Last update: May 2021

7 mins to read - 2020/12/04

Deliverability: The Key to Unlocking Rocketship App Retention Growth

Reliable delivery of push notifications to users’ devices is fundamental to the very concept of mobile engagement. If your mobile app is using a platform that isn’t capable of delivering notifications reliably and in real-time, then you are missing out on one of the most innovative aspects of push technology… and potentially losing valuable customer revenues. OpenBack is the industry leader when it comes to consistently high rates of deliverability, allowing you to send push notifications in true real-time and optimize your customer retention.

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Why Is Deliverability So Important to Your Push Campaign?

Deliverability is whether the message ultimately reaches your user’s device. It should be the absolute baseline of what a mobile engagement platform can offer your app. Playing into this is where on the device the notification sparks your user’s attention. Does it deliver to their lockscreen or while they’re actively using the device? Do they get value from it? Do they click on it, or otherwise engage? 

Deliverability is the Yes/No binary of whether the notification met its end destination. Combined with personalization, it determines whether push technology succeeds or fails as a mobile marketing channel. This is specifically because push notifications are such an intimate form of communication. Your message is delivering directly to your user’s device. You have access to their personal data, as well as their primary interface for connecting with the world. As such, most users will not have a high tolerance for poorly timed, invasive, or irrelevant messages.

When users are missing out on important messages because they don’t deliver – or because a series of push notifications deliver in the wrong order – that reflects poorly on your brand. Delayed or failed delivery is the ultimate push notification fail. For context, how highly would you rate an app that sends an invitation to play a game at 1 in the morning? Or a travel app whose notification of a customer’s change in flight departure gate failed to deliver at all? Or a local traffic or news app whose updates arrive in the wrong order? 

In a highly digitized world where users expect their information to be accurate and accessible in real-time, deliverability in push notifications is non-negotiable. If your app demonstrates high levels of latency or delivery failures, users will be quick to turn notifications off. Or even delete your app.

Why Is Deliverability of Push Notifications Such a Problem?

So we have the crux of the problem, and its results. But what are the origins of delivery failure and latency? Why isn’t 100% reliability the standard of the mobile engagement industry, rather than the exception?

To illustrate this, we have to go back to the beginning of push technology. In 2009, Apple adapted the technology behind web push notifications for mobile devices. This process involves transporting push tokens from the individual device to the backend server of the app in question. The push token and the content of the notification is then sent onward to a centralized cloud server – in Apple’s case, APNS, with Firebase Cloud Messaging for Android. This is where the problems originate.

deliverability push notifications
Push technology architecture. Image Source: OpenBack

Billions of pieces of data for millions of apps pass through these centralized servers. And as you can imagine, a single push notification is not given high priority in this mega-warehouse setup. Notifications are stored until they receive a signal from the app triggering delivery. (This requires the radio network in the app to be continually alert to check for notifications… which adversely affects battery life of the device.) The cloud server then automatically sends out notifications in mass notification blasts. Clearly, there are a lot of problems with this situation.

For one thing, however long the notification remains in the server, the push token might change on the app’s end. (For example, if the app updates.) In this case, the push token has to re-register with the cloud server, which results in an even great delay. What’s more, APNS and Firebase send out their notification batches on the basis of last one in is the first one out. There’s always the risk that the server only collected the most recent messages, and the earlier ones will be overlooked. Ultimately, this practice of bouncing data between different servers and waiting for a trigger to send is outdated and inefficient, and results in 5.1% of all deliverability failures. 

What’s more, all messages sent from the cloud are ignorant as to delivery. This means that the mobile app only receives the data that their notifications have been successfully sent. They never know whether delivery succeeded, or whether the user even noticed them, etc.

OpenBack’s Novel Take on the Push Technology Architecture

Mobile push technology continued in this vein for years. Even though there were massive problems with the way push notifications were being sent, none of the leaders in the mobile marketing industry thought to address the very root of the issue. The conventional practice of transporting and processing data in third-party servers was sloppy. And it was detrimental to reliable deliverability of push notifications. (It’s also irresponsible from a data security standpoint. And depending on whether your push notification platform and SDK sells user data to other third parties, a common practice before GDPR came into play, your mobile app might be liable for data privacy violations.)

