Push Notifications: The Ultimate Guide

Push notifications are a communication channel built into every mobile device sold today.

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What are push notifications?

Push notifications are small, pop-up messages sent to a user’s device by a mobile app that appear even when the app isn't open. These notifications are designed to grab attention and can convey reminders, updates, promotions, and more.

Push notifications can consist of a title, a message, an image, and a URL. They can also include logos, emojis, and other elements. Push notifications look different across distinct operating systems, such as Google Android and Apple OS. Learn more about the design and anatomy of a push notification.

Web push mentions and followers

Why Use Them?

Push notifications are a powerful mobile-first communication channel that can reach app users anytime, whether or not they are in your app, to capture their attention and reengage them.

Mobile push notifications, or push notifications sent to mobile devices, can complement your use of channels such as email, SMS, and web push notifications with a variety of unique benefits. Mobile push notifications are the most popular type of push notification and are often referred to simply as “push notifications” or “push.”

6 Things push notifications can help you achieve:

Increase Message Visibility

Ensure that your messages are immediately seen, even when users are inactive. Send time-sensitive messages and create a seamless user experience.

Drive Retention

Use highly visible push alerts to remind your users to come back. Boost your website and app retention and combat churn by re-engaging users with push.

Increase User Engagement

Engage your users with updates and new content.

Boost Conversions

Increase sales by designing push campaigns around in-app rewards, promos, discounts, or other deals.

Create a Connected User Experience (UX)

Reduce friction along the customer journey by sending transactional notifications to keep users informed and create a seamless cross-channel experience.

Scale With Your Business

As your audience grows, your communication strategy needs to scale accordingly. Push notifications are an efficient way to communicate with your customer base as it grows.

The Two Types

Different Types of Notifications

Push notifications are often classified into two primary categories based on the intended use case and message content: transactional and marketing notifications.

Mobile push transactional notification

Transactional Notifications

Transactional notifications are messages sent based on a user’s interaction with your app. They often carry necessary and urgent information, and are generally needed and expected by your users. They can convey critical status updates like order confirmations, verifications, payment status, and delivery updates.

Transactional notifications are often a part of a process you’ve started with the end-user, like a purchase they’ve recently made, and are triggered by a specific user action. These messages reduce friction and better connect the app experience by making important information available to users when they need it.

Transactional push can include password resets, confirmations, order delivery updates, two-factor authentication, abandoned cart notifications, event registration confirmations, security checks, and welcome messages.

Mobile push promos

Marketing Notifications

Marketing notifications are not essential to the app experience. They are sent to engage and delight users with the ultimate goal of improving app retention and generating revenue.

Marketing messages can include special offers or deals or share content to bring users back to your app and pull them further down the funnel. Some examples include flash sales, mobile gaming promotions, and breaking news updates.

Best Practices for Push Notifications

In order to maximize your results and meet users’ expectations, it's important to follow push notification best practices. Check out our blog to learn more about earning user permission, automation and scheduling messages, and other best practices for personalizing and optimizing push campaigns.

Read More About Messaging Strategy

The History of Push Notifications

Push notifications were originally introduced for Android and iOS devices in 2009, and have rapidly grown in popularity.

Web push announcements

June 2009 —Apple launches the first-ever push service, APNs, or the Apple Push Notification system, with iOS 3.0

May 2010 —In the wake of Apple’s release, Google launches its Google Cloud to Device Messaging (C2DM) Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7 add support for push notifications

2013 — Apple adds support for website notifications with the release of Mac OS X 10.9 (“Mavericks”)

2013 — Apple announces that 7 billion notifications are being sent to iOS devices each day.

2015 —Chrome launches support for web notifications

2016 — Apple rolls out major additions to push notification capabilities with the iOS 10 release.

2017— With iOS 11, Apple simplifies the lockscreen user experience

2017 —With Android Oreo (8.0), Google adds Notification Categories, which make managing notifications far easier for users and developers alike

2018iOS 12 brings a new authorization model called Direct To History and introduces Notification Grouping

2019— iOS 13 introduces a separate OS for iPhones and iPads, enhanced privacy, and Smart Notifications

2019— With the release of Android 10, or Android Q, Google refines their push notification UI, adds a new “Stay Silent” option, and changes how users dismiss notifications

2020— With iOS 14, Apple introduces App Clips

2020— Android 11, changes how users can silence notifications and introduces the option to turn on notification history

2021— iOS 15 introduces Focus Modes, Notification Interruption Levels, and Notification Summary

2021— Android 12 brings Custom Notification changes, notification UX changes, and faster, more responsive notifications

All notification platforms support receiving short messages from applications, and some include support for additional features such as custom sounds, images, or contextual buttons within the notification itself.

How OneSignal Can Help

Our easy-to-use platform will help you send mobile and web push notifications to your users for free. It's simple to set up and easy to craft beautiful messages without any technical experience. Don't take our word for it — create your free account today and start reaping the rewards.

John Turner
“With more than 60 owned and operated sports sites, the USA Today Sports Media Group relies on OneSignal to get the right content in front of the right fans. From notifications on desktop browsers to targeted deep-links into our SportsWire app, OneSignal has made engaging our readers fast, simple and effective.”