Smart app developers and marketers know that user retention is the only way to sustainably grow in a competitive market. In fact, it has been proven that retaining a mere 5% of your users can lead to boosting your business growth by a whopping 30% or more. In this article, we’re going to share how the top grossing apps are making use of push notifications for user retention. But apart from just examples, we’ll also share how to make notifications more effective with app inbox and what best practices to follow for maximum engagement on your notifications.

The importance of push notifications

There are literally thousands of apps that are being submitted to the app stores every day. This has not just increased the choices a user has when it comes to using an app, it has also resulted in most of them suffering from very high churn rates. According to a study by Localytics, most apps lose almost 71% of their users by the third month from the point of acquisition.

average user retention rate
The user retention and churn status across all industries remain pretty much the same. Irrespective of the industry your app falls under, you’re losing most of your users within days if not weeks. For instance, even something as ‘interesting’ as games, are able to retain only 11% of their players by the third month. 

three month user retention

The reason being, that a great app or an interesting game is just not enough to keep the user hooked. If you want them coming back to your app or make it their go-to during break time, you need to remind them of what it does and how they were loving it in the last session they had.

That’s where using push notifications for user retention comes in.  

Improving user retention with push notifications

Having worked with apps across different categories, we found out that push notifications are one of the best app marketing strategies for boosting user engagement and retention. All you need is to create a strategy that keeps the user in mind and is implemented right from the day of acquisition.

Let’s take a look at the effect of push notifications on user retention – from day 1 to day 30. You can see that there is already a 1.5% difference in the mean retention with push notifications. Now calculate how many users you can keep from churning over a 90 day period. Here’s what Leanplum found:


optimal push notification

This is just pulled out from one instance. There are multiple studies by app experts that suggest a similar impact of push notifications on user engagement and retention rates.

impact of push notifications on user engagement

Simply put, push notifications serve as a 1:1 communication channel between an app developer or marketer, and a user. And in times when a user is to be made to feel valued, this communication is exactly what you need to hold them back from venturing out to try other apps or games.

But what’s best here is the fact that smartphone users actually love getting push notifications – as long as they are relevant to them, of course.

smartphone users love push notifications

The benefits of using push notifications

1. They keep the users engaged

With so many apps getting launched in the stores, it’s really important to consistently communicate with users. Especially when the fascination with an app can end after the first few weeks of install.

Messages that are relevant to the user’s actions, can encourage an engagement almost instantly. Repeating the same week on week can lead to higher user retention with push notifications.

2. They give you insights into a user’s behavior

Push notifications can be tracked in real time. With GetSocial you can track the messages sent out, the interaction times, devices, platforms they are accessed on and analyze which of them brought maximum engagement and retention.

Sending push notifications regularly can help understand when, where, why and how your users are interacting with the app. This further enables app developers and marketers to create personalized user journeys, leading to higher user retention rates.  

Also read: The effects of social features in apps: Benefits of push notifications

3. They have a higher response rate than emails

Push notifications have a 97% higher response rate as compared to emails. Simply because when you send an email to your users, you expect them to first consume the content you send and then move to your app. That’s too long a process for an app session.

In the case of a push notification, the message is consumed in seconds and the user is led directly to the right screen in the app.

4. They make the user feel in control

A lot of app developers believe that using push notifications might turn away their players. But push notifications offer total control to the players and don’t hamper their experience in any way. They can easily change the general push notification settings to customize how and where they want to see messages from an app. This actually makes push notifications the least bit annoying.

With solutions like GetSocial’s social notifications, users are notified about social events in your app, for instance when someone has liked or commented on their activity post, or when their invited friend has started using the app. Such push notifications have proven to increase day 30 retention by 3-10X.

Also read: The impact of iOS12 on push notifications and user retention

5. They make communication easy

Be it announcing a new update, a new feature or suggesting the player an in-app purchase at a special discount, push notifications make it easy for you to reach out to your players ‘instantly’. All you need to focus on in this case is personalizing your messages per user.

getsocial push notifications

Make notifications more effective with app inbox

App inboxes are an alternative to push notifications that can significantly contribute to the effectiveness of communication within the application. They can be used together with the other channels to improve the deliverability of campaigns.

