Unsure if you should be using Push notifications in your app? I’ve cracked it.

I call it the “f**k off” test.

Probably the most abused rule of the Apple App Store Guidelines is 4.5.4. It states:

“4.5.4 Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes or to send sensitive personal or confidential information. Abuse of these services may result in revocation of your privileges.”

(Emphasis, my own)

I’ve yet to hear of a situation of an app being removed for mis-use of push, but we all receive marketing push notifications regularly.

We got into a discussion about this in the office this morning, and we were talking to how we advise clients on the best use of push.

You see, marketing people like the idea of push. They see it as a “channel” to get in touch with their users. But this is not what it is for.

Here’s some guidelines that we tell customers when they are considering push.

  1. Push is designed to allow an app inform the user that there’s a change they may need to be aware of. They were originally designed when apps couldn’t work in the background, so instead the server issued pushes. For example: Imagine your app allowed users to place an order, which will subsequently be shipped. When the user quits the app, it never used to work in the background, so it was terminated. Without push, the developer didn’t have a way of informing the user in a timely manner about the shipment. With Push, as soon as the shipment occurred, the server could issue a push, and the app could inform the user that their product had shipped. This is the kind of scenario that push was designed for.
  2. Push should deliver a “reward”. Essentially, we believe that if you’re sending a push, it should be in the user’s best interest. Knowing that a product I bought has now shipped, is a “reward”, it’s useful to me. Knowing that you’ve a sale starting next week, is less likely to be a reward. So, question why you are sending one. Is it because you want your user to know you’ve a 50% off sale, or is it because you believe your users would like to know about your 50% sale? This is subtle, but important.
  3. Push is best when it is personalised. If you’re sending a bulk push, that’s often a clue that you are sending marketing communications, rather than something truly useful. Many push vendors will suggest audience segregation, but I think this still sounds like marketing comms to me. “Tell all users who have shopped with us 5 times that we have a sale next week” is only a slight jump from “Tell all users…”. Alternatively, if you consider a push send to a single device, in response to a business event, then that’s more likely to be something of benefit to that user. My Product has shipped, I’ve received a new message, My Parking has expired. All of these are useful.
  4. Mis-use of a push can be disastrous. If you don’t respect your users and continue to send them marketing comms that they don’t find relevant, this will backfire. At a minimum, they’ll turn off push for your app, but we’ve often heard people say “Oh, that push notification reminded me of how little I use that app, so I deleted it.”.

During our discussions, we talked about how you respond when you see a push. And we came up with a simple test. Does your push pass the “f**k off” test?

When you read a notification, consider how it makes you feel? If you feel like telling the company to “f**k off” (or your more polite equivalent), then it’s likely to have failed. Here’s some from my recent notifications. How many do you feel have passed?

Hmm. OK. This may be something I’ll like to watch.

Useful. It’s hyper-localised to where I live, and I specifically switched this on.

F**k off.

F**k off.

F**k off.

Seriously… F**K OFF.