Web Push Notifications: Your Second Email List

In June 2013, Apple held its annual World-Wide Developer Conference at Moscone West in San Francisco. CEO Tim Cook announced new versions of iOS, OSX and the Mac Pro during his keynote. The audience awed during each announcement as one would expect, but perhaps the most important announcement Apple made that day didn’t happen during the keynote.

In a breakout session later that day, Apple announced it would be allowing websites to send push notifications to users directly through its Safari web browser. Website owners gained the capability of sending users short notifications in their web browsers, regardless if the user was currently on their website.

Web push notifications (sometimes called browser notifications) didn’t gain much adoption early on due to the lack of broad browser support and the technical difficulty in setting up notifications on one’s website. Chrome quickly added support for web push notifications to its browser, but Firefox didn’t add support for push notifications until 2016 and Microsoft Edge didn’t add support until 2018. iPhone users are still unable to receive web push notifications as of early 2019. Marketers really began to take web push seriously in 2017 and 2018 when most major browsers supported the technology and software-as-a-service platforms became available that made it easier to add web push notifications to one’s website.

How Web Push Notifications Work

When you visit a website that has web push notifications enabled, your web browser will give you a message that says “This website wants to send you notifications. Allow or Block?” If you click the block button, that user will not be able to ask you to opt-in to push notifications in the future. If you click the allow button, the website will have the capability of sending you notification messages through your web browser. You will typically receive a welcome notification, which will appear on the lower right of your screen if you are on Windows or on the upper right of your screen if you are on a Mac.

After you grant a website permission to send you notifications, the owner of that website can send notification messages to your web browser as long as you have it open on your computer. If a notification is sent when you are away from your computer, that message is typically displayed to you whenever you log back on to your computer and open your web browser. Website owners can send you notifications even when you are not on their website and the permission that you grant them to send you notifications lasts indefinitely until you either switch to a new computer or unsubscribe from their web push notifications.

Why Push Notifications are Powerful Marketing Tools

Web push notifications are powerful tools for digital marketers because you have the power to instantly draw people back to your website after they have left. If you have just published a new post on your blog, you can instantly let everyone that’s opted into receiving notifications from you know that there’s new content on your website. If you’re running a promotion or a sale, you can instantly put that offer in front of your audience. Your audience doesn’t have to go into their email inbox and find your message in the mess of the 100 other emails they received that day. They don’t have to check your Facebook page or Twitter account to see that you’re running a promotion. The message is just right there on their web browser where they can’t miss it.

Web push notifications have very high engagement rates. Unlike an email sign-up form where a user must type their personal email address into a form, users only have to click one button that says “allow” to sign-up to receive notifications from you. The simplicity of the opt-in leads to much higher opt-in rates than you would see with email. Since a relatively small number of websites use web push notifications and because notifications are hard to miss, the clickthrough rates can be five to ten times what you might normally get from sending an email to a similarly-sized list.

Similarities Between Email and Web Push

The primary focus of this masterclass is email marketing, but there are many similarities between web push marketing and email marketing. Both marketing mediums allow you to build a base of subscribers that opt-in to receive content, information and promotions from your brand. Both mediums allow you to build a long-term marketing asset that is not controlled by a single major technology company. Both mediums allow you to send a message to your audience whenever you have something to share.

The technologies behind email marketing and web push marketing are fundamentally different, but they can work together in unison to help you achieve your marketing goals. I like to think of web push notifications as a second email list, because it’s another group of people that you can send messages to when you produce new content or have something to promote. There will invariably be overlap between your email list and your web push notification list, but there’s little risk in sending a person the same message twice using two different marketing mediums.

Choosing a Web Push Service Provider (WPSP)

In order to start gathering web push opt-ins on your website, you will first need to sign-up for web push service provider (WPSP) such as OneSignal (onesignal.com), PushCrew (pushcrew.com) or Push Monkey (getpushmonkey.com). Your WPSP will perform the same functions for web push that an email service provider (ESP) would provide for email. Like an ESP, a WPSP will gather opt-ins, keep track of your subscribers, allow you to send messages to subscribers, track the performance of your notifications and keep a history of past messages sent.

