Push Notifications
7 min

How Do Push Notifications Work? Everything You Need to Know


Email marketing has always been lauded for its 4400% ROI, but did you know that the click rate for push campaigns is 7x higher than email?

Push notifications have been largely instrumental in bridging the gap between businesses and their customers. They’ve empowered companies to communicate with their customers on a daily basis by sending them personalized messages, directly on their devices.

If we think of it, the push campaigns have all the necessary ingredients a marketer could ask for in a communication channel – wide reach, high deliverability, and better CTRs.

So let’s understand the nuances of push technology and how it came to be.

What are Push Notifications?

Push notifications, as we know them today, are highly targeted messages that have the ability to single-handedly achieve a string of marketing goals- customer retention, user engagement, increase conversion rates, create brand awareness, and improve user experience. And this is just to name a few.

Just like humans go through a journey to become the best versions of themselves, every great technology has a tale to tell of its own.

Likewise, push technology has years of growth and iterations in its history. So marketers, let’s rewind and go back to the year that it all started.

Push Notifications Launched in 2009

The year in which basic customer satisfaction and retention were major concerns for post-recession marketing teams, Apple launches APNS (Apple Push Notification System) with its iOS 3.0 update.


AP News Push Notification


These were basic text notifications, laying the groundwork for the highly targeted, instant communication we experience today.

In the Year 2010, Google Catches Up

Google launches Cloud-To-Device Messaging (C2DM) for android users, widening the targetable audience for push communication.

The Era of Smartphones Began (2011-2012)

As smartphones proliferate people’s lives, marketers realize they need to reach their customers exactly where they are- on their phones. Push notifications become mainstream and are used for:

  • Re-engaging customers during cart abandonment and app exits.
  • Offering discount schemes to persuade customers into making a purchase.
  • Sending general informative text about products and new arrivals, etc.

In the Year 2013, Valuable Features were Added

Android takes push notifications a couple of steps further by introducing rich messaging. Campaigners can now get creative with the introduction of emoticons, images, and action buttons.


Brands can include rich media in their push campaigns and prompt users to visit apps, drop reviews, make purchases, etc.

In the Year 2015, Web Push Notifications were Introduced

Google introduces web push notifications for Chrome 28, and now brands can send pop-up messages to audiences on their desktops through websites. The user only has to opt-in to receive regular information from the website.


Paving the way for cross-device and multi-channel campaigns, rich web notifications can reach users even when they’re not active on a website.

Latest Features Added in 2016

The latest development, ‘Push Stories’ supports a carousel format, letting campaigners serve multiple images in their notifications. Apple also adds video, GIFs, and audio in its OS’s notification capabilities.

Thus push campaigns now offer the same bandwidth for personalization, impact, and creativity as social media campaigns do.

Welcome to 2021

With targeted messaging and the inclusion of striking media, the scope of push campaigns now includes:

  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Geotargeting
  • Relevant recommendation campaigns
  • Dynamic engagement and re-engagement
  • Cross-channel campaigns

Push notifications have had a significant impact on the mobile marketing landscape. The average click rate of push notifications is 10.3%, and web push notifications can boost your daily traffic by up to 25%.

How do Push Notifications work?

Now that you’re privy to how push notifications have evolved over the years, let’s understand the mechanism behind them.

1. Push Vs. Pull Protocol

For you, visiting a website is just a two-step process. You type on your browser’s search bar and click on the website you want to visit. If you look at it from a backend perspective, as soon as you click on a website URL, your browser sends an HTTP request to the website’s server, asking it to show you the web page.

In this scenario, you, the client, are asking for information from a website. Once you’re done browsing the content provided, you cut the connection. This mechanism is known as the ‘pull protocol’.

Conversely, in a ‘push protocol,’ users don’t ask for the specific information being rendered to them. Instead, they opt to receive regular messages from a particular website or app. The website doesn’t have to wait for the customer to make a request; it sends direct messages on the user’s device even when they don’t ask for it.

2. Parties Involved

Client app: user’s app, which receives push notifications.

App publisher’s server: the app owner’s server. It coordinates with the OS push service and facilitates the sending and receiving of push notifications.

