Push notification guide for marketers — what they are, design tips, best practices, and more

A consumer interacting with a push notification

As a marketer, you have a big job. You’re trying to increase audience engagement while also capturing leads, increasing user retention, and connecting with customers. With so many options for software and apps, figuring out the most effective way to reach your goals and your audiences can be difficult.

Push notifications are a powerful way to reach users where they are. They appear prominently on mobile or desktop devices, so they’re hard to miss. And with notifications becoming more sophisticated, perfecting the content, design, and timing can help boost your engagement and conversion rates.

Learn the possibilities of push notifications so you can send messