If you regularly use mobile games and applications, you may have seen the term “push notifications” mentioned. This unique user notification technology, once considered revolutionary when first released in 2009, is now a staple of the mobile and desktop landscapes. 

Learn the definition, history, and specifications of push notifications and why they are a crucial tool for app publishers and marketers.

Essential Definition of a Push Notification

A push notification is part of web push notification technology. Push notifications technology is an online communication type of protocol. Push notifications and technologies are used in online marketing and online communication, where push message requests are not sent by the server. A typical example of web push notifications technology used in smartphones is instant messaging.

Push technology contrasts with its more common equivalent, pull technology or client pull, which is primarily used in traditional web pages. For instance, a website only sends information to the client when the client requests it from the server hosting the website.

Instead of a client pulling data or messages from a server, push technology allows servers to send data directly to clients without an initial request.

Push notifications apply push technology to send messages directly from a central server to a user’s device. Typically, push notifications are sent to mobile devices, where they appear in the device’s top banner, in the notification center, or on the lock screen. However, some types of push notifications can instead be sent through web browsers, making them compatible with a mobile device and a desktop device.

Brief History of the Push Notification

While desktop push notifications technology work and date to the early 2000s, with the introduction of push email notifications for BlackBerry mobile devices, these services were in their infancy. They did not offer the same degree of functionality as modern desktop push notifications do.

1. Apple Integration 2009

Apple implemented the first modern push notification system in June 2009 with the introduction of the Apple Push Notification Service (APNS). It was one of the new features introduced in the latest version of Apple’s iOS operating system, iOS 3.0. Alongside applications, Apple devices extensively used push notifications to communicate with users and enhance user interactions with their mobile ecosystem.

2. Google Cloud Messaging 2010 & Google’s 2013 Revolution

Google released an equivalent service in 2010 with Google Cloud to Device Messaging (C2DM), allowing owners of Android devices to receive push messages and push notifications similar to what iOS users could see.

While Apple made push notifications mainstream, Google was responsible for revolutionizing them and turning them into fully interactive elements. In May 2013, Google introduced rich notification technology. Previous-generation push notifications only supported text, whereas rich notifications supported images and action buttons, significantly enhancing their functionality.


An example application of the new possibilities offered by rich notifications is music players. A rich notification can display a player’s current song, album cover, and seek bar, whereas the action buttons can perform standard media player tasks (pausing, playing, and skipping tracks).

All these functions are accessible without switching the screen to the application, making it possible for new users to control the player directly from the notification.

Today, push notifications are more than just a notification system. They permanently change how smartphone users interact with their favorite devices. With the introduction of web-based push notifications, the technology became independent of operating systems and could even work on desktop devices.

Different Types of Push Notifications

Although multiple types of mobile push notifications and desktop push notifications are available, most can be grouped into two categories: app-based and web-based.

1. App-Based Mobile Push Notifications

An app-based push notification comes from an application installed on a user’s mobile device. It informs users about events, messages, deals, and other information through that application.

Most app-based receive push notifications that are opt-in call-ins, meaning the user has toggled an option to receive specific information from the application. This measure helps avoid spamming users with excessive notifications and ensures the ones users do see are as relevant to their interests as possible.

Application-based push notifications can use the mobile environment to their advantage to increase the relevancy of the information provided. Frequently used examples of mobile app push notification functionality include:

  • Application update notifications: One of the most straightforward types of push notifications is alerts notifying one of the user’s apps is ready for an update, complete with an action button or a redirect to install it. Expanding the notification window may allow the user to learn about the new features in the update.
  • Time-sensitive notifications: Applications that report information that could change a user’s daily plans may employ push notifications to issue alerts and news within a short time frame (e.g., 1 to 5 hours). A typical example is traffic applications reporting on accidents or roadworks on local highways.
  • Personalized notifications: One of the top benefits of push notification technology is the possibility for app developers to tailor the content of the notices to each user. A personalized notification does just that: reporting news or updates based on user preferences. For example, a video-on-demand application may issue alerts for new episodes of the user’s subscribed shows and avoid sending notifications for shows the user doesn’t watch.
  • Reminder notifications: Numerous mobile applications come with built-in reminder features. Some are dedicated reminder applications, providing users with reminders and to-do schedules. A reminder notification sends the user a message at precise times based on their input, helping them remember tasks or actions they must do at the correct time. A variant of the reminder notification is the user subscription notification, which issues a user-specified alert when an event is happening or about to begin instead of a specified time.
  • Location-based notifications: This type of notification functions when the user’s location is known, such as with GPS on. Apps designed to use these notifications read the user’s current geographic location to send users location-specific messages. Common examples include promotional deals and suggestions from the app developer’s partners in that geographic area.

2. Web-Based Push Notifications

Web-based push notifications do not use a mobile app to deliver messages, updates, or information to users. Instead, servers push notifications through web browsers.

While the functionality of web-based push notification and notification services offer notifications isn’t as comprehensive as app-based ones, they have a potentially wider reach, as both desktop and mobile device users can receive them. Additionally, web push notifications can be highly personalized, enhancing user experience and ensuring the relevancy of the information provided.

Developers and publishers can use multiple types of web-based push notifications to inform users and potential customers. Although web-based notifications are primarily found on eCommerce websites, developers can implement them on any website for virtually any purpose.

