Last update: May 2021

10 mins to read - 2020/07/15

30 Mobile App Push Notification Best Practices 2021

Anyone in the mobile industry knows by now that our mobile phones are our lifelines. And especially in this strange, chaotic year that is 2020, mobile devices are often our primary way of connecting with the outside world. This is changing our society in more ways than we can count. Mobile games downloads surged last year, as have downloads of streaming and face-time services. But it goes without saying that push notifications are now the #1 means of communication between mobile apps and their users. As such, it’s imperative for any brand with a mobile app presence to build a stellar push notification campaign. Get started with our 30 best practices for push notifications in 2021.

There are as many types of push notifications as there are stars. And for our definitive list, we’ve categorized our push notification strategies by their stage in the mobile engagement life cycle… with a section for mobile games LiveOps as well.

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best practices for push notifications

Best Practices for Push Notifications: Onboarding

1. Pre-Permission Notification for iOS

As soon as a user downloads your app, that’s when you can start sending them push notifications. However, with iOS phones there is one extra preliminary step you have to undertake. iOS users need to opt-in to receiving push notifications from an app. (Android users receive notifications automatically, and have to manually opt-out for them to stop.)

Unsurprisingly, opt-in rates are nearly 20% higher on Android phones than iOS. But one of the best practices an app can do to convince iOS users to say yes to push notifications is send them a pre-permission notification. This is a push message that delivers to to their device upon installation of the app, sneaking in there before the OS-generated request sends. This is your chance to get creative and explain to the user why consenting to receive notifications will result in a great app experience. Once they say yes in-app, they will be prompted by the more official OS permission notification.

Use rich content – images, videos, GIFs, etc. – to reassure them that you won’t be spamming them with marketing ads. For example, the HQ Trivia app does a great job at this, with a video of a man congratulating you for downloading the app, and explaining the purpose of notifications.

hq trivia pre-permission message
Image Source: HQ Trivia app

2. Get users to finish filling out their profile

The greatest rate of churn occurs during the first week after download. And if a user loses momentum during the onboarding phase, they may not return to your app. Nip early churn in the bud by sending them a notification inviting them to come back and complete their profile.

Don’t crowd them, obviously. Your user may be waiting for a more relaxed time to focus on exploring your app. But if they leave their profile unfinished for 24 hours, then you can send them a “We don’t want you to miss out!” reminder.

3. Send users a welcome notification

Once they’re well and truly onboarded, that’s when you can send them a push notification welcoming them to the app. You can combine it with the pre-permission notification, as HQ Trivia does above. Or you can get them off to a good start with a discount code to a product you sell. Or offer them some free content as a taste. Anything to give them a taste of your app and make them want more of the experience.

4. Walk them through your app’s featured pages

Another driver of churn is when users aren’t aware of all the functions your app provides. To avoid this, you can send them a deep-link to a video walk-through or a tutorial showing them all the different ways to use your app. For more visual apps (such as mobile games) this can be a live tour of different app pages and how to navigate them. For simpler apps, a simple FAQ may suffice.

best practices push notifications

Best Practices for Push Notifications: Engagement and User Acquisition

5. Personalization: Appeal to users’ interests and preferences

One of the best practices you can commit to for winning over user loyalty is to send push notifications that are beneficial and in line with their interests. Users want real communication that will help them get the most out of your app. And they provide a wealth of information about their interests in the form of personal data.

Much of this is good, old common sense: use good manners and positive language. Be friendly; address your user by name. But leverage of personal data goes much farther. Every action your user completes on their device – their browser history, every post “liked” on social media, every song or video streamed – is a clue towards what they want your app to provide.

6. Timing: Get them at the right moment

Another data-driven form of personalization is making sure you send push notifications at the best time. And this timing can vary from user to user. Leverage data from user’s calendar to make sure you don’t interrupt them with notifications during important events. Analyze habitual use of their device to block out appropriate times to ping them. For example, don’t send users notifications during commuting hours, or while they are likely to be in work.

7. Location, location, location!

Location data is also a crucial means of segmenting your user base, and can inform you of when to send push notifications. Use geolocation data to assess what time zone they live in. 9 pm is a good time to notify a user in San Francisco, but a user living in Philadelphia will receive that notification at 12 am. Geolocation data can also be handy in directing users of retail apps toward brick-and-mortar stores in their vicinity, notifying them of local news or weather, and more.

8. Get users to build habits

For most apps – especially mobile games – the key to their survival is regular engagement with their user base. The best way to do this is to invite them to open the app at a regular time every day. The same way if someone practices piano at 4 pm every day their fingers will build muscle memory, if they open your app at the same time on a daily basis, it will become ingrained as an automatic action.

