What Are Push Notifications?

As a small business owner, you may be concerned about communicating clearly with your current customers and potential customers. One easy way to keep your customers engaged is with push notifications.

What Are Push Notifications?

Before you can even think about using push notifications to improve your company’s communications and potentially advance your business, you need to understand what these notifications are and how they are used.

These alerts were originally created and popularized with the BlackBerry mobile devices popular years ago. Notifications were sent when users had new emails delivered to their inboxes. Today, however, the alerts are less frequently used for emails.

In its essence, a push notification is a brief message or alert that is sent through an installed app to everyone who has installed the app and who has enabled the receipt of these messages. It does not matter whether you have an iPhone, an Android or any other brand of phone; you can still receive these notifications and so can anyone to whom you want to send your business communications. To provide more accessibility, the app does not have to be open at the time of the notification in order for the message to be visible. This allows you to reach a wide range of people by “pushing” your message to an entire group at the same time.


How push notifications are used depends largely on the type of business running the app. A few of the most common uses, across various business demographics, include:

  • Automated bank alerts
  • Event reminders
  • Gaming updates
  • Marketing offers
  • Breaking news
  • Weather alerts
  • Order updates
  • Location-based messages
  • Travel plan changes

Even though these are some of the most frequent ways that push notifications are used, they are not the only ones. You can tailor your alerts to fit your type of business and the needs of your company.

What Makes Push Notifications So Great?

Push notifications provide important information in a format unlike traditional emails or text messages. When you send an email, it travels from your account to another person’s inbox, and it waits there until that recipient chooses to read it. If it goes to that person’s junk or spam folder, it may never be seen at all. When you send a text message, it travels directly to the other person’s phone, but there is a limit to the number of people you can text at once, and you may make potential customers’ contact information visible to each other.

Both emails and text messages can be somewhat intrusive to potential clients. Many people do not want businesses contacting their personal email accounts or telephone numbers directly because it feels invasive. However, sending push notifications through a neutral, downloaded app is a different story.

Mobile Marketing At Its Best

The aim of marketing campaigns has changed a lot over time, going from word-of-mouth recommendations to print ads to radio and television spots. These days, mobile marketing is rapidly becoming the most important aspect of reaching a wide range of clients and potential customers.

With digital technology directly in their pockets at all times of the day, customers expect the news of discounts and sales to come to them rather than seeking out such deals themselves. This is where using push notifications can really improve advertising campaigns; you are taking the burden of finding information from your customers and shouldering it yourself.

Customers Choose Their Apps


Customers do not download apps for brands or companies that they do not like. If they are going to make room for your app on their cell phones that they carry and check multiple times a day, they want to hear from you because they are already interested in your business, products and services.

Responsys, a global marketing company based in California, found in a survey that 6 in 10 adults have already downloaded the apps provided by their favorite brands. Within that group, Responsys also discovered that 7 in 10 adults have enabled the push notifications on those apps. When Responsys applied the same question to teens, those numbers were even higher.

So how does this study influence your business?

Consider this example: A customer name Rose goes to the same grocery store every week for her groceries. She never deviates from this store because she likes the quality of the products, she trusts the staff and she appreciates the pricing. Rose goes to the app store to download a coupon app to help her save more on her groceries. There is an app for her favorite grocery store and an app for a competitor also in her town. Obviously, she is going to download the app for her favorite store and ignore the competitor’s offering.


Because Rose has chosen her store’s app, she now receives push notifications when her favorite items are on sale. When bananas and milk drop, she gets a message automatically to her phone. Rose smiles and heads to the grocery store two days earlier than her usual shopping day to take advantage of this sale. While she is at the store, she finds an additional sale on a new type of cereal, on fresh bread and on her favorite brand of cheese. She purchases the bananas and milk that she went to the store to get, but she also buys the extra items. Rose is happy with her purchases, and the store is happy to have picked up more business.

Rose would not have gone to her favorite grocery store on this day if she had not gotten that push notification about the sale on two items that she already needed. The grocery store was going to get her business for those two items, but her interest in the three extras only added to the benefit of this business transaction. Getting Rose through the door led to more sales and higher profits for this store. Converting communication into transactions is the beauty of push notifications.

