Push Notifications in 2020

Best practices for push notifications in 2020

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OneSignal's CEO, George Deglin, goes over how to best prepare your push notification strategies in the new year. The transcript of the webinar can be found below. Register for our webinars today!

[00:00]

Okay, great. Let's dive in. First of all, thank you all for joining our webinar today. We aim to do these around once a week or once every two weeks, although we will be taking a little break before the holidays. So, I appreciate you joining this one.

I just noticed. Actually, the date on the slide is wrong, but this is a new presentation and we've prepared to walk you through some of the updates with OneSignal in 2019 and also some things we're thinking about for 2020. I'll walk through the presentation over about 15 or 20 minutes. And then, in the end, we'll open it up to Q and A. I can answer any questions that people have.

So, kicking things off, real quick on the agenda. So, my name is George Deglin. I'm the co-founder and CEO here at OneSignal. I'll be walking you through a little bit of the history about of OneSignal and doing a quick look back at 2019 and, in particular, focusing on a lot of the features that we've introduced over the past year that we hope you'll get to use and enjoy over the coming months to improve how you use notifications.

And then finally, we'll touch on some best practices for notifications in 2020 as well as some of the changes that we anticipate happening with notification technology and also some of the changes that we'll be making to our platform to help you get better results. And then finally, as I mentioned, we'll have time for Q and A in the end as well.

So, first of all, a quick overview of what OneSignal is. So, OneSignal is a notification platform. You may already be using us to deliver push notifications to your users. We're also expanding into other solutions including in-app messaging, email and other channels.

The history of the company: we were actually a mobile game development studio and we were looking for a product that would help us re-engage our users with notifications. Through our search, we really struggled to find anything that met our needs and that would help us deliver notifications that were engaging, relevant, targeted, personalized. So, we set out to build that solution ourselves and we created OneSignal. In early 2015 is when we released it. We very quickly become the market leader. We're based in the San Francisco Bay area and we're trusted by now over 800,000 developers and marketers on our platform.

OneSignal in 2019

So, looking back at 2019, it's been a fantastic year for our company. Also, the product has greatly evolved as well. We've added nearly 300,000 new developers to the platform, including, hopefully, many of you. We've doubled the size of our team. So, that has really helped us better serve a lot of our customers. Every department is about twice the size that it was before. We've had a couple of new teams like Customer Success. That's really helping us provide a better service to all of those customers and also to speed up how quickly we're able to build features for everyone.

We're happy to announce that we raised $25 million around venture capital to help further accelerate the growth of our business. We've launched over 25 major new features, many of which I'm going to walk through in just a minute.

You can sort of see the evolution of the company. We blog about the new features we've released. If any of you have been with us for a while, you'll also see that we released a new website that we're really proud of. Our past website was pretty basic. It just kind of brought you into the product. Today, we've built it out significantly so you can dive into all the different capabilities of OneSignal. It got more case studies to see how different people use the product and better understand all the different features we provide and that you can think about too.

Probably the biggest new feature we released in 2019 was support for in-app messaging. This is available to all of our users that use OneSignal for their mobile application. It's a way that you can show an interstitial message to your users and that might be something to tell them about a coupon or thank them for installing your application or ask them to review your app. Really the possibilities are limitless.

The great thing about in-app messaging is it works for every user that has installed your application. Even if that user maybe is on Apple's iOS platform and has not allowed the notification permission, they are still able to receive in-app messages when they launched their app.

The other nice thing about it is you can really precisely target which users see the notification, the in-app notification. So, you can make sure that the message is being shown really precisely to the users you want. So, if there's a regional holiday or users that are more or less engaged, you can use the existing segmentation features that you might be using for notifications and apply those in-app messaging. So if you're not already using this, please check it out.

[05:14]

Current and Upcoming Features for Push Notifications

If you're using OneSignal for web push, we are thinking about how to introduce in-app messaging for web push as well. That's probably a little bit further out in 2020, but we'll keep you updated as we start looking at rolling out support for in-app on one.

