An Introduction to Web Push Notifications and How to Get Started

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Push notifications were app-exclusive until April 2015. With Google Chrome version 42, website owners have the opportunity to get users back to their site by sending a push notification via browser. This post provides a brief overview of how push notifications work and what you, as a digital marketer, have to think about before implementing them.

Introduction

This is a browser notification triggered by 24now running Chrome on Android
This is a browser notification triggered by 24now running Chrome on Android

Notifications can quickly get annoying. On a typical workday, you could be interrupted by all sorts of notifications from WhatsApp to Facebook Messenger, Twitter Mentions or Direct Messages, and apps that want to be opened again; the list goes on and on.

People are very careful nowadays before subscribing to additional notifications (and have learned how to deactivate them). The trend of being cautious about what and when you will be interrupted is also a driver behind the “mindfulness” topic (and ironically, apps that will teach you how to enjoy being offline also send these notifications).

My notification screen after putting my phone on silent mode for an hour.
My notification screen after putting my phone on silent mode for an hour.

With the availability of browser-based notifications, digital marketers have an additional communication tool to collect subscribers.

As a digital marketer you may already send different types of notifications:

  • Email notifications (new blog posts online, breaking news alerts, reminders)
  • Pop Ups (I blogged about this topic separately; this type of notification quickly gets annoying)
  • App notifications (if you provide apps)
  • Browser notifications (since April 2014)

Types of browser notifications

There are two different types of browser notifications: On site and Off site.

On Site Notifications means the notification is triggered only if the user has the site opened in a browser.

This is the case, for example, with Skype or Slack. Both tools send browser notifications only when the site is open. As soon as you close the site you won’t receive browser notifications. But for both services you may have installed a separate mobile or desktop app anyway.

Let’s look at how browser notifications work with Chrome on desktop with Slack.

When you open a Slack channel and haven't enabled the browser notifications, it asks for permission to do so.
When you open a Slack channel and haven’t enabled the browser notifications, it asks for permission to do so.
Clicking Enable Notifications triggers this dialog box in your browser (cannot be customized).
Clicking Enable Notifications triggers this dialog box in your browser (cannot be customized).
Once enabled, you will start receiving push notifications on your desktop.
Once enabled, you will start receiving push notifications on your desktop.

Off Site Notifications will reach your subscribed audience whenever you want them to, even on users’ smartphones if they use Chrome on Android.

An example of where I am receiving this type of notification is Producthunt. I receive them both in Chrome on my desktop and my phone, regardless of whether I have already interacted with it on one device or not.

producthunt-notification-on-desktop-windows-10

Producthunt offers personalized browser push notifications.

web-push-notif-settings-producthunt

Supported Browsers

Push notifications are supported on Chrome (desktop and Android), Firefox, and Safari. Two services I have looked at say the following about their support for different browsers:

PushCrew on browser support
PushCrew on browser support
GoRoost on browser support
GoRoost on browser support

What’s missing? Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (or Edge) browser. Chrome is the dominant player, followed by Internet Explorer and Firefox. Note that Firefox on Android will soon be supported.

An example notification made with PushCrew

PushCrew is a simple service that allows website owners to add (non-personalized) push notifications within minutes without touching code. You just add a small scriptlet to your site like you do for Google Analytics. You can send push notifications to segments within your subscriber base. With PushCrew, you can get started for free as long as you have no more than 500 subscribers.

I installed the PushCrew script on this blog to test the service. It was set up in five minutes, as the site promotes. This is what the dashboard looks like:

pushcrew-dashboard

Note the RSS-to-push option in the left menu. This would allow me to send a push notification each time a new blog post is added.

Sending a push notification is like crafting a tweet. There is not much space, so come up with a great headline.

pushcrew-create-push-notification

For sent notifications, you will get an overview on how they performed.

pushcrew-notification-report

You don’t have to sign up for PushCrew to try sending a push notification. Use this example site to trigger a push notification and see how it looks.

How browser notifications are managed in Chrome

Browser-based push notifications are managed in your browser (surprise!). In Google Chrome all notifications are managed in the browser settings menu.

google-chrome-browser-notification-settings

If a site wants to send push notifications, the default setting is currently “Ask user.” As long as this does not change it could be easy for marketers to build an audience.