Increasing Customer Engagement and Retention


As part of its survey, Responsys also inquired about why customers download apps for their favorite brands and services. The reasons provided by shoppers include (with the percentage of responders in parentheses):

  • To gain access to sales and exclusive offers (50%)
  • To keep track of order status (44%)
  • To review and manage rewards or loyalty account (38%)
  • To access the brand while on the go (36%)
  • To receive timely notifications about flash sales, product availability and other product information (34%)
  • To look up a specific store’s inventory (31%)
  • To stay up-to-date with available products or services (29%)
  • To receive location-based notifications (28%)
  • To receive better user experience than the website (25%)

Analytics and marketing group Localytics, in partnership with Research Now, developed a survey to determine the overall feeling of users about push notifications. Over half of the respondents mentioned that they generally find push notifications to be an annoying distraction. This may seem like gloom and doom for these alerts, but this means that half of the survey pool still found push notifications to be helpful and interesting.

In a separate study, Localytics discovered that the users with push notifications installed on their mobile devices showed an 88% increase in business engagement. In addition, the companies who utilized push notifications with their customers enjoyed a retention rate three times higher than those who did not have these notifications.

In fact, this significant increase in user retention is part of what helps businesses avoid the dreaded act of download-and-ignore. There is a prevalent idea among many mobile users that they can download an app, look at it and never open it again. While this is absolutely possible, it is not what any business has in mind when it creates an app and makes it available to the masses. However, an average of 65% of users re-open an app within 30 days of its initial download when they are receiving useful push notifications, according to Localytics.

How Do Push Notifications Work?

All of these benefits sound good, but for many businesses, the main question is how do you use push notifications to improve your marketing and overall sales?

There are three main parts that are required to deliver a push notification, and there is a fourth option that will provide more functionality:

  1. Operating system push notification service (OSPNS) – There is a different operating system service for each mobile system, such as for Apple and Android, so you will need to choose your type.
  2. App publisher – Your app publisher works in tandem with the OSPNS and uploads the app to the app store for use.
  3. Client app – This is the app that your customers will download onto their mobile devices to receive your push notifications. The client app is operating system-specific, depending on the type of device.
  4. Software development kit (SDK) – This code installed in an app is an optional part of the process, but it will allow you to use segmentation and targeted notifications. It will also track analytics to help you create more successful alerts.

Once these parts are all in order, you can begin getting customers to agree to push notifications.

Earn The Customers’ Trust

Customers must first learn to trust the app enough to allow the notifications to reach their cell phones and other mobile devices. However, survey group Localytics has found this trust to be increasingly more difficult to earn with the average opt-in rate for push notifications down to 49.8% in 2015 from 52% in 2014.

While this may sound bleak, it really is not as bad as it seems. What this data shows is that you must work a little harder to really gain the acceptance and trust of your customers.

One of the first and biggest ways that companies lose trust and turn their clients away from push notifications is by forcing those users to decide whether to sign up for alerts right away. For example, when a customer downloads a new app, the first question is often, “Do you want to sign up for push notifications?” If the customer has not had the opportunity to interact with the app, he probably will not trust it and will turn off the alerts. Once the alerts are off, very few customers reverse this decision and allow alerts later.

Rather than forcing a new user to decide as soon as the app is downloaded, set your app to not ask about push notifications until the user has visited the app a set number of times. If a customer has opened and used the app five or six times, he has gotten a feel for the way it works and whether or not it is trustworthy to receive messages. At that point, you can ask, “Do you want to sign up for push notifications?” The answer is much more likely to be positive.

Deciding that you are just going to start using push notifications is does not mean that you will automatically use them successfully. To get the most out of your messaging, you need to consider the many different types of notifications available as well as the best ways that they can be utilized.

The Simple Push Notification

This is the most basic type of notification. If you send a simple push, it goes out to every app user right away. You choose to use a simple push when the alert needs to be sent at the moment to deliver the most information. For example, if you run a television station, and you are about to have a special guest, you could send a simple push to let everyone know that they should tune in for that guest. Similarly, a clothing boutique could send out a simple push for a flash sale happening that day.

