What are Push Notifications?

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

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Three Things to Know About Push Notifications

  1. Push notifications are the first and often most important communications channel used by apps.
  2. Nearly every major app uses push notifications for transactions and re-engagement.
  3. Push notification technology is rapidly evolving from a simple message delivery system to a rich and interactive medium.
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Why Use Push Notifications?

Users today have a hard time remembering what apps they even have on their device. Push notifications help these services deliver timely and relevant information to users, and in doing so, staying top of mind.

A recent study showed that mobile users receive an average of 63.5 notifications per day, with most notifications coming from messaging and email applications.


Push notifications at their core are simply a way of alerting users to information that they have opted-in to from apps and services. Notifications encompass nearly every possible use case and type of service, including other communications mediums like email, SMS, and VoIP.

3 Types of Push Notifications

Build loyalty and drive conversion

Transactional Notifications

Set automated messages triggered by events - such as a package in transit or abandoned cart. Transactional notifications build trust and nudge users to complete actions.

Transactional Notifications
System Notifications

Let your users know about new features and opportunities, such as product launches, breaking news, and holiday discounts. These usually go out as massive blasts to a wide audience.

System Notifications
User Notifications

Let users know when another user, seller, or reader messages them. These are especially relevant for social networking apps, dating apps, marketplaces, and any sites that allow comments.

User Notifications
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Best Practices for Push Notifications

A key element of push notifications is that users must opt-in to receiving them. Given the number of notifications most users receive, many users choose to opt-out of receiving more unless there is a compelling value to the notifications.

The easiest way for an application to maximize the opt-in rate is to explain the value of notifications prior to prompting for notification permissions.

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Permission Messages

Using Permission Messages prior to showing a device Permission Requests is a best practice because Permission Messages increase the likelihood users will stay subscribed to your push notifications and find value in them. Permission Messages do three things:

1. Inform a user of the value of subscribing to push notifications

2. Capture user intent with buttons like "Enable" and "No Thanks"

3. Trigger a Permission Request, if user indicates intent.

If a user dismisses a Permission Message, the app can still present them with the option later on, once the user has more actively engaged with it.

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.”
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The Right Message at the Right Time

According to a recent study, notifications can frequently be considered an interruption: "Participants reported that mobile messaging and email apps interrupted them in almost 50% of cases”

Despite their interruptive effects, a high volume of relevant or personal notifications actually has positive effects -- "Receiving more messages is significantly correlated with increased feelings of being connected with others." ~ Pielot, Church, Oliviera, 2014

Mobile push ensure relevancy

Scheduling notifications intelligently plays a major role in increasing the likelihood of a user interacting with a notification and improving the overall user experience. Notifications from messaging and social networking applications should generally be sent immediately, while other notifications are frequently best delayed until the user is less likely to be interrupted.

In February 2016, OneSignal ran a study to determine the best times to send a notification based on application category.

The conclusion of the study was that the category of an application plays a major role in determining the best time to send notifications to users. Here is a summary of the categories and times that were uncovered:

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The History of Push Notifications

Push notifications were originally introduced for Android and iOS devices in 2009, and have rapidly spread to other platforms.

2009 — Apple iOS and Google Android add support

2010 — Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7 add support

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

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

While all notification platforms support receiving short messages from applications, some platforms support additional features including custom sounds, images, or contextual buttons within the notification itself.