World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

The power of push notifications

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

The power of push notifications

Content may be king, but delivery is queen. And she commands your attention.

She also demands your respect. That is especially true for content delivered via push notifications.

With all the noise, competition and fake news out there, the battle for digital moments has never been fiercer. Amid the clutter, news media companies find that pushing content to mobile users can be a valuable tool for gaining reader attention and boosting engagement. In fact, several recent studies show that readers actively seek push messages containing news and weather updates, breaking news alerts, and special offers personalized to match the user's preferences or location.

These same readers (52% of them, according to Localytics) also find push messages to be "an annoying distraction." Thus the need for balancing attention with respect.

To help determine the right balance when it comes to push notifications, we decided to go directly to the source. We surveyed 1,500 users of our Newscycle mobile apps across more than 1,000 news, sports and weather apps. In addition to an online survey, we conducted telephone interviews with 100 users to get in-depth heuristic evaluations of their survey responses. We also analyzed the comments, complaints and reviews of our mobile apps posted on the Apple and Google app stores.

Push notifications boost audience engagement

Our study finds that when an article is sent to a mobile app user via push notification, the user spends an average of 3 minutes and 17 seconds in the app. By contrast, the average time spent in the same app without an article push is just 44 seconds.

In other words, an average user spends 153 seconds (about 2.5 minutes) longer in an app session when directed to the app via an article push notification. That's a 78% increase in app engagement time over a user who navigates an app separately from the receipt of a push notification.

The customer survey also reveals that app opens from push notifications represent more than 21% of all opens. Furthermore, the number of opens correlates directly with the number of pushes. Very simply, this means publishers see more app opens when they send more push notifications.

Our study finds that users actively accept push notifications from publishers they trust. Almost 70% of respondents to our survey indicate that they have opted to receive pushes from their favorite media apps.

Avoiding push fatigue

Trust is critical to the successful relationship between media companies and their readers. It's the balance, once again, between getting user attention and respecting their other time commitments. As a result, publishers continually strive to avoid the "annoying distraction" factor when determining the threshold for when the number of push notifications each day becomes too much.

In an October 2016 article for EContent Magazine, Peggy Anne Salz, chief analyst at MobileGroove, describes the challenge succinctly: "The phone is my turf, and if you're one of the lucky apps to have made it onto that turf, then already we have an implicit, tacit personal relationship."

Salz goes on to say, "If it's going to be personal, there needs to be value, and that value comes from knowing and understanding me ... and reflecting that in how you communicate with me by push notifications."

In our study, we asked readers to identify the main reasons why they removed or disabled push notifications. Nearly 50% of all users indicate that their main reason for removing pushes is that they receive too many push notifications from a publisher.

We also asked users to indicate the acceptable number of daily push notifications they would like to receive from a publisher. Almost 30% of respondents say that three pushes a day is the optimum number, while 25% say that four a day is acceptable.

Time of day also matters for push notifications

From an analysis of more than 1,000 mobile apps, the study finds that most publishers send push notifications at between 5:00-8:00 each day, with 6:00-7:00 being the most common time for pushes. In the afternoon, most push notifications are sent between 16:00-18:00, with 17:00 as the norm.

The user survey reveals somewhat different results as to when readers actually open their push notifications. The most common time of day that users open their mobile apps as a result of receiving push notifications are 8:00, 12:00, 7:00, 11:00 and 18:00, respectively.

Based on these findings, as well as the in-depth interviews conducted with 100 mobile app users, the following times of day seem to be ideal to send push notifications for different types of news media content:

  • Weather, traffic and headline alerts (7:15-8:00)
  • Local headlines and feature stories (11:30-13:00)
  • Lifestyle, entertainment and business news (14:45-16:45)
  • Top stories, headlines and "watch now" content (17:30-18:30)

The study also finds that day of the week is an important factor when sending push notifications. Nearly 24% of users surveyed say they are most likely to click on articles pushed to them on Thursday. Tuesday and Friday come in second at 20%. These findings are consistent with a December 2015 Localytics study of 20,000 push messages, which showed Thursday to have a slight edge in push notification click rates.

The variances are subtle and can change over time, so testing is key here. As the Localytics researchers point out, "Not only must you test to find out the best timing for your push notifications, you must continuously learn about your audience and adapt over time. It was just a little over a year ago when Friday had the highest click rate and the afternoon was the best time to send a push message."

Content pushed doesn't always match content opened

Publishers we surveyed send local and national news articles via push notifications at a higher rate than any other mobile content type. Local news leads the way at 35% and national news is second at 24%. Weather, sports and entertainment news, on the other hand, represent about 10% or less of the content types that are pushed.

It is interesting to note that mobile users in our survey indicate that they open weather content at a significantly higher rate (33%) than any other content type. Local and national news rank second and third in user open rate, respectively. Users also appear to open sports and entertainment articles more frequently, indicating that publishers might be well-advised to push more of these content types to their mobile audiences.

Of course, there is one simple way to find out what types of content your users prefer. Ask them. Numerous studies – including our own – show that mobile app users prefer to receive pushed content that is personalized to their interests and preferences.

What's perhaps most encouraging for news media publishers is the fact that mobile push notifications measurably boost audience engagement, which in turn leads to greater content monetization opportunities. A 2016 study conducted by the University of Texas and funded by the Knight Foundation showed that, "Over half of those receiving news notifications opened the app or went to the news website to learn more about a notification. Just over a third (37.1%) searched for more information after seeing a notification and just under a quarter (23.4%) turned to social media after seeing a notification."

The battle for digital moments will continue to rage for years to come. Against that backdrop, it is important for publishers to take full advantage of push notifications. By striking the right balance between commanding attention and respecting audience preferences, push notifications will continue to be a valuable and engaging weapon in the mobile content arsenal.

Peter G. Marsh is Vice President, Marketing at Newscycle Solutions. He joined Newscycle in 2013 from Atex Inc., where he was Senior Vice President of Global Product Management. With more than 30 years’ experience in the media industry, Peter was previously the CEO of 5 Fifteen Inc. He was also the founder and CEO of Deadline Data Systems and Vice President of Web Development at EBSCO Publishing.


WAN-IFRA External Contributor


2016-11-28 16:16

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