What are Android push notifications?

App creators can use Android push notifications to send messages directly to users' Android devices. These rich messages are powerful attention grabbers – they set off five different signals throughout the device – but are a double-edged sword. If used irresponsibly, they can annoy users, driving them to opt-out and (perhaps permanently) close that channel of communication.

Why do designers and marketers love Android push notifications?

Android push notifications offer app creators an invaluable direct line of communication to users who aren’t in the app. Without push notifications, product and marketing teams would be limited to communicating with users only when they are in the app through in-app notifications or, if out of the app, through SMS and email. None of these are as effective as push notifications which effectively turn users’ mobile devices into two-way interactive platforms where brands and users can stay constantly connected.

Here are a few common uses for Android push notifications:

  • A banking app alerts a customer of their low account balance
  • A messaging app displays a friend’s message
  • A gaming app alerts a user that friends are logged on
  • A news app displays breaking news

Users, in turn, can interact with these notifications to send responses, follow links, open the app, or view more information. In the case of messaging apps, users can reply to friends, and with banking apps, they can be prompted to log back in. This creates a mutually beneficial two-way line of communication which app creators can use to:

So, how do push notifications work and how can product and marketing teams leverage them?

Did you know? Retaining users is big business:

In a Mixpanel study, the average company retains only 6-20 percent of its users for eight weeks. Push notifications are one way you can retain more users. Learn more.

How do Android push notifications work?

Push notifications travel from app creators to app users’ devices, and if users interact, messages travel back. App creators can’t just send notifications to any Android device. Devices can only receive notifications after they’ve properly registered:

  1. The app user must download and open the app
  2. The app must register with Google Cloud Messaging service (GCM)
  3. The app creator must register unique IDs for the app and device

Once push notifications are enabled, which they are for all Android apps by default, creators can send push notifications.

Product teams need a design interface to create push notifications, which some app analytics or marketing automation platforms offer. Teams can either manually create notifications for one-off events or automate them via an API. These push notifications can be targeted to single devices, groups of devices, or devices that have subscribed to a particular topic.

When a notification reaches a device, it can activate five signals:

  • Display as a status bar icon
  • Appear as a message bar on the lock screen
  • Play a sound or vibrate
  • Peek onto the current screen
  • Trigger the device’s LED to blink

Users can customize these signals, and often do. Push notifications are easily abused and can prompt frustrated users to disable various signals or opt-out entirely.

What is a good strategy for Android push notifications?

Push notifications can be tricky. They’re a privilege, not a right because users can easily block them with as few as two taps. As Appboy points out, only 60 percent of Android users currently accept push notifications because they have opted-out after being annoyed by unnecessary notifications.

Here are some tips for effectively using push notifications to increase app usage and retention: 

Only send push notifications that offer value. The average Android user downloaded 42 apps last year according to Sensor Tower. If every app sent frequent push notifications, users would be inundated and become irate. Avoid being a bad actor who annoys users. Instead, use your push notifications as an extension of your app to draw users back with something you know they want, such as a news update, a change to a game leaderboard, or an account alert.

“If we’re not careful, we’re going to ruin push like we did email.” – Justin Megahan

As Google states in their Android training documentation, avoid using push notifications to:

  • Cross-promote other apps in the PLAY store
  • Promote an app the user has never opened
  • Send messages that ask the user to return to the app but provide no direct value, such as “haven’t seen you in a while”
  • Ask the user to rate the app
  • Notify users of operations that don’t involve them, like syncing
  • Notify users of error states which don’t require their intervention

For more details on designing Android push notifications, visit Google’s training documents.

Use data to ensure notifications are relevant. The best way to add value is to know where, when, and how push notifications can be useful to users. Leverage location, behavioral, cross-channel, and notification data in your app analytics platform to use push notifications to help users through their customer journey.

Be concise and use compelling calls-to-action (CTA). When writing notifications to users, think like a marketer. Keep messages as concise as possible, include compelling CTAs, and consider the user’s reaction. What do they gain from interacting with it? If this question is difficult to answer, perhaps the push notification is unnecessary.

How to configure Android push notifications

To enable push notifications, you must use an SDK to include Operating System Push Notification Services (OSPNS) in your app. You must then use an interface for inputting, designing, and scheduling Android push notifications, such as an app marketing platform.

Want to learn more about increasing app usage and value with push notifications? Read Pushing value, not spam.