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Last update: May 2021

8 mins to read - 2021/03/09

Return on Push Notifications Is All That Matters – Otherwise Why Bother?

Here at OpenBack, we’ve realized that there’s a shocking lack of conversation around the Return on Push Notifications. How to approach it, how to maximize it, and why it’s so important in the first place. While every other industry has plenty of discourse around how to boost your return on investment – e.g. Return on Email, Return on Ad Spend, etc. – for mobile engagement there’s radio silence. We’ve decided to start that conversation about Return on Push (RoP), in hopes that once we get the idea some exposure then mobile apps will begin to organize their engagement campaigns to prioritize it.

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First of all, we need to draw a connection between user experience of push notifications and your Return on Push. Push notifications are an organic part of your app’s overall UX, and a positive UX results in higher click-through rates. And higher CTR, of course, results in higher goal conversions and ultimately higher Return on Push Notifications. 

Customer journeys should always start with an intriguing, personalized push notification. In fact, a leading mobile app has stated that 70% of their app opens are because a user clicked on a push notification. Push notifications are a way of jogging a user’s memory that your app is there, and keeping you at the top of their mind. Notifications are part of the value and promise your app delivers to its users. They are a key way to boost usage and engagement with your app.

return on push notifications

The 2 Types of Push Notifications

All notifications can be boiled down into 2 types. There are push notifications that are a fundamental pillar of your app’s utility. Without these notifications, the app would not work the way it’s meant to. For messaging apps, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, push notifications are almost the sole reason for downloading the app. A lot of mobile games – such as Words With Friends or Pokemon GO – have a strong direct messaging component, and notifications are crucial to the experience of competing against other players in real-time. And then there are apps who in theory don’t require notifications to function, but in practice push notification greatly improve the app’s UX. For example:

  • News apps keeping users informed of breaking events
  • F2P mobile games that use time barriers and use notifications to let users know when they can play again
  • Sports apps that give score updates
  • eCommerce apps that send users order shipping updates
  • Clubhouse letting you know about hopefully relevant rooms (as well as a barrage of Just Signed Up alerts!)

The other type of push notification are those whose purpose is to drive revenue. They direct users through your push notification funnel by catalyzing app opens and boosting engagement. Once the user clicks on a notification to open your app, they’re more likely to continue through the push funnel and complete goals. Whether your app’s KPIs are for users to watch more ads, complete an in-app purchase (e.g. tokens, or a VIP subscription to your mobile game), or purchase a product using your app (e.g. a pizza, or plane tickets), getting them into your app is the first step.

What Is Return on Push, and How Do You Track the Revenue Your Notifications Generate?

Return on Push is a methodology to focus on the return your business is getting from its mobile push notifications. Simply put, for every dollar you put in to sending push notifications, how much are you getting back? The equation for determining your Return is:

Revenues gained from your push campaignCost of push notification platform / Cost of push notification platform

Similar to gauging your return on other digital marketing tools – e.g. Return on Ad Spend, and Return on Email – for Return on Push, you need to offset the revenue your push notification campaign delivers for your business vs. the cost of sending push notifications. 

Step 1: Assess how you will monetize engagement with your app

It’s a simple equation: more push notifications equals more engagement with your app, which results in higher revenues. (Disclaimer: they have to be personalized, high-quality push notifications… poorly timed, generic notification blasts can actually be detrimental to your app!) But before you sign on with a mobile engagement platform, it’s key to understand how you intend to monetize user engagement with your app or mobile game.