As of 2019, there are more than 30 different web push service providers that are vying to be the market leader. OneSignal had been the largest player initially because it did not charge users for its service, but they moved to a fee-for- service model like other providers in late 2018. The market is currently wide open and there probably isn’t a single WPSP that has more than a low double-digit market share. Eventually a few WPSPs will become market leaders and there will be a natural consolidation, in the same way that MailChimp, InfusionSoft and a few others became dominant players in the email service provider market.

I don’t have a specific recommendation for a web push service provider, but you should look for a service provider that allows you to collect subscribers with the native browser opt-in. Your provider should give you rich statistics about your web push campaigns, allow you to setup interest segments so that you can send the most relevant notifications to your users and allow you to setup an auto- responder series.

You should also look at the cost of the service and how those costs will scale as your list size grows and as you send out more messages. Unfortunately, some providers haven’t quite nailed down their pricing and can be dramatically more expensive than others when you have many web push subscribers. Before you sign-up with a provider, have a clear understanding of what you’ll pay when you have 1,000, 10,000 and 25,000 subscribers.

BusinessOfApps has a good comparison of different web push service providers that can be accessed at businessofapps.com/guide/push-notifications.

Setting Up Push Notifications on Your Website

Once you sign up with a web push service provider (WPSP), they will collect information about your website and give you a plugin or code snippet to install on your website. Most WPSP’s have developed their own plugins for popular content management systems like WordPress, which makes installing the code that gathers web push opt-ins on your website a breeze.

In the process of setting up an account with your WPSP, you may be asked if your site supports secure connections (HTTPS). Since HTTPS support is a prerequisite of the web push notification technology, WPSPs must use a workaround if your website does not support HTTPS that involves using a two- step opt-in process. If your website does not support HTTPS, you should take the time to add HTTPS support to your website before setting up push notifications. You will receive a dramatically better opt-in rate to your push notification list if your users are able to opt-in through the native browser notification instead of the work-around two-step opt-in that non-HTTPS websites must use.

If you click allow on the non-native opt-in, a new window will popup on a domain controlled by your WPSP that shows the native browser opt-in. Because the non-native opt-in requires two clicks to opt-in instead of one, the opt-in rate will be invariably lower than the native browser opt-in rate.

Once you have installed the code snippet or plugin provided by your WPSP, you should verify that it is working properly. Navigate to the homepage of your website and see if you are presented with the opt-in to receive push notifications. Click the “allow” button to sign-up for your own push notification list, then use your WPSP to send out a test message. If you receive the test message, your website is properly configured to collect web push opt-ins and send web push notifications to its subscribers.

Initially, you will have a very small web push subscribers list. Don’t get discouraged if you only have a few dozen or a few hundred subscribers, because gathering subscribers is a cumulative process and your subscriber count will grow over time.

What Types of Messages Should You Send Through Web Push?

While you can send an email of any length, you are restricted to very tight length requirements in your web push notifications. The title of your notifications should be no more than 30 characters and the description of your notification should be no more than 100 characters. You can also include a square image with your notification and a 30-character call-to-action button below your message. You effectively have the length of a tweet to communicate the contents of your message in your web push notification.

There are no restrictions about the types of messages that you send to your web push notification list, but your audience may unsubscribe if you send them too many ads or irrelevant notifications. Just like with your email list, you should send a mix of educational content, news and promotions to your web push notifications list. It’s just fine to send promotions or offers for products and services that your business sells, but you should probably send at least two pieces of helpful content for every one promotional message that you send.