Specific push notifications can be managed under Manage Exceptions:

push-notification-settings-chrome-block-allow

Allow, Block, or Delete are the options on the site level. If a user clicks delete, the next time the site is visited he or she is asked again to allow push notifications. When someone is browsing in incognito mode, no notifications are sent.

So while at the browser level you can only turn off or delete notifications for a specific service, the website that is sending the notifications could implement personalized web push notifications.

Services for adding push notifications to your site

There are a lot of companies focused on offering services and technology related to push notifications for native apps on iOS and Android. Recently, many of those services also added support for managing browser-based push notifications.

Here is a list of services I came across while doing research for this blog post:

I have tried PushCrew and OneSignal, and both can be set up within minutes. Specifically for marketers, PushCrew seems to be the easiest to get started with.

create-push-on-onesignal

Especially for WordPress, there are several Plugins that will help you get started. Some of them rely on an external service like OneSignal, while others like Push Notifications Lite are run independently on your WordPress site.

Things to consider before implementing web push notifications

  • Do you have some sort of breaking news that users would like to know about the minute it is happens?
  • Personalization: Is there a way to personalize your notification so it reflects the user’s needs? Think about time zones, pushing content related to specific user interests, previous visits to your site, etc.
  • Who is managing browser notifications? This is another channel you open up to your users. Managing them is not very time consuming, but you should add it to your routine as a content marketer and plan accordingly.
  • You should set a few goals and metrics to measure how successful the implementation is.
  • Be concise in your messaging to users on how often and for what subject you will use push notifications.
  • When you will ask a user to allow push notifications: When a user is on your site for the first time for 5 seconds, it may not be suitable to ask for push allowance.
  • While it’s easy to set up push notifications, which are sent to all users the same way, it gets complicated to customize them for each user. However, to provide the best value to your website visitors you have to customize push notifications. Think about time zones, the user’s journey, etc. Personalized push notifications can be a useful sales tool.
    • Take this site as an example: Once opened it asks to send push notifications, before being able to read a single sentence or understand what the site is offering.
  • What type of channels are you using to reach your users already, and what benefit would a browser-based notification add?
  • Your loyal readers or users may follow you on several channels (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Newsletter, etc.), so focus on offering push notifications to users not subscribed to other channels first.
  • People opting in for browser-based push notifications should be treated as loyal followers.

Actions that could trigger push notifications:

  • Breaking news (Michael Jackson died, Pope outed as gay, etc.)
  • Live events starting
  • New offer available / back in stock
  • Important travel information (flight canceled, bookings changed)
  • New product / service feature available
  • New awesome blogpost online

Benefits of using web push notifications:

  • Users do not have to install an app to get notifications.
  • The format of notifications is the same for all web services and they are less of an annoyance.
  • It works on both mobile and desktop (Chrome and soon Firefox, not Internet Explorer).
  • Browser notifications can be triggered “on and off page.”
  • The technology is relatively new, so building an audience could be easier.

Conclusion

As services for implementing browser notifications are easier to install on a site, you can expect that many marketers will add that option in the future, and users will soon be very careful before subscribing to additional notifications.

Browsers already have a built-in setting for blocking all browser notifications, and currently the default setting is still “ask the user,” but as with classic browser pop-ups, the technology vendors could change the setting to be blocked per default, and the browser push notification party is soon over.

Nonetheless, if you are a digital marketer, you should evaluate the possibility of implementing browser notifications in your next content project, depending on whether or not you have information that provides a benefit to the user if delivered instantly.

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Rolf Mistelbacher

Rolf Mistelbacher

Hi, I am the CEO & Founder of Fresh van Root, a boutique digital agency in Vienna, Europe.I got first online in '96 and since then I am hooked on the web. Here I blog about social media, WordPress and blogging, productivity, apps and tools for digital marketers, and all things related to running a digital agency.Before starting Fresh van Root I was working at Microsoft for quite some time. Get in touch with me on LinkedIn or Twitter!

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