There are many paths that lead from engagement to revenue, but they fall into 4 main categories:

  • Incite a purchase conversion: for apps ranging from retail apps to F2P games, in-app purchases are their primary stream of revenue. Push notifications are a way to invite users to a specific page in your app – e.g. the sales section in your in-app store. A notification alerting users of a limited-time sale, or even a more targeted notification linking to a specific item they will likely want to purchase, is the most overt way of monetizing your app.
  • Drive them to complete another action: The path from app open to revenue can sometimes take a few steps. For example, offer a lapsed user a free spin of a roulette wheel where they win tokens. This could then get them re-invested in playing your game, leading to their organically purchasing tokens or subscriptions. In-app messages are also a great tool to combine with push notifications, where you can respond directly to actions the user completes inside the app to drive them towards a more complete use of the app.
  • Invite them to build your app’s community or reputation: Not all value derived from a user is monetary. According to Pocket Gamer, while daily ARPPU (Average Revenue Per Paying User) is around $6 per user, “whales” on the upper end of the spectrum are spending around $60-70 per day. So if a push notification can drive a person to sharing their gaming progress on their social media, or inviting friends to download your app in exchange for tokens, or leave a 5-star rating on the App Store where others will take note, that will very much act as a catalyst for building your community and ultimately drawing in higher-paying customers.
  • Generate revenue simply by using the app: Sometimes simply engaging with the app itself is the goal. Many apps and games use push notifications in tandem with other streams of revenue, such as mobile ads. In this case, simply getting the user onto your app can be the goal. For example, invite a user to complete a level in your game… and before they advance to the next stage they have to watch an ad, which drives revenue to your app.

Step 2: Measuring and tracking your revenue

Your first step in evaluation your Return on Push is measuring and tracking the revenue it generates. What metrics are you prioritizing for your push campaign? Is it active users? Is it cumulative/total session time? 5-star app store reviews? All of these metrics act as means of tracking your process of obtaining your targeted goals, and if you fall short on them it’s worth assessing what you might be doing wrong. There are a lot of variables when it comes to push notifications, so it’s well worth A/B testing notifications for different wording, time sent, etc.

A key metric you should absolutely be tracking is what percentage of monthly active users (MAU) are opening your app because of a push notification? And to put that in context, how do session times and number of app opens compare for cohorts of users that receive push notifications as opposed to those who don’t?

return on push notification metrics
Just a few example of the new metrics OpenBack provides, to give you full insights on how your push notification campaigns are performing.

Step 3: Assess the Cost of Your Platform

Return on Push Notifications is ultimately the revenue value to a campaign. On average, for a particular push campaign, lifecycle journey, triggered message, etc., how much does that push notification make for your business? 

You then have to factor in the cost of your push notification platform. While it may be tempting to build your own from scratch, these can be costly in terms of salaries for developers, lost marketing opportunity for the length of its build time, the cost of maintaining, updating, adding features, etc. Not to mention the risk of alienating users when bugs and glitches crop up. The DIY approach simply isn’t sustainable for an app that wants to grow aggressively and maintain a robust, active user base. Moreover, it makes no sense when there are ready-made mobile engagement platforms you can integrate with your app.

Choosing Your Third-Party Platform

Rather than reinvent the wheel, most mobile app developers choose to license a third-party push notification platform. However, these come with a cost as well. For example, OneSignal’s most basic “Growth” plan starts at $9 per month with additional charges for push subscribers, whereas Airship pricing starts with $2,900 per month for 250k users. 

OpenBack prioritizes your business’s growth, and our entire platform is built around getting you higher numbers MAUs – and, consequently, higher revenues. To ensure this happens, our “Growth” plan is absolutely free up to 1,000 MAU, and then costs you only 1 cent per MAU after that, giving you access to a comprehensive range of our mobile engagement features. For companies with a more robust user base who want to take advantage of more specialized features, we also offer two higher tiers of our payment plan. Ultimately, we want you to ask yourself if the money you’re investing in push is reflected in your return on investment. And, with OpenBack, you will be able to say “Yes!” Our customers have seen push notification click-through rates of 7-8% on average – a 300%+ improvement on the industry standard!

