Brent Sleeper



Feb 23, 2018

A graphic showing notifications arriving on a mobile phone
A graphic showing notifications arriving on a mobile phone
A graphic showing notifications arriving on a mobile phone

8 Rules of Great Email Notifications

8 Rules of Great Email Notifications

8 Rules of Great Email Notifications

Email notifications are powerful drivers of user engagement with SaaS apps. But not all of these messages are created equal. The best alerts convey key information and make interaction feel almost effortless, while poorly designed notifications are counterproductive and result in decreased engagement or even customer churn.

I’ve received some really effective notifications. But I’ve received many more lackluster ones. I’m sure you have, too. Some were monospaced, plaintext messages spit out by a process deep in the bowels of an ancient ERP system. Others were so overloaded with competing messages, images, CTAs, and other marketing gizmos that the basic utility of the notification was lost in the noise.

What Is A Notification Email?

A notification email relays an important message to a business’s users or customers. The content doesn’t promote but informs. Like transactional emails, these notifications result from an existing business relationship between the company and the recipient, though customer action may not always be the cue. Common notification types include:

  • Verifications.

  • Terms of service changes.

  • Security alerts.

  • Welcome messages.

  • Social media engagements.

Who Sends Email Notifications & Why?

Many businesses send email notifications, from banks confirming eStatement availability to social media sites informing of posts. Even Software as a Service (SaaS) providers alert users of scheduled maintenance times.

When effectively executed, notification emails are an opportunity to create brand loyalty, boost user engagement, and build a good sender reputation to increase deliverability.

What Makes A Great Email Notification?

Your notification emails should follow the same best practices as any other electronic business communication — they should be free of typos, mobile-friendly, and professional. There are additional steps you can take to ensure your notification emails are better than average communications.

So, when it comes to notifications and similar transactional emails, what differentiates the good, the bad, and the ugly? In other words, what makes a great product email? Our team has looked at lots of real-world examples. Here are our takeaways.

1. The subject line is all-important.

Email marketers have made an art and science of writing subject lines that yield high open rates, but remember that notifications are different from most marketing messages. While opening a message is a sign of user engagement, the most effective email notifications are written so that the subject line is the message. Even if a user never opens the alert, she or he should get what’s needed just by reading the subject line.

2. Good notifications convey just one idea.

Effective email alerts are highly focused messages and a perfect illustration of when “less is more.” While the email body is an opportunity for some elaboration on the core information conveyed in the subject line, but don’t be tempted to stray from that single idea. Extraneous information or visual clutter muddies the value the of the email and distracts your user from the essential message or call to action. Overloaded notifications quickly get relegated in a user’s head to the category of “useless marketing messages” and are a sure route to disengagement, unsubscribes, and even spam flags.

Example Mint Notification

Mint’s account security notification reinforces user trust with a direct, simple message.

3. Alerts should get straight to the point with a direct call to action.

Email notifications are immediate, time-sensitive, and relatively frequent. Your user will give them just a glance—you might earn 5 seconds of their time at best—so it’s not the time for subtlety. Express the facts the user needs to know and provide an obvious way for him or her to take action if needed. Done.

Example LinkedIn Notification

LinkedIn’s re-engagement notification has a good value proposition and clear call to action.

4. Email notifications must be highly personalized.

A notification is a nearly perfect example a triggered email. It was sent in response to a specific user action or state. So be sure that the content of the message reflects that unique situation. Being personal doesn’t mean inserting a first name and leaving it at that — every bit of the notification should reinforce the user’s specific context, actions, and needs. In fact, any information that’s not specifically personalized is suspect and something you should consider removing.

5. The best notifications reinforce the user experience.

Just because email notifications should be direct and succinct, they don’t need to be blandly utilitarian. In fact, the best ones are full of personality and immediately recognizable as part of the user’s overall experience with an app or service. Through tone, voice, and visual identity, email notifications have a significant impact on a user’s impression of a service or app’s style and brand. They should be designed with as much care as any other aspect of a product’s UX.

Example Product Hunt Notification

Product Hunt’s social notification hits all the right notes.

6. Provide An Opt-in Or Unsubscribe Option When Appropriate

While email notifications are essential to many business processes, users can receive most information in another way if they prefer. For example, if a user wants to prevent monthly statement notifications from their bank, they can choose to have paper statements instead of electronic ones. Users can also turn off notification emails from social media sites if they choose.

Including an unsubscribe option is important if your notification emails also carry promotional content, such as a special offer on a membership upgrade when informing a user that their trial period is ending. In that situation, including a way for the reader to opt-in to future messaging instead of subscribing to them by default creates a better user experience.

7. Send Them In A Timely Manner

If your website or services are experiencing technical issues, be proactive and notify your users as soon as practical. Users like prompt communication and assurance that a resolution is forthcoming.

Similarly, it’s best to inform customers or subscribers about impending changes that could affect the benefits or products they get from you, such as a supply chain issue that will cause a shipping delay in their order. Doing so allows them to make alternate arrangements when necessary, and your customers will appreciate the honesty and transparency.

8. Include Contact Information

This step is especially essential for notification emails that originate from a sending address. If your customer has questions or concerns about the email content, where do they go, and who do they contact? Make sure any next steps are clear and that it’s easy for them to find the information.

Email notifications have a major impact on any app or site’s user experience, and they’re among the most important drivers of user engagement, retention, and growth.