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How to Use Push Notifications to Market Your Website

Vee Banionis

at Audience development, Audience engagement, Digital marketing

Web browser push notifications are nothing new, but many websites are still not using this key technology in their marketing. Whether you’re a online magazine or product catalog site, browser notifications are becoming especially crucial to the online marketing mix for content creators and ecommerce, alike. 

This post will explain all you need to know to start using push notification marketing to boost your site engagement and catch all those people who “don’t do email”.

First, let’s disentangle browser notifications from app notifications. Like an app push notification on a mobile device, a web push notification sends a notification to the desktop computer about an update. The difference is that with a web push notification, you don’t need an device-resident app. The website creates the notification and the opted-in device receives it directly. No app required. The browser itself takes the place of the app (they’re both just programs on your device, after all).

Web browser push notifications (more typically called browser notifications) are part of a larger aspect of marketing, called “marketing personalization”.  This is simply the concern for making your marketing to each audience member on your marketing radar more personal, more intimate, and less reliant on any one particular channel, such as email. 

Both app push notifications and browser push notifications are part of personalized marketing revolution. They both operate in basically provide a similar user experience, but via slightly different means, since desktop computers require a bit more security precautions than the typical smart phone, and also because mobile phones usually display a mobile-friendly version of a website that avoids tiny print notifications that would work on a desktop screen. 

Tablet computers, however, may provide a very similar experience to the desktop (perhaps the same experience, but often will provide a tablet-specific responsive version instead of the mobile or desktop version).

Why Millennials are leading web tech usage trends

We already know (from sources like Forbes) that Millennials spend money differently. But according to 2019 statistics, Millennials do not appear to be particularly attached to email as are former generations. In fact, Millennials tend to allow browser notifications much more readily and frequently than their precursors. 

Statistics on web browser notification usage by age group demographics2019 data shows Millennials use push notifications more than non-millennials.

This mobile-first UX trend is part of the larger trend away from slower media forms to mobile-first user experiences (smartphones):

Mobile versus desktop usage data trends
Data and graphic from Percent Digital

When you’re able to make your marketing personalized, you can not only call them by name in your campaign list subscriber emails, but you can now ping them directly on their web browser the next time they’re available. And as the above study shows, the end-user is becoming increasingly response to direct device notifications, which can travel with the user anywhere. 

As Neil Patel says, it’s a delicate permission issue and a matter of trust and should not be abused (Chris Brogan has called this somewhat famously a “trust agent” issue). Put simply, if you don’t have something really important to announce to your audience, don’t use it. 

But if you have a new blog post and would like those who’ve accepted the notification opt-in (usually a notification at the top of the screen), then you’ve got permission to ping. So ping for good, and make it important stuff only.

Web browser push notifications for marketing strategy

Should you adopt a browser notification strategy as part of your marketing mix? The data says yes. You might also ask yourself whether you yourself or your team members use browser push notifications. If the answer is yes, then you’ve got some first-hand confirmation about trends.

But if you’re an Internet old-timer, and you still are using browser notifications more and more, even though it gets in your way sometimes, then you have to admit it’s a lasting trend.

So why should you adopt web browser push notifications in your marketing mix? Because Millennials are changing usage trends by being uber-power-users and leading online content consumption. The only real question now is how to leverage this tactic into part of a winning marketing brand engagement strategy that actually works.

How to use web browser notifications in your marketing strategy

Whether you’re a business or a nonprofit trying to save the Earth, your organization needs to use web browser notifications intelligently and for good. Company news? Push it (but only if opted in). New product? Push that (prioritize and rationalize whether this should be an everyone thing or if it’s to be micro-opt-in only). 

Obviously, for content producers like online magazines, web browser notifications make a lot of sense. For other purposes, however, they may tip over into the “abuse” column, so care is required.

Here’s a checklist to simplify things:

When to use browser push notifications:

  • Company/organization news
  • Product launch
  • New content
  • Favorite author new content
  • Subscription deals
  • Cart item price just went down
  • Once-in-a-while special deals
  • Your non-profit is having a fund-raiser
  • Your stock price just went down
  • Branding the right way (any of the above in a measured, balanced way that improves brand reputation and engagement)

When not to use push notifications:

  • You just feel like it
  • Cart item price just went up (hardly exciting or enticing news)
  • Constant “special offers” or “SALE!” notices that happen every other day or every week
  • Spammy ad-like communications without even a special deal involved
  • Branding the wrong way (brand messaging with no other discernible purpose). 

Pace your learning curve

Everyone’s new at everything at least once.

It’s a good idea to start out slow and build your frequency over time. You might start with once a month, if that. Get a feel for the responsiveness of your audience. Measure response in your analytics solution. As your browser notification usage data and channel savvy grows, you can better gauge from data trends what’s working, what doesn’t work and how best to optimize and tweak both messaging and timing. 