It wasn’t until 2015 that OpenBack entered the scene to completely overhaul the traditional push notification architecture and change the paradigm. OpenBack’s patented hybrid model gives the opportunity to cut third-party cloud servers out of the equation. Using edge computing and machine learning, all user data can be processed directly on the device. The only communication that occurs is between the app’s backend server and the device itself. This solves long-standing industry challenges on three fronts:

  • eradicates latency period and offers consistently high deliverability rates
  • compliant by default with GDPR, HIPAA, COPPA and other data privacy regulations
  • reduces drain on device battery life

OpenBack’s Deliverability Results

Based on a summary of high level anonymised data from one of their clients with apps installed on 1.6 million devices, OpenBack’s hybrid mobile edge platform has effected staggering improvements on the standard delivery rate of conventional push notifications. Results can be seen in the graph below.

openback deliverability rates
Image Source: OpenBack

OpenBack’s hybrid model improves on the traditional “one size fits all” approach to sending push notifications. Rather than being automatically blasted out simultaneously from cloud servers, along with thousands of other notifications, OpenBack allows for real-time delivery of notifications based on a combination of various real-time data signals. These can be various behavioral or environmental scenarios, which the OpenBack library can process in real-time locally from the user’s device, including:

  • user behavior, preferences, and requests
  • time and geolocation
  • use of headphone jack
  • battery life
  • whether device is locked or unlocked
  • whether the user is scrolling on their device (indicating they are bored)

Another strength of OpenBack’s approach of device-side data leveraging is that it takes into account the fact that every mobile app is unique. Other mobile engagement platforms overlook the fact that users engage with different apps in different ways. For example, they might open a mobile gaming app or social media app multiple times every data. (Or multiple times every hour!) Whereas a banking app they might only open once or twice a month. What is a successful open rate for a banking app is certainly not the same for an entertainment app… and the same goes for push notifications.

For one of these less frequently used apps – say, an app that helps you do your taxes – with the traditional push technology, the app is very unlikely to still deliver conventional push notifications if a user hasn’t opened the app in 8 or 9 months. Clearly, this is not a helpful approach for the app user when part of the value of the app is sending out time-sensitive information.

OpenBack Metrics and Accountability Go Above and Beyond Deliverability Standards

Email deliverability platform 250ok defines deliverability as:

“Delivery describes the number of messages sent to a mailbox provider that didn’t bounce during the transmission process. Deliverability, however, concerns the exact location of these messages, whether that be the inbox, spam folder, or other. Deliverability is the conversation about what makes a message safe and cleared for landing at.”

While push notifications don’t run the risk of being intercepted by spam folders, this still provides food for thought for the mobile marketer.

Push notifications don’t run the risk of being intercepted by spam filters, or filed in Gmail’s promotions folder. Still, at OpenBack we believe the concept of “deliverability” should be more than just whether it makes it to the device or not. Our notifications go further than that. Ultimately 100% deliverability should be the baseline of what your push notification platform lets you can offer youyour users in terms of content and experience that really adds value to your users and players. With OpenBack’s 40+ data signals, we provide tools to map out the contexts and situations that your marketing team thinks will be the best environment for gaining your user’s attention. 

Conventional push notification platforms only get responses from the cloud platforms at Apple (iOS APNs) and Google Android (Firebase FCM) to tell the mobile app’s backend or vendor if a certain push token was invalid. It functions on the idea of “no news is good news.” However, OpenBack provides full metrics for all notifications that have been sent out. This includes whether they delivered, whether they successfully engaged the user, whether the user swiped it away or clicked on it, whether this resulted in a purchase conversion, whether a notification led to notifications being disabled, and more. With this wealth of feedback from OpenBack, you can perform A/B testing to optimize your push campaign.

OpenBack’s industry-high levels of deliverability mean you have full control over when and how your notifications deliver. And you have complete oversight of what the direct results of the notifications you send. This means you can finally engage with mobile app users in a way that’s time-sensitive and personal. This results in genuine engagement and higher levels of user retention.

To learn more about OpenBack’s hybrid mobile engagement platform, get in touch with one of our experts

For more details about reliability in the mobile engagement industry, download our whitepaper:

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