According to a recent survey we conducted with 1,000 smartphone users in the United States, push notifications are better today than they were a few years ago. More specifically, 52% of respondents said they’re better, 38% said they’re the same, and 10% said they’re worse.

So, marketers are getting better at communicating through mobile, but there’s still room for improvement. When asked if push notifications are helpful today, only one in five respondents said yes. The remaining respondents said they’re only somewhat helpful (three in five) or a complete distraction (one in five).

Bottom line: The perception of push notifications has improved, but their value is still lacking.

To help mobile marketers direct this problem, we asked smartphone users about how many notifications is too many and how they feel about notifications triggered by their location and in-app behavior.

Push notifications cause less churn today than two years ago

In late 2015, we conducted another consumer survey that asked smartphone users two of the same questions we asked in this survey. Each question dealt with how sensitive users are to push notifications based on weekly volume.

Question 1: How many weekly push notifications from one app will cause you to disable push notifications for it?

Graph showing the number of weekly push notifications that cause people to disable push - today vs 2015

Based on the survey, users are willing to receive more push notifications before disabling push today than they were in 2015. However, users are still most sensitive to apps that send two to five notifications per week.

This isn’t very much considering the amount of weekly notifications that social media, dating, and messaging apps can potentially send. The difference is that these apps make people aware of conversations and information about friends, families, and other people they care about.

Users that enable push for these “relationship-based” apps might be respondents further to the right of the graph above. They could also be people who choose to receive various categories of breaking news from their favorite news apps.

Respondents further to the left of the graph might be users who have received too many promos from shopping apps they’ve downloaded or other apps that send them irrelevant messages.

None of this is black and white though. To discover the amount of push notifications mobile marketers can send without increasing push disablement, they need to measure the impact of their push campaigns.

Question 2: How many weekly push notifications from one app will cause you to stop using the app altogether?”

Graph showing the number of weekly push notifications that cause people to churn - today vs 2015

The trend in this graph is similar to the trend in the previous graph. However, the peak occurs at six to ten weekly push notifications instead of two to five. This means people are more likely to disable push before they stop using an app completely if too many notifications are sent.

The graph also indicates that, today, mobile marketers can experiment with sending more than one weekly push notification with less serious, long-term risk. In 2015, receiving two to five push notifications would have caused 31% of users to stop using your app. Today, this is down to 22.3%.

Users prefer apps that send push notifications based on stated preferences over in-app behavior

Based on this survey, push notifications that add the most value are ones triggered by a user’s stated preferences. About 49% percent of respondents said these types of notifications cause them to use an app more. Notifications triggered by in-app behavior are most likely to cause them to use an app less.

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Sending push notifications based on in-app behavior may be most unsettling to people because of the relationship between in-app behavior tracking and remarketing.

When we asked smartphone users how they felt about this scenario — You view a product online or in a mobile app, you receive an offer via push or email for that product days later, then you see an ad on social media for that product — 58% of people said it would make them feel nervous, harassed, or annoyed. The rest said they approve of remarketing and feel properly targeted.

Takeaways for push notification campaigns in 2018

  • Start with one push per week for behavior-based campaigns. People are most weary of push notifications triggered by behavior tracking. However, 90% of people are willing to receive one push per week without disabling notifications. This makes experimentation relatively safe.
  • Add more preferences. Instead of initially sending people notifications based on location and in-app behavior, give them options to receive specific types of notifications. For instance, a retailer might consider adding preferences for Online Specials, Local Specials, and Product Suggestions.

    Just remember to account for notifications you’re sending outside of any new behavior-based campaigns. According to this survey, the more notifications you send, the more likely people are to disable push or churn completely.

  • Try location-based push. After stated preferences, location tracking was voted as the most valuable type of trigger for push notifications.

Survey details

This consumer survey collected responses from 1,000 smartphone users based in the United States with an equal split of women and men. There was a fairly even split between major smartphone types (523 Apple, 466 Android, 11 Other) and between age ranges, with slightly more people over the age of 64.

We can also break responses down by device type, gender, and responses to other questions. Just let us know which data you want in the comments below.