8. Invite them to share on social media

Sometimes loyal fans can be the best means of acquiring new users. Send users a push notification inviting them to share their on-app activity on their Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages. This might be more effective if your app is a mobile game, or if there is some kind of social aspect to it. Did your user like a song on your streaming app, or mark a book as read, or achieve a high-score on your game? Direct them to spread the word to their friends, and you may get some new installs.

9. Give users live updates in real-time

This is one of the practices where push notifications really shine, and OpenBack’s dynamic notifications are ideal for sending users accurate, up-to-date information in real-time. This is ideal for sports apps looking to keep users informed of scores. Or local news and traffic apps looking to keep users abreast of current situations. Or travel apps communicating airport gate changes or flight delays for users in transit.

10. Make users feel appreciated

This is not to be an everyday occurrence. But every now and then, it can boost morale to send users a friendly message. It can mark a special time of the year, e.g., “Happy Hanukkah to you and your loved ones!” Or it can be a more everyday, “Hey there! Thanks for being part of our community!” If nothing else, it will remind users that your app exists. For brownie points, send them a freebie or discount code as well.

Best Practices for Push Notifications: Purchase Conversions and Confirmations

11. Inform users of ongoing sales

Whether or not you’re a retail app, most mobile apps have some feature for users to make in-app purchases. And push notifications are a great way of drumming up publicity for the eCommerce section of your app. Let users know when you’re having a sale. A push notification with a deep link will take them directly to the page in your app where items are on display.

12. Ignite FOMO

Sales occur when users realize they want something that perhaps they hadn’t known existed previously. Make this happen by piquing a user’s FOMO. You can do this by notifying them of limited-time sales. Direct them via deep link to your in-app shop, where perhaps you have a timer counting down how many hours until the sale is over. Or if a viewer has browsed at a certain item, you can follow up with them to casually mention that 6 other people have also viewed that vintage fondue set, and there’s only one left in stock.

13. Send users discount codes for products or services

A user who makes a purchase early on is more likely to make more purchases. Light a fire under more frugal users by sending them a limited-time discount code. This will sweeten the deal for users who may have been considering making a purchase. And for those who were not considering buying anything, a 10% discount and a link to your in-app retail page will at least get them browsing.

14. Send reminders of abandoned shopping carts

$4.6 trillion in retail value is lost per year in abandoned shopping carts. Get some of that money back by reminding your almost-customer to pick up where they left off. Don’t be too pushy. They may have selected a number of items and then left them in the cart, to come back at a more convenient time. Send your first reminder after a space of time has passed, perhaps 6-12 hours. Send another notification on the following day. If they still haven’t gone back to their shopping cart, try to win them back with a 10% discount.

15. Use “likes” to create conversions

As any salesperson knows, positive emotions can very easily become sales. Any action a user completes on their device can turn into a purchase. If they “like” a band or movie on social media, if they follow an artist on Instagram, if they subscribe to a Mexican food blog… any of this can translate into a push notification directing them to your shop. Depending on the scope of your app, you can send a notification suggesting they purchase their liked band’s new single, tickets to an upcoming gig, plane tickets to Mexico City… there’s a wealth of information to work with.

16. Use previous purchases to suggest complementary purchases

This is where marketers so often go wrong. A user may buy a tent on Amazon, and for months afterward they get bombarded with notifications for more tents. This is not only unlikely to result in a purchase – a person usually only needs to own one tent at a time – but it’s annoying as well, and may work against you in the long run.

Instead, think of what a person who has just bought a tent is likely to want: sleeping bags? An outdoor cooking set? Hiking boots?

push notification purchase confirmation

17. Send confirmation notifications when a purchase has been made

And have fun with it! Use the context of the purchase to give some flavor to your content. For example, it’s a pretty safe bet that someone who orders a Star Wars Blu-Ray will be tickled to get a notification that throws a line of dialogue from the movie, as in the example above.

18. Cross-Promote Another App

This is a function unique to OpenBack, in which you can strengthen your app ecosystem by sending notifications with a link to install another app. This app may be a sister app of the one downloaded by the user, or it may be the app of a partnering company. Either way, OpenBack offers a function that informs of whether user of App X has also installed App Y. If not, the SDK sends a push notification inviting them to do so.

Read more about cross-app installs here: OpenBack Enables Cross-App Installs for Your Mobile Ecosystem

Best Practices for Push Notifications: Churn Prevention

19. Help user rediscover your app’s features

A lot of the best practices for preventing churn are the same used for push notification campaign for user retention – just kicked up a notch. When you notice a user is using your app less frequency, it could be that they’re bored, or they’ve already completed the purpose they downloaded your app for. In this case, it can help your case to remind them of what they’re missing out on. Or perhaps introduce them to a part of the app they weren’t aware of. An educated customer is an engaged customer!

