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Though potentially a powerful tool for marketers, push notifications on apps can be a real pain for many people. 

This means marketers need to be very careful about their use of this tactic but, sadly, not all do.

In one case, a nine year old was told "you'll pay for this on judgement day" after failing to feed a virtual pet. 

Courtesy of Urban Airship, here are some mistakes to avoid, and examples of good and bad (mainly bad) push notifications...

Not asking users for preferences

If they have consented to push notifcations, then most people will appreciate relevant updates. Therefore, it's important to ask for preferences or learn from user behaviour to inform the kinds of notifciations you send. 

Get this wrong and you risk annoying users to the extent that they'll delete the app. 

Here's a good example: 

Spamming your users

Push notifications essentially give marketers the opportunity to get their messages in front of customers all day long. After all, most people have their smartphone with them all day long. 

This should be considered a privilege, and a tool that should not be used too frequently.

Overdo it, and this is the reaction you're likely to get: 

Getting the timing wrong

Think about when customers are likely to be more receptive and time your alerts for then. And try not to wake them up: 

Inappropriate messages

This example is particularly shocking. These notifications were sent to a nine year old girl who was using the My Pet application. 

Completely inappropriate. Perhaps this would be funny for an older gamer, but it doesn't take a genius to work out the likely age group of this game's users. 

The girl's mother was furious at the tone of these messages, and quite rightly: 

I was horrified to see an app targeted at children using techniques that more resembled cyber bullying. We have assemblies at my school warning the kids about what they say online and the consequences and this is a so called company doing what we warn them against! I am just glad my daughter didn't see it.

Pushing ads on customers

This is a very personal marketing medium, and many users will react badly to having ads foisted on them. 


Not being quick enough

If you're going to keep users informed about tweets or other events, make it timely. 

Late messages are not only useless, but an annoyance. 

Make it too hard to opt out

Just like making it easy to unsubscribe from emails, ensuring that users can change notificartion settings will stop them from deleting the app altogether.

Make it nice and easy to turn push on or off, give users plenty of preference options, and deliver value every time you push. 

Sending trivial updates

I noticed this today. CNN seems to have annoyed some of its users with an update on the voice of Siri: 

Graham Charlton

Published 4 October, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (5)


Scottie Leonard

Hey Graham,
Thank you for sharing this push notification article. It can be really annoying through the push notifications from certain marketers and most annoying when you do not have option to turn it off. So, one should be very careful with this push notification thing. Thanks for the awareness.

about 3 years ago


Kathryn Green, Marketing Manager at Poq Studio

Love the quote from Andrew Motel about it being easier to delete an app than change push notifications settings, very true!

We've written a guide to push notifications for ecommerce here: http://poqstudio.com/2013/01/writing-the-perfect-push-notification-6-things-you-need-to-know/

Every app has a different function and different customers, so it can be hard to generalise across the entire mobile space. The one constant is that people get annoyed with push notifications that don't offer value, whether that's a discount code or a breaking news item.

about 3 years ago


Phil at Zenpush

Great article about some of the negative aspects of using push.

We believe that when designed correctly push notifications are a powerful tool that can increase both the relevance of your mobile application as well as the usage. Even the most simplest mobile application can benefit from push notifications.

We have lots of articles about mobile app marketing and push notifications on our blog: http://www.zenpush.com/blog

about 3 years ago

Natalie Sutton

Natalie Sutton, Director at Intershop Communications AG

There are plenty of very valid and interesting points touched upon here, but of course it’s point six that interests me most. Timeliness is everything in our modern, ‘always-on’ world. Being late with push notifications only leads to missed opportunities, consumer dissatisfaction and a dented brand reputation.

Sean Bowen, Push Technology

See more at: http://www.pushtechnology.com/2013/10/18/mobile-push-notification-mistakes-avoid/#sthash.xBZcLWQ4.dpuf

almost 3 years ago

Vitaliy Radovanski

Vitaliy Radovanski, SEO Consultant at Freelance

This is quite an impressive list of mistakes. A must-read for all the developers working on push notifications in their apps. I am currently working on push notifications on Android so this was of great help for me. Also I would like to share a nice push notifications manual at http://quickblox.com/developers/SimpleSample-messages_users-android - it has some useful code samples, so hopefully that helps also.

Thanks and have a great day!

over 2 years ago

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