What In-App Notifications Are and Why You Should Use Them

Transform interruptions into value by delivering well-timed relevant information to your users.

Paula Becchetti
11 min read
What In-App Notifications Are and Why You Should Use Them

In-app notifications are a quintessential part of a modern SaaS product. From announcing new features to creating better user onboarding, in-app notifications work to improve the user experience and engage them at the right time in the right place.

So let's learn all about the in-app notification. What it is, its use cases, as well as best practices for creating in-app notifications.

  • In-app notifications are a great tool for engaging users.

  • In order to engage users with in-app messaging, only share relevant product content information at the right time. 

  • In-app messaging can help you upgrade your overall user experience. 

  • In-app notifications can provide data-driven insights about user behavior.

  • When they are well-timed and used properly, in-app notifications can drive conversion and retention. 

  • Read more to learn about different types of in-app notifications and best practices! 

What are in-app notifications #

In-app notifications are UI patterns that help you communicate key information with users while users are interacting with your product. They can help with creating a better user onboarding flow, give critical updates and announcements on new features, offer guidance to unblock users and drive feature adoption overall. 

In fact, the use cases of in-app messages can be as broad as you'd like them to be, as long as they don't negatively affect the user flow.

In-app notifications vs. Push notifications #

Before we get more into it, we need to talk about the difference between an in-app notification and a push notification.

Though they are close cousins, the main difference between the two is that an in-app notification communicates inside the product to give information. Whereas a push notification does this outside of the product.

Thus, the goal is also different. An in-app notification’s purpose is to engage users inside the product. A push notification is often used to bring the user back to the application. This is why mobile app messaging relies heavily on mobile push notifications since they have to compete with other mobile apps to bring the user's attention back to the app.

From the perspective of SaaS products and web apps, in-app messages happen within the product, while the equivalent to mobile push notifications would be email notifications as these also happen outside the product. 

Here is a summary of the difference.

To elaborate, let's dig a bit deeper.

In-app notifications

  • Activated only when the user needs is interacting with the product

  • Serve for contextual and action-triggered communications in-product

  • Useful for guiding users in-app through features and functionalities

  • Encourage users to take immediate action

  • Only those who created them can disable them in the backend

Push notifications

  • Delivered only when the app is closed

  • Serve for external communication to prompt users to act

  • Useful for re-engaging with an audience currently not active

  • Grab the user's attention back by delivering relevant information

  • Users can always choose when to enable or disable them

As mentioned above, you can use in-app notifications to encourage new users across the onboarding process, leading them from early discovery to user adoption. Not only that, you can also keep existing users engaged and galvanize inactive users. By delivering personalized and well-timed messages inside your product, you can help users achieve goals and move on in the learning curve while maintaining interest.

Push notifications, on the other hand, focus on prompting users towards fulfilling the desired action according to their (past or current) interests. The information delivered is directed more towards a disengaged audience.

Why are in-app notifications important for product-led growth? #

Let's take a look at what you can gain from in-app notifications if you’re applying product-led strategies.

They enhance the user experience #

In-app messaging can help you upgrade your overall user experience. One way is by ensuring your in-app notifications provide all the information needed to tackle any friction that might appear during the onboarding. 

To be useful, they need to feel organic and natural to your users. By understanding your app, user behavior, and needs, you have an excellent ally to enhance the user journey and boost customer satisfaction.

They allow you to test and optimize flows #

By optimizing your in-app notifications and analyzing their effectiveness, you're building a customer base while boosting revenue. Nowadays, easy in-app notifications feature analytic results that can provide deep insights to back up future data-driven decisions.

Also, conducting A/B tests is a perfect way to search for improvement opportunities and adapt to future implementations. Coping with value delivery in your in-app messaging strategy across each stage of your product lifetime will trigger purposeful user sessions and customer retention, which might lead up to increasing conversion volume.

They push forward freemium conversions #

By nurturing in-app notifications and fostering engagement, product teams have an alluring approach to driving success.

Non-invasive in-app notification is mandatory if you want to keep on developing means to approach conversions. For instance, a timely offer to upgrade is more enticing if the user has shown some previous interest e.g. viewed your pricing page.

A well-timed contextual message can boost engagement and revenue per unique user if done correctly. 

In terms of acquisition, loyalty, and growth, in-product notifications are essential to your business success by relying mostly on UX notifications: content, timing, and user interaction strategies according to in-app user flows.

They retain users and improve LTV #

When delivering constant valuable notifications, you're leading users a step away from churning and further getting the most out of your app, thereby increasing user retention. By transforming interruptions into satisfaction, you create opportunities for increasing product adoption, usage, and eventually loyalty and retention.

Different types of in-app notifications #

Now that you've seen what you’ll win by using in-app notifications, let’s dive into the types of messages you can use.

Tooltips #

Tooltips are short, subtle in-app messages that appear when users interact with a specific element on a page or within an app. These UI patterns guide users across their journey by offering additional explanations where users need them most.

Tooltips are significant as they look like annotations, and we can apply them across the entire flow at any time. They are an excellent help for first-time users, who will make the most of them.

👉 Explore an interactive demo and see how to build Tooltips with Chameleon.

Modals #

Modal windows are probably the most suitable option to deliver high-impact notifications. They might be disruptive, so it’s best to use them to provide essential information, like a big announcement or a message on your welcome page.

They're likely to be perceived as invasive or even aggressive (especially in a desktop environment), but when done the right way, they can do wonders for grabbing users’ attention. Keep in mind the best practices for modal UI design and build modals your users will love. 

Banners #

These are horizontal bars that run across the entire length of the screen. They can be either on the top or the bottom of the page. 

Banners are great for offering an in-app message without disrupting the user experience since they are not as prominently placed in the user interface. A notification bar on the bottom is definitely more nuanced than a full-page message or full screen pop-ups.

Slideouts #

They are mid-sized UI patterns primarily used to communicate small or routine announcements, mainly to actions related to the user's primary path. These types of in-app notifications are a great way to inform users without disrupting them. 

This also allows more complex interactions, behaving like a different website but keeping a contextual connection to the primary goal. Slideouts are also great for gathering feedback or collecting data within the app.

Product tours #

The central concept here is deploying them to highlight and educate users about your product’s features, capabilities, and core functionalities as part of product walkthroughs.

Product tours help grant users a perspective about your product's value and encourage them to take action. Depending on the complexity of your product, you can use them to showcase your core features, gently guide users through advanced features, offer different types of walkthroughs for users at different stages of their journey, and so much more.

Product updates #

These are in-app messages related to showcasing your product development or progress – new feature announcements, design improvements, or release notes are some of the most common. 

But, remember, don't overdo it with technical jargon in your product updates. Keep them easy to understand, frontload the benefits users will get from the change, and make sure the value is instantly clear. 

Prosperworks release notes modal

Microsurveys #

You can also leverage in-app messages to collect valuable feedback, and – with a dedicated tool like Chameleon – this type of notification can be created just as quickly as a tooltip. 

You can build various forms of single-question Microsurveys to prompt simple user feedback such as NPS surveys, CSAT scores, and more.

8 best practices for in-app notifications #

Like every tool, in-app notifications must be used in the right way if you want good results with them. So here are some of the best practices you and your team should keep in mind when planning to create an in-app notification.

1. Greet and educate new users #

A basic walkthrough might prove effective when highlighting essential features (in context, pop-ups are very useful) so that users can feel confident when interacting for the first time with the app. 

When done correctly, user onboarding should provide users with a brand new perspective of its capabilities and functionalities and increase customer lifetime value. 

New users have to be encouraged to take action and begin their journey. You can align email messaging with in-app notifications to improve customer onboarding.

2. Segment different audiences #

Talking about being at the right time in the right place: each user will come out with their own experience. And that’s why segmentation is king for in-app notifications. 

If you can understand and group different users according to their behavior and their profiles, then you’ll be able to deliver personalized messages according to their specific context. By doing so, you're more likely to get a favorable response from their end. Neglecting this could encourage users to stop using your app or even leave for good.

3. Be specific but don't over-communicate #

As we've stated, in-app messaging is intrinsically about interrupting a user at a certain point in their journey. So make sure there's a good reason behind it. 

Users might struggle with the product from time to time, so your message better comes in handy (always showcase its purpose). Also, users have proven to get easily irritated by over-talkative apps, so keep it simple and right to the point. Saying too much can be counter-productive to keeping users engaged and can even frustrate users.

4. Always provide value #

You want users to have a great experience every time they engage with your app. So, you need users to have a favorable response to your notifications. An in-app notification should feel like a natural part of your product: to help, mentor, and advise users. 

This is why all in-app messages should add real value for the user. For instance, don't say what is clearly obvious to the user like in the example below.

5. Encourage users with a CTA #

Another clear opportunity for prompting users into action. CTAs lead users with specific courses of action, increase clicks, and drive conversions. 

It's better to keep it simple as it will also help build up an idea about your app capabilities. Users are likely to later re-engage with some feature to explore further if they've previously had some sense of it.

Also, things like permission requests are a unique opportunity to educate users on some topic to highlight its benefits, build their trust in the product, and motivate them to engage further.

6. Gather user feedback whenever possible #

Whether it's a brief product survey or a commentary input you want to reach out for, you should constantly gather feedback from customers. 

Analyzing how they're using the product will probably lead to the insight that might help improve the quality of your contextual messages. Collecting customer data according to the flow is vital in every UX scenario.

A Microsurvey goes a long way

7. Keep it relevant to the user's behavior #

It's crucial to deliver only relevant information to the user as they interact with your product. Contextual notifications assist and push them forward towards progress. Sending untimely messages not aligned with the user's stage (or context) will only cause confusion or even frustration.

Users tend to make up their minds rather quickly after receiving in-app notifications that don't suit their interests. This fact directly impacts user retention as they will start losing their interest and trust in your product value. 

Think of it from the user's POV – you want the in-app notification to help you overcome obstacles, not the other way around.

We need to use the power of in-app prompts as a product value generator: every time users struggle to perform a specific task, it's the exact moment when in-app notifications should pop up to push them forward. If your message leaves them confused or irritated, you're doing something wrong.

A great in-app notification is about having it pushed to the user under the right context and the right time.

8. Make it easy for users to exit #

No matter how much you try, some in-app notifications will just fall flat. Or perhaps they'll be completely irrelevant, like how in-app marketing campaigns can push offerings that don't interest users at all. 

Such messages are less likely to be a drag on the user interaction if you make it easy to exit them. Don't try to trap users inside a desired path. Make that 'X' as distinctive as you can, and let the user come back to the same messages when they want to.

Final thoughts on in-app notifications #

There's no denying that customer engagement is an important topic, and in-app notifications have proven to be a powerful tool to ensure value delivery. Product teams should use in-app messages as a line of communication to customers and think of the product itself as an invaluable channel.

Long-term engagement is probably one of the most significant issues a product and marketing team will face. But rest assured, if you focus your efforts on guaranteeing in-app notifications won't be perceived as interruptions on the user's flow but instead as guidance, you will observe their impact upon customer satisfaction and eventually product adoption.

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