Publishers of all sizes are making a greater effort to stand out visually in the wake of Facebook’s algorithm changes. With fewer readers discovering new articles in their News Feeds, local publishers are turning to web and mobile push notifications as an alternative channel for connecting with existing readers.
For the uninitiated, push notifications are messages that can pop up on web browsers or mobile device screens. Mobile push notifications look similar to SMS text messages. They can be sent at any time, and they alert device users to new content that’s been posted on a publisher’s site.
Push notifications sent in web browsers can look like popups, but the similarities end there. Whereas popups only appear when a visitor clicks on the website that the popup belongs to, web push notifications show up regardless of which website a reader is on. In some cases, a user doesn’t even need to have a browser window open for a push notification to appear.
For years, publishers have sent push notifications to readers who were interested in sports scores and breaking news alerts. But with Facebook’s algorithm changes shaking up the industry, digital news outlets have started looking at alternative solutions for notifying readers of the latest content and bringing existing subscribers back to their websites and apps more frequently.
The volume of push notifications sent by publishers increased by more than 50% in 2017, according to the mobile app engagement firm Urban Airship, and opt-in rates by consumers interested in receiving these notifications increased by 16 percentage points.
Push notifications have popped up (no pun intended) as a way to bypass the clutter in people’s email inboxes and direct readers to breaking stories in real-time. With segmentation and scheduling tools—standard features in most push notification platforms—publishers can even create defined feeds based on reader interests and preferences. For example, people who’ve downloaded the Wall Street Journal’s mobile app can opt to receive push notifications about nine different topics. Readers can also “follow” Journal reporters and receive notifications whenever new articles by those reporters go live.
Will push notifications alone be enough to make up for the loss in referral traffic some publishers are seeing in the aftermath of Facebook’s algorithm change? It may be too soon to tell. At USA Today, push notifications account for just 10% of mobile app opens and 5% of mobile app pageviews. As with email, it’s a challenge to get readers to opt-in to mobile or web push notifications. But many local publishers feel like they’ve got nothing to lose by offering push notifications as a service to their readers.
For local publishers with WordPress websites, implementing push notifications can be as simple as installing a plugin and configuring the platform.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular platforms for sending web push notifications.
1) PushEngage: Using PushEngage, publishers can send both mobile and web push notifications to their subscribers. PushEngage allows for segmentation, multiple sites and users, and triggered notifications, which are sent out automatically based on user actions on a website. PushEngage offers a free plan for publishers with 2,500 or fewer subscribers.
2) OneSignal: As the most widely used push notification delivery platform, OneSignal has developed a reputation for its free tools for digital publishers. Real-time tracking features let publishers monitor conversions from their notifications, while OneSignal’s A/B testing tool and segmentation targeting are helpful for drilling down and creating the types of personalized notifications that news readers actually want to receive.
3) PushCrew: PushCrew is a web-based push notification tool that works on Chrome for web, Chrome for Android, and Firefox for web. Publishers have the ability to schedule notifications and use segmentation tools to ensure that subscribers are only seeing notifications for content they’re interested in. PushCrew offers a Startup plan for free for publishers with up to 2,000 subscribers.
4) PushAssist: Publishers who want to send push notifications from their websites to their subscribers’ devices can use PushAssist to do so. PushAssist works with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browsers, allowing publishers to quickly reach and re-engage with readers by drawing attention to new articles, even once visitors have left their websites. PushAssist’s scheduling and segmentation tools are particularly useful for publishers who are interested in sending targeted notifications. PushAssist offers a free plan with a 3,000 subscriber limit.
For more information on best practices surrounding the use of push notifications in the newsroom, be sure to check out Pete Brown’s report for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab.