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Last updated Thu Jan 18 2024

Push Notifications: A Complete Beginner's Guide [2024]

In this post, we'll take a close look at what push notifications are, how they work, and why they have become an essential feature for countless use cases.

Get started:

What is a push notification?

Push notifications are brief messages sent to users' devices, such as phones or computers, utilizing server-client communication. They alert about promotions, new content, or updates, engaging users through timely information. This technology enhances direct communication for marketing and user engagement purposes.

mobile and browser push notifications

How push notifications work

Push notifications use a simple yet effective technology.

When someone subscribes to push notifications from your online store (via a “click here to enable notifications” form), their device establishes a connection with your server. 

When there's something new, like a sale promotion or a brand update, your server sends a message to their device (desktop or mobile), triggering a push notification. Clicking the notification takes the visitor to the website where they subscribed.

Since push notifications are permission-based, they give the user more control over the messages they receive.

how push notifications work

This direct communication helps keep your customers informed and engaged without them actively checking your website. This is particularly useful for online businesses, both ecommerce and SaaS, as they can drive traffic to their website on a regular basis.

Interesting fact

The first push notification was reportedly sent by BlackBerry in 2003. The company’s idea of push notifications (called “Push Services” back then) was to inform users about new emails in real-time, with no need to manually check their inbox.

Types of push notifications

Push Notification TypePlatformPurposeExamples
Web push notificationsDesktopEngage desktop users through browser updatesNew article alerts, limited-time promotions
Desktop push notificationsDesktopDeliver pop-up alerts for timely informationBreaking news, software updates
Mobile app push notificationsMobileProvide personalized updates to smartphone usersIn-app promotions, order status updates

What industries use push notifications 

This chart shows the approximate percentage of companies using both web and mobile push notifications in the following industries:

IndustryPercentageExamples of campaigns
Ecommerce30%Promotions, order confirmation and updates, cart abandonment
Media and publishing30%Breaking news, article updates, subscription
Travel and hospitality25%Travel alerts, booking confirmations, deals
Gaming40%Game updates, event notifications, re-engagement
Finance and banking15%Account alerts, transaction notifications
Health and fitness30%Workout reminders, personalized tips, goals
Technology and SaaS35%Product updates, feature announcements

Based on Business of Apps data

Why try web push notifications?

The biggest benefits of using push notifications are:

  • drive traffic to your website: keep users informed and engaged with timely updates

  • give timely information: provide real-time updates on relevant content or services

  • improve user retention: encourage return visits by delivering personalized notifications

  • share promotions and offers: boost sales and conversions through exclusive deals

  • increase business visibility: remain on the radar with regular, non-intrusive reminders

  • improved customer satisfaction: meet user expectations by delivering pertinent and timely content

Types of push notification campaigns

TypeDescription
informational push notificationsThese notifications provide users with valuable information such as news updates, weather forecasts, or general announcements. They aim to keep users informed about relevant and timely content.
transactional push notificationsTypically associated with online transactions, these notifications confirm the completion of an action. Examples include order confirmations, shipment tracking updates, or payment receipts.
promotional push notificationsBusinesses use these notifications to promote special deals, discounts, or exclusive offers to users. They aim to drive engagement, boost sales, and create a sense of urgency.
social media push notificationsApps with social features send notifications for friend requests, likes, comments, or direct messages. These keep users connected and engaged with their social circles.
app update push notificationsWhen an app has new features, improvements, or bug fixes, it sends notifications to inform users about the availability of an update. This helps keep apps current and secure.
location-based push notificationsLeveraging geolocation services, these notifications are triggered when users enter a specific area. They are often used for promotions, special offers, or information relevant to a particular location.
breaking news alertsNews apps use push notifications to instantly inform users about significant events or breaking news. This ensures users stay updated on current affairs in real-time.

Best practices for push notifications for businesses

These are the most common best practices for push notifications used by businesses to maximize the engagement and effectiveness of their push notification strategy.

Opt-in clarity

Clearly explain the value of push notifications when you offer your visitors to subscribe. Ensure users understand the benefits, and make opting in straightforward to maximize user consent.

Personalization

Tailor notifications based on user preferences and behavior. Personalized messages increase relevance and user engagement, avoiding generic content that may lead to disinterest.

Timing

Send notifications at appropriate times to avoid interrupting users. Consider time zones and user activity patterns to ensure messages are well-received, enhancing user experience.

Segmentation

Segment your user base based on demographics, behavior, or preferences. Targeted notifications are more likely to resonate with specific groups, increasing the chances of user engagement.

A/B testing

Experiment with different notification formats, content, and timings through A/B testing. Analyze the performance to refine your approach, optimizing for maximum engagement without overwhelming users.

Push notifications FAQs

Are push notifications secure?

Secure push notifications require encrypted communication (HTTPS), sender/receiver authentication, and data integrity measures. User consent and privacy adherence are essential for maintaining a secure push notification system.

What are the most common examples of push notifications?

Push notifications include updates for apps, breaking news alerts, live sports scores, weather reports and updates, notifications from social media platforms, and special offers from ecommerce stores.

What is the difference between web (desktop) push notifications and mobile push notifications?

Web push notifications are messages sent by websites to desktop browsers, engaging users with updates. Mobile push notifications are alerts from smartphone apps, delivering timely information to enhance user interaction. The key difference lies in the platforms targeted: web for browsers, and mobile for apps.

Pawel Lawrowski

Pawel is the Head of Growth at Wisepops and an expert in lead generation, popups, and onsite marketing.

With over a decade of experience in digital marketing, he has both build marketing teams from scratch and led strategic business growth projects.

Pawel has worked with countless online businesses on marketing strategies and is now sharing his knowledge on the Wisepops blog.

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