An app inbox is a place that stores all notifications related to the application. If needed, the user can follow up on the notifications later in the inbox. Such inbox messaging has the following benefits:

  • The messages are visible even to those users who have opted out of push notifications but may find some of the app’s announcements or promotions important.
  • Inbox messaging provides extra value to marketers. Now they can promote not only the short-time deals but also the long-lasting content, such as seasonal sales that can go on for several months.
  • Unlike traditional push notifications, inbox messages will reach 100% of the audience, not just those users who opted-in to receive notifications. This is because the users can access the messages at any time, from a single place, and without any distractions.
  • Inbox messaging allows you to embed different types of HTML-rich content: not only text but also images, surveys, videos, etc.
  • App inbox gives you room for A/B testing various types of messages and targeting different types of audiences.

When properly used, an app inbox can become a powerful tool that will help your application succeed. Here are some of the best practices of how to use inbox messaging:

  • Let the users know that your app has a messaging center and what they can expect from it. For example, you can send a welcome message with the information about the inbox.
  • Make sure that the inbox is visible so that the users can easily find it. Make sure that the users are aware of the new messages in a non-intrusive way – for example, by adding the number of unread messages to the app’s icon.
  • Keep the message center up to date by regularly removing the outdated messages so that the users are not confused with information about offers that have already expired.

But what kind of push notifications work to boost user engagement and user retention? Let’s find out. 

Examples of push notifications that work  

Today, we see app developers and marketers experiment with different approaches to make push notifications work for them. They are not just sending out reminders or promotions, but also focusing on engaging their users and players.

1. Simon Circles

The number one use case of push notifications is to re-engage a user that is not using the app at the moment. We like this example from the game, Simon Circles because it takes gamification to another level. The developers choose to compete with the players almost personally, challenging them to get back to the game for another session.

Let’s face it, what works better than a little challenge to get going. Right?

simon circles push notifications

2. 8tracks

One of the most popular radio apps shows you how important it is for a brand to maintain a consistent personality across all communication channels. They use a bright, bubbly tone in their push notification messages, to ensure their users are pleasantly surprised.

But what they also keep in mind at the same time, is how to get to the point before they lose the user’s interest. Simply put, a mix of quirkiness and offering a direct value proposition, can be the cocktail to success!  

8tracks push notifications

3. Dunkin’ Donuts

One of the most important elements of a highly successful push notification is the relevance of the message. Dunkin’ Donuts is doing a fine job here with personalization. Taking the local weather conditions into account, they make sure they reach out to their users with a value proposition that tempts them to stock up on coffee and be prepared. What we also like, is how they are not being too pushy and use a simple ‘stay warm’ to drive an action from the user.

dunkin donuts push notifications

4. PokemonGo

Another great example of personalization and situational trends is from the game PokemonGo. To maximize user engagement, they make use of the player’s location to let them know of the challenges around them. They further introduce a sense of urgency by adding how the active lures are active for only 30 minutes.

Now considering how many apps and games lost their users to PokemonGo, we sure know how successful the game’s push notification campaigns were.

pokemongo push notifications
Also read: Is PokemonGo taking away your players too? Gotta catch em’ all!

5. The Bump

A cute example of push notifications is from The Bump app. It uses the available user information, resources, and tools, to monitor the pregnancy on a weekly basis. While their message is really heavy on numbers and facts, their way of writing is what makes it engaging.

The weekly notification updates about the size of the baby and the valuable in-app content have made thousands of users fall in love with them.

the bump push notifications

6. Level

Sometimes, all your users need is a little bit of motivation to keep going. Now Level makes use of exactly that strategy. Sharing the user’s achievement with them, when they least expect it or you’re seeing a little less of them in the app, is a great way to bring them back. Another thing that works here, is how the app makes use of the common words that their users make use of in their regular conversations.

level push notifications

7. Netflix

When you want to keep your users engaged for a longer time and prevent them from churning, you need to understand their in-app journey. This should include what interests them the most, what they are interacting with and where they often end their session. That’s what Netflix has always been doing!

They keep the push notification messages absolutely to-the-point and based around the shows that the user has seen.

netflix push notifications

8. 1800Flowers and Pull & Bear

Push notifications serve as one of the most effective channels to recover abandoned carts. You just need to time the messages right and offer a compelling discount that nudges the user to complete the purchase. We also really like how they include a little emoji of a flower in the middle here. Doesn’t it all just add up to their brand and the overall message?