If you've been using the product regularly, you've probably seen a lot of improvements to our dashboard. Over the last few months in particular, we've done a lot to increase the ease of use and just the visual polish based on feedback from our customers. It really, really comes a long way. There are even more improvements that we're looking at making. So, we hope that we're continuing to make OneSignal easier to use, easier to navigate, especially for some of the newer customers that are coming on board.

One feature that we're really happy to introduce is based a lot on the customer feedback we were getting, is the ability to simplify the notification sending flow. So, in the past, oftentimes, you had to dive in pretty deeply into the settings of the notification. If you wanted to put on an image for iOS, Android and web, you might have to upload back three times or something like that. So, we've greatly simplified that.

Now, really on the first page, you can configure all of the common options around the certification - content, title, image. And then if you do want to get more into the more advanced settings, those are available. But you don't have to do that to use the more frequently used features.

One very powerful feature is now the ability to track influenced opens. So, we know that users often receive a notification that is interesting to them and that may cause them to engage with the application, but they don't always do that by clicking on the notification itself. So, now, OneSignal goes beyond just measuring the number of clicks and notification gets, but also tracks how many people open an application soon after receiving a notification. That's counted as an influenced open.

You can actually configure the time period of influenced opens. So, whether you want to attribute those on a 15-minute time window, 1 hour or 24 hours is up to you. This helps you get a great sense of the true impact that your notifications are having and increasing your user engagement. That's part of a greater overhaul we've done around the analytics of OneSignal.

In the past, we had a very easy to see how my notifications were sent, how many were clicked. Now, of course, you have influenced opens, but you can also attribute other events such as purchases, user engagement or really any sort of action that you care about. You can now pass to us as an outcome and visualize both how individual notifications are affecting those outcomes as well as how all of the notifications that you send through OneSignal are affecting outcomes that you care about.

So, really encourage you to check this out. This is something that we think every single application can benefit from. It's also something that is becoming available for our web push users as well. So, you should use it there too.

Another area that we've improved is some of the segmentation capabilities, especially around time triggers. So, now, it's actually possible to create a segment based on a certain amount of time having lapsed since the tag was added. So, we detailed this more in our documentation. But basically, a really common use case for this is if you want to send a notification to users that have abandoned their shopping cart and you might want to do that after 1 hour, 8 hours or 24 hours. That's all customizable. This segment, when combined with automated messages, can help you automate cart abandonment flows with certain types of time-sensitive re-engagement notifications.

User permissions are a feature that we were happy to introduce as well. It has been part of getting a lot more sophisticated customers onto the platform where you may want to configure the different sorts of access that users have, whether those are people that are more in analyst positions and you want them just to see the statistics of your notifications or whether you want to have admins that have much broader permissions. You can send notifications. That's all configurable now on both the organization level, as well as on an individual app level.

Improved data importing and exporting, also a common request. In particular, this is very useful if you have a lot of users where you want to dd a set of tags, remove a set of tags or group users into audiences based on data that you have in your CRM or your database. You can actually do that by simply putting that data into a CSV file. It can be exported from Excel or from your database and then import it into OneSignal and will automatically apply and modify the data based on the imported data. We've also done several features around exporting data. I'll walk through a little bit of that as well.

[10:09]

And then, just earlier this week, we announced the integration with Bubble.io. So, Bubble.io is a really popular platform for building websites for folks who may not know how to code or just want to build something without having to use a lot of code. It's a great drag-and-drop application builder. We were happy to work with them to make it very simple to integrate OneSignal into Bubble to send different types of notifications.

So, real quick, some of the other features we introduced: support for external IDs, this lets you map your users in OneSignal with your own user database or CRM system and be able to track the users across the different systems as well as more easily synchronize data between them. Our segment API, where now you can create segments or modify them programmatically. A received notification API, so now you can actually export a list of users that have received notifications that you've sent. finally, Mac catalyst support. So, if you're an iOS developer, Apple now supports exporting your iOS apps as native Mac OS applications. OneSignal supports notifications for those as well.

Changes to iOS

One change that we blogged about earlier this year and affected some of our iOS developers and really all iOS with developers in the world was when Apple released iOS 13 and XCode 11. We actually made some changes to the technical implementation of notifications on the device. They didn't necessarily do a great job of documenting all of this. But fortunately, we heard from some customers about these changes. Also, we followed some of the announcements very closely, best understand how these might impact our customers or the greater ecosystem of iOS developers.