Common examples of web push notifications include:

  • Social proof notifications: This type of notification is typically patterned after a pop-up or toaster notification in the browser’s corner. It informs users of specific actions other website users just performed, such as when a customer purchased a product or a reader left a blog comment or a product review.
  • Promotional notifications: Although primarily employed on eCommerce platforms, a web-based promotional notification is a versatile method of informing users of ongoing events and deals, such as time-limited promotions or coupon codes.
  • Inventory stock notifications: Although this is another type of notification mainly used by eCommerce websites, they can provide critical information to users and incite them to make a purchase or complete a conversion. For example, an inventory stock notification can inform users that an item they’ve browsed before is running out of stock. Variants can also notify users when an item on the wishlist is back in stock.
  • Informational notifications: An informational notification is a notification from a specific website that the user can read even when no active tabs or windows are currently displaying that website. Social media platforms and utilities such as Google Calendar are the most well-known users of this type of notification.
  • Live chat/chatbot notifications: Many websites today employ chatbots or live-chat systems to provide visitors with text-based, instant-messaging assistance. These chat systems use web-based push notifications to announce themselves to the user. When expanded, they turn into chat windows, providing users access to instant support.
  • Abandoned cart push notification:

Common Uses for Push Notifications

Whether served in mobile apps or web-based environments, all types of push notifications share the same traits: They are designed to capture the user’s attention and convey a small amount of critical information. Consequently, they are ideally suited for many specific applications, from user retention and marketing strategies to more informational purposes, such as government alerts or security.

1. User Retention

Push technology keeps the server side (e.g., the developers or publishers of an application) in control of the messaging delivered to the clients (users, customers). Seeing and interacting with a notification are reliable methods to ensure users continue interacting with your app or website and remain active.

However, implementing a push notification system isn’t enough to increase user retention. Publishers and developers must be careful not to spam users with too many notifications or messages. Excessive notifications may create an inverse effect and incite users to mute them, uninstall the app, or avoid browsing the website or digital property.

The best way to ensure maximum user retention is to provide the app user with a degree of control over the notifications with granular notification options. For example, many applications categorize notifications into types and groups, letting users toggle each type on or off at their convenience. These options allow app users to tailor the notification system to their preferences, boosting user experience.

2. Marketing

Numerous commercial applications have leveraged the capabilities of push notifications for marketing purposes. They provide eCommerce platform owners with a direct line to their customers. However, most customers are discerning and react negatively to generic marketing and push notification campaigns. For these reasons, the effectiveness of a push notification campaign for marketing directly depends on how personalized the content of each message is.

One of the most common methods eCommerce platforms employ is collecting user data, such as purchase history, product page browsing history, and other behavioral information, to determine the customer’s affinity toward specific products or product categories.

According to a study published by Econsultancy, proper use of personalization increases notification opening rates by up to 800%, making it critical for user engagement.

Other useful push notification marketing tools and strategies include the following:

  • Showcasing new content or products based on the user’s preferences and viewing history
  • Alerting users of abandoned carts, especially when one of the items in the cart is on sale or part of a deal.
  • Collect time-based behavioral data to detect the user’s active hours and limit sending notifications to the most active ones, ensuring users aren’t disturbed by notifications at the wrong times (e.g., at night while the user is likely asleep).

3. Government and Civic Utilities

Non-commercial entities, such as governments, state organizations, and civic utility agencies, can also send critical alerts and messages through push notifications.

Most government and civic send push notifications that are issued at the local level on a geographic basis, typically used to inform members of a local community of important events or projects in the area. Push notifications are also a powerful tool to deliver messages from a regional or national warning system, such as the Emergency Alert System in the United States.

Typical examples of government and civic utility push notifications include:

  • Severe weather alerts
  • Natural disaster alerts
  • Power outages
  • Local traffic alerts
  • Road closures
  • Missing person alerts
  • Other local safety alerts

Security and Multi-Factor Authentication

App developers can help users bolster account security through push notifications with Push Notification Authentication (PNA). The role of PNA is to serve as a critical part of a Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) system by informing a user whenever authentication is being attempted on one of their accounts.

Under normal circumstances, when a user tries logging into an account protected with MFA, the login portal will ask them to submit a secret code after entering their username and password. The code is delivered via push notification to a secure device (typically the user’s mobile phone), reinforcing account security.

If an illegitimate authentication attempt were to happen, the secret code push notifications serve as a warning system, informing users that their login details may have been compromised. This approach to security provides users with enough time to make necessary changes (e.g., changing their passwords) and helps ensure their accounts remain safe from bad actors.

Benefits of Push Notifications

Push notification technology is essential to the modern online landscape. Although they are typically associated with mobile devices, push notifications are integral to both desktop and mobile and offer the same benefits to marketers, developers, and publishers.

  • Easy to implement: Whether you need a website or a mobile application push notification system, most SDKs offer tools and resources to implement and configure one quickly and efficiently.
  • Increased user engagement and retention: Push notifications are a proven technology, particularly when the notifications served are helpful and relevant to your user base. Proper implementation of a push notification system for your digital property can significantly boost engagement and retention rates.
  • Efficient user segmentation tool: Personalization is critical to the success of a push notification system. Segmentation tools (e.g., geographic, demographic, device and OS, behavioral) are essential to ensure your notifications provide the most relevant messages. Consequently, you can measure the efficiency of your segmentation strategy by analyzing responses to your notifications.
  • Increased conversion rates: If implemented correctly and if your digital property’s business objectives are focused on conversions, the increased engagement rates of your push notification strategy will translate into higher conversion rates.
  • Cross-platform support: Developers and publishers looking to maximize reach can use cross-platform web-based push notifications to ensure users are notified, regardless of their device. This technology is supported by all major web browsers on current operating systems (Windows, macOS, Android).

Boost User Retention and Engagement with CodeFuel

While implementing a push notification system is relatively simple, ensuring it is properly configured to deliver high-relevancy, personalized messages to your user base can be challenging.

Don’t go at it alone and risk losing customers. Instead, contact CodeFuel’s team of web and mobile marketing experts. We have the resources and experience to fine-tune your push notifications strategy and maximize your reach and target audience. Learn more about our services today.