Summary

Notifications are an opportunity to provide timely updates to users. Providing relevant notifications with customizable settings gives users a better experience.

Introduction

Like most people, I often wake up to a dizzying array of light and sound spewing from my phone. As I swipe away the annoying drone of my alarm, I typically find myself absent-mindedly checking my notifications. Of course, I won’t actually do anything about these notifications for the next hour or so but that doesn’t make my desire to know about the latest updates any less compelling. Truthfully, I start and end my day by sifting through notifications– and there isn’t really much of a break from them in between.

Notifications follow us everywhere– across all of our devices, in most locations, and often at the most inconvenient times. Now more than ever, we are facing an onslaught of messages all vying for our attention. Because of this, it’s critical that the applications and services sending these messages deliver them efficiently and effectively.

Notifications need to be three things: timely, relevant, and easy to use. Easier said than done. The following are 5 ways you can help ensure your notifications will meet these qualifications.

Start with an Introduction

Why not begin by showing your users how their notifications will look? Walking your users through a few example notifications can help them get a sense of the experience you are hoping to provide. This also gives you the opportunity to let them set their own parameters, hopefully by directing them to a settings page, and (should) help them remember where to go if they would like to change those settings again.

Giving users direct control over their notifications encourages thoughtful interactions with your product and shows them you want to provide a satisfying, personalized experience.

Send Some Reminders

It’s alright to periodically drop in with your users to make sure they are getting the most out of your products or services. This can include reminders about additional notifications or a compelling reason to resubscribe to notifications that have been turned off. These reminders should always include clear CTAs that don’t feel to pushy. Providing easy access to a settings page/module is also critical if you want your users to feel like they are in control of the content they receive.

Death to Stock sent an excellent email encouraging users to check out their latest newsletter.

Users appreciate periodic messages meant to gauge their interest and tailor their experience. It’s also important to remember these messages should be brief, intermittent, and friendly. Never try to trick or guilt users into receiving more messages– it often doesn’t work and diminishes the trust you have built with them.

Update Your Design

You can always get user input on notification systems, and design changes before they are rolled out. Testing with prospective users is a great way to make sure your hard work isn’t wasted creating notifications that real users won’t want. If you have already deployed your software or website, I highly recommend tracking and reviewing a variety of key metrics associated with your notifications. Nick Babich from UX planet agrees, saying “Before you send any notifications, you should choose a goal and track the necessary metrics to determine if the communication worked.” As you track these metrics (and reach out to your users), you’ll need to collect and analyze that information to determine improvements. Touching base with current users can also help gauge current satisfaction levels and lets you know if changes would appeal to those already invested in your company.

Lufthansa presents users with several choices when they opt to give feedback. (Photo Credit: Lufthansa.com)

Combining metrics with qualitative feedback will give you the ability to get an honest sense of your messaging and directly address the most pressing issues impacting your users.

Pair Notifications with Relevant Sounds

Sound is a powerful part of the user experience that many overlook. An article by Roman Zimarev paints a compelling picture of how to use sounds to improve UX. Roman highlights the importance of notification sounds, saying “When we do not look at the screen, the only thing that can attract our attention is a sound notification. So, sounds can broaden our possibilities.”Obviously, sounds are needed when the user isn’t interacting with the screen. But they go far beyond just getting us to look at our phones.

Sounds impact our emotions and have the potential to change our perception of the interfaces we’re using. The pleasant chime of Google Hangouts instills a positive emotion with the event of receiving a video call. The awful, blunt noise of an input error on Windows is a poignant reminder to stop attempting whatever action sounded the alarm. Sounds can give a sense of urgency or relieve tension. Sounds can cause excitement or disdain. They are powerful tools that should be carefully paired with the notifications you send.

Write User-Centric Messages

Now that your users are receiving the right notifications, the right amount of notifications, and you have a good feedback system to ensure both of those things continue, it’s time to address the actual content in your messages.

Writing effective notifications requires content to be written in a way that is centered around user’s expectations. User centric language makes content easier to understand and creates a more compelling narrative for your users because it speaks to them directly. Writing this kind of content requires us to (usually) ditch industry jargon and use phrases that your audience can relate to. For example, putting verbs into notifications that require interaction is a good way to both inform users of the next step and encourage them to take that action. It also serves as a reminder of what to do for notifications that were ignored for awhile.

Dunkin’ Donuts shows how to pair relevance with user centric content. (Photo Credit: Casey McDermott)

As shown in the example above, some companies are taking big steps to make their notifications friendlier and more relevant through user oriented content. Using local weather conditions to create a region specific notification shows users that you are trying to connect with them personally. The prose itself is simple, easy to understand, and uses verbs to encourage action. All of which comes together to deliver an excellent message.

User-centric language is the final, and arguably most important, step in delivering a good UX through notifications. Without it, users will struggle to make the most of your communication and may even lose the point you were trying to make.

Conclusion

Our interactions with technology are becoming incredibly frequent in our increasingly interconnected world. With this power, comes responsibility. Bombarding users with unnecessary notifications or providing a cumbersome system to control them will decrease overall engagement with your efforts. Delivering effective notifications, along with an intuitive way to manage them, will keep users happy and encourage them to engage with your brand. I’d call that a win-win situation.

Nathan Davis contributed to this article.


Also published on Medium.