When to use

In-product notifications help us give customers the right message at the right time in the right place.

Notifications can be about new features, bug fixes, confirmations of work the customer completed, reminders of work they need to do, business insights, and other guidance.

We surveyed our users to see what kinds of notifications they want to see. In order of importance, the results indicated that customers want to see notifications that tell them:

  1. The latest QuickBooks features and fixes
  2. Tips and tricks to help them get the most out of QuickBooks /li>
  3. Messages and reminders that help them get work done
  4. Business insights and milestones

Notifications give users new, pertinent information in one place.

  • Notifications don’t take the place of in-line messages, such as error messages or confirmation toasts.
  • Notifications are not marketing opportunities.
  • Notifications link the user into the product or to an external page, so they should include a call to action.

Before you start writing a notification

Because many teams across our product are working on awesome stuff, they may look to in-product notifications as the way to get the word out about said awesome stuff. As a content designer, you’ll be called upon to give your feedback (and/or to write the notification itself).

You’re also going to help folks figure out if a message should be a notification in the first place. To help figure that out, ask your stakeholders or project leaders these questions.

  • Is this a new feature or capability we haven’t told users about? In other words, is this actual news?
  • Is this a message that requires immediate attention or action?
  • Can we cleanly, quickly, effectively communicate this in a few words?
  • Is there an action users can take once we’ve shown them this message?
  • Is an in-product notification the only way to communicate this message? Would customers prefer to see it in a different channel (email, in-line message, in-product discovery)?

If your team answers yes to these questions and everyone has determined that a notification is the way to go, keep a few points in mind as you craft the content.

What makes a good notification?

Keep in mind some basic intents and content pointers.

  • It’s short and to the point. Sure, you have a 110-character limit, but ask yourself if you need to push it to that limit. Usually you don’t.
  • It has a clear action. The call to action should be enticing, clear, strong, and punchy—leading the user to a place where they can easily get something done, learn something beneficial, or fix something—in one click.
  • It’s used sparingly. Not everything is worth an announcement. If we overdo it, we’ll create a sense of both annoyance and distrust in our customers.
  • It helps users get work done. That’s why they’re in our product, after all.
  • It educates users about something new that will benefit them. Everyone wants to learn about something that will make their jobs easier or quicker.
  • It tells them when something’s been fixed. Let the user know we’re constantly working to improve their experience.
  • It gets out of their way. Notifications are only there to inform, to gently remind, or to give the user a starting point to get something fixed or done.

Writing a notification

Some structural limitations apply to notifications.

  • Ideal body-copy length: 75 characters; maximum length, 110 characters. Try to limit the notification to no more than 2 lines.
  • Ideal call to action length: 20 characters; maximum length, 30 characters.

Notifications don’t have a headline or heading phrase.
Don’t: Better connections. We made some fixes to your banking page.

Notifications contain links only at the bottom of the notification.

Don’t: We just made some fixes to your banking page. Go here to learn what’s new.

Do: We made some fixes to your banking page to make it easier to see everything at a glance. Learn more

Voice and tone for notifications

All our voice and tone principles apply to all the content we create, but three of them are especially aligned to crafting notifications:

  • Speak their language. When we talk with our customers, it’s a human-to-human conversation. We use everyday words and phrases to earn trust and build confidence.
  • Focus on the payoff. Any task is hard work when the goal isn’t clear. Explain why it matters, not just what needs to be done. A little perseverance up front lightens the load later on.
  • Keep it simple. Our customers are busy. We’re here to help, not get in their way. We understand their goals and give them just what they need to move forward.

Notifications and criticality

There are three levels of urgency that inform not only the content but also the visual style of our product messaging overall and notifications in particular.

Neutral

These notifications aren’t urgent. These neutral messages are described as “good to know” or as a “heads-up” that helps our customer do things better.

Example: We made some fixes to your banking page so you can see everything at a glance. Learn more

The bulk of our notifications will fall under the “neutral” level of criticality.

Needs attention

These messages let users know they might lose or gain something depending on their action (click, read, review, etc.).
Example: We’re making some improvements to the Square deposit process. Please confirm the bank account you use. Learn how

Critical

These urgent messages let users know there’s a system issue or they will lose something significant (money, data, etc.) depending on their action (click, read, review, etc.). These notifications are often (but not always) time-sensitive.

Example:
The credit card used for your QuickBooks account has been declined. Confirm your info or update your account to use all your QuickBooks features. Fix it

Style and criticality

For critical notifications, avoid scaring the customer with ALL CAPS (which are almost never appropriate) or words such as URGENT! Don’t use exclamation points.
Remember our proactive champion voice. This is especially fitting for “Needs attention” notifications. Think of us as giving gentle reminders, which can escalate slightly in tone as a deadline approaches or as a needed action hasn’t been taken.

Process and governance

Once we’ve settled on the content for a notification, what’s next? How does that notification move from the dev, marketing, and/or PM world into ours, and finally into the product?

To write and publish a notification, follow this “3D process”: Define, draft, and deploy.

Define

Who
PMs, marketers, other stakeholders

What

  • Identify use case (what triggers this notification?)
  • Define targeting (who does this affect?)
  • Determine criticality (how urgent?)
  • Establish release date and shelf life (when should we launch? And for how long?)

How

  • Work with the assigned content designer on the Draft phase
  • If no content designer is assigned to their project, find one using office hours
  • Proceed to the draft phase

Draft

Who
Content designers

What

  • Work with stakeholders to outline initial content
  • Adhere to character limits and voice and tone guidelines
  • Send final content to stakeholders for review

How

  • Use a Google document to capture the content, comments, and edits.
  • The stakeholder will take it from there, moving it to the Deploy phase.

Deploy

Who
Customer communications and notifications team

What

  • Once all the info is received from the Define phase stakeholders, do final quality checking and content review
  • Load and launch the notification based on defined target/use case

How
Complete the work in the campaign manager tool.