The Scheduled or Recurring Push Notification

You have the option to create messages or alerts but to not send them right away. If you are planning to have a weekend sale, and it is only Monday, you can prepare your message in advance but not send it until Thursday or Friday before the sale begins. Having the message prepared ahead of time and scheduled through the app timer to send on a later date saves you worry that you will forget to do it. In addition to setting up a message for a specific send date and time, you could also set the notification to recur. This means, for example, that you could send the same message every Wednesday at 10:00 for your evening Trivia Night, your daily cycling class or whatever regular event applies to your business.

The Local Push Notification

Speaking of paying attention to time zones, you may also want to consider using a local push notification. By applying this type of notification, you can set the time that you want to send your alert, such as 3:00 P.M., and all of your users will automatically receive the notification at 3:00 P.M. in their local time zone. With this type of notification, you do not have to worry about determining which users are in which time zones; the app will do it for you, and you will not send unwanted, middle-of-the-night messages.

The Geo-Fence or Hyper Local Push Notification

Most apps will allow you to create virtual perimeters around specific geographic locations and then send push notifications just to your app users currently within that perimeter. Geo-fence pushes are excellent for catching the attention of passers-by who may benefit from your services or products. For example, if you had a massage therapy business, you could use geo-fence pushes to remind people within your geographic perimeter that it might be nice to get a relaxing message today. You could promote a fundraiser, charity event or upcoming concert series easily with geo-fencing too.

The Targeted or Segmented Push Notification

This is probably the most underutilized but most effective type of push notification. When people start using push notifications, they typically type a message and send it out to everyone who uses the app. However, a lot of those customers receiving the message will not be interested in the alert, will be annoyed to have received it and may be interested in turning off the notifications. If you have a message that would benefit only a portion of your customers, a targeted push is much more effective. You can create segmented groups of users and then track their interests, behaviors and effect on your business to figure out who would best value your messages. For example, if you are having a sale that of kid-related items, you should only send an alert about the sale to those who have children and not to everyone subscribed to your app. If you have a group of users who have not opened your app in a very long time, you can target those users with a special sale offer or other incentive to entice them back to your business. By separating these customers from the masses, you will keep your alerts relevant and targeted.

Extra Options For Notifications

Push notifications have truly come a long way since they were first introduced. Those rudimentary alerts have evolved to include many other options in addition to a notification:

  • Display a short text message – You should keep your push messages short and to the point. You want to catch the attention of your customers and give them all the information that they need as quickly and clearly as possible. In order to keep the entire message on the screen at once, adhere to this general rule: Keep your message to 60 to 90 characters for Android users and no more than 120 characters for iPhone customers.
  • Play a notification sound – Most notification sounds are less than 30 seconds in length and are used to catch the attention of your customers who have subscribed to your app service. Typically the sound is used as a method to direct attention to your text message, badge number or possible actions. If you decide to use a sound, make sure it is one that is recognizable and unique so that your users know that it is your app sending them a notification without even looking at the screen. This method works best when you are not overwhelming your users with alerts multiple times a week; too much repetition of the alert sound could turn your customers away.
  • Set a badge number on the app’s icon – You can use push notifications to create a little number in the corner of the app icon. This number, known as a badge, lets your customers know that you have sent a message or alert that can be checked at their convenience. The badge is an unobtrusive way to remind the people who are receiving your alerts that you have something to tell them.
  • Provide actions the user can take – As tempting as it may be to make it impossible for your users to refuse or disable your push notifications, you have to make it possible. In fact, you need to make it easy for your customers to turn the alerts off and on whenever they would like to change the settings. Giving these options to your users helps build their trust with you, your app and your business.
  • Remain silent but allow the app to perform a task in the background – Your app can provide a completely silent alert but still add a coupon or advertisement to the app information. For example, you do not have to have a sound effect with your notification, but you could insert a badge number to indicate that something in the app has changed. When your users click on the app, they will then find a special coupon code that they can use in store or online. This is an excellent way to provide benefits to your users without being too pushy.

