Push Notifications: The Ultimate Guide

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

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What is a push notification?

Push notifications are a powerful mobile-first communication channel that's used by every successful app today. These small, pop-up messages are sent to users devices by a mobile app and can be viewed from the device lock screen when an app isn't currently in use. Unlike other communication channels like email, push notifications are designed to be viewed in real-time and often trigger immediate engagement. They can be used to convey reminders, updates, promotions, and more.

Whereas mobile push notifications are sent to smartphone users via a mobile app, web push notifications are sent via a web browser from a website to a user's desktop or mobile device.

What do they look like?

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 operating systems such as Google Android and Apple OS.

To get a better sense of how notifications look across popular devices, create your own notification using our push notification preview tool.

I OS 15 Notification Expanded 1 1

Design of a Native iOS Push Notification

1. App Icon

Uses the app's default icon and can’t be changed.

2. Rich Media

1024x1024 or 1:1 aspect ratio. PNG, JPG, GIF, MP4, MP3, WAV.

3. Title

Restricted to 25-50 characters. iOS also has support for a subtitle.

4. Time Stamp

When the message was received.

5. Message

Restricted to 150 characters.

6. Action Buttons

Supports up to 4 buttons.

What are push notifications why use them

Why should you use them?

In today's mobile-centric culture, push notifications are essential to businesses because they enable real-time communication, boost user engagement, aid in user retention and re-engagement, offer personalization and customization, serve as a marketing tool, and enhance the overall user experience. By delivering timely and personalized messages, businesses can keep users informed, engaged, and connected with their app, ultimately increasing user loyalty, satisfaction, and business growth.

They are often used as part of a broader cross-channel communication strategy because they complement the use of channels such as email, SMS, and web push notifications by offering 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 Benefits of Using Push Notifications

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.

Types of Push Notifications

Understanding Transactional vs Promotional Notifications

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

What are push transactional notifications

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 every app needs push

Marketing Notifications

Marketing notifications, also known as promotional notifications, are not essential to the app experience. They are sent to engage and delight users to improve app retention and generate revenue.

Marketing messages can include special offers, 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.

Push Notification Best Practices


Personalize your push notifications with the recipient's name, past behavior, or other relevant information. This can increase engagement and improve the user experience. Check out our message personalization best practices article for more tips and context.


Ensure that your push notifications are relevant to the recipient's interests and behavior. Use data from your CRM or other sources to segment your audience, trigger messages, and send targeted messages that are relevant and timely.


Be strategic with the timing of your push notifications. Send messages at an appropriate time for the recipient's time zone and behavior. Avoid sending notifications during times when users are likely to be busy or asleep.


Avoid sending too many push notifications as this can lead to users unsubscribing or ignoring your messages. Be selective with the messages you send and focus on quality over quantity.

Clarity & Conciscion

Keep your messages clear and concise to ensure that the recipient understands the purpose of the notification. Use a clear call-to-action to encourage users to engage with your brand.

Rich Media

Use visuals such as images, GIFs, emojis, and videos in your push notifications to make them more engaging and memorable. Learn how to use emojis in push notifications.

Provide Value

Ensure that your push notifications provide value to the recipient. This can include access to exclusive content, promotions, or loyalty rewards. 

Check out these relevant articles for more strategic guidance and tips:

A/B testing

Use A/B testing to test different messaging strategies and track your results to see what's working and what's not. This can help you optimize your push notifications for better results.

    Learn More About Push Notification Strategy

    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.

    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.

    2018 — iOS 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

    2022 — With Android 13, Android users will need to explicitly opt in to receive notifications.

    2022Apple announces upcoming support for Safari web push notifications slated for 2023. 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.

    2023 — Apple releases support for push notification on iOS and iPadOS with iOS 16.4 and debuts another exciting engagement feature called Live Activities.

    Common FAQs

    Push notifications rely on a communication channel between the app or website server and the user's device, such as Apple Push Notification Service (APNS) or Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM). When a new notification is sent, the server sends a message to the communication channel, which then delivers the notification to the user's device. The device then displays the notification to the user, who can interact with it as desired.

    Examples of push notifications include app updates, breaking news alerts, sports scores, weather updates, social media notifications, and promotional offers from businesses. They can be used for a wide range of transactional and marketing use cases and can be customized to suit different user segments or behaviors. For inspiration and context, check out this article which includes images of 10 great push notification examples and explains why they're effective.

    To enable push notifications on a mobile device, users typically need to allow notifications in their device settings and give permission to specific apps or websites to send notifications. The exact process may vary depending on the device and operating system being used.

    Push notifications are generally considered to be secure and reliable, as they are sent over encrypted communication channels and are designed to be delivered quickly and efficiently. However, businesses should take care to protect user data and ensure that notifications are not used for spam or other malicious purposes.

    Businesses can track the effectiveness of their push notification campaigns using analytics tools and metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. By analyzing these metrics, businesses can optimize their messaging strategy and improve the ROI of their campaigns. Check our guide to understanding push notification performance for more information about what metrics to track and how to interpret results.

    OneSignal provides built-in notification analytics in our user dashboard so that you can craft, automate, analyze, and optimize notifications in one intuitive interface.

    For more tips to optimize push notification performance, watch our video on push notification best practices and ROI.

    There are a variety of ways to use web push and mobile push notifications to drive traffic to your app or website. Some popular use cases include:

    1. Promote new content or features: Use push notifications to announce new content, features, or other updates on your app or website. This can create a sense of urgency and drive users to visit your app or website to check out the latest updates.
    2. Run limited-time promotions: Offer time-limited discounts or promotions exclusively through push notifications to drive traffic to your app or website. This can help increase sales and engagement.
    3. Send personalized recommendations: Use data from user behavior to send personalized recommendations for products or content on your app or website. This can encourage users to visit your app or website and engage with relevant content. For more information, check out our article on message personalization best practices.
    4. Remind users of abandoned carts or unfinished tasks: Use push notifications to remind users of abandoned carts or unfinished tasks on your app or website. This can help reduce cart abandonment and drive conversions.
    5. Leverage location-based targeting: Use location-based targeting to send push notifications to users in specific geographic areas. For example, you can send push notifications to users who are near your physical store or event to encourage them to visit. For inspiration, check out how ShakeShack successfully uses geolocation targeting in their app.
    6. Offer exclusive content or rewards: Offer exclusive content or rewards through push notifications to encourage users to engage with your app or website. This can include access to exclusive content, early access to sales, or loyalty rewards.

    There are endless ways to use notifications to drive app and website engagement. Check our customer case studies to learn how companies use push notifications to drive engagement and view these successful push notification examples.

    The main difference between web push notifications and mobile push notifications is the platform from which they are sent. Web push notifications are sent via web browsers, whereas mobile push notifications are sent via a native mobile application. In order to send mobile push notifications, you must have a mobile app. However, if you don't have a mobile app, you can still use web push notifications to engage your audience on mobile devices.

    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.”
    John Turner

    Director of Business Development

    Trusted by leading businesses

    Read Case Studies