1800flowers push notifications
Another example that we’d like to share here, is from Pull&Bear. They use push notifications to promote their limited period offers – even if it is free shipping. The message is kept simple, informative and actionable!

pull&bear push notifications

9. Fancy Dogs

You practically check your Facebook and Instagram feed every other hour; and sometimes, even minutes. The reason is that you’re eager to know what your social circle is up to and get up-to-date with what’s trending amongst them. The same holds true for your app or game as well.

Fancy Dogs uses social push notifications to re-engage players, by notifying them of activity on their feeds. This includes likes and comments on their posts.

Social Push Notifications - Fancy Dogs

10. 1 Stop Shop

Want to kill two birds with the same stone? Well, don’t just use push notifications to just re-engage your users to complete an activity that adds to the goal of your app. Sometimes, it is a good idea to just ask for feedback. 1 Stop Shop reaches out to its users with a personalized message that is based on their last purchase. By asking them to review the product, they don’t just make the user feel they are valued, but also bring them back to the app. This nudges them to explore other products at the same time!

1stopshop push notifications
There are different ways to use push notifications for user engagement and user retention. But at the core of it, lies how engaging you can make the message and how relevant it is to the user or the player at the time you send it. This calls for creating a push notification strategy that circles around the user journey, keeping in mind your app or game’s conversion goals.

Best practices to follow for push notifications

1. Segment and target users

With GetSocial Smart Targeting, you can re-engage your users strategically. It helps you segment and target your users based on their in-app behavior and deliver targeted push notifications to each of the segments.

Smart Targeting can be used to notify your users about in-app content updates that are relevant to their interests. Alternatively, you can create segments to send them push notifications about specific discounts, contests, ask for feedback or trigger a community-driven activity.

For example, you can use it to re-engage app influencers who have become slightly inactive. Create a segment of all the players they invited to your game and send a message saying they are missing the players, along with a strong incentive.  

2. Always keep it relevant and interesting

One of the core elements that make a push notifications campaign successful, is the value that you offer. Based on the user’s in-app journey, identify what is valuable to him and what could encourage more sessions from him. It could be a simple discount on an in-app purchase they were about to make or even a simple message that notifies them of a new feature launch they had requested, or shown interest in.

3. Make it very personal

While keeping it relevant is important, being human in your approach is as important to get a response from your users. By personalizing your message to ‘speak’ to the user, you add human value to your app/ game. And people always trust people, instead of just promotional messages!

4. Ensure it is actionable

You can craft an interesting message to read, but unless it clearly states what the user is expected to do, you’re probably not going to get a response on your push notifications. That’s why you need a clear call to action in your push notifications. Lay down the exact steps that you want a user to take after reading the push notification.
netflix push notifications 2

5. Send them timely

Push notifications have a reputation for irritating the users. But that’s when you send them at the wrong time. Badly timed push notifications can result in not just bothering the users, but also churning from your app.

For instance, urgent and time-sensitive updates need to be sent immediately. This could include sending a simple confirmation of an in-app purchase they made. Other updates like introducing the user to a new feature, can be sent on the basis of a user’s in-app journey.

According to research conducted by Andrew Chen on bulk push notifications, push messages saw a small peak in open rates around noon (3 pm) and the highest peak around evening. But there is no one-size-fits-all, and you need to continually test the performance of your push notifications.

6. Find the right frequency

According to the survey conducted by Localytics, app marketers can experiment with sending two to five push notifications in a week, with a risk of push disablement of 22.3%; which is way lower than the 31% in 2015-2016.
frequency of push notifications
This only indicates how carefully planned push notifications can work towards engaging your users and boosting user retention effectively.

Making the most out of push notifications

Push notifications are clearly one of the most effective communication channels for apps and games. But gone wrong, they can also result in you losing your users and players.

This is why it is important for developers and marketers to consistently measure the results their push notifications campaigns are yielding. Based on the data, they should be able to further identify what messages they engage with the most and how they can optimize them to nudge more actions. Digging deeper into data can also help in segmenting your users more effectively, for creating better push notifications campaigns.