Notifications and messaging go together like two peas in a pod, like Batman and Robin or Bonnie & Clyde. Even a brilliant in-app messaging experience will fall flat if notifications are not done right.

Push Notifications

Notifications are critical for messaging as they inform users of new messages and events in the app, and in doing so pull the user back into the experience. On wearable devices like the Apple Watch, notifications are the core interaction model. Notifications impact user retention and reactivation. Since many notifications in a messaging experience are unique and all can be personalized, the value it carries is orders of magnitude better than a generic marketing push notification carrying no actual information value to the user.

Deep linking into a conversation

This one is pretty obvious, but we want to highlight it since there are still experiences out there where this isn’t implemented. When tapped, a notification should always take the user in the target conversation. This saves unnecessary time browsing around the app and trying to find the right message.

Clear the badge count once a message has been viewed.


Badges indicate that there is an action to be completed, an unread conversation or some other application activity that needs attention. However, not all badges are created equal. On iOS, the badge number is pushed along with the notification, which means that the counts need to be calculated on the server-side. If a message is read on one device, the badge needs to be updated on all of the user’s other devices.

Some applications, like marketplaces or dating products combine the badge numbers of matches and unread conversations. Others, like communities, show the badge numbers of all unread messages. There are various combinations of the above, but it’s impossible to tell which one will perform best for your use case without some A/B testing.

Notifications: Copy

Good notification copy can impact open rates even in messaging use cases. A good notification for messaging will deliver the recipient a useful amount of information and equip them for a reaction. Good notifications include the sender name, message content and occasionally an emoji to provide extra context.

Notifications: Actions

Actions are one of the most powerful recent additions to notifications. Used correctly, actions remove friction by offering the user a way to reply quickly or take a pre-defined action. Every reply either results in a longer session on the recipient’s side or generates another notification that brings the recipient back into the app. Actions also come in handy to mute a conversation without opening the app and digging through settings.

Completing a transaction can be as simple as tapping an emoji.

Reply directly from the lock screen with rich notifications.

Quick Reply

Both iOS and Android notifications, as well as desktop notifications on OS X, enable users to compose a quick reply without opening the application. This enables users to close the messaging loop quickly and with minimal friction. It is highly recommended for every app with in-app rich messaging.

Wearable Quick Reply

Finally, actions are a great interaction model on wearable devices, which make it tedious to open up the app and try to compose a long reply.

In-app notifications drive ongoing engagement.

In-App Notifications

Notifications are also important when users are already inside the app itself. While you are having a conversation with Bobby, Jenny might send you a message. In this situation, showing a notification in the app serves a similar purpose as a push notification when the application is in the background. iOS does not extend its push notifications service for in-app use cases, so anyone building a messaging experience needs to implement in-app notifications themselves. In-app notifications compound the already powerful notifications loop of messaging and keep the user engaged in the application.

Missed messages, email and SMS fallback

In scenarios where the message is of high importance or the user might have missed it, using email and SMS as fallback channels, with deep links back to the in-app messaging flow, is a good way to keep the communication loop intact. When thinking through your notification strategy, make sure you consider fallback scenarios and what is required to trigger those fallbacks (i.e.: per message delivery/read receipts).

Fallback notifications can be triggered instantly for every message, but that usually results in alert fatigue since a push notification, SMS and e-mail might arrive in quick succession. A better approach is to gradually escalate channels.

Let’s say a message about a potential transaction in a marketplace is sent and delivered on the device, but is not read for X minutes. In this scenario, it makes sense to escalate the notification to one or several fallback channels.

One thing to note here about iOS 10’s new notifications framework is that Apple now allows developers to update notifications on users’ devices on-the-fly. This means that, depending on the use case, when the user misses several messages, the developer can consolidate those notifications into one bigger notification that is easier to parse.

Email is a hook to get people back into the conversion.