In 2009 the makers of apps figured that sending Push Notifications was a neat trick for luring people back to your App. Early Push Notifications (PN) said things like ”Come back and see what’s new” or “We've got lots of new content for your to explore”. And, in 2009 this trick worked, well.

Back then, if you had spent the time carefully selecting an App for your iPhone 3GS, and the App said “ABC” Would like to Send You Notifications, there’s a very good chance you then clicked on the “OK” button with the innate belief that ABC was almost certainly going to send you useful information, in a timely manner,

It was a golden era for mobile marketing departments, and most mobile marketing managers were pretty happy with themselves if their App now had PN capability. Ok, so a few users in the west coast of the states got woken up at 4:30am with an annoying PN alert tone, but hey – they were getting the message and that was the main thing!

But Familiarity Breeds Contempt…

As time went on, and the average user’s phone went from having 32 Apps in it to having an average of 67 Apps by 2012, guess what, PN Opt-in rates were dropping. But, compared with email opt-in rates (which were a mere 5 to 6% then), PN rates were still very healthy.

In early 2012, perhaps the then largest supplier of PN solutions was quoting that the average PN opt-in rate for a News App was about 70%, and if you were an m-commerce retailer, you could expect an opt-in rate of about 50%.

Now, in 2015, the rates have fallen even further. That same large supplier of PN solutions will tell you that the m-commerce sector now only seeing average PN opt-in of about 35%, and if you’re App is a Social, or News & Media, that rate is even lower. You can see a pattern here, so unless today’s mobile marketers get smart about how and when they ask people to opt-in, this downward trend is going to continue.

Fixing Opt-In Rates

If you’re reading this, then it’s probably fair to say that reaching out to your App users to re-engage them is important to you, and PN campaigns are likely a priority for you. But, Push campaigns are only as effective as your Push opt-in rates.

Let’s look at why rates are dropping. Probably the No. 1 reason that opt-in rates are dropping is because too many (in fact the vast majority) of Apps are showing the (Apple controlled) Notification Opt-in message asking users to say “OK” to opt-in as soon as the App loads.

This means they’re asking brand new users, within the space of 0.5 of a second, to make a decision about whether or not they want to receive regular communications from this brand. It also relies on the user to draw their own conclusions about what these notifications may, or may not be about.

No wonder 60%+ new users are saying “Don’t Allow”

And after users have said “Don’t Allow”, that’s it; you can’t ask again: it is a 1-time permission request.

So why are the vast majority of Apps today asking at such an early stage? Is it because our developers tell us “it’s just the thing to do”? or because we fear that people will lose interest in our App after the first couple of sessions of using the App? Or simply because we just thought this was the modern norm and new users would be fine with this.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret…! You don’t have to ask right away! In fact, you don’t have to ask in the first 30 seconds, or first 10 minutes, or even in the first App session. As the maker of the App, you can wait till whenever you feel is a good time to ask.

But the question is, when is that right time? The consensus among smart mobile marketers is to show this permission request when either: A) users appear to be engaged with your App, or B) at the end of the onboarding/tutorial process. Why? Because now when you ask, you have already modified users perception that messages from this App will give them a better experience of the App. In the case of asking at the end of the onboarding/tutorial process, you have actually told the user of the specific benefits of opting in for PN.

Providers of PN solutions will suggest that you use a splash page to “pre-ask”, which is fine, but it’s still a little untargeted and a web-like approach. What appears to be a more effective method is to show a targeted in-app message, with clear and simple reasons why the user should say OK to notifications.

What if you could increase your Push-addressable audience?

The beauty of a controlled in-app message is that if a user choses “Skip for now” or “Ask me later” option, you have not used that all important 1-time permission request controlled by Apple. Instead, you can now wait until later in that user’s first journey to ask again. An in-app message also allows you to experiment with different later stage permission requests. The really smart mobile marketer will run 3 or 4 versions of the language in the in-app message to see which one gives the highest opt-in conversion rate.

So, the next time you are putting the finishing touches to your App, and you get to that point about thinking of how/when you will ask users to opt-in for PN, just remember that increasing trend to hit the “Don’t Allow” button.