Push service: every operating system and browser has its own push service through which it sends notifications to your clients. For example, Google has FCM (Firebase Cloud Messaging), and Apple has APNS.

3. A Step-by-Step Walkthrough

a. Before an app launches, the publisher registers with the Operating System’s push notification service and gets access to its API.

b. The app publisher adds the SDK (code library for OS’s push notifications) provided by the OS to the app and launches the app.

c. The user installs the app and receives a request notification, asking him/her to opt-in to receive push notifications.

d. On saying yes, the push service issues a unique identification ID or a ‘device token’ to the client app and device, thus registering the user with the push service.

e. This device token is then stored in the app server database.

f. At the time of sending notifications to the client, you make a web service request to GCM or APNS. This service request is known as a web push protocol request, which typically includes:

  • The content/message of your notification.
  • Details of the client you want to send messages to.
  • Special instructions on how and at what time the notification should reach your clients.

g. Upon receiving your request, the push service authenticates it and forwards your message to the client.

How do you create a Push Notification Campaign?

As a marketer, there are three things that you need to do before sending out your push notifications to GCM or APNS:

  • Create personalized content, messaging, images, etc.
  • Segment your audience to send targeted messages.
  • Specify the time and automate your notifications.

For this, you’ll need an interface that helps you create your marketing copy, manage user identification data, and measure the performance of your notifications.

Marketers usually employ third-party platforms like MoEngage to execute and streamline their push campaigns.

To elucidate further how third-party platforms function, we’ll use MoEngage as an example. Once you create and launch a campaign on MoEngage, the push notifications platform divides customers on the basis of segmentation criteria set by you. The users should have at least one device that is online and linked to an active push token.

MoEngage then sets frequency capping for eligible users and defines the active devices that will receive the message. Then OS push services like FCM or APNS deliver the message to the end-user. When the user receives your notification, MoEngage records it as an impression in your server to enable performance tracking.

3 Key Mantras to Make Your Push Campaign Work

1. Get Your Messaging Right

Using rich media can increase the average CTR of your campaign by 3%, and adding CTAs can raise customer response by 40%. The efficacy of push notifications lies in succinct, to-the-point messaging, so the fewer characters you use in your copy, the higher your CTR could be.

how to get push notifications right

This notification by Pizzahub uses 57 characters, striking emojis, and a straightforward CTA.

2. User Opt-ins and Frequency

Research shows that there are 80+ apps installed on an average smartphone.

Nobody likes it when their smartphone starts ringing off the hook as soon they turn their Wi-Fi on. Many customers find push notifications to be annoying and spammy, prompting them to opt-out from receiving them.

You need to ensure that you’re not sending too many notifications in a day. At the same time, only sending 2-4 notifications a week can also prompt users to unsubscribe. Moreover, you need to time your notifications right in order to get the maximum response from your customers. Studies suggest that the click rate is highest in the afternoon before 6 pm.

Push notifications -User-Opt-ins-and-Frequency


3. Personalization

Push messages that are useful and relevant to the customer, based on their interests and usage of your application, will always have a better chance of striking a connection with your customers.

These days, Netflix is nailing its push campaign by employing hyper-personalization. It is sending custom recommendations and reminders in order to lure customers to the app.

push notifications Personalization

Not just that, Netflix is also using creative captions draw customer attention.

Push notifications Personalization example


In fact, through effective personalization and segmentation, MoEngage helped a client grow their monthly active users by 1.8x.

Don’t Struggle With Your Push Campaign

Undoubtedly, the list of benefits provided by push notifications is long- higher traffic, higher ROI, high delivery rate, better CTR and subscriptions, lower investment, etc. They have now become a staple marketing channel for all businesses that don’t want to be forgotten by their customers.

However, the creation of push campaigns can be quite extensive, as there are a lot of things that you need to do right before you start sending your messages out. Starting from appropriate segmentation to impactful information, you need to ensure that your notifications deliver value to your customers, stand out, and are non-intrusive at the same time.

If you’re struggling with these nuances, especially if you’re just starting out, do give us a shoutout and get help from experts in the field.

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