So, one of the bigger changes that was made was they actually changed the code that's necessary to get the users Push Token. A lot of SDKs, including the OneSignal SDK, were using the old method. Users that are releasing new applications using XCode 11 should make sure that they're using now the new OneSignal SDK, which has been updated to support this. If you haven't updated your app in a long time, it's going to continue working. You just need to make sure to use the next OneSignal SDK. [12:29 inaudible] SDK when you next update your iOS app.

There are also some backend changes that were made that impacted a lot of developers that may not have been aware of this. So, for instance, Apple actually changed some of the parameters that are required when sending notifications through their push notification service. These were changes that OneSignal became aware of pretty early and we made all the necessary things are on our end so that there was no customer impact.

You may have also seen any applications that we're using some of the voiceover IP capabilities of iOS. It did have to adapt slightly to what they can use voice over IP support for. A small number of customers on our platform and especially some of the bigger apps were using these features in some interesting ways. We made sure to sort of blog about that and explained the changes as well as explained how you need to slightly use OneSignal differently to make sure that everything continues working.

If you want more details on this, please take a look at our blog, and also just encourage you to follow our blog, to stay updated on all the changes we're making to our platform, as well as our regular updates about some changes happening across iOS, Android, web push, or the other channels that we support.

Changes Coming to Push Notifications in 2020

That brings me to actually one of the bigger changes that's happening in 2020. So, one of the things that's happening is Firefox 72, which is going to be released in January 2020, will actually make it so that users need to click a button somewhere on the page before the website can show them the web push notification permission prompt.

Unfortunately, OneSignal has several different prompting mechanisms including a bell, a button or a slide down, all of which you can simply turn on if you don't already have that enabled, which acts as a necessary user interaction piece in order to show the browsers native permission prompt, any website that's currently only using the notification permission prompt. You may have seen this if you go to a website and the first thing that happens is you see the browser native permission prompt. That will actually no longer be possible in Firefox until the user interacts with something on the page.

Similar changes happening in Google Chrome, and we expect to release Google Chrome that's going to make that change to happen in February of 2020. So, the big thing that's happening there is that, any website that's now using the native permission prompt without a two-step process, Google will actually begin to track the frequency that users click the no button on that prompt. If it's very, very high, a different type of prompt will be shown to users instead. That's more subtle and less disruptive.

[15:11]

That can be a little bit confusing for users and the new prompt isn't very visible. So, we recommend that websites always use a two-step prompting mechanism. That way, users will choose whether they want to allow or deny notifications on the two-step prompt prior to seeing the native prompt. When users do see the native prompt, they'll be much more likely to click yes. That way, there'll be no impact to the user experience of your website since the frequency of users clicking will be very low.

So, we'll be going into more depth about this in our next webinar on January 15th. These changes are still evolving pretty quickly over time and we're tracking closely some of the changes that Chrome is experimenting with. So, we'll have more insight into what's expected. We'll also be publishing blog posts. They're probably sharing some news on our Twitter feed. For what we know so far, we've shared a lot more detail on our blog including several videos that walk through the different prompting flows that we expect to be introduced in Chrome 80 in February of 2020, as well as more details on some of our recommendations to make sure your website is not negatively affected by these changes.

Overall, we actually see these as really, really positive. I think web push notifications have generally gotten a bad perception from a lot of users because they can be annoying when you visit a website and you're prompted right away about whether you want to allow notifications or not before you really got a chance to understand whether the website is interesting or not.

So, these changes are designed to improve the user experience and websites that do have user experience and that are asking users to grant notification permission for the right reasons. We'll see probably a higher opt-in rate and certainly, a higher user engagement rate as spam or your websites get sort of deprioritized.

Best Practices for Push Notifications in 2020

That brings us to the general best practices for notifications and especially going into 2020, which is that, when you ask users for notification permission, it's best to pre-prompt them. So, basically, tell them why you want them to grant permission before you ask for it. This applies in particular to web push and to iOS. On Android native applications, this doesn't apply because notifications are actually granted when the user installed the application, but of course, on web push and iOS since it is possible to tell the user why they should grant permission before you ask for it. The more specific you can be and the more convincing you can be, the higher your opt-in rate will be. That's a much better practice by simply showing them the prompt without context.

