Push Notification Best Practices: Measure Effectiveness by Tracking Active Device Tokens

We cannot emphasize it enough: If your app users are turning off push notifications, you have lost a huge opportunity to engage with them. Engagement is a key element of success in mobile, and you don’t want to miss out. As we discussed in our last post on implementation 101, getting users to opt-in to push notifications in the first place can take some persuasion. Once they do, you need to stick to your end of the bargain and send only messages that contain the compelling content your users have agree to accept, and at an acceptable frequency. A misstep on your end could close the door to future engagement with that user.

When you think about push, don’t think in the same terms as you think about email or SMS. Losing an opted-in push user is not just a  “-1” to your marketing list. It undermines the utility of your app, and by extension, the power of your brand. The consequences for losing an app user are far greater, i.e., your app becomes less effective and may not function as intended. Because your app icon lives in your user’s hand, you don’t want it to serve as a reminder of a poor experience.

So to measure your push notification effectiveness, you need to understand how your users are reacting to your messages. One way to do this is to evaluate how many of your users turn off push notifications.

How to Figure Out if Your Users are Turning Off Push Notifications

What you need to do is compare active device tokens against total device tokens. When a user opts in to receive push notifications from your app upon install, our service collects a device token. An active device token is receiving your messages. An *inactive* device token means either the user deleted the app or turned off push notifications from the app (opted out).

What you can do is compare your active device token (ADT) against your disabled device tokens (DDT). We call this the Push Retention Ratio, and it’s one of the most reliable indicators of your push notification effectiveness. We have some customers with Push Retention Ratios as high as 98% and some as low as 65%. Obviously the higher the ratio, the better engagement you have with your users.

Granted, this is a sort of rudimentary process. We are working on tools to provide more meaningful insight into your app’s Push Retention Ratio but for now the ADT / DDT comparison is most useful. Now, the most likely reason for a disabled device token is that the user uninstalled your app. Why would he or she do this? Because your app is not providing compelling content. You may trace this perception to ineffective push, no push at all, or other for some other reason, but the areas you can control are around push and how well you deploy your mobile messaging.

So go ahead and check your ADT / DDT numbers to get a baseline ratio. Then continue to check it after you send push notifications. As you track this number, pay specific attention to how the rate changes directly after push notifications and how it changes during dormant times. As you fine-tune the best practices for your specific app, you’ll have a better understanding of how your users are responding, even when they aren’t telling you directly. If the ratio is going down you may have a problem. You might be sending messages too frequently, with content that is not compelling or with annoying messages.

Sending Push Notifications to an Inactive Device Could Violate the ToS

Once a user opts out of push notifications, you are not allowed to continue to send them messages. This is against Apple’s Terms of Service. Apple has a service called Feedback Service that outlines this in detail. The feedback service states that Apple APNs monitor developers for their diligence in checking the feedback service and that they refrain from sending push notifications to nonexistent applications on devices.

Blackberry and Android don’t publish such specific details in their ToSs, but we highly recommend you follow the Apple guidelines across platforms.

If you’re using Urban Airship as your push notification provider, you need not worry about violating this clause. Our mobile services provide compliance and automatically removes any inactive device token IDs so neither the user nor the Apple server will receive messages from you, post opt-out.

Please visit our resources on feedback service for a better understanding of how Urban Airship provides compliance with this policy and for further detail on how to view your Push Retention Ratio at any given point.

This post is part of an ongoing series, Push Notification Best Practices. We’ll look at different aspects of push and provide guidance on effective tactics. Up next, we’ll cover Incorporating Push Notifications into the App at the Design Stage.