What Are Push Notifications and How Can You Use Them Correctly?

Mobile phone with illustration of a push notification

Push notifications are incredibly effective for consumers and businesses. For consumers, they make it easy to see key alerts from their favorite brands, which is why the overall opt in rate for them is 60%. For businesses, they’re a great way to get valuable information right in front of customers.

Businesses need to know how to use these push notifications correctly, or they risk spamming their customers with irrelevant alerts. That, in turn, can lead unsatisfied customers to unsubscribe. But what are push notifications exactly? And what are the guidelines for making the most of them?

In this article, we’ll explore what push notifications can look like, what kinds there are, how device users can sign up for them, and how businesses can make sure they’re valuable to their customers.

What Are Push Notifications?

The first push notifications were introduced by Apple in 2009 through the Apple Push Notifications service (APNs). Today, iOS, Android, WindowsPhone, and FireOS have their own app push notification services. Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari can also support website push notifications.

So what are push notifications exactly? They are clickable bubbles that show up on device screens. They offer information from apps or websites that are not currently open.

Push notifications may be located on:

  • Computer home screens
  • Web browsers
  • Current smartphone screens
  • Smartphone lock screens

They’re designed to capture a device user’s attention quickly. Depending on a user’s device settings, their push notifications may automatically fade away, or they may need to manually dismiss them with a tap. They’re usually small and positioned to the side or top of a device’s screens. They can make a bright alert noise depending on a user’s settings.

What Kinds of Push Notifications Are There?

Device users receive all kinds of push notifications. In fact, the average U.S. smartphone user receives 46 app push notifications daily. They can elect to receive or not receive a wide variety of alerts. They may get notifications for:

Text Messages

Text notifications show up on users’ smartphone lock or home screens. Eighty-two percent of consumers leave these notifications on in some capacity. Text notifications usually include sender information and a snippet of the message.

Third-Party Service Messages

Third-party messaging apps also show up on users’ smartphone lock or home screens. Similarly to text notifications, third-party messaging service notifications are left on by 77% of consumers. They also often include sender information and a sample of the message.

Phone Calls

Missed call alerts are another similar example of push notifications. They will alert device users to a missed call and a voicemail left, if applicable.

Other App Notifications

Device users may also receive push notifications from their other apps. These may include food delivery, eCommerce, game, financial, and travel apps. For example, a customer might receive a delivery update notification from a food delivery app, a new sale alert from an eCommerce app, or a check-in reminder alert from a travel app.

Device Updates

Smartphones often also provide device updates. These updates are geared toward helping users keep their smartphones up to date. For example, they may remind customers to install a new version of their smartphone’s software.

Local Emergency Alerts

Wireless service carriers can also push notifications to devices. This is most notably used by the government in emergency situations through the Wireless Emergency Alerts system. They send warnings in case of emergency events or inclement weather in a certain geographic area.

Web Browser Ads

Web browser push notifications work slightly differently to the other notifications above. These notifications function through web browsers, like Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Safari. If a device user opts in—most often through a laptop or desktop computer—they’ll receive notifications such as announcements for a special sale on a company’s website.

Device users may receive a wide variety of push notifications. Even so, these alerts still do an excellent job of capturing their attention—especially since device users get to choose, in most cases, which notifications they receive.

How Do Device Users Sign Up for Push Notifications?

Depending on the type of push notification, device users may or may not have a choice in receiving them. For example, users can always block push notifications from third-party apps on their phones. They can partially block emergency push notifications from most of the government—but not the president.

Depending on the device, the process of choosing which push notifications to receive on their devices usually goes something like this:

  1. Device users will navigate to their devices’ system preferences.
  2. Then, they will find the Notifications controls.
  3. They will sift through their devices’ notification categories, which list specific apps, and choose whether they want to receive notifications from those apps and how they want them to be formatted. They can usually choose whether they want push notifications to appear as banners that automatically fade or alerts that need to be manually exited.

The process isn’t hard, but it does take a few steps that might be a hassle. That’s why if they choose to stop receiving notifications—for messages, for example—there’s a strong likelihood that they won’t add them back.

How Businesses Can Create Push Notifications that Provide Value

If you’re a business, you’re probably done wondering what are push notifications, and thinking about how you can ensure that customers are enjoying receiving yours. If you can entice customers to open your messages or app just from your push notifications, you can engage them in your products or services a lot more easily. To create notifications that provide value, you need to:

Understand Your Audience’s Notification Capacity

Sending one push notification every week can lead to 10% of your users disabling notifications, and 6% to disable your app. Research what volume of notifications is right for your business. For example, a finance app and an eCommerce website will have different audiences with different levels of notification tolerance.

Segment Your Audience

Segment your audience based on their interactions with your app or site. You should be programming push notifications to trigger based on how many times customers have visited or opened your app and their level of engagement. If customers have high levels of engagement, they’re more likely to welcome more frequent push notifications. This is a commonly used best practice; as of 2017, businesses were segmenting 85% of push notifications.

Tailor Notifications to Customer Behavior

On a similar note, you should craft notification messages that are tailored to customers’ behavior. For example, if customers have looked at one of your products multiple times, you may want to let them know when it goes on sale.

Ultimately, push notifications are your chance to boost customer read rates—and start forming strong relationships with your customers.

5 Examples of Catchy Push Notifications for Business SMS and Third-Party Messaging Services

Depending on their devices and their settings, customers may be able to see the beginnings of your messages. That’s how they’ll decide whether they want to read your text right away or not. You have to write short, attention-grabbing messages to get customers to bite. For Message Preview, iPhones show around four lines or 178 characters of a message on a lock screen. Androids show around five characters for titles and 240 for descriptions. Feel free to adjust and use these five short and sweet examples to boost your open rates:

{{customer name}}, your Accents Boutique Furniture order #{{order #} has shipped. Check your email for details. Text STOP to unsubscribe.

Hi {{customer name}}, it’s Local Book Emporium’s loyalty month! As a loyalty member, you’re entitled to one free book with the purchase of another! Text BOOKWORM to receive your coupon. 📚 Text STOP to unsubscribe.

Don’t forget, {{client name}}, your Green Wellness Clinic appointment is on {{appointment date}}! Text GET ME THERE for directions. Text STOP to unsubscribe.

Put Your Face On Inc here! Your cosmetics subscription will auto-renew on {{renewal date}}. We look forward to another year with you! Text STOP to unsubscribe. 

Hi {{first name}}, thank you for being a Pens & Ink Emporium member since {{join date}}! How have you liked your time with us? Text 5 for loved it and 1 for didn’t love it. Text STOP to unsubscribe.

Pushing Forward Customer Connections with Push Notifications

Push notifications are incredibly valuable tools for your business. They’re a great way to keep your app or website top of mind for customers. They can also help you get important messages in front of customers quickly. With help from our best practices, you can ensure customers appreciate your push notifications—and continue to enjoy engaging with your brand.


You’ve learned the answer to what are push notifications. Now, learn other ways to capture customers’ attention through business text messaging.

Sophia Huneycutt
Sophia Huneycutt is Heymarket's lead writer, producing everything from articles to eBooks. She works closely with Heymarket's product and customer service teams to help convey the latest business texting best practices. A B2B technology writer since the mid-2010s, Sophia has also worked with brands like Microsoft and Indiegogo. Her dying potted plants wish she'd stick to writing in her spare time, too.
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