Next, think about when to send the notifications. If you have users around the world, it's best to send them notifications at a time when they are going to be actively using their phone or likely to see the notification and respond to it. So, one of the features that we have in the OneSignal platform is the ability to send notifications based on the user’s time zone. That's a really great way to make sure that all your notifications are arriving at the best possible time of day for each user around the world.

We also have another feature called “intelligent delivery”, which helps you actually optimize when notifications are delivered based on each user's likely to [18:27 inaudible]. We use an algorithm that looks at users' past activity through application to optimize that. So, that's also a great way to make sure your notifications are arriving at the ideal time.

Finally, as much as you can, seek to personalize your notifications. So, use our tags feature, which lets you add data to your users about their past interactions with your app or website, their preferences, their demographics. Those tags can then be used to make sure the notifications are personalized to your users or sent to the right segments. Anything you can do to help differentiate your message and make it more relevant to the users that are receiving it is really going to help increase your engagement and also increase the user experience of your application.

Google is actually doing a nice job of evangelizing some of these principles. One of the things that they talked about, this is a video from the Chrome Dev Summit that you can find on YouTube. It's some of the principles of a good permission request. Similar to what we described, the first is only asking for access that you really need. In the context of notifications, you can think about that and then making sure that you ask for notification permission when users have context about why they should grant it and a sense that they will actually benefit from getting notifications from your application, being clear and specific about what you need and why in advance of prompting.

So, this is why we supported this two-step prompting flows, especially for web push. It really makes it easier to provide the necessary context. Prompting at a contextually relevant moment in the user's journey is certainly recommended, making sure your website still works fine if users don't grant notification permission. So, in-app messaging on iOS is a great example of a way you can still send users a message that they can see even if they haven't granted push notification permission.

And then finally, if users block or ignore permission, it's good to give them the opportunity and to allow it again, especially if there are features in your application that rely on notifications. You do want to make it easy for users to turn those on, or to customize their preferences.

[20:43]

Q&A

That brings us over to Q and. A. So, if you have a question please type it in the chat. I'll be happy to respond to it.

So, Tim asked: if in the SDK a user has not subscribed yet, is there a way to tell if that's the case?

Yes. Across all of our SDKs, we provide methods to detect the user's permission state. That might be that they've subscribed. It could be that they have not yet been prompted or that they missed the prompt or it could be that they actively denied the prompt. So, all of our SDKs support that. You can look at our documentation or the API documentation on how to detect a user's permission setting.

So, Purna asked: how to track the user activity on every click?

So, one of the best ways to do that is to implement code in your website or application to detect when the user has clicked the notification and then send that to your analytics system. So, OneSignal has built-in analytics. For instance, we have our outcomes feature where you can send us events such as the user are purchasing an item or signing up for an account or other things. You should certainly use our API which is part of our SDKs to send us outcomes. But then also, you can send those events to the analytics system, whether that's something like Google Analytics or any other analytics service that you might use. If you're also tracking other events there, then that's a great way to see all of the notification related activity alongside the other analytics events that you might already be tracking.

Purna also asked: how to customize the influence open time set for notifications?

So, you can configure that in the settings of OneSignal for your application. Influenced opens right now are a paid-feature-only. So, you do need to be on either a starter plan or pro plan with OneSignal, but it's a great feature and we definitely recommend it. So, if you are a paid account or if you're thinking about it, influenced opens will be available in the settings for your app.

Another question that was raised is: how are outcomes useful to a business?

So, outcomes are a great way to see whether your notifications are having the desired impacts that you have that you are seeking from them. So, for example, if you tend to send a daily or weekly notification with the goal of increasing signups in your application or increasing engagement, you can send those outcomes to us. So, if you send notification inviting users to sign up and they do, you would send that to OneSignal as an outcome. And then using our outcome analytics, you can track how much each notification is influencing the number of signups that you're getting, as well as track the overall number of signups that you're getting as a result of your notifications. So, it's a great way to see what's working, what's not, and then fine-tune either the frequency or the content of your notifications to make sure that they're as effective as possible.