Measuring Your Return on Push Notifications in Terms of Goals Achieved

Once you’ve tracked your revenue, then you can take the next step of measuring your Return on Push in terms of goals achieved. Some benchmarks you may want to consider for measuring this include:

  • Is the user clocking more sessions in your app?
  • Are you seeing higher user retention rates
  • Are you seeing higher levels of conversions (e.g. purchases, time spent playing)

We have adapted the standard marketing funnel to better track the typical journey of a user engaging with a push notification. After all, the performance of a push notification is not measured simply in whether the user clicks or not. A well-designed push notification should guide the user along a pathway of ever-increasing engagement with the mobile app. The farther along that path, or down the funnel, the user goes, the more successful the push notification. 

  • Conversions (purchases/time spent playing)
  • How to increase your RoP along every step of the Push notification funnel 

It’s great if the user goes through the funnel all the way to where it ultimately leads – a goal completion. But they aren’t passing through these stages in a vacuum. It’s crucial for you to continuously measure the performance of your push notifications. To try new things and track the results, all with the aim of optimizing your campaign and increasing your return on push metric. 

And this means looking at every stage of the funnel: 

  • Convince iOS users to opt-in to receiving notifications with a well-timed, persuasively worded pre-permission notification
  • OpenBack has you covered with guaranteed real-time deliverability.
  • Our dashboard lets you track any and all interaction with your push notification beyond delivery. This means you can tell how successful a notification was, whether the user ignored it, swiped it away, or clicked on it for an app open.
  • Track goal conversions that occurred as a result of a push notification; find the commonalities between that notifications and others that resulted in successful conversions, and iterate
  • Even negative results provide valuable feedback: track which push notifications resulted in opt-outs or app uninstalls, and then figure out what you did wrong so you can avoid it in the future.

Levers you can pull in your campaign to increase your Return on Push

There are levers you can pull to optimize your push notifications for increased return at every step of the way. 

Lever 1: Choosing Your Platform

The very first lever is choosing what mobile engagement software you’re going to integrate with your mobile app. OpenBack is the only platform in the mobile engagement industry that provides full insights on metrics, full content personalization and unlimited attributes, and highly reliable delivery. Our delivery rates of push notifications far outstrip that of our competitors, to the point where we can guarantee the real-time moment of delivery, allowing for a far greater range of personalization of notifications according to users’ schedules, environment, and other contextual factors.

OpenBack’s reliable delivery is a result of our patented hybrid platform, in which our users can opt to send push notifications through two different structures:

  • Traditional. The structure used by the rest of the industry, in which push tokens are bounced from the local device to the app backend to a third-party cloud server, and finally back to the device as a push notification. This roundabout approach is the source of the majority of delays, time lags, and delivery failures that alienate users and lose revenues.
  • Mobile Edge Computing. OpenBack’s innovative take on the architecture of push technology involves using edge computing and machine learning to leverage user data directly on the device. This means it doesn’t have to go to the cloud server (Apple’s APNS or Android’s Firebase) for processing. It thus bypasses the most problematic stage of the push notification journey. 

Lever 2: Optimize Your Content

content personalization return on push notifications

Content is the human side of push notifications. This is your chance to get your message across is an engaging way, with language that sparkles and draws your user in. Of course, there are constraints to keep in mind for content writers. You need to keep your audience in mind at all times. Your user will have a fraction of a second (at most) to devote to reading your notification. So the ideal length for a push notification is 10-15 word Any longer than that, and you run the risk of being swiped away.

Also, depending on the utility of your app, it’s safe to assume that your user is internet-savvy and mobile-phone-literate. Most likely, they are a Millennial or Generation Z. So the best way to win their attention is through humor. Tell a joke in your message. Use emotional language to elicit positive feelings. Terms like “congratulations!” or “exclusive” or “opportunity” tend to get good responses. If you’re a travel app, use terms like “vacation,” “holiday,” and “adventure.” Or reference some recent breaking news in pop culture, sports, or the entertainment world. Some sort of cultural touchstone that will elicit an automatic connection. If your user’s device is set up in a language that’s not English, localize your push notifications to deliver glitch-free in that language. 

