Summary

Users are frustrated with excessive notifications that aren’t customized, personalized, or intuitively designed. Avoid these common pitfalls by sending user-centric messages.

Introduction

It’s late at night and I’m driving through St. Louis (a city I’ve only visited the city twice in my life). As I’m zipping past a myriad of off-ramps, I find myself relying heavily on my smartphone to tell me where I’m heading. Approaching my exit (one of several jammed into a tight turn), I see a message appear at the top of my screen: “Find more of your friends on Facebook.” I swipe the notification away, just in time to see my exit fading into the distance as Google Maps sends me on a different route– adding another 15 minutes to my trip. When I arrived at my hotel that night, I swiftly deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Never again, I say. Never again.

The dreaded “You Need More Friends” notification. (Photo credit Nick Babich)

It’s in these moments that users become finely attuned to their notifications, quickly swiping away anything that’s not a necessity. It’s also in these moments that users become aware of any issues associated with your notifications. Offering content that isn’t relevant or timely will leave users feeling neglected. Imagine having a discussion with someone that doesn’t listen to you, doesn’t treat to you as an individual, and doesn’t allow you to give any input into the conversation. Doesn’t sound too appealing. Unfortunately, this has become a prevalent problem and it’s driving users away from all of our notifications– making it ever more difficult to provide them with a good user experience.

What makes good notifications go bad?

Sending Too Many Messages

The first issue is that many users have been receiving too many messages– and this problem only continues to grow. Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, does a great job of outlining the issue in his Medium article.

“The surplus of notifications — and a few bad actors — spoiled the channel for everyone. Right now, all apps are incentivized to throw as many different kinds of notifications our way to stand out amidst every other app’s notifications”, says Belsky.

This is an unsustainable solution to a problem that won’t be going away anytime soon.

Obviously, you need your message to stand out. How can you do that without bombarding users with a flurry of notifications? Let your users have input over the notifications you send them. Getting feedback from users lets you focus on the messages they want to receive. Then you can cut out all of the extra fluff. Plus, If you’re only sending half as many messages, you’ll have twice as much time to hone your content and create notifications that matter to your users.

How do you change your notifications once you’ve received user feedback? Further in his article, Belsky recommends creating better logic systems for notifications. Outlining reasons to send (and not send) notifications based on user feedback should give your team a great frame of reference for communicating with your users– helping you trim the fat from your messages.

Not Giving Users a Choice

Despite our best efforts, there will always be some users that don’t fit the typical mold. Even with extensive testing, there will be outliers that don’t agree with the solutions you’ve created. Luckily, this only becomes an issue when users aren’t allowed control over their notifications. When you don’t allow users to tailor their experience, their easiest option is often to opt out entirely. In fact, a study from AppIterate found that annoying notifications are the top reason why the users they interviewed had uninstalled apps. With most apps and software facing stiff competition, users are willing to disengage from one company and switch to a competitor with less annoying quirks.

To avoid this issue, ensure your users can choose which notifications they receive. There may be some messages that are too important for users to opt out of and that’s fine. Just make it clear which notifications can be turned off and give a short, honest reason why others need to remain.

Making Interaction Too Cumbersome

So you’ve trimmed down the messages. You’re only sending the ones that truly matter and you’ve allowed users to confirm that notion. Now the ball is in their court. Whenever someone receives a notification, they need to do three things: read it, react to it, and resolve it. Neglecting the usability of these actions puts your users in a precarious situation. It’s easy to forget that the most critical part of effective notifications happens after they’ve already been sent.

Was there important info behind this notification? This user will never know. (Photo credit Ajit Singh)

Often, these actions are impacted by the importance of the notifications. So, notifications that don’t immediately indicate their level of importance already make the experience cumbersome.

Once users have determined importance, they can get into the specifics of how they will handle this notification. This means users also need an easy route to react to the notification. The desired action should be presented on the notification or the page the notification directs the user toward. Is your store having a sale on sweaters? Your notification should include a direct link to your website’s sweater page. Did another user send them a message? The notification should clearly indicate that an interaction will take them directly to that conversation. Regardless of the situation, notifications are meant to inform and inspire user actions, which means they need to be easy to understand and utilize in a moment’s notice.

Sending The Wrong Message

Sometimes we send notifications that have no value to our users, with the sole purpose of increasing our metrics; Even though we’ve (pretty much) all engaged in this behavior, we need to admit that it is not good UX. Notifications should always serve a purpose for the user and demonstrate the value of that purpose.

Poshmark’s humorous notification failed to engage this user. (Photo credit Ajit Singh)

You should still notify your users about important events like new product releases, sales, and coupons. However, these messages need to be user centric and give them useful information. Notifications that are entirely based in self-promotion or worded in a way that isn’t enticing to users fail their expectations and drive them away from engaging with further messages. This is includes reminders for reminders, messages containing information users expect to find elsewhere, and other updates that just aren’t interesting to most users.

Sending Messages Without Relevance

Even when you have well-crafted, user-centric messages sent at reasonable intervals, it’s possible to still get on users’ nerves and miss key opportunities for conversion. This is because when it comes to notifications, context is key.

AppBoy demonstrates a timely, humorous notification. (Photo credit Lauren Leonardi)

When notifications aren’t timely, they’ll be underutilized. If messages aren’t relevant to a users’ experiences, they will become frustrating. And when the message doesn’t give users a reason to care, it will drive them away from the experiences you are trying to provide. Good notifications are timed right, personalized to users’ needs, and present themselves in a way that seems important to the user’s experience. In other words, they’re relevant.

Conclusion

It’s easy to send bad notifications. It’s even easier to overlook this issue when you aren’t receiving feedback from your users. The first step toward better notifications is addressing the common issues listed above. If you’re looking to give your users an exemplary experience, you’ll need to gather feedback and address their specific needs.

Resources

Singh, A. (2016, December 30). [Humor] 8 Worst Push Notifications that Justify App Uninstall. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://monk.webengage.com/humor-8-worst-push-notifications-from-apps-that-justifies-uninstall/

Leonardi, L. (2017, August 04). 7 Hacks for Writing Push Notification Copy. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.appboy.com/blog/write-push-notification-copy/