3 Things You Need to Know About Push Notification Ads for iOS Apps

Jess Ailion 20 April 2020
3 Things You Need to Know About Push Notification Ads for iOS Apps


It’s easy for an app to rack up a high percentage of dormant users. With push notifications, you can send out fun prompts to remind them why they downloaded your app in the first place. 

When it comes to mobile apps, having a great product doesn’t always guarantee success. In fact, that’s only the very first step. With countless tactics available to market your app, it certainly pays to consider leveraging them all. If you find that you’re struggling to build user retention, push notifications may be the way forward. When used correctly, they’re an excellent way to engage your users, while striking a mutually beneficial experience. 


In case you weren’t aware, Apple made a lot of changes to the App Store in the first quarter of 2020, so we won’t blame you if you haven’t noticed their updated Review Guidelines. For example, in early March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to reach new heights outside of China, Apple made many seemingly subtle changes enabling app developers to improve user experience. One of the least subtle, you could say, was in their change to regulations to allow for push notifications ads. 

As a result, this new change allows customers full control over whether or not they want to receive notifications. For those who do, it allows useful information, such as upcoming sales, to reach them with no effort required. This represents a big opportunity for publishers to make essential marketing gains. While email marketing can easily find its way into the spam folder, never to be read, mobile messages are read almost instantly. As such, push notifications ads are a crucial tool to boost an app’s retention rate and sales. 

Previously, Apple had banned apps from using push notifications for “advertising, promotions or direct marketing purposes.” However, with the update apps can now technically send marketing notifications to their users. There is a clear caveat, though: “push notifications should not be used for promotions or direct marketing purposes unless customers have explicitly opted in to receive them.” In addition, customers must also be able to opt-out. 

Screenshot from Apple

While the change in policy is new, the use of push notifications has been around for a while.  In fact, over in the past couple of years, Apple has been a bit sneaky in bending its own rules. For example, they would send out push notifications that looked suspiciously like ads such as a free three month trial to lapsed subscribers of Apple Music. Not surprisingly, they faced heavy criticism and backlash. 

So, now that Pandora’s Box is open, how should you be using push notifications ads? We’d like to outline 3 essential things you should know to help you get the most out of this tactic without turning off your users.

Let’s Talk Targeting

Know Your Audience

It’s crucial that you understand your target audience in order to use push notifications ads effectively. There’s really no point in sending inappropriate push messages to the wrong consumer. In fact, rather than simply being ignored, it can actually do more damage than good. Ever found yourself on the receiving end of unwanted marketing? Of course, you have, and it’s annoying. As a result, you probably unsubscribed from the mailing list or removed yourself from the marketing database. So obviously you wouldn’t want to risk doing the same to your users. 

With that said, bear in mind your target users’ ages, locations, interests, mobile spending habits when creating your push notification strategy. Chances are you don’t want to be sending the same push messages to millennials as you will to baby boomers. Targeting your messages according to different audiences can make a vital difference to your app’s retention and engagement rates. 

Screenshot from Localytics

Real-World Applications

To give this concept examples of real-world use cases, retailers can personalize promotional messages for current sales, or new collections. Streaming and entertainment apps can target people according to their watching habits, for example, Netflix recommends similar shows users might enjoy and informs them when their favorite series is released. 

Of course, consumers may have their reservations about allowing push notifications. But what if you were a collector of rare vintage items and could opt-in to be notified when something you’ve been eyeing up is on sale? Push notifications ads, when accurately targeted, can work extremely well for both the consumer and publisher alike. 

Once you start targeting your push notifications ads, you can start to analyze the results and gain insights in order to continue more effectively. If you find that some aren’t garnering the results you’re looking for, you can easily try another tactic. Conversely, if something is working particularly well, use it more. You get the gist. 

It’s Important to Remember

Of course, we would be remiss to not offer a word of caution.  If users are spammed with too many ads, especially inappropriate ones, it will be hard to win back their trust. This could lead to users opting out of receiving all push notifications, which means you’ve lost them and they probably aren’t coming back. 

It Pays to Have a Plan of Action

Now that you’ve thought about targeting your push notification ads, it’s time to think about how you’re going to send them out into the world. Failure to devise a well thought out plan means you risk missing out on some low hanging fruit.  After all, according to this Localytics survey, 42% of respondents said that they’d use an app more if it factored their location into the push messages sent to them.


According to LeanPlum data, retention rates can increase by 7 times in the first 90 days if push notifications are sent out at personalized times. Therefore, if you’ve got users in different countries, it’s no use sending your push ads out at the same time for everyone. While it may be the optimal time for users in one country, users in another may be fast asleep. You don’t want to miss out on potential engagement due to thoughtless timing. 


Additionally, the number of ads you push per week is another factor you must consider. We touched on this briefly above…DON’T SPAM YOUR USERS. They almost certainly won’t thank you for it, and you’ll be damaging your reputation. 

We recommend starting small and building up the frequency as you gain more insights into what’s effective and what’s not. For example, Localytics, indicates that the optimal number of push notifications per week is between two and five. More than that, and you risk losing your users. 

Screenshot from Localytics

Opt-In Process

Another factor worth considering is how to encourage users to opt-in to begin with. While you can’t customize Apple’s official push notifications prompt, you can create a personalized splash screen aimed directly at your users. So make it engaging, consistent with your brand tone, and informative. It needs to tell users why they should opt-in. If they respond positively, the official opt-in screen will then appear for them to confirm. However, if they don’t, you can always prompt them again a little later. 

According to LeanPlum, only 42% of iOS users opt-in to push notifications. This indicates that it’s probably better to improve your opt-in rates before you can expect to see dramatic increases in retention and engagement rates from the push notifications themselves. 

Think about when you see the opt-in prompt upon an app’s initial download. It appears after a series of other requests, such as permission to access your location. It’s easy to click ‘don’t allow’ and close the box so that you can begin exploring the app. You might not know yet whether you even like the app, so why would you automatically agree to receive notifications? A request for opt-ins is therefore easily rejected. 

Paradoxically though, it’s not always a bad thing if somebody doesn’t respond positively to your personalized splash screen. That’s because it gives you the perfect opportunity to send them another customized prompt later reminding them to opt-in and why. By this point, they’ll be less distracted by other requests and they’ve already had a chance to engage with your app and develop loyalty to it. 

Show Some Flair


So we’ve talked you through how to target your audience and how to implement your strategy, now it’s time to get down to something more lighthearted. Although this may seem like a much smaller factor than the others, research has shown that emojis can have a significant impact on the open rates of push notifications. 

Emojis are a great way to incorporate some fun into your marketing. They also help catch the eye of more visual consumers who would tend to ignore plain text. They’re more playful, engaging, and make your brand more relatable to iPhone users who are probably no strangers to the Emoji keyboard themselves. 

Plus, the numbers don’t lie either!  According to a study conducted by LeanPlum, push notifications with emojis see a 254% increase in open rates compared to ones without. Additionally, it found that apps that used emojis in their push messages saw 26% fewer uninstalls than those who didn’t. With all that in mind, it’s safe to say that emojis can help contribute to an app’s overall retention rates. 


We hope you’re now a bit more familiar with why you should be using push notifications for your app’s mobile marketing. Just to recap, don’t forget to target your audience by personalizing your messages. Think about how often and when you send out push notifications by developing a push notification marketing strategy.  Don’t be afraid to get creative and implement emojis in your push notifications in order to engage your users.




Jess Ailion
Jess is Moburst's Content Marketing Manager who came to us all the way from the UK. After studying English Literature, she found herself writing about all things mobile marketing. When she's not spending her time writing, you can find her cooking for her friends or exploring new places.
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