push notification content

Splash your push notifications with some color. 2-3 emojis are the magic number for catching a user’s eye. Plus, you can add rich media such as images, GIFs, and videos to improve click-through rates considerably. Let users engage with your notifications even when they’re using another app by enabling in-app notifications. Or you can set a certain notification to recurring delivery – for example, schedule a notification to send once a week inviting a user at risk of churning to come back into the app. Or, with OpenBack’s dynamic notifications, you can set unread notifications to auto-delete after a certain number of hours. By taking these extra measures to improve the quality of your app’s push notification experience, you can essentially turn them into a natural extension of the app experience.

Lever 3: Moment of Delivery

Building on OpenBack’s industry leading deliverability, you also get an unprecedented level of control when it comes to choosing your Moment of Delivery. And this gives you the freedom to be more creative when it comes to tailoring the timing of your notification delivery exactly to when your user will be most receptive to it. 

OpenBack provides 50+ signals to help you determine the perfect moment of delivery. This includes insights into your user’s schedule and calendar data, as well as their habitual work and sleep patterns. It allows you to predict windows of time that they are likely to be indisposed. (i.e. working, driving, sleeping.) We also provide more signals to more spontaneous user behavior. For example, whether a device’s screen is unlocked, whether their battery is fully charged, and whether their headphone jack is engaged. What’s more, OpenBack’s unique Device-Side Machine Learning Signal uses an intelligent algorithm to combine these behavioral patterns with real-time contextual data. This lets you estimate when your user is going to stick to their habits, and when they are likely to go off-book. (A notification would probably be an unwelcome disruption at these times.)

Lever 4: Segment and Personalize

With the OpenBack SDK, you can setup to segment groups of users by using any existing data or events in your app. You can customize your notifications based on users’ past purchases, likes, streaming and browsing history, social media profiles, and much more. Aggregate data and use it to segment users into various cohorts for different types of notifications sent at different times.  Even better is that data doesn’t need to be collected or leave your user’s app to segment and personalize messages – as it is all used locally on the device only – and yes, that means no backend engineering work at all!

For example, you can segment players of your mobile game according to their user status, their balance in tokens, what level they have reached in the game, or even their playing style. (i.e. are they a social player? Do they seek out combat situations? Do they prefer puzzles and side quests?) And OpenBack provides 45+ signals for this purpose, many of which are unique to the OpenBack platform, such as our Other Apps Signal, which provides full insights on other apps a user has downloaded on their device. Or the Last App Open Signal, which is useful for targeting users at risk of churning with a re-engagement campaign.

What’s more, OpenBack’s platform provides full metrics and A/B testing to iterate. In addition to the above possible signals you could use for personalization, you could also experiment with variations on iOS permission timing as well as permission content and different notification sounds. How do users react to different combinations of factors? The iteration that gets the best results can then be used as the standard for the rest of your campaign.

Conclusion: How Do You Ultimately Evaluate Your Return on Push Notifications?

It can all be boiled down to the user. If you send push notifications with your end user’s benefit in mind – this means tailored to their interests, to the most appropriate time for them, etc. – it will result in higher CTR. This will then translate to higher Return on Push. OpenBack’s hybrid platform, guaranteed reliable delivery, and unique data signals are more than just novelties. They bring about results, as is seen in our customers consistently achieving CTR that’s 4x higher than the industry standard.

Push technology is still in an adolescent stage as an industry. Many companies are sadly shooting themselves in the foot by ignoring the enormous potential for revenues that push notifications provide. Studies are starting to show that return is higher for push than even email marketing. Return on email has been shown to be $44 to every dollar invested, so just imagine the untapped potential waiting in push marketing once developers finally take full advantage of it. 

Return on Push Notifications is the measure of value that you can attach to your mobile engagement platform. To gauge whether it’s working to its full potential. As the mobile engagement industry matures, we will begin to see more and more focus on Return on Push, and OpenBack is the next stage in that evolution to maturity. 

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