Push notifications

Push notifications

Push notifications are clickable, pop-up messages sent by an app to your mobile device or desktop. They are designed to grab user attention and convey time-sensitive or important messages — even when the app is not open.

What are push notifications?

Push notifications, also known as server push notifications, are short text messages sent from apps to mobile devices. They are similar to SMS messages or mobile alerts and appear as a full screen or as a top or bottom banner, depending on the notifications‘ function or goal.

Push notifications were introduced for iOS and Android devices back in 2009 and have since gained massive popularity. 

They serve as a quick communication channel to convey vital information or limited-period offers. Since users don’t have to actively use the app or their mobile phones to receive push notifications, app developers can send them at any time.

The anatomy of push notifications

Push notifications have several elements:

1. Icon: Must be PNG, JPG, or GIF (not animated). Once set, you can’t change it for individual messages. 

2. Title: A short, attention-grabbing one-liner.

3. Content: A concise summary of the offer, written to entice the user to take the intended action.

4. CTA: The desired action the user should take, such as ‘Watch now’ or ‘Reserve your spot!’

Push notifications should ideally be attractive, engaging messages that encourage users to take action, even when they aren’t actively using your app.

Note the title and content must be within the recommended character limit, and you can also add a URL or image if you’d like.

Why sending the opt-in message is critical 

An opt-in message is your first-ever notification to users seeking explicit permission to send push notifications. 

It should communicate the value of your push notifications and then ask users if they want to continue hearing from you in the future. Add users that agree as subscribers and start engaging with them to encourage their return to your app.

Why should you give users the choice to “opt-in?“ 

Users are more likely to trust brands that get approval before sending them any form of brand communication. If you customize your message in a way that clearly reflects 

what’s in it for them, chances are you’ll get their approval rather easily.

Push notifications vs. SMS messages

Push notifications vs. SMS messages

SMS messages are standard text-only messages of up to 160 characters. It’s easy to mix them with push notifications, but both share quite a few differences that make them effective yet distinct marketing tools.

  • Audience: Push notifications target app users only, whereas text messages are for anyone who has opted-in to receive them.
  • Delivery: Users need to install the app to receive a push notification, whereas they have to text a specific phrase to a specific number in order to officially opt-in to text messages.
  • Intent: A push notification is mainly promotional, educational, or location-based, while an SMS is primarily transactional and meant to convey urgent info.

Announcing a surprise sale on footwear is a common example of a push notification — while giving an update on the delivery of the footwear is ideal for a text message.

In-app notifications vs. push notifications

Push notifications vs. In-app notifications

In-app notifications are short in-app messages app creators send to users to draw attention to new features, highlight special offers, and onboard new users. 

Due to their similar look, it’s easy to confuse them with push notifications. But there are several key differences to note:

  • Working principle: Push notifications encourage users to take action at any time, while in-app notifications work only when the app is open.
  • Purpose: Designed to bring an inactive user to the app, push notifications work from the outside. Contrarily, in-app notifications are triggered communication that guides users inside the app.
  • Audience: A push notification targets a potentially disengaged audience who isn’t actively using the app, while an in-app notification focuses on active audience currently using the app.
  • Notification Disablement: Users can turn off push notifications, but not in-app notifications.

A common example of a push notification includes sending an app update, whereas an example for an in-app notification is providing users with recommendations to use a specific feature.

How do push notifications work?

To understand the working, you need to understand three basic terminologies:

  • Operating system push notification service (OSPNS). Each mobile operating system (OS), such as iOS and Android, has its own service.
  • App publisher. After enabling their app with one or more OSPNS, the publisher uploads it to the app store.
  • Client app. An OS-specific app installed on the user’s device that receives all push notifications.

The working of push notifications can be broken down into four phases, with the above components playing crucial roles in each phase.