One question is: how to enable user location detection by default in our SDKs?

So, in both our iOS and Android SDK, there is a method you can call, which then starts to automatically track user location points and providing those to OneSignal. You can then use that to target notifications based on users that might be in a certain radius. So, for example, users that live in San Francisco can receive notifications from you segmented by location. Of course, in order to do this, users do have to grant location permission to your application. On Android, this is often done when they installed the application or you can show them a prompt to do it on iOS. It's done while they're using the application.

So, if you're already getting notification permission from your users and you turn this on in OneSignal, it'll just work. If you're not yet doing it you will have to turn on this feature in OneSignal and read our documentation to make sure you're getting permission from the users to track location as well.

[25:12]

Another question was: can we create any number of events or are there any limitations on it?

So actually, I don't quite know the answer to that. It's probably in our documentation. But offhand, I do know that there is no limit to the number of outcomes or other events you can track. So, if you're looking to track a reasonable number, 10, 20, that should be no problem. It is possible. There is a higher limit, like a hundred plus or something like that. But typically, you'll be tracking no more than 20, and that's perfectly fine.

If you are running into any sort of limitations with the number of events that you want to track where you have deeper questions on that, please reach out to our support team and we can provide you more insight or links to relevant documentation.

Can we track the user activity with the number of events?

If I understand the question correctly, there's a couple of ways you can actually increment the number of events that are tracked. So, if you are looking to track how many times did the user take this action, you can actually do that by using our tags feature. You can tag users each time that they complete the necessary action. So, for example, the event that you want to track is the user watching a video in your application, you might have an event called "video watch count". You would assign that as a user tag. And then each time the user watched a video, you can take the value of that tag. So, we have a method that will give you the tag value and then you can also assign it. So, if you set it to 1 initially, you can then read it and see that it's 1. And then increment it, then there'll be two.

So, this is a great way if you have different events in your application that you might want to use to personalize the notifications you're sending based on past activity. You might want to send something to people that have watched zero videos and that will be data that's available to you in that way, or you might want to send a notification to people who have watched a lot of videos. That will be available to you as well then.

Ben asked: how do we expect the two-step prompting will affect the signup rate for web pushes?

So actually, I don't think it's going to affect the signup rate very much. If you're already using the two-step prompting mechanism, then almost certainly, there will be no chain or you might actually see a slight uptick in the number of users granting notification permission because that is a better user experience. If you are using currently the native prompt and you are switching to the two-step prompt, it depends a little bit on the type of website that you have. If most of the subscribers you've been getting are people that accidentally click yes or that are somehow tricked into clicking yes, then, of course, the opt-in rate will go down.

But generally, people that accidentally click yes or that you trick into it are not valuable users to your business anyway. So, to the degree that you can actually make sure that people that are getting permission are doing it and knowing about the context of what they'll receive, and you're doing a good job of explaining that to them using either our slide down window, the button or the bell and providing necessary context, I think you'll actually see a nice improvement in both the subscription rate. Certainly, you'll see an improvement in the general user experience and satisfaction of your users with your website.

Okay. I think we're at about time now. If you have additional questions, please reach out to us at support@onesignal.com or use the chat widget on our website. Our team is always happy to answer questions. Our business hours are in San Francisco time, typically around 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. So, those are when we'll most likely have a response for you. But even with the holidays, we're making sure to stay on top of the different support questions we're getting and product questions we're getting. So, don't hesitate to reach out.

[29:27]

Real quick, one question that was asked here is a request for us to make some videos on different settings and features of OneSignal. So, we've done our best to actually provide some helpful videos, gifs, and guides in our documentation. You can also look on YouTube for past webinars or past walkthroughs we've done to our product. So, I encourage you to check those out if you're looking for a little bit of an easier to follow guide. Of course, if you do run these problems, we're always happy to help and support. When we do see a question coming up frequently, we use that as an opportunity to improve our communication or to introduce a video to help people out.

I want to thank you again all for joining. It was a pleasure. I hope you all get to use the OneSignal platform and send us any feedback as you have it. Thank you.