The More (Pushing), The Merrier

To answer the question: “how push notifications impact app retention rates,” Urban Airship looked at the behavior of 63 million app users, tracking how many push notifications they received in the 90 days after their first open, and compared that to app retention rates during those same 90 days. The study found that while many mobile pros worry about over-messaging app users, their real worry should be undermessaging.

In the study to correlate message frequency to user retention, the report found that:

  • App users  who received Daily+ notifications had the highest retention rates across all vertical and platforms
  • More than one-quarter of opt-in users never receive a push notification
  • App users who receive one or more notifications in their first 90-days have an average retention rate that’s nearly 3x higher than users who receive no push notifications
  • Sending even one push notification has a significant impact on app retention rates

95% of opt-in users who don’t receive a push notification in the first 90 days will churn, says the report, meaning that app publishers are essentially wasting $.95 cents of every dollar spent to acquire coveted users. Overall, more frequent push notifications increase app retention rates — and the more frequent (while staying relevant!), the better:

  • Users receiving Daily+ push notifications had 820% higher app retention rates than users who received Zero push notifications
  • Users receiving Weekly push notifications had 440% higher app retention rates than users who received Zero push notifications
  • Users receiving One push notification had 120% higher app retention rates than users who received Zero push notifications

Key verticals show specific retail highlights:

  • The ideal push notification send frequency for Retail apps is Weekly, Daily or Daily+
  • Users receiving Weekly push notifications have 2-5x higher app retention rates than users who receive no push notifications
  • Users receiving Daily+ push notifications have 3-6x higher app retention rates than users who receive no push notifications

Even at optimal notification frequency levels, 54% of app users will churn in the first 90 days after opening an app.

  • To address this segment, says the report, it’s critical to be able to detect signals app users are sending that they’re likely to churn. The report says that a solution is machine learning that analyzes user patterns for each app, then assigns them a churn risk level, giving app publishers the chance to take action before a user is gone.

The more users who opt in, the better, says the report. Of the 63 million new app users analyzed for this report, 85% of Android users and 50% of iOS users were opted in to receive notifications. These opt-in rates are roughly consistent with findings from many analyses over the past three years, though iOS rates are seeing small increases year-over-year, and slightly more Android users seem to be taking steps to opt out of the automatic permission apps receive, notes the report.

When brands don’t send a push notification of any kind to new users, they’re wasting user acquisition investments and ignoring an important and direct channel to engage users who have opted in, concludes the report. There’s also a significant opportunity cost that any revenue that could have been generated from actively engaged users is lost.

A deeper dive, looking at the retail vertical, shows what analysis of customer messaging and retention patterns revealed, and includes some operational suggestions.

  • Retail customers have many channels to learn about brands. Reward the loyalty of opt-ins with messages targeted to behaviors shown in-app, or data from other channels
  • Getting the opt-in is truly critical to better retention, though the opt-in is critical to app use longevity, notifications must be used to have an impact.
  • Sending relevant Weekly, Daily or Daily+ notifications significantly improves retention for both Android and iOS as Daily+ notifications generated a 50% retention rate for iOS (a 257% increase over Zero) and 38% retention rate for Android (a 533% increase over Zero) at 90 days.
  • Daily+ notifications has the highest 90-day retention rate, but it must be carefully managed, cautions the report. A mix of transactional, automated and campaign messaging will yield the best results.

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