Establish trust before using push browser notifications

Consider using a secured socket prefix for your website to enhance trust. Today’s cybersecurity concerns are only growing by the day. Users of your site may be expecting this type of safety precaution on sites that  “do” stuff, as opposed to a static website. Also, you may consider if your product site needs any other certifications visible at the bottom of your site.

Examples of web browser push notifications:

 
A “basic” opt-in prompt:

Basic web browser notification opt-in example

Its a pretty basic example. Nothing special here. It almost looks like an afterthought. Better than nothing, but no branding input has been made here in the push strategy, at least for the desktop version. It can also depend on which browser you’re using as to whether you get a good example or a plain one.

Advanced desktop web browser notification opt-in example (Chrome):

Airship's web browser notification style
Top-side banner with attention-getting, but unobtrusive vibrant blue.
 

In the above Airship example, notice that the banner for the web notifications opt-in blends in with the user’s first user experience on the website. It looks pretty good.  Many brands opt instead for use of the color red to demand the attention of the user. Airship.com had just rebranded, so the decision for unobtrusive blue could be an attempt to normalize the first user experience.

 

 
Mobile push notification example:

Example of mobile push notification

As you can see in this example from LeadPlum, the mobile browser and app push notifications tend to look better quite naturally, due to the format and other considerations. These can often be further stylized, but may often be limited or guided by certain device format restrictions and specifications for the API in use.
 
Example from the Washington Post:
Screenshot of the Washington Post
Originally published at ClickZ
 

How to build your own web browser notification infrastructure

It could be easy or difficult, depending on the plug-and-play readiness of your CMS. WordPress people are going to love the selection of suitable ready-made plugins available in the WordPress plugin store (typically free for basic subscription and  offering a “pro” paid level).

The “easy” button: WordPress plugin method

For WordPress users, there is an easy button: the OneSignal Push plugin. With just a few clicks, your website will be well on its way to creating web browser notifications that serve your organizational mission/business/marketing goals.

The “hard” button: Non-Wordpress CMS

If, however, you’re using a CMS that isn’t as plug-and-play ready as WordPress, you can direct your developers to Google’s browser notification topic expert, Matt Gaunt. Matt takes the developer new to web browser push notifications down the “how-to” yellow brick road to web notification Oz. Beware of the Lollipop Gang, however, those are actual Google lab-created minions scurrying around Matt’s feet!

How some online magazines are doing it differently

The Atlantic uses a browser plugin, rather than a CMS-resident tool, though they work almost the same. They even branded it, Serendipity, which allows the Atlantic to offer it as an add-on service with the implied option to monetize it. Pretty smart, huh?

The Atlantic's

The obvious benefit of using an in-house, branded browser plugin is quite obviously the easy monetization route and better control over the technology (no licensing and no dependence on a low budget plugin maintenance schedule).

This is only one of the reasons that The Atlantic knows what they’re doing when it comes to online monetization and subscription models. Like the New Yorker, they’ve diversified their revenue streams in other interesting ways, as well. But having your own branded browser plugin is one way for hardcore subscribers to get their content in a controlled and regular fashion, at their favorite reading or “breaktime” desktop device.

Grow your use of browser and push notifications with your current WebDev and coding bandwidth, but just know that there is a full range of options. You’ll want to gauge your WebDev bandwidth before commiting to a higher-end model requiring extensive customization as part of your CTA strategy. 

How to use push notifications to boost engagement

  • LeadPlum and AppAnnie’s Marketing Trends Report says that push notifications with emojis tend to convert 85% more. What we’ve noticed and believe is that Millennials are in fact leading web usage trends as the primary demographic, just the topward data in this very blog post appears to confirm. It’s natural to hear that emojis might be part of that dynamic for younger users and over time for everyone.
  • Brand-friendly and colorscheme-friendly colors are a smart choice. This doesn’t mean they have to be your brand’s colors, only that they shouldn’t clash with them. And they should look good with the site’s design color palette, rather than competing with it.
  • Include a cookies notification because makes good business (and legal) sense. Brands using their website to generate email leads, remarket via ads, or other ways cookies might come into play will need to be 100% transparent on their user information collection methods and give the choice to be included in the full experience
  • Make your opt-in and opt-out simple and transparent. Keep it easy to understand so your brand reputation is upheld. 
  • Use notifications to promote the brand and gain audience share. Ask yourself each time: is this newsworthy brand news?
  • Engage users with fresh, exciting content at least once per month. Ask yourself: is this exciting? Also ask yourself: are they forgetting us by now?
Most importantly, your use of web browser or app push notifications should reflect the personalized marketing ethic. The way you use push notifications should contribute to the overall buyer’s journeys availableon your website and extended channels, using proven and reputable marketing techniques.
 

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