Phase 1: OSPN registration 

  1. The app publisher registers with the OSPNs.
  2. The OSPN gives the app publisher an application programming interface (API) to allow the app to communicate with the service.
  3. The app publisher adds a software development kit (SDK) to the app, which is a code library specific to the OSPNS.
  4. The app publisher adds the app to the app store.

Phase 2: App installation

  1. The user visits an OS app store and installs the app.
  2. Once the user opens the app, unique identifiers (IDs) for both the app and the device are registered within OSPNS.
  3. The OSPN passes the IDs back to the app and sends them to the app publisher.
  4. The app publishers store the registration details, including the IDs.

Phase 3: Sending push notifications

  1. The app publisher creates a manual message through a message composer user interface (UI). Alternatively, they set up an automated message and send it via the API.
  2. The app publisher defines the audience to send push notifications and decides whether to send the message immediately or schedule it for later.

Note: push notifications can be targeted and personalized to different segments in your user base. But before that, you’ll need user identification data and install a specialized interface for writing, targeting, and sending messages.

Phase 4: Opting-in

Every OSPN has different opt-in processes.

For instance, iOS’s opt-in model requires users to give explicit permission to receive push notifications. Contrarily, Android auto-signs users to receive push notifications, which requires a manual opt-out.

Once the user agrees to receive push notifications, you can start engaging them to bring them to your app.

Types of push notifications

Push notifications are predominantly of four types: mobile app push notifications, web push notifications, desktop push notifications, and wearable device push notifications.

Let’s review them in more detail below.

1 – Mobile app push notifications

Mobile app push notifications

These are the most common type of push notifications triggered by an existing/downloaded app on the user’s device. 

Besides the traditional alerts that stay on screen until the user manually deletes them, mobile app push notifications can also be styled as a banner or badge:

  • Banner notifications are brief messages that pop up on the screen shortly before disappearing. They contain the beginning of a message (in the case of a chat app) or alerts for time-sensitive events.
  • Badge notifications appear as a red badge on the app’s icon. They usually have a number to indicate, such as the number of unread notifications in the app.

Interestingly, the appearance of mobile push notifications differs for iOS and Android users.

For iOS devices, a push notification first appears on the lock screen. Once the device is unlocked, it moves through the Notification Center. For Android devices, however, users have more control. They can set push notification priorities, group them into types, and determine how they appear on their devices. 

2 – Web push notifications

Web push notifications

The user receives these alert messages through: 

  • The desktop web (messages slide in at the top or bottom right-hand side of the desktop screen, depending on the user’s OS), or —
  • Mobile web (similar to mobile app push notifications) any time they‘re active on their browser, regardless of whether they are actually on your website.

Marketers use web push notifications to increase website engagement and encourage visitors to return to their website, helping to increase conversions. 

3 – Desktop push notifications

These notifications help promote customer engagement and are driven by products the user has already installed on their devices. Note you can only send them to users who have downloaded your app on their desktops.

4 – Wearable device push notifications

Wearable device push notifications

Push notifications for wearables are more concise compared to ones for mobile apps, as the former has a smaller screen size. 

Similar to smartphones, users can adjust notification settings for their wearables. They can opt-in to receive notifications from some apps and disable the rest.

Types of push notification campaigns

Push notifications are the digital equivalent of hand-written notes that aim to pique your audience’s interest and emotions. 

Use them to keep your users engaged and interested through the following campaigns:

  • Time-bound push notifications: Send users friendly reminders for specific events to create a sense of urgency. Examples include limited offers, exclusive previews, and flash sales.
  • Reminder push notifications: Remind users about important moments that typically add value to their lives. Examples include reminders to meditate or set an alarm for their morning run.
  • Triggered push notifications: Follow your buyer’s journey and design campaigns based on the user’s real-time behavior in the app. For example, send a congratulatory notification to users who have been using your app for seven consecutive days.
  • Transactional push notifications: Update users about the latest status of their transactions. Examples include reminders for upcoming bill payments or order status updates.
  • Abandoned cart push notifications: Retarget and encourage users to purchase products left in their carts, giving them a gentle push. Examples include polite statements like “Hey, your favorites in your cart are now on sale. Get them today!”
  • Rich push notifications: Include images, audio, videos, and other interactive elements to engage users, enticing them to return to your app or website. Examples include sending weather updates or price alerts.

