Most smartphone users experience push notifications on a daily basis. Bank card payments, a new reaction or comment on social media, a notification about a sale, and so on. All these messages help to better interact with users. In this article, we are going to take a look at how push notifications work, what they are, and how they can help your business.

Push notifications are short pop-up messages informing about something important. Their key feature is that such messages arrive even when a mobile app or a browser is closed, and this is what makes push notifications different from in-app messages

With the help of push notifications, you can return the user to the app or website to complete the purchase (abandoned cart reminder), report the order or payment status, talk about special offers and sales, etc.

Push messages are more personalized than traditional text messages or emails, but they have to be short and succinct. Such messages appear on top of all windows or in the notification center, so their visibility is higher.

Why Are Push Notifications Important?

There are literally thousands of apps that are being submitted to the app stores every day. This has not just increased the choices a user has when it comes to using an app, it has also resulted in most of them suffering from very high churn rates. According to a report by Airship, most apps lose almost 90% of their users during the first month. Additionally, the report studied over 200 apps. The researchers found that 30% of Android apps and 15% of iOS apps didn’t send any push notifications to their users during the 90 days from the first opening. Of those users, only 5% continued to use the apps during those 90 days.

If you want the users to keep coming back to your app or make it their go-to during break time, you need to remind them of what it does and how they were loving it in the last session they had. That’s where using push notifications for user retention comes in.  

As a study by WebEngage reports, push messages can increase a mobile app’s open rate by almost 26% and boost the retention rate by almost 92%.

Simply put, push notifications serve as a 1:1 communication channel between an app developer or marketer, and a user. And in times when a user wants to feel valued, this communication is exactly what you need to hold them back from venturing out to try other apps or games.

Benefits of Push Notifications for Mobile Apps 

1. They keep the users engaged

With so many apps getting launched in the stores, it’s really important to consistently communicate with users. Especially when the fascination with an app can end after the first few weeks of installation.

Messages that are relevant to the user’s actions can encourage engagement almost instantly. Repeating the same week on week can lead to higher user retention with push notifications.

Read more: User Engagement Explained: What It Is and 8 Ways to Boost It

2. They give you insights into a user’s behaviour

It is possible to track push notifications in real-time. With GetSocial you can track the messages, the interaction times, devices, and platforms they are accessed on. You can also analyze which of them brought maximum engagement and retention.

Sending push notifications regularly can help understand when, where, why, and how your users are interacting with the app. This further enables app developers and marketers to create personalized user journeys, leading to higher user retention rates.  

3. They have a higher response rate than emails

Push notifications have a 97% higher response rate as compared to emails. Simply because when you send an email to your users, you expect them to first consume the content you send and then move to your app. That’s too long a process for an app session.

In the case of a push notification, the user consumes the message in seconds and goes directly to the right screen in the app.

4. They make the user feel in control

A lot of app developers believe that using push notifications might turn away their users. But push notifications offer total control to the users and don’t hamper their experience in any way. On iOS and Android starting from version 13, users can choose if they want to receive push notifications from apps. It is also possible to change the general push notification settings to customize how and where the user wants to see the messages.

With solutions like GetSocial’s social notifications, users are notified about social events in your app, for instance when someone has reacted to or commented on their activity post, or when their invited friend has started using the app. Such push notifications have proven to increase day 30 retention by 3-10X.

5. They make communication easy

Be it announcing a new update, a new feature, or suggesting the user an in-app purchase at a special discount, push notifications make it easy for you to reach out to your users ‘instantly’. All you need to focus on in this case is personalizing your messages per user.

6. They have a high conversion rate

Modern data collection technologies make it possible to segment information about users, making it possible to create individual offers. And the more relevant the message, the higher the likelihood that they will read it and go to the app or web page.

7. They create a contact with the user 

Push notifications establish contact with new users and maintain the interest of existing ones. For example, it is convenient for new users to communicate important information with a short and quick push.

Web Push Notifications vs. App Push Notifications

The key difference is that mobile push notifications come from apps whereas web push notifications are sent by websites through the user’s browser and there’s no need to install the app.

The browser push notification technology is more complex than that of push notifications from mobile apps. Sending a message from a website to the user when they have already left it requires a chain of actions associated with external resources. That is, a website server sends a notification to the cloud message server, from where the message comes to the user’s browser (if they have previously subscribed to the mailing list).

How Do Push Notifications Work?

From the user’s side, everything is simple – in the app or on the website, they give permission to send push notifications. Push notifications appear on top of all windows that the user opens and remain on the device screen for some time (depending on the operating system). 

The push algorithm is typically as follows:

  1. The user opens an app or a website.
  2. A popup appears on the screen in which the user must allow or deny the sending of push notifications.
  3. If the user allows, push notifications are displayed on the screen of a smartphone or computer, even if the web resources are currently closed.

But from the implementation side, everything is a little more complicated:

  1. The user sees the content in the app or on the website.
  2. After the opt-in, an individual ID is created.
  3. The server receives a data package about the user, which helps it to personalize the user and the device.
  4. The user receives notifications that match their ID in the background through the notification center.

One of the advantages of push notifications is that the users do not need to enter personal data during the opt-in. At the same time, the opt-out is quite simple. On a smartphone, the users can do it in the app or phone settings. In the browser, they can do it by right-clicking the notification and selecting “Disable” (names may vary in different browsers). It is also possible to deactivate all messages from websites in browser settings.

How Do Push Notifications Work on iOS and Android?

Until Android 13, the main difference between the mechanism of push notifications on iOS and Android was the user’s permission to opt-in for push messages on iOS. However, Android now also requires permissions starting from version 13, which was released on August 15, 2022. 