20. Entice them back with new content

Sometimes what you have just isn’t enough, and a user is looking for something new. Whether that’s a bonus level in your mobile game, some new content to stream, or a new line of items to purchase.

21. Ask for user feedback

Sometimes a user may be churning because of something easily fixed. However, most users won’t take the initiative to come forward to complain about something in your app. So invite at-risk users via push notification to offer some feedback on ways you could improve the app experience. In many cases, this will make them feel more invested in your app, and could win them back. Worst-case scenario, they still churn, but then at least you have some direction on how to improve the app for other users.

22. Offer a Discount

When in doubt, a discount on an item in your shop, or on a subscription or game pass, can always sweeten the pot! However, make sure this is a last resort. And make sure the user will bring an increase in value if you retain them. Sometimes it can be more profitable to let a user churn who doesn’t pull their weight, whether in monetization or engagement.

Best Practices for Push Notifications: LiveOps for Mobile Games

Push notifications are such a fundamental pillar to mobile engagement that it’s impossible to even talk about LiveOps without also mentioning notifications. The potential for creative marketing here is endless, so use your imagination!

For more insights on what LiveOps are, and how push notifications can optimize your LiveOps campaign, read our blog post: Push Notifications Can Optimize LiveOps for Your Mobile Game

mobile game push notification

23. Send push notifications as an expansion of your mobile game

For more narrative-based RPG games, there’s an enormous scope for using push notifications to extend your game into the real world. Especially with rich content, such as images and video, you can send messages, reminders, and invitations to your players in the voice of the characters they encounter. A push notification can convey a prophecy, a challenge to do battle, or a roadmap to the player’s next stage in the game. (No crucial information, though, in case the user accidentally swipes it away and is then stuck!) Deep links can then take them to the exact point in the game where they left off.

24. Inform players of raids or other live events in-game

Plenty of games features gameplay in real-time. For example, when Pokemon GO players team up to raid gyms, or when players in MMORPGs gather to go on a game-wide hunt or battle royale. Live events are a way to keep your game original and spontaneous. Make sure players don’t miss out by sending them a notification five minutes before the event begins.

25. Suggest skins or other cosmetics that are available for purchase

As gaming phenomenon Fortnite has demonstrated, anything players can use to customize their avatar – sprays, skins, premium weaponry, what have you – is a highly effective monetization tactic. Give players a nudge when something comes in stock that may interest them. Use personalized language, such as addressing them by name, and especially let them know if that item is limited edition.

push notification duolingo

26. Send players reminders to practice their skills

This goes for both mobile games and other genres of mobile app that use gameification techniques, such as Duolingo. A player who practices is a player who excels, and push notifications are a great ways of getting users into the habit of using your game at a set time each day. And you can get creative with it. Invite users to an in-app academy where they can practice their battle skills, train their Pokemon, answer trivia questions to earn coins, or solve puzzles in preparation for the main quest.

27. Spark competition by sharing high scores between friends

Mobile gaming is a social activity, and when friends get involved it can boost engagement all around. If your game has access to players’ contact lists, or if players form a network of friends within the app, try stirring the pot some. Send notifications to inform players of friends’ activities. And if you have separate tiers in the scores section (e.g. Gold, Silver, Bronze) let players know how much more they need to perform before getting bumped up into the higher tier.

28. Keep players involved in community events

A gaming community extends far beyond the actual device. Most diehard fans of a game participate in its community across a range of media, including forums, Twitch streams, live tournaments, and more. One best practices for keeping morale and engagement high is to update players on championship games, or developer AMAs on your social media platform of choice, by sending push notifications in real-time.

29. Upsell users to a higher-tier subscription

The ingenious tactic made famous by the Fortnite franchise, subscription-based games are a great way of giving users an individualized gaming experience based on what they’re willing to pay for. Make sure your users are aware of the different subscriptions you offer, and how higher-tier subscriptions offer a premium gaming experience. For example, more levels, better-quality cosmetics, more loot boxes, access to VIP sectors of the game, etc.

30. Make your push notification a game within a game

Style it like a randomized loot box, or a roulette wheel – and direct them to make an in-app purchase at the same time. Offer them a discount at random – 15%, 30%, or 50% – if they click on the notification. For players who were on the verge of making a purchase, it may be the nudge they need. And if not, it gets them engaging with the app, and may get them thinking for next time.

Do you have any tips or advice for us to bulk up our list? Would you like to gain access to our comprehensive playbook of best practices for push notifications? Drop us a line at or get in touch with one of our experts.

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  • Thank you for sharing the wonderful article! I am using ios mobile phones from a couple of years, So I had installed the mobile game app. but sometimes I was facing lots of problems related to the notification. When I had contact with Wonder push. Wonder push helped me to get push notifications on the android and iOS apps. For more information please click on the link react native push notifications

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