What are push notifications used for?

Here are the different purposes of push notifications:

1 – Customer engagement and retention

Push notifications keep your app top of mind for your users by engaging them with personalized offers, reminders, and relevant notifications. 

This also helps retain new customers. Case in point — sending an onboarding notification to a newly acquired customer within the first-week results in a 71% increase in app retention rates.

2 – Action-based marketing

Push notifications are a channel where users can take a specific action, say, checking out their abandoned carts or completing onboarding to better use the app. They also serve timely reminders to re-engage with the app or website.

All this, combined with well-timed, segmented messaging and data-driven prep, allows marketers to enhance their mobile marketing efforts and reduce customer churn through push notifications. 

In fact, they can result in 21% higher click-through rates when done right and targeted to specific user segments.

3 – Identity authentication 

Push notifications are one of the most convenient forms of security authentication. Healthcare and online banking companies often use them as an authentication factor before granting users access to the app/website or to sensitive data.

4 – Civic communication

While users have opted out or uninstalled other types of notifications, 37% of them have increasingly engaged with utility push notifications. 

Unsurprisingly, local government bodies and utility agencies also favor them to serve timely updates or urgent news. Common examples include sending local government updates, safety alerts for traffic, weather updates, and power outages alerts.

5 – Connected user experience (UX)

Push notifications bridge the gap between online and offline channels. They help reduce friction along the customer journey by sending real-time transactional notifications to keep users informed about their purchases, thereby creating a seamless omnichannel experience.

This will help you grow a loyal customer base and communicate with your customer base to drive conversions and scale your business.

The benefits of push notifications

Push notifications benefits

Here’s a quick rundown of the most critical benefits of push notifications:

1 – Reach users anytime, anywhere

Push notifications give you the advantage of immediate distribution, helping you cut through the noise and stand out from the competition. 

2 – Engage users with highly personalized content 

Push notifications are the most engaging direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels that can be launched at scale to increase brand awareness, customer attention, and conversion rate — all without breaking the bank. 

This is because you can personalize communication to better resonate with your users. 

For instance, you can send thoughtful reminders to customers who are close to completing an action (think: starting a free trial, renewing a subscription), or provide readers with timely news updates based on their content preferences.

3 – Drive traffic

Push notifications also help drive traffic to your mobile app or website while getting users to continuously engage with your content. 

Case in point — gaming platform GoGy Games launched automated push notifications to send alerts about trending and relevant games according to users’ time zones.

This helped the company drive thousands of new users to their site while successfully reducing bounce rates and increasing session durations. 

4 – Create monetization opportunities

Push messages are guaranteed impressions since users are sure to see them pop up on their screens. This makes them a powerful monetization tool that increases revenue and provides value to advertising partners. 

For example, an apparel brand could sponsor a shopping app’s push notifications to reach target audiences with info about special offers or new products. 

The fact that 75% of customers are open to seeing relevant push notifications further ensures you’re not compromising UX to make more money.

Push notification best practices and strategies 

Let’s review key strategies and best practices to improve your push notifications game.

1 – Create compelling content

Push notifications require compelling content that resonates with your target audience. 

Find out what questions your target audience is asking, and then put out content answering them. Make your copy persuasive through clear and crisp one-liners and CTAs. 

Creating a sense of urgency and FOMO is also helpful to tempt users into completing an intended action.

2 – Use social proof

Include links to places your audience engages with most, such as your website or social media platform. This will serve as proof of your app’s value, enticing others to also become a part of your community. 

