Customer Experience

9 In-App Messaging Best Practices


Everyone reading this agrees that in-app messaging is important.

It’s vital to activating and retaining customers over the long haul.

However, they’re also not exactly easy to pull off correctly.

It can be difficult to create new messages, perfect the placement, and sequence them properly.

To top it all off, the wrong message, to the wrong person, at the right time, can backfire. So there’s a thin margin for error.

The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch. You can see how other successful companies are already doing it. And adapt the same underlying principles to simplify your life.

Here are 9 in-app messaging best practices to increase engagement, reduce churn, and drive up the lifetime-value of each and every customer.

1. Convey a warm welcome to new and returning users

An ideal first day on the new job should be easy.

You’re given a tour, introduced to some people, and start learning.

Ideally, you’re not just immediately thrown to the wolves and expected to produce. It takes time to learn what, exactly, you should be doing.

The same is true of signing up for a new app.

No one likes to waste time on a new site trying to figure things out. That’s why one of the best things you can do is send your customers an in-app welcome message.

Welcome messages are the perfect way for new users to get the hang of your site and help proactively answer any questions that would otherwise be sent to your team.

For example, Evernote's orientation message walk new users through a simple checklist to get started.

Companies like Mention uses a welcome message to give new users information about basic features. The CTA button at the end guides them to their next step.

Mention's welcome message

And remember, your welcome message isn’t limited to text. Pictures, videos, and GIFs can engage new users further and humanize the people behind the product.

Welcome messages aren’t just great for the first user session. A friendly “welcome back” message is super effective for summarizing small UI changes. Here’s an example from Stripe:

Stripe's new dashboard message

2. Choose the right UI pattern for your in-app message

Big messages deserve big announcements. If you’re trying to notify users about pricing updates, it makes sense to put it front-and-center. You want to make sure everyone gets that message. Even if it means you stop them right after logging in.

Other important and time-sensitive information can benefit from a splashy announcement at the right time. Airbnb uses a modal window to direct users to an easier way to book rooms. As long as this message doesn’t show up every search, it’s probably helpful to most users.

Airbnb feature announcement

Full-screen messages command attention, and if the info they communicate really is useful, users won’t mind the short interruption.

For smaller announcements, a simple hotspot might be all it takes.

Your less intrusive and important updates don’t need prime placement. A simple callout in a corner of the screen might be all it takes to get the point across.

For example, this next message on Pipefy targets a dedicated user of the software. That person probably isn’t just “poking around”--they’re using the software to get something done.

They don’t want to be interrupted by a full-screen message.

Instead, they place this message at eye-level, in the upper right-hand corner. It’s not completely distracting, but there’s no missing it, either.

Pipefy message

Users who have the time and are interested in the message’s contents can click on the window to open the full message.

Meanwhile, if you’re trying to alert users to essential or time-sensitive info, you may want to use a message that’s impossible to ignore.

3. Segment audiences and personas

In-app messages allow you to reach your entire user base in one fell swoop.

That doesn’t mean you should, of course.

Because there’s one important point to consider before you send a uniform blast to your ten-thousand-and-something users.

For example, targeted emails have a 208% higher conversion rate over all-out email blasts.

The same applies to in-app messaging: the best results come from segmentation.

Creating target personas allows you to send messages only to customers who meet certain criteria. 

For instance, you can segment to avoid sending news about a downloadable feature to users who have already clicked the link to download it.

That means happier, unagitated customers.

When AdRoll wanted to draw attention to their integration with MailChimp, they built an in-app message and targeted it to customers who used MailChimp. This approach offers a high-value add for the right audience, without annoying the rest of the customer base.

MailChimp's in-app message


4. Time in-app messages precisely

In-app messaging is like dating. Kinda, sorta.

Say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and you blow your chances.

Telling a customer about some new random feature when they’re trying to get started is jumping the gun.

You risk distracting them, annoying them, and worst of all, losing the conversion.

Launching a product design requires a comprehensive messaging campaign that spans across different channels. Timing is crucial to setting expectations beforehand and easing the transition during.

This proactive message from Amplitude gave current users basic info and a sneak peek of Amplitude 2.0:

Amplitude 2.0 announcement

With Appcues, ProdPad sent concise messages to their customers to inform them of updates and help them download new codes.

ProdPad's update your code

In a situation where users won’t be able to operate their accounts without knowledge of a new version, sending the announcement beforehand can help avoid major problems.