Other differences include the following:

  • There are many more push notification settings on iOS than on Android. It is possible to set up the sound that informs about a new message and badges that indicate the number of notifications in the top right corner of the app icon. On Android, there is no built-in system for displaying pushes, so it is all up to the developer.
  • Push notifications for iOS and Android have different user engagement patterns. Push notification on iOS is visible on the lock screen, but after the user unlocks their device, the message disappears and can be found in the notification centre. On Android, push notifications remain on the screen after the user unlocks their device. Android users have to take action to remove them from the screen. This gives app developers more engagement opportunities.
  • On iOS 12 and later, it is possible to group notifications by app and time, but it is not possible on Android.

Types of Push Notifications

Depending on the device, push notifications are divided into mobile and browser-based.

Mobile push notifications appear as a banner at the top, on the lock screen, or directly in the notification center. It is possible to configure notifications on the smartphone for each app. Because for iOS, notifications are only possible from apps. On Android smartphones, push notifications can also come from mobile browsers.

Browser notifications appear on the lower right side of the computer desktop. If it is a mobile browser, they pop up like mobile push notifications from the top of the screen.

These types differ only in size because the principle of their work is the same.

The classification of push messages depends on the data they contain:

  • Content: information about new posts, sales, news, promotional codes, etc. That is, about the data that may interest the user and lead to the app or website. Such notifications work well with mailings about promotions or sales. With the right approach, interesting content will also attract the attention of users to the app or website.
  • Transactional: technical messages about making a payment or changing the order status. Everyone who uses Internet banking, taxi, and delivery services receives transactional messages. They are considered the most useful, so users are more likely to subscribe to them.
  • Trigger: personalized messages that require a response from the user. For example, an e-commerce app can notify about an abandoned cart or encourage the user to return to the app if it has not been used for a long time. 
  • About the actions of other users. These messages look like trigger ones because most often the user will go to the app to respond to a comment, for example. These messages include all notifications from social media. For example, someone published a new post for the first time in a long time. Or a new person signed up, commented on the post, liked it, sent a private message, etc. Most likely, after such notifications, the user will go to the app to explore new content.

Examples of Push Notifications

Today, app developers and marketers experiment with different approaches to make push notifications work for them. They are not just sending out reminders or promotions, but also focusing on engaging their users. Let’s take a look at some interesting and creative examples of push notifications.

1. 8tracks

One of the most popular radio apps shows you how important it is for a brand to maintain a consistent personality across all communication channels. They use a bright, bubbly tone in their push notification messages, to ensure their users are pleasantly surprised.

But what they also keep in mind at the same time, is how to get to the point before they lose the user’s interest. Simply put, a mix of quirkiness and offering a direct value proposition, can be the cocktail to success!  

2. Dunkin’ Donuts

One of the most important elements of a highly successful push notification is the relevance of the message. Dunkin’ Donuts is doing a fine job here with personalization. Considering the local weather conditions, they reach out to their users with a value proposition that tempts them to stock up on coffee and be prepared. What we also like, is how they are not being too pushy and use a simple ‘stay warm’ to drive an action from the user.

3. The Bump

A cute example of push notifications is from The Bump app. It uses the available user information, resources, and tools, to monitor the pregnancy on a weekly basis. While their message is really heavy on numbers and facts, their way of writing makes it engaging.

The weekly notification updates about the size of the baby and the valuable in-app content have made thousands of users fall in love with them.

4. Netflix

When you want to keep your users engaged for a longer time and prevent them from churning, you need to understand their in-app journey. This should include what interests them the most, what they are interacting with, and where they often end their session. That’s what Netflix has always been doing!

They keep push notifications absolutely to the point and based on the shows that the user has seen.

5. 1800Flowers and Pull & Bear

Push notifications serve as one of the most effective channels to recover abandoned carts. You just need to time the messages right and offer a compelling discount that nudges the user to complete the purchase. We also really like how they include a little emoji of a flower in the middle here. Doesn’t it all just add up to their brand and the overall message?

Another example that we’d like to share here, is from Pull&Bear. They use push notifications to promote their limited period offers – even if it is free shipping. The message is kept simple, informative, and actionable.

6. Fancy Dogs

You probably check your Facebook and Instagram feed every other hour; and sometimes, even minutes. The reason is that you’re eager to know what your social circle is up to and get up-to-date with what’s trending amongst them. The same holds true for your app or game as well.

Fancy Dogs uses social push notifications to re-engage players, by notifying them of activity on their feeds. This includes likes and comments on their posts.

7. Chillr

This mobile banking app uses push notifications to drive users toward the completion of app-related tasks. As a result, it delivers a better user experience and reminds them not only about the app but also about its features.

8. Tinder

The popular online dating app is pushing a rather “provocative” message to users when someone swipes right to indicate interest. The “Probably not gonna work out, though” part may challenge the user and spark their interest in the new match.

9. Lyft

The taxi app Lyft sends this notification at the end of the working day, presenting a Lyft ride as an easy way for the user to reward themselves.

There are different ways to use push notifications for user engagement and user retention. But at the core of it, lies how engaging you can make the message and how relevant it is to the user at the time you send it. This calls for creating a push notification strategy that circles around the user journey, keeping in mind your app’s conversion goals.

Making the Most out of Push Notifications

Push notifications are clearly one of the most effective communication channels for apps and games. But if gone wrong, they can also result in you losing your users.

This is why it is important for developers and marketers to consistently measure the results of their push notification campaigns. Based on the data, they should be able to further identify what messages they engage with the most and how they can optimize them to nudge more actions. Digging deeper into data can also help segment your users more effectively and create better push notification campaigns.