Alternatively, you can mention how your existing users are happy and satisfied with your product’s performance.

3 – Segment and customize wherever possible

Add a personal touch to your mobile marketing campaigns by identifying parameters to effectively segment users and then accordingly send specific push messages to increase engagement. 

A/B testing can also be handy to find out which type of push messages best engage your target audience and serve your business and user needs.

4 – Optimize opt-in and opt-out options

The key to a winning push notification that brings results is to engage users with their permission

Give them easy opt-in and opt-out options to weed out any uninterested users and make room for interested ones who are more likely to click and convert. 

Your opt-in messages should clearly communicate the value of your push notifications to generate interest. 

Common push notification mistakes to avoid

Simply knowing the best practices isn’t enough — and you should also be aware of the common mistakes that can set you up for failure.

  • Sending too many push notifications: Push notifications aren’t a numbers game, and quality definitely matters. The right notification frequency will vary from case to case basis, so be more selective with what messages you send and perform A/B tests to understand what “too few“ or “too many“ look like for your business.
  • Not personalizing notifications: Every user is different, and your content should reflect their preferences in order to be valuable to them. Segment your subscriber base into categories based on behavior and characteristics and then personalize messages accordingly. 
  • Skipping onboarding notifications: Push notifications familiarize new users with your app or website. When sent at different intervals, they make it easier for users to effectively explore the app/site and understand its features — so they’re kept engaged for the long haul.
  • Sending notifications manually: Automating your push notification campaign helps save time and creates user delight. Schedule your messages for a certain date and time to achieve maximum engagement, eliminating the possibility of any friction between users and your campaign.
  • Failing to track the right metrics: Marketers tend to only focus on click rates. While they’re important, they aren’t enough. Look into other KPIs like form completion, free trial signups, and purchases — and then determine how many of these are being completed through push notifications. 

Speaking of which…

Push notifications performance metrics

Push notifications performance metrics

Which push notification performance metrics should you track? Let’s find out.

1 – Opt-in rate

Indicating the number of people subscribed to your web or mobile app push notifications. It’s the difference between the number of people who visit your app or website and the number of people who subscribe. 

Opt-in rate tells you how your audience responds to your opt-in message and gives you insights to configure it so it resonates better with your users.

2 – View rate

This metric refers to the number of people who saw your notification out of the total number of people who received it. 

While viewing isn’t the same as clicking, view rate is still a valuable metric to know whether your users notice your messages. If they aren’t, try refining your notifications by applying relevant push notification best practices.

3 – Click rate

The click or click-through rate indicates the percentage of people who saw and clicked on your push notification to check out your content. While the average click rates vary depending on the industry, you should aim for a CTR of at least 28%.

4 – Push notification revenue

Increased revenue is often the primary marketing goal, so it makes sense to track how much revenue each notification generates, especially if you own an ecommerce app or website. 

5 – Opt-out rate

This metric shows how many users unsubscribe from your push notifications, helping you gauge the effectiveness of your content and timings of your campaign. 

Note that unsubscribes will happen. Your main focus should be to lower the number if it’s too high or spiking, but if it’s negligible, don’t waste your time trying to achieve a zero rate.

Key takeaways

  • Push notifications are short text messages sent from app publishers to users’ mobile devices. Users don’t have to actively use the app or their mobile phones to receive them.
  • Push notifications create a quick communication channel that helps brands convey time-sensitive and vital information effectively and promptly.
  • Every push notification campaign needs an opt-in process to get users’ explicit approval to receive messages from you. Sending customized opt-in messages that clearly communicate the value of your push notifications makes them more likely to give their consent.
  • Sending too many push notifications or non-personalized notifications are the most common reasons users unsubscribe. On the flip side, automating push notification campaigns is recommended to achieve maximum engagement.
  • Opt-in rate, view rate, click rate, revenue, and opt-out rate are excellent metrics to determine the effectiveness of your push notification messages and overall campaign.

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