Creating an Auto-Responder Series for Your Web Push List

Every major email service provider allows you to send a pre-written series of emails to new subscribers called an auto-responder series. In the same way, many web push service providers (WPSPs) allow you to create an auto- responder series that sends a set of pre-written push notifications to new subscribers over the first several days of their subscriptions.

The first email in your push auto-responder series is your welcome message, which is sent immediately after someone opts-in. I recommend that you send an ad or promotion as your welcome notification, because users that have just opted-in are many times more likely to buy than other users. At MarketBeat, we use a free trial offer for our premium subscription as our welcome notification. We have gotten nearly 100 new customers in the last year that have signed up through our welcome notification.

For the rest of your web push auto-responder series, I recommend sending one push notification per day for the first two weeks that someone is a subscriber. You should include your most popular content pieces as well as your core product offerings as part of your auto-responder series. Feel free to refer to the sample auto-responder in chapter four to get ideas for what to include in your web push auto-responder series. You should include the same types of auto- responder messages that you include in your email auto-responder series in your web push auto-responder series.

How Often Should You Send Push Notifications?

Different brands have come to different conclusions about how often to send push notifications to your mailing list. The website 9to5Mac.com will send as many as 10 push notifications each day and will often send out a notification for each new story they publish. Other brands may only send as little as 3 or 4 notifications per week. My general recommendation is to send one or two web push notifications each day unless you are in an industry that has constantly changing information, such as finance, technology or news. In that case, you can get away sending a higher volume of notifications.

The optimal time of day to send notifications is when your users are using their computers. If someone’s not using their computer when you send your message, they either won’t receive it or will receive it along with several other notifications when they return to their computer. You can determine which hours of the day your website is most active by looking at your Google Analytics reports.

For most brands, the best time of day to send a push notification will be mid-morning or early afternoon. There are some exceptions though. A gaming website would likely find that the best time of day to send a notification is late in the evening and a fitness brand would likely find that their best time of day to send notifications is early in the morning when people are getting up to workout.

Most push notifications will have a setting that allows you to deliver your messages at the same time of day in a user’s specific time zone. If you schedule your message for 3:00 PM, that means European and Asian subscribers will get your message at 3:00 PM the following day. I recommend that you do this for every push notification to avoid accidentally sending people notifications in the middle of the night.

Best Practices for Push Notifications

Here are some of the best practices that I have developed for sending web push notifications in the last few years.

Always use the native opt-in

As I mentioned earlier in the chapter, companies like OneSignal and PushCrew provide two different types of opt-ins that allow users to receive push notifications. There’s an HTML and JavaScript opt-in that appear at the top center of the screen that appears on most websites. This is known as a non-native opt-in and requires two clicks for someone to start receiving notification.

There is also an opt-in mechanism built into the web-browser that is referred to as a native opt-in. Many websites use a non-native opt-in because it doesn’t require your website to run using a secure connection (HTTPS). In my experience, using the one-step native opt-in results in dramatically higher opt-in rates. One report suggested that sites using the native browser opt-in can collect as many as seven times the number of opt-ins as the non-native opt-in.

Preview your notifications before sending them

Every web browser renders push notifications a little bit differently and includes a different subset of features included in the technical specifications for web push notifications. For example, you can include calls to action in Chrome, but can’t in Safari. Notifications on Chrome will render differently if you are on Mac or on Windows. Microsoft Edge’s push notifications will appear in the Windows Action Center when they make push notifications available in the next version of Windows 10.

There are some general design rules, such as keeping your title to under 30 characters, but you really need to test your notifications in a real live web-browser to see what they will look like to your users. That way notifications will appear as you intended them to and won’t get cut off mid-sentence.

Use action buttons to increase clickthrough rates

We include a call-to-action in every push notification that we send out in the form of an action button. This gives a second opportunity to instruct your users to act and gives them something obvious to click on. This feature is currently only supported in Chrome and isn’t supported in Firefox or Safari.

