4 tips to improve your notification opt-in rate (hint: it’s easier than you think)

Carolyn Dempsey
Sep 23 · 5 min read

We’ve all been there, you download an app and before you’ve even had a chance to use the app… BOOM! you’re interrupted with a prompt to allow notifications. Forced to make a decision before you can proceed with the app, what do you decide? Are you a “Don’t Allow” because you can’t be bothered to receive yet another set of notifications? Do you “Allow” for fear of missing out on these mystery notifications?

An app asking for notification permission immediately
Whoa whoa whoa we just met!

We all hate this experience, and yet apps continue to build this way.

Asking for permission to send notifications right after a user has opened your app for the first time doesn’t give them enough time to understand the benefits of your app, so it’s certainly not enough time to know if they want to receive notifications.

Why do we continue to see this pattern? Likely because we’ve decided other areas of our app are more important to work on. We build it once and say we’ll go back to it, but we never do. It’s the easy way out when building your app — put another way, it’s lazy.

So… how can you be better and improve?

1. Understand the importance of sending notifications to your users when it comes to the success of your app

In a study published by AirShip, “App users who receive any push notifications in the 90 days after their first app open have nearly 3x (190%) higher retention rates than those who do not.

Yes, you read that correctly.

It’s no surprise that users receiving notifications are more engaged with an app: lapsed users can be re-engaged through the right prompt to bring them back, new users can be reminded of why they downloaded the app in the first place, and all users can benefit from reminders and prompts in the first place.

That last benefit was quite vague, which leads us to the next point…

2. Build notifications that benefit your user, not just your business

Notification that says “My boss told me to send this”
Notification that says “My boss told me to send this”
I don’t think this is what your boss meant

Cool, so now you know notifications can help you with retention, but don’t let that go to your head!!!

You need to build notifications that a user wants to receive, not just a notifications you want to send.

For example, if you are a Fitness app with the goal of helping a user reach their fitness goals, consider what types of notifications will help the user on that journey that your app is promising. Are they inspirational stats to start the day? Alerts that their favorite teacher has posted a new class? Words of encouragement when you see they’ve lapsed?

Send notifications that enhance the user experience of the app, not notifications purely built on tactics to retain users.

3. Build a great Notification Permission Primer screen

First time hearing the phrase “Permission Primer” screen? I’m not sure it’s the official name, but the goal of the screen is to prime (prepare) the user to enable notifications. Usually, this screen is part of an app’s onboarding flow during which the user is being set up for success in an app.

Screenshot of the Current app’s permission primer screen. It has example notifications on it.
Screenshot of the Current app’s permission primer screen. It has example notifications on it.
The Current app does a great job on their Primer screen

The best Permission Primer screens have the following content:
1. A heads up that the scary dialog box is coming
This can be done either through a button with a CTA explaining that by tapping it you will trigger this button, or even including a screenshot of the dialog box.

2. The benefits of enabling notifications for your app
Remember the benefits we went over above? List those out so the user knows why notifications should be turned on.

3. Sample notifications to prove the benefits
“Show, don’t tell” or “people like pictures” can be used to explain this. You’re building trust with the user. Show them they can trust you to send beneficial notifications.

4. A skip button
Some people still won’t be convinced they should turn on notifications. That’s ok. By building an app with a great user experience, you are building a relationship with the user. Treat them the way you want to be treated.

Interested in doing this but don’t have time or space on your roadmap? At mbark, we have a low-code SDK that you can get you up-and-running in less than a day with a screen like this. Yes, that fast. There are no excuses for bad permission prompts anymore!!!

4. Experiment with Provisional Notifications

Did you know that in iOS 12, Apple released the ability to sendProvisional Notifications? From the Apple site: “Use provisional authorization to send notifications on a trial basis. Users can then evaluate the notifications and decide whether to authorize them.

An example of a provisional notification, showing the “Keep” and “Turn off” options.
An example of a provisional notification, showing the “Keep” and “Turn off” options.
Provisional Notifications appear with these options

To start, these notifications will be delivered quietly, meaning that they won’t interrupt the user or play a sound. That may not be appropriate for the notifications your app sends.

However, it’s a way to send notifications that prove their value to the user. This could be effective as an approach if you think a lot of your user base will not be inclined to enable notifications based solely on a Permission Primer screen.

I titled this section with “Experiment” because I haven’t found any statistics about how successful this approach is, but I felt compelled to include it because it may be an interesting approach you haven’t heard of.

Now start building.

With these 4 tips in your back pocket, you should have plenty of points as to why and how your team should be working on improving your notification opt-in rate.

About me:
I’m Carolyn Dempsey, Co-Founder + Head of Product at mbark. We have notification permission primer screens ready to ship in less than 1 hour — we would love to show them to you. Send us a note and we’ll get you setup


mbark is a no-code tool that solves consumer app onboarding