Last update: May 2021

5 mins to read - 2020/10/02

Why Are Push Notifications So Broken? An Analysis

Push notifications are broken. As we have covered in past blog posts, they are at best a deeply flawed medium. Or, rather, the way marketers use them is flawed. Think pieces on why you should turn off push notifications on your phone are a dime a dozen. And honestly, they make some pretty good points. Push notifications, they say, are just another distraction in a digital world full of distractions. They are killing our focus and productivity. According to Harvard University’s Science in the News blog

“Platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram leverage the very same neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine to keep us using their products as much as possible.”

Mobile device operating systems are responding with various “digital wellbeing” features. This is an attempt to curb the impact of too many push notifications. Users have more control now over the types of notifications they receive. iPhone requires apps to get users’ consent before they can send push notifications. Apple’s iOS12 launched “Screentime,” a digital wellbeing suite that lets you put your phone into “quiet mode” that mutes all notifications for 8 hours. Android also has a digital wellbeing mode. It lets you segment different groups of apps and switch off notifications at night. 

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without push notifications a night of un-broken sleep

Conventional Push Notification Approaches Deliver Appalling Click-Through Rates

Clearly, there is a growing movement of people who see notifications as a leading contributor to poor mental health. And the numbers show. 

In September 2020, the push notification platform Braze published a report in which they had commissioned Forrester Consulting to calculate the ROI (return on investment) that companies could potentially achieve by using Braze as their user engagement platform.

Braze made a point to clarify the fact that each client that they interviewed for before and after data had only used one channel for customer engagement before signing on with Braze. (Or used multiple different channels for each different type of marketing.) Moreover, the customer marketing teams had little to no strategy with regards to personalizing marketing content for users. This was whether in terms of context, content, or timing.

With customers at such a baseline level of marketing, we would assume that the ROI and other results would be considerable. However, specifically looking at notification open rates, the average increase from using Braze was little more than 1 percentage point:

“The message open rate — on average — before adopting Braze was 1.5%. After adopting Braze, the open rate has jumped to 2.0% in Year 1, as the business becomes more dynamic with customer outreach. Additional intelligence and touchpoints help to produce more relevant message delivery, increasing the open rate to 2.6% in Year 3.”

What Went Wrong With Braze?

According to, 2020 has been a banner year for push notifications, with users more engaged with their mobile devices due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even now, using a top mobile engagement solution, how are apps only advancing 1.1% in terms of opens? 

In a report from 2016, push notification frontrunner Swrve note that 2.5% is the industry average in terms of app open rates resulting from notifications. Interestingly, they note the difference between CTR for iOS and Android devices: 1.2% and 4.6% respectively. Swrve suggests that this may be because push is a more commonly used form of marketing for Android developers. (Which probably goes back to the iOS/Android divide in whether a user has to opt-in or opt-out of notifications by default.) Thus, Android developers are likely invest more time and money on A/B testing and refining an effective push notification strategy.

Still, how are we as an industry still so complacent with such low CTR as 2.5%?

Push notification software is more advanced now than it’s ever been. We can access user data to understand their likes and dislikes, their motivations and buying habits, their schedules… even when they do and don’t want to receive notifications. With all of this, we should be able to send a small amount of hyper-targeted notifications that always hit their mark and have incredibly high click-through rates. So what are we doing wrong? 

From Braze’s Forrester report, it looks like most mobile marketers are stuck in the old mindset of quantity over quality. This push notification strategy has long since proved itself to be a broken one, where you flood users with notifications in hopes that they click on one or two. What actually ends up happening is they learn to ignore them as a defense mechanism. Or, even worse, they could uninstall the app if they get too annoyed. 

push notifications user centric triggers metrics to improve broken UX

A New Philosophy for Push Notifications: Put the User First

OpenBack has an entirely new approach to sending push notifications. In addition to our patented hybrid platform, which uses edge computing to leverage device-side data without the need for a third-party cloud server, we have completely revolutionized the mindset behind mobile marketing.

According to the OpenBack ethos, the mobile app must put the user’s benefit first – every time. This means only sending notifications that the user will find interesting, or valuable. Or only sending them at a time that’s convenient for the user. 

evolution timeline of push notifications

And while our competitors may advocate this approach in theory, only OpenBack has the capacity to leverage user insights to the fullest extent:

  • 40+ contextual data signals to inform your notification’s delivery moment
  • Full metrics to give you context on how your notification was received, whether the user interacted
  • Dynamic notifications that allow the app to edit and/or delete notifications after they have delivered
  • Reliability that exceeds the industry standard
  • Full compliance by default with regional data privacy regulations (GDPR, HIPAA, COPPA, and more)

user centric delivery push notifications

Our interactive dashboard lets app developers combine multiple signals to select the most exact context possible for sending notifications:

  • timing
  • device battery life
  • user activity
  • Wi-Fi strength
  • whether the device is unlocked
  • whether the headphone jack is engaged
  • and much more.

What’s more, OpenBack’s metrics and analytics let you refine your push campaign until you’re getting optimal results. Among other insights, you receive:

  • confirmation of notification delivery
  • details on user interaction with notification
  • Whether user entered the app because of notifications
  • if the notification led to a completed goal
  • whether the notification led to user uninstalling the app

Using OpenBack is a Win-Win for Mobile Apps and Their Users

OpenBack also provides access to data on event tracking, cohorts, and how much time the user spent in your app. We also provide projections for which segments of users are likely to churn. All of this means you can send fewer, more precisely targeted notifications for greater results.

Using OpenBack’s solution as well as our “less is more” strategy, a recent customer saw an increase of 314% in their CTR. Other customers have seen increases in excess of 400%, and one with a directly correlated increase of in-app purchases of 17%.

Our user-centric signals and dynamic notifications, when combined with a comprehensive push strategy, have seen results of up to 40% CTR, compared to the 4% that is standard for smart push notifications. For iOS users, sending them a pre-permission notification consent request using OpenBack’s platform has seen 30%+ of users opting in to receive notifications. (Currently only at 41%.)

To see an estimation on how OpenBack will increase your ROI, visit our ROI calculator.

For more information, or to talk with a team member about how you can get started using OpenBack, get in touch with one of our experts here.

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