Use large images in your notifications

Chrome on Windows and Android allows you to send a 720×480 rectangular image that appears with your push notification. These make your notifications larger and easier to click. They also provide you more screen real estate to communicate your message to your audience.

Use custom icons for your notifications

Every web push notification sent includes a small square image that you can use to sell your content. If you don’t specify an image, your default image (likely your logo) will appear. I recommend including a unique image with each notification to maximize engagement and click-through rates.

Consider buying opt-ins to your web push list

The number of web push subscribers you will attract depends largely on the amount of web traffic you receive. MarketBeat gets between 3 and 5 million-page views each month, so it was easy for us to attract more than 300,000 web push subscribers. However, about 10% of these opt-ins didn’t come from our website. We have three partners who collect push notifications for MarketBeat on their website and we pay them a fee to run a web push opt-in that we control. We can then send news and content for MarketBeat and MarketBeat’s advertisers to users that opted in to their website.

Don’t send the same notification twice

If you send the same push notification out twice, it will have a much lower clickthrough rate the second time around. Users are less likely to click on ads and copy they have already seen before. Even if you are promoting the same piece of content to your list again, use a different image and different text to promote it.

How We Use Web Push at MarketBeat

Web push notifications have been a significant source of MarketBeat’s growth between 2016 and 2019. Our company uses the native browser push opt- in to collect web push sign-ups on MarketBeat.com and our other news websites. We currently use OneSignal to gather opt-ins on our websites. We do show the opt-in immediately on the first page load to maximize opt-ins.

Because our significant traffic and relatively aggressive push opt-in, our web push distribution list is growing by about 10,000 subscribers per month as of early 2019. The messages that we send out to our distribution list include free reports that link back to our website, breaking news stories and promotional messages from our advertisers.

Wrap-Up

Web push notifications are greenfield opportunity that allow you to build an audience on an entirely new marketing channel that many of your competitors may not even be aware of. Your web push distribution list is effectively a second email list that you can use to promote content and paid products.

There are no major downsides in gathering web push subscribers, other than the monthly fee you pay to your web push service provider (WPSP). Once you have the basics of your email strategy in place, start gathering web push subscribers and building out your web push strategy immediately.

Action Steps

  • Setup a SSL certificate on your website to enable HTTPS traffic if you don’t already have one.
  • Choose a web push service provider (WPSP) and sign-up for an account. Install your WPSP’s code snippet or plugin on your website so that you can start gathering opt-ins.
  • Have your WPSP automatically send out new blog posts on your website as a push notification.
  • Develop a long-term content strategy for the types of messages you are going to send to your push list.

Recommendation: The Best Email Marketing Tools

You must choose the right email marketing tool if you are really serious about email marketing. There are many autoresponders available, so comparing them can be quite challenging.

Many online marketers use ActiveCampaign as an autoresponder to build their campaigns.

My online business depends on ActiveCampaign, which I have used for many years.

ActiveCampaign was founded in 2003. Businesses can connect with customers with its affordable email and marketing automation software.

Today, it offers a powerful email marketing platform and CRM platform with a history of more than a decade, so business owners can easily control email marketing.

My ActiveCampaign review is very comprehensive. Before deciding to use it, you may want to read it.

WordPress users looking for a cheaper email marketing tool may want to consider Groundhogg. Using Groundhogg will be more technical. 

With Groundhogg, you can manage your CRM, Email, and Marketing Automation directly in the WordPress dashboard. You have complete control over everything.

When it comes to CRM and Email Marketing, most people are forced to use expensive SaaS platforms, so Groundhogg is here to change this. I recommend reading my Groundhogg review to determine if it is for you.

Along with a powerful email automation tool, I found a tool that allows you to send videos via email. With only one click, you can insert videos into your clients’ emails for massive traffic, conversions, and sales. This is not a GIF, but a video.

Email Videos Pro is said to increase engagement by over ten times and profitability by over ten times, according to the developers. Check out my Email Videos Pro review to see it is suitable for you.

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