9 Notification UX Do’s and Don’ts: How to Optimize for Better User Engagement

NU: new message notification

Notifications are an essential part of a successful web or mobile app experience.

According to research, sending push notifications can boost app engagement by up to 88% and increase app retention by rates by up to 10x.

Impressive, right?

Here’s a puzzling twist: notifications are among the top drivers of app uninstalls.

Designing a great notification UX strategy is a balancing act that requires careful thought and planning.

Tipping the scale on either end can frustrate users and drive uninstalls, so it’s important to get it just right.

In this article, I’ll discuss app notifications, their types and uses, and the do’s and don’ts of designing a great notification UX.

Read on to equip yourself with crucial information and insights to ensure the best user experience.

Let’s get started!

What are notifications?

Notifications are digital alerts that appear on mobile phones or other digital devices. They are a convenient way to keep your users informed about system status, new content, events, updates, and other factors crucial to app usage. When properly designed, notifications are also a powerful app marketing tool.

Types of push notifications

There are many types of notifications. To help you better visualize what you need, I categorized the common types according to the required level of user participation, channel, and trigger.

According to user participation:

  • Passive notifications. These are push notifications that do not require users’ input or interaction to show the notification content. Their purpose is to simply inform the users. Passive notification design often appears with a simple interface.

Common examples of passive notifications are weather, traffic, and order status updates.

NU: passive notification examples

Source: ResearchGate

  • Smart notifications. These notifications require actionable responses, prompting users for feedback in the form of an action or input. They also use more tailored notification UX to send relevant messages at the right time and place. Among the popular examples of smart notifications are voting polls and reservation or appointment reminders requiring user confirmation.

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Source: CleverTap

According to the notification channel:

  • Push notifications. These are notifications sent directly to a mobile user’s device. They can be used to alert users about new content or updates or to keep them informed about upcoming events or special offers.

NU: push notification example

Source: MoEngage

  • In-app notifications. In-app notifications are similar to mobile push notifications but appear within the app itself instead of being sent directly to a user’s device. This type of notification is often used to promote new products or services available within the app, encourage users to complete certain tasks, or provide tips for app usage.

NU: In-app notification example

Source: CleverTap

  • SMS Notifications. SMS notifications are short text messages sent directly to mobile phones. This type of notification is best used for urgent information that needs immediate attention, such as appointment reminders, shipment tracking numbers, or account expiration dates.

NU: SMS notification example

Source: SendPulse

  • Email Notifications. Similar to SMS notifications, email notifications provide users with important updates and information about their accounts or services via email. They are best used for less urgent updates, such as product announcements or promotional offers that don’t need immediate action on the user’s part.

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Source: SparkPost

According to triggers:

  • Context-generated notifications. Following user approval, context-generated notifications serve tailored content based on the user’s historical data. These proactive alerts are triggered by the user’s current context, such as the person’s location, time of day, or even the weather, to remind them of events or activities that may interest them.

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Source: SmartPush

  • System-generated notifications. System-generated notifications. System-generated notifications originate from the app itself without the aid of user actions. They usually inform users about events that have occurred, such as notifications for available system updates. Icon badges that display the number of unread notifications also fall under this notification type.

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Source: UX Planet

  • User-generated notifications. These notifications are enabled by the users themselves often to receive reminders, such as when they create calendar events or sign up for promo alerts. Another example is when users set email filters in their inboxes so that certain messages get flagged for attention.

Popular examples of context-generated notifications are the notices you get when someone tags you in a photo on social media or when a messaging app displays a preview of the new message on the device’s lock screen.

NU: user-generated notification example

Source: Apple Developer

Depending on your goals, the type of notification you need falls under more than one category. For example, a smart notification can come in the form of a push notification that’s also user-generated. This is a natural and common scenario.

Now that you know the various notification types, let’s talk about the key things you need to keep in mind to ensure you’re designing a great notification UX strategy.

The Do’s: 5 Best Practices for Crafting Compelling Notification UX

#1 Do write clear, catchy, and concise content

When crafting push or in-app notifications, keep your messages short, sweet, and on point. Avoid long-winded sentences or overly technical jargon.

Complex and lengthy content can overwhelm users and cause them to miss details that could be important. In our experience, the more straightforward the message, the more likely users will read — and act on it!

But how short is short enough?

Although the maximum number of allowed characters varies according to devices, most browsers and operating systems can accommodate up to 39 characters for the title and 150 for the message.

Technically, any length within the platform’s limit is okay. But if you can fit everything in a single line, the better. This is to help your readers absorb your entire message, even with a glance.

#2 Do incorporate visuals

Did you know that the average person’s attention span is less than 9 seconds?

And with an average mobile user toggling between 9 apps daily, how do you give yours a fighting chance to gain that elusive user attention?

Using visuals such as icons, images, or GIFs can help draw attention to your notification without being intrusive or overwhelming. One study found that notifications with images gain 60% higher click-through rates than those with plain text.

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This is because visuals make it easier for users to digest complex information quickly. They also give users an idea of what they’ll find when they click the notification.

To learn more about the importance of visuals in user experience, check out our article on key UX design principles for apps.

