I’m a heavy user of RSS. Every day, I peruse dozens of websites in my feed reader, searching for content by writers and publishers that have, over many years, created content that appeals to me both professionally and personally. I know this is an unusual habit these days. RSS use has declined, and many sites no longer offer an RSS feed at all. Instead, they rely on Twitter and other social networks. But Twitter isn’t a replacement for RSS — Twitter feeds are too hectic and crowded.
There is no direct replacement for RSS, but push notifications provide some of the immediacy and reliability of RSS for a site’s most committed users — those who want to know as soon as a new piece of content is published.
Typically, this will be a small proportion of the site’s users — those who are happy be interrupted every time an article is published — but the most engaged and loyal users are often happy to opt-in to push notifications.
Web Push Notifications
To be clear, in this article I’m talking about browser push notifications, not the mobile push notifications managed by iOS and Android. It is possible to create WordPress mobile push notifications, but it usually requires users to install an app, either a third-party notification app or an app created for the publisher.
Browser push notifications let users receive notifications while their web browsers are open. Safari, Firefox, and Google Chrome support push notifications on the desktop, and Chrome supports them on Android.
When a user visits a WordPress site that offers push notifications, it will present them with a dialogue asking if they’d like to opt-in to browser notifications. If they choose, they’ll receive notifications whenever an article is published.
There are several web push notification solutions for WordPress, but the one I’ve had most success with is OneSignal, which provides a WordPress plugin. OneSignal offers a custom opt-in message and automatic notifications. It also has a number of useful extras, including the ability to target notifications to segments of your audience, A/B testing, and scheduled notifications.
Don’t Go Nuts With Notifications
Publishers should remember that being allowed to send push notifications is a privilege, and it shouldn’t be abused. I’ve opted-out of many website’s push notifications because the volume of notifications became onerous.
Notifications are great for informing the most engaged readers about your content; they shouldn’t be used to broadcast daily “We miss you!” messages or other promotional messages that are unlikely to have broad appeal. If you overuse push notifications, there’s a good chance of alienating the users who would otherwise be the most engaged and loyal.