Providing Options When a Notification is Received

It is important to remember that when your users receive your push notifications, it is unlikely that they are just sitting on the couch waiting for a message like yours to arrive and to spur them into new action. In fact, most alerts are received while the contacted customers are on the move and engaged in another activity, such as driving or having a meeting. Therefore, it is imperative that users be given options in the ways in which they can respond to the notifications.

Successful alerts will provide the important information, but they will also give choices for immediate actions, says marketing guru Dinesh Vernekar. For example, if you send a message about an online flash sale at your website, you need to give your message receivers options for what to do with that information. You can provide a button under the alert that allows your users to save the information to be reviewed at a later time, or you could provide a link that goes directly to your online store so your customers can check out the sale. Both of these options encourage engagement in your business, but they also allow your users to access the information again at a time that might be more convenient for them.

How can push notifications be used more effectively?

Nearly any business can adopt push notifications and intend to improve marketing and sales, but not all companies use them effectively. If you want to increase customer engagement, and therefore conversions to sales, consider these tips for better notifications:

Make Your Notifications Important & More Relevant

Any notification texts you send must be focused and relevant to your type of customer. Consider these messages like Twitter or Facebook posts used to catch attention and to quickly convey a message. You want to engage your ideal customers and make them want to find out more about your message rather than turn them off with meaningless alerts. As Neil Patel indicates, you need to let people manage their own lives and only send them relevant updates.

Consider Your Business Analytics & Integrate The Learnings Them Into Your Messages

Your relevancy to your customers can increase easily if you pay attention to your business analytics. Figure out what specific segments of your customers you want to reach by tracking your sales and your customers’ interests. Find out what your customers are currently buying and what they want to buy but have not yet purchased. Looking at and tracking these metrics will help you determine the best alerts to convert to sales.

Choose Your Messages Carefully

Even if you have information that you think your customers should know, resist the urge to send out an alert immediately. Think about what you want to say and determine its relevance and importance before you send it. Even though your customers signed up for your push notifications, they did not sign up for daily or multiple-times-a-day messaging. If you communicate too frequently, you will turn your users away. Keep your communications appropriate and opportune and not overwhelming.

Find Different Ways To Use Your Notifications

Of course your customers want to know about special offers or deals, but you can use your alerts to convey other information as well. Businesses use Twitter and Facebook to advertise events, to post interesting but relevant articles and to generate general curiosity about their products. You can do this with push notifications too.

Don’t Ignore The Importance Of Word Choices

Once you have decided what important, relevant information your message will contain, do not forget to choose your wording carefully. Focusing on personalized and actionable language is just as important to the conversion success of your message. You want to motivate your app users to action in addition to providing information. Use words that convey urgency, such as “today only” or “one-time event,” and a relevant detail to your target audience.

Avoid Annoying Push Notifications


One of the fastest ways to turn off your audience of customers is to send far too many irrelevant or annoying push notifications. There is not an exact number of how many is too many messages, but Localytics’ survey found it to be somewhere between two and five message sin a week. Once a user has disabled the messaging, it is exceptionally difficult to get him or her to reverse this decision.

Of course you want to keep your customer base informed, and of course you want to keep these users interested in your business. However, pushing too many alerts can be overwhelming and can turn away the very people you want to entice. Today’s mobile users have dozens of apps installed on their devices, and they get push notifications from many of these apps. They can easily become inundated with too many messages, and you do not want to be part of that turn-off.

You also have to make sure that you send your notifications at an appropriate time of day. No one wants to read your push notification, no matter how exciting or helpful it is, when it arrives at 5:00 in the morning. Similarly, if you are having a happy hour-type sale, it does not help your potential customers if you send the push notification on the weekend or late in the evening.

As always, remember that you are giving a professional picture of yourself and your business. Be careful that you do not post anything that includes inappropriate language, off-color remarks or anything else that may be deemed offensive. Being politically correct in your push notifications is as important as it is in any of your other marketing practices. As long as you stay focused on the message that you want to convey about your business, you should not have anything to worry about in this regard.

Ready To Begin Using Push Notifications?

Sending well-crafted, relevant messages in a timely manner to people who are already interested in your business is an excellent marketing strategy. Through careful planning and focus on your business goals, you can use push notifications to grow and retain your customer base.