#3 Do personalize where possible

The most successful notifications are highly personalized and contextualized. According to research, personalizing push notifications can boost reaction rates by a staggering 400%.

Personalization means that the message should be tailored specifically to the user receiving it. This requires more than just addressing the recipient on a first-name basis.

All elements, from word choice and tone to images and layout, must be tailored according to the user’s demographics, app behaviors, and other data.

On the other hand, contextualizing means the message should be sent at the right time and place. For example, if you’re sending out a promotional offer, ensure it’s not forwarded during peak usage times or when users are busy doing something else in your app or website.

#4 Do include actionable elements

Like any critical UX enhancements, the law of least friction applies to app notifications. If you want to steer your users toward a desired outcome, you must ensure that the steps they need to take are communicated clearly and that accomplishing them is as effortless as possible.

Adding actionable elements like clickable call-to-action buttons makes it easy for users to take action without opening your web or mobile app. In our experience, giving users quicker, easier access to any information or content leads to higher engagement.

#5 Do consider your brand positioning

Push notifications in itself is a double-edged sword. The act of sending one alone can either engage or frustrate users. More so, if you mix it up with a controversial strategy, such as what Duolingo does.

The language learning app’s unignorable notification campaign proactively uses intrusive, guilt-tripping, and passive-aggressive notifications to reengage lapsed users. It’s a bold move that results in some users loving it and others hating it.

NU: user feedback on Duolongo's notifications

Source: Reddit

To be clear, I am not discouraging you from taking risks. We always encourage our team members and partners at Appetiser to Think Big, Become the Best.

In fact, I like to see Duolingo’s campaign as a glass half-full despite receiving some backlash. After all, it did manage to make its notifications unignorable.

However, you must ensure that your chosen strategy suits your brand positioning.

In the case of Duolingo, the company has already earned some distinction for being edgy even before the campaign, so it can get away with such a level of notoriety.

If that’s not how you want to establish your brand’s identity, I suggest you veer from embracing a similarly controversial strategy.

TL;DR: Whether you decide to play safe or follow suit with Duolingo’s gutsy move, always consider how you want your target users to perceive your brand.

The Don’ts: 4 Common Pitfalls to Avoid for a Compelling Notification UX

#1 Don’t send too many notifications

While you want to keep your users engaged, you don’t want to overwhelm them with multiple notifications. Bombarding users with alerts may prompt them to silence notifications or delete your app entirely.

That’s why it’s important to plan and time your notification. Again, this requires taking the time to gain enough insights about your users. Then, focus on sending out fewer high-quality messages that offer value.

#2 Don’t neglect notification settings

User control and freedom are essential to creating a satisfying app experience. This means that you should offer an easy-to-navigate system so your users can manage their experiences according to their needs and preferences.

You must ensure your app has options for allowing users to customize how often they receive notifications, choose the types of notifications to receive, and, yes, even opt out of receiving notifications. This will help your users feel in control while still keeping them informed.

#3 Don’t send irrelevant and overly generic push notifications

Notifications should foster meaningful interactions, not run on autopilot.

If a notification you compose or an automated response you generate is too broad, it may make your users feel spammed and can quickly become ineffective. You’ll end up wasting resources and risk losing user trust.

When designing in-app or push notifications, take the time to analyze your users’ behavior and past interactions with your app. Then, leverage the data to craft content and design that reflect their needs, values, and wants.

Be it for a website, an app, or a notification, a data-driven strategy always drives better results.

We’ve witnessed this happen many times for our clients, including YouFoodz, Australia’s #1 Healthy Food Delivery Service.

                             NU: YouFoodz app screenshot NU: YouFoodz menu screenshot

In 2017, YouFoodz tapped us to build a custom app to help the company stand out in the food delivery landscape through a unique e-commerce app design.

Right away, our team of app developers mapped out a holistic strategy to communicate how YouFoodz understands and values its customers’ needs and expectations.

In 6 short months, we built an app with a user-friendly interface and capable of delivering a satisfying experience through real-time order status notifications and other top-notch features.

The impact?

Since the app’s launch, YouFoodz has seen exponential improvements in their customer acquisition and retention rates. Best of all, they continue to generate hundreds of thousands of revenue daily!

YouFoodz’s journey to app success is packed with valuable insights for anyone seeking business growth through mobile apps.

#4 Don’t forget to test various versions

A/B testing is the ideal way to ensure that your notification strategies are successful. It helps you better understand how users interact with various versions.

By seeing what types of content and design resonate the most with your target audience, you can quickly identify areas for improvement and iterate your notification accordingly.

This will allow you to save time and resources and maximize return on investment from your campaign.

On a related note, the importance of testing and gaining user feedback is as important for notifications as it is vital to creating new apps. A minimum viable product is the best possible type of app to allow this sort of testing and learning from user reactions.

Make the most of every interaction

User experience isn’t limited to interactions within your web, iOS, or Android app. All potential touchpoints — from onboarding notifications to retargeting ads — play an integral role in forming a positive or negative perception of your app.

By paying careful attention to every element of your notifications and keeping your users in mind, you can create a notification system that can push your app’s success.

If you need a partner to help you design and develop an app that users would love, reach out to Appetiser today!


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