After the new version’s release, Amplitude also sent a reactive message to keep users up-to-date:

Amplitude's in-app messaging

Use proactive and reactive messages together to make sure no one misses out on your latest and greatest feature.

If visitors feel you’re sending more info than they have time to read, they’ll ignore whatever seems irrelevant to them or become blind to new messages completely.

5. Give users plenty of options to proceed

Here, Canva uses Appcues to ask brand new users why they signed up for the service.

Canva Appcues user onboarding

 6. Maintain brand consistency

Venveo found that the more consistent your branding is, the more customers will feel they can depend on your business.

In-app messaging is no different than any other part of your brand. Your goal is to keep the appearance and user experience consistent. This helps maintain the uniformity of your brand and lets customers know they are still connected to you.

Start thinking about what you want your message window to look like before you begin creating it. With Appcues, you can adjust both the font and background color to create messaging that’s compatible with your brand.

7. Keep content standards high

Once you have your messaging system set up, you’re ready to start drafting the scripted messages that will be sent to your different target audiences.

Writing an in-app message isn’t much different than writing an email: your content still needs to be concise and engaging for your readers.

When writing your message, keep a few things in mind:

  • If the system you’re using has a place for a headline or subject line, make sure to grab readers’ attention with questions, numbers, or a twist.
  • Coordinate messaging across multiple channels, so you know who already read what.
  • Include a clear call-to-action if appicable .
  • Don’t forget: you can include pictures and videos to make messages more lively.

Savvy Apps uses their on-site messaging copy to engage with new users. This message to new visitors includes a video that introduces them to members of the company and gives them a look at what goes on behind-the-scenes.

Savvy Apps in-app message

At the bottom of the message, an obvious, brand-consistent CTA button appears to guide users to convert. The CTA, “Like what you see? Get in touch” is catchy and clear. The button is large and easy-to-click.

As you brainstorm potential CTAs, try to keep them as concise as you can. According to Urban Airship, the best CTAs are less than 40 characters long.

8. Add links to connect customers to your other channels

In-app messaging is about more than giving orientations and informing users of updates. It’s also a key player when you want to alert users to your other channels.

Think of your segments that have been using your product for a while. They know what they’re doing, they’re benefitting from your product, and they’re likely to rate your services highly.

These are exactly the kind of customers you want to connect to your other channels. Now that you’ve established a good relationship with them, chances are they’ll trust your recommendations.

At the very least, they’ll be willing to follow your link.

Let’s take another look at Amplitude’s in-app messaging system. Regular customers may receive a message like this:

Amplitude's HotSpot in-app message

The message tells users about a way they can get additional services (“SQL access to data”) through another channel. It also provides a CTA (“Contact us”) to easily give interested users their next step.

The CTA button and the accompanying redirect are a vital part of your message. However, make sure the redirect to your other channel isn’t too time-consuming.

Customers who sense that the signup will take a while may return to what they were doing originally before engaging with your other channel.

9. Remember to test and measure results

You test everything. And in-app messages are part of everything.

A/B testing is your way of figuring out whether a message is a hit or miss. You can test anything about your message, down to the smallest detail.

Try out different content, colors, offers, and delivery styles for your messages to see what gets your viewers the most engaged.

A/B testing in-app messaging


(Image Source)Best of all, the fun doesn’t stop with finding the method that works best for you.

Once you have your ideal message, you can (and should) continue to measure how users are responding. Use a closed-loop service that will give you data connected to your different campaigns on impressions, click-throughs, conversions, and lifetime value.

Keeping an eye on this data will prevent you from spending time on a message that’s hurting more than it’s helping.

In-app messaging is never "done"

In-app messaging is never perfect. It’s never “done.”

The trick is to continually refine, tweak, and optimize to squeeze the best engagement with the least interruptions.

Use in-app messages to answer questions, ask for reviews, link to your other channels, explain updates, check in with users, promote special offers, and build your online community.

At the end of the day, you want to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

90% of the battle is being able to answer that question in the first place.

The rest then becomes easy.

Higher engagement means less churn, which then leads to longer retention and higher value per user.

In-app messaging might not be as flashy or fun as SEO or Facebook Ads. But it’s more profitable when done correctly.

Want to become a User Onboarding Master? Check out our free User Onboarding Academy!

Brad Smith is the founder of Codeless, a B2B content creation company. He's a frequent contributor to Kissmetrics, Unbounce, WordStream, AdEspresso, Search Engine Journal, Autopilot, and more. And my articles has been quoted in The New York Times, Inc., Business Insider, The Next Web, Buffer, and more.

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