Push Notifications in Digital Publishing – Best Practices

As digital publishers search for new ways to bring loyal readers back to their websites more frequently, push notifications are emerging as a growing trend. For digital publishers with their own mobile apps, push notifications can be a valuable marketing tool.

Research shows that among news publishers with mobile apps, the use of push notifications was up 16% last year. But the way news outlets take advantage of this technology varies, with strong opinions on the effectiveness of each publisher’s approach.

To help digital publishers understand the current best practices for using push notifications, we have put together this guide. With a clear understanding of how other publishers are using push notifications as a marketing tool, coupled with education of the current best practices from industry experts, our hope is that you will come away with a better picture of how your own publication can take full advantage of this technology.

What Are Push Notifications?

You can’t expect to be able to develop and execute a push notification strategy if you don’t know what push notifications are. Push notifications are messages that mobile app developers can send to their users’ phones. These notifications can pop up at any time, so users don’t have to be in the app, or even using their devices, to receive them.

Although push notifications are often confused with SMS text messages, they actually work much differently. For starters, push notifications only reach users who have installed a publisher’s mobile app. That means publishers that don’t have mobile apps can’t use this technology at the current time. Also, users don’t need to “check” their push notifications in the same way they might check their email or text messages. Push alerts pop up on the screen of the users phone, and they can be dismissed with the flick of a finger. If users prefer not to receive push notifications, they can opt-out of these messages through the Settings on their mobile device.

How Publishers Are Using Push Alerts

In a study of 30 news outlets with mobile apps, the Columbia Journalism Review and the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab found that the number of push notifications being sent out is on the rise. The weekly average was 26 push notifications per app.

Most news publishers send out push notifications when they publish fresh content. Push notifications work similarly to email alerts, except the alerts are much more instantaneous and readers don’t need to open their email apps—or even their phones—to see the messages on their screens.

According to CJR’s research, the average length of alerts increased by more than 30% from 2017 to 2018. Rich notifications, which contain images and video, and emoji are rare in the push alerts sent out by news publishers. Just seven out of the 30 outlets surveyed by CJR said they use emoji in push alerts.

However, there are some differences in how push notifications are used at national news outlets compared to city magazines and local news websites. Local publications are much more likely to consider their brand when deciding which stories warrant push alerts.

Recent Trends in Push Alerts

Back when push notifications were first introduced in the publishing world, news organizations used them almost exclusively for breaking news alerts. There was a general hesitancy to send out notifications that weren’t absolutely relevant and timely. Research shows, however, that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction.

Publishers are moving away from using push notifications exclusively for breaking news, with more notifications about content that falls into the features and opinions categories.

Another trend is for news organizations to move away from using a formal voice. Magazines and local news sites, in particular, are favoring a more casual tone in their push alerts.

Best Practices in Push Notifications for News Publishers

Despite seeing an evolution in how publishers are using push notifications, some elements of a successful notification remain the same.

1. Brevity is key. The best push notifications are succinct, with a bite-size nugget of information to go along with a link to the complete story on the publisher’s mobile app. Brevity is especially important now that more consumers are getting push notifications on their smart watches. Users of the Apple Watch, for example, can only see a few lines of text on their screens. Publishers who write lengthy notifications are at risk of having their alerts go unread.

2. Avoid clickbait headlines. Publishers should shy away from using clickbait headlines in the stories they push out. Readers are more likely to opt-out of notifications from a publisher when they feel tricked into opening content that’s not what it appears to be.

3. Don’t be afraid to send multiple alerts each day. Some editors are reluctant to clutter their readers’ phone with multiple push notifications each day, but the research doesn’t back up this practice. While it’s always a careful balance, editors and publishers should take comfort in knowing that push notifications can be sent more frequently based on current events without their readers tuning out the information.

If you’re curious about whether push notifications could help boost engagement at your own publication, reach out to our team here at Web Publisher PRO for an online consultation.