In-App Notifications Explained: Best Practices and Actionable Tips

In-App Notifications Explained: Best Practices and Actionable Tips

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

Paula Becchetti
12 min read
In-App Notifications Explained: Best Practices and Actionable Tips

In-app notifications are far more than just full screen pop ups or messages that try to grab attention. They are a primary tool for engaging users. A well placed in-app notification can gently guide users to desired action. So if you are wondering, 'do in-app notifications work?' – the answer is a solid yes.

Of course, let's not forget that in-app notifications are sometimes still seen as interruptions within the user's experience journey. In-app messaging that is not contextual to the user’s state in the journey can be frustrating. But these messages can be a powerful tool to enhance user experience overall. So, how can we make sure in-app notifications drive user engagement?

  • 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! 

The key to in-app messaging is relevance and timing #

If you want to engage users, you should only share relevant product content information, and always at the right time. 

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.

There are many different marketing techniques to help you reach out to customers but not necessarily deliver value or increase engagement. And guess what? It all comes down to avoiding any interruption of a user’s flow.

That's the reason why it's so important to coordinate all these efforts between in-app marketing and product teams: to forge a long-term bond between users and the brand while aiming at achieving, at last, happy, engaged users as an outcome. So, let's start with the basics.

In-app notifications vs. Push notifications #

There are many differences between these two types of app messages, yet sometimes they are easy to mix. Working in product, we have to combine the two of them—depending on the desired outcomes.

Let's identify the main differences between them.

In-app notifications

  • The user needs to be interacting with the app to be activated

  • Contextual triggered communications in-product

  • Useful for guiding users in-app

  • Should encourage users to take action

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

Push notifications

  • Messages are delivered only when the app is closed

  • External communications to prompt immediate action

  • The goal is re-engaging with an audience currently not active

  • Grab user’s attention back by delivering relevant data

  • Users can always choose when to disable them


As mentioned above, most of the communications inside the app focus on guidance. Whether in mobile devices or desktop apps, the main goal usually depends on the user's journey stage. By delivering personalized and well-timed messages, you can help users achieve goals and move on in the learning curve while maintaining interest.

You can use in-app notifications to encourage new app 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.

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.

Push notification rates #

According to industry benchmarks from Pushwoosh, push notifications get different click-through rates depending on factors such as time, relevance, or content. But it also depends on the number of words. 

They’ve found that push notifications with fewer words get higher rates:

  • 10 or fewer words – 8,8% CTR

  • 11-20 words – 4.9% CTR

  • 21 or greater – 3.2% CTR

So one of the keys to push notifications is also brevity. You should use push notifications to get the user's attention back and trigger an immediate response with short and specific messages.

In-app notification rates #

According to Chameleon’s own benchmark report, in-app messages, in particular in the form of product tours, differ in completion rates based on how many steps are involved, with three steps as the goldilocks number. 

  • 2 steps - 42% completion rate

  • 3 steps - 72% completion rate

  • 4 steps - 45% completion rate 

There are two more key factors that decide how effective your in-app notifications can be. One is that Tours with a video have an average of 156 seconds of time spent, which is half a minute more than the average time of 119 seconds. Secondly, 25 words is the ideal length when it comes to copy. So make sure to keep it short and sweet. 

The main difference between push notifications and in-app notifications is that users can disengage push notifications if they become annoying. This unwanted product friction caused by in-app messaging could result in customer churn.

Why are in-app messages essential for product-led growth? #

Let’s take a look at what we can gain from in-app notifications in 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 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 drive 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 originally built upon user behavior 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 we have seen what we’ll win by using in-app notifications, let’s dive into the types of content we can use:

Tooltips #

These UI patterns guide users across their journey. They are short, subtle in-app messages that appear when interacting with a specific element in a website or mobile app. 

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.

Modals #

These windows are probably the most suitable option to deliver high-impact notifications. They are disruptive in-app messages mainly used to provide essential information, like a big announcement or a message on your welcome page

They're very likely to be perceived as invasive or even aggressive (especially in a desktop environment). Still, it's a fine choice for mobile apps if it’s appropriately applied when necessary.

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 highlighting and educating about app 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, 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 iIn-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

Chatbots #

Chatbots are automated chats that assist users throughout their journey in the product. However, they need to be operated by customer support teams and might end up increasing costs. 

That said, it is a great option to provide fast solutions to users' specific setbacks and boost engagement. Chatbots allow users to interact with the product’s team while troubleshooting accordingly. 

To get the most out of these, you can launch a chatbot directly from an in-app widget like a help menu or an onboarding checklist. 

In-app notifications best practices #

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.

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.

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 leaving for good.

Be specific but don't over-communicate #

Like 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.

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. 

As both product and users constantly evolve within this iterative process, revisiting your messaging towards optimizing copy, design, and timing is extremely important.

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 about 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.

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 an 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

Keep it relevant to the user's behavior #

It's crucial to deliver only relevant data to the user as they interact with your product. 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.

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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