate all these efforts between in-app marketing and product teams: to forge a long-term bond between users and the brand while aiming at achieving, at last, happy, engaged users as an outcome. So, let's start with the basics.

Push notifications vs in app notifications #

There are many differences between these two types of app messages, yet sometimes they are easy to mix. Working in product, we have to combine the two of them—depending on the desired outcomes.

Let's identify the main differences between them.

In-app notifications

  • The user needs to be interacting with the app to be activated

  • Contextual triggered communications

  • Useful for guiding users in-app

  • Must encourage users to take action

  • Only product teams can disable them

Push notifications

  • Messages are delivered only when the app is closed

  • External communications to prompt immediate action

  • The goal is re-engaging with an audience currently not active

  • Grab user’s attention back by delivering relevant data

  • Users can always choose when to disable them

As aforementioned above, most of the communications inside the app focus on guidance. Whether in mobile devices or desktop apps, the main goal usually depends on the user's journey stage. By delivering personalized and well-timed messages, you can help users achieve goals, move on in the learning curve while maintaining interest.

You can use app messaging to encourage users across the onboarding process, leading them from early discovery to user adoption.

Push notifications focus on prompting users towards fulfilling the desired action according to their (past-current) interests. The information delivered tends to be specific and relevant, considering it's directed towards a disengaged audience.

Push notification rates #

Push notifications get different click-through rates depending on factors such as time, relevance, or content. But it also depends on the number of words. Push notifications with fewer words get higher rates:

10 or fewer words - 8,8%

11-20 words get 4.9%

21 or greater get 3.2%

So one of the keys to push notifications is also brevity. You should use push notifications to get the user's attention back and trigger an immediate response with short and specific messages.

The main difference between push notifications and app notifications is that users can disengage push notifications if they become annoying. This unwanted product friction caused by app messaging results in customer churn.

Why are in-app notifications essential for product-led growth? #

Let’s take a look at what we can gain from app messaging in product-led strategies.

They enhance the user experience #

In-app messaging can help you upgrade your overall user experience. One way is by ensuring your app messages provide all the information needed to tackle any friction that might appear during the onboarding. To be useful, they need to feel organic and natural to your users. By understanding your app, user behavior, and needs, you have an excellent ally to boost customer satisfaction.

They allow you to test and optimize flows #

By optimizing your app notifications and analyzing their effectiveness, you're building customer bases while boosting revenue. Nowadays, easy in-app notifications feature analytic results that can provide deep insights to back up future data-driven decisions.

Also, conducting A/B tests is a perfect way to search for improvement opportunities and adapt to future implementations. Coping with value delivery in your app messaging across each stage of your product lifetime will trigger purposeful user sessions and in-app retention (even persuade users to enable push notifications!), which might lead up to increasing conversion volume.

They push forward freemium conversions #

By nurturing app notifications and fostering engagement, product teams have an alluring approach to drive success. However, non-invasive app notification is mandatory if you want to keep on developing means to approach conversions. For instance, a timely offer to upgrade is more enticing if the user has shown some previous interest e.g. viewed your pricing page.

A well-timed contextual message originally built upon user behavior can boost engagement and revenue per unique user if done correctly. In terms of acquisition, loyalty, and growth, in-product notifications are essential to your business success by relying mostly on UX notifications: content, timing, and user interaction strategies according to in-app user flows.

They improve LTV #

When delivering constant valuable notifications, you're leading users a step away from churning and further getting the most out of your app. By transforming interruptions into satisfaction, you create opportunities for increasing product retention, usage, and eventually loyalty (or even cross-upsell).

Different types of app notifications #

Now that we have seen what we’ll win by using notifications in-app, let’s dive into the types of content we can use:

Tooltips #

These UI patterns guide users across their journey. They are short, subtle messages that appear when interacting with a specific element in a website or mobile app. Tooltips are significant as they look like annotations, and we can apply them across the entire flow at any time. They are an excellent help for first-time users, who will make the most of them.

Modals #

These windows are probably the most suitable option to deliver high-impact notifications. They are disruptive messages mainly used to provide essential information, like a big announcement or welcome message. They're very likely to be perceived as invasive or even aggressive (especially in a desktop environment). Still, it's a fine choice for a mobile app if it’s appropriately applied when necessary.

Slideouts #

They are mid-sized UI patterns primarily used to communicate small or routine announcements, mainly to actions related to the user's primary path. It allows more complex interactions, behaving like a different website but keeping a contextual connection to the primary goal. They're also great for gathering feedback or collecting data within the app.

Product tours #

The central concept here is deploying them to highlighting and educating about app features' capabilities and core functionalities as part of product walkthroughs. Product tours help grant users a brand new perspective about your product's value and encourage them to take a closer look. You should use them on desktop as discovering a product's interface or mobile depending on the interface complexity.

Product notes #

Prosperworks release notes modal

In-app messages related to showcasing your product development or progress – updates, improvements, new offerings, or releases are the most common. You can regularly come across them as pop-up windows on desktops or even bigger windows on mobile devices.

Chatbots #

Automated chats that assist users through app messaging. However, they need to be operated by customer service teams and might end up increasing costs. That said, it is a great option to provide fast solutions to users' specific setbacks and boost engagement. Chatbots are usually available on desktops since they allow users to interact with the product while troubleshooting accordingly.

SMS messages #

These messages should only be used in cases of extreme importance – for example, action reminders. Users should always be aware that it's easy to opt-out if they no longer require this service (to avoid frustration from their end).

In-app notifications best practices #

As far as best practice goes, you might as well plan your creative content strategy before delivering any messages to your audience. Here are some of the best practices tips you and your team should keep in mind when planning app messaging ahead:

Greet and educate new users #

A basic walk-through might prove effective when highlighting essential features (in context, pop-ups are very useful) so that users can feel confident when interacting for the first time with the app. When done correctly, user onboarding should provide users with a brand new perspective of its capabilities and functionalities and increase lifetime value. Users have to be encouraged to take action and begin their journey. You can align email messaging with app notifications to improve customer onboarding.

Segment different audiences #

Talking about being at the right time at the right moment: each user will come out with their own experience. And that is why segmentation is king – so you better make sure to understand their path to deliver personal, relevant messages according to their specific context. By doing so, you're more likely to get a favorable response from their end. However, neglecting this could encourage users to stop using your app or even leaving for good.

Be specific but don't over-communicate #

Like we've stated, in-app messaging is intrinsically about interrupting a user at a certain point in their journey. So make sure there's a good reason behind it. Users tend to struggle with the app from time to time, so your message better comes in handy (always showcase its purpose). Also, users have proven to get easily irritated by over-talkative apps, so it'd be wise to keep it simple and right to the point.

Always provide value #

You want users to have a great experience every time they engage with the app. So, you need users to have a favorable response to your notifications. An app notification should feel like a natural part of your app: to help, mentor, and advise users. As both product and users constantly evolve within this iterative process, revisiting your messaging towards optimizing copy, design, and timing is extremely important.

Finish with a CTA #

Another clear opportunity for prompting users into action. CTAs lead users with specific courses of action, increase clicks, and drive conversions. It's better to keep it simple as it will also help build up an idea about your app capabilities. Users are likely to later re-engage with some feature to explore further if they've previously had some sense about it.

Also, things like permission requests are a unique opportunity to educate users on some topic to highlight its benefits, build their trust in the product, and motivate them to engage further.

Gather feedback whenever possible #

Whether it's a brief survey or a commentary input you want to reach out for that type of information, you should be gathering intel from customers. Analyzing how they're using the product will probably lead to an insight that might help improve the quality of your contextual messages. Collecting data according to the flow is vital in every UX scenario.

Don't interrupt a user's flow #

It's crucial to deliver only relevant data to the user as they interact with your product. Notifications assist and push them forward towards progress. Sending untimely messages not aligned with the user's stage (or context) will only cause confusion or even frustration.

Users tend to make up their minds rather quickly after receiving app messages that don't suit their interests. This fact directly impacts user retention as they will start losing their interest and trust in your product value. Think of it from the user's POV – you want the app notification to help you overcome obstacles, not the other way around.

Final thoughts on in-app notifications #

There's no denying that customer engagement is an important topic, and notifications in-app have proven to be a powerful tool to ensure value delivery. Product teams should use in-app messages over push notifications as a line of communication to customers.

Long-term engagement is probably one of the most significant issues a product and marketing team will face. But rest assured, if you focus your efforts on guaranteeing app notifications won't be perceived as interruptions on the user's flow but instead as guidance, you will observe its impact upon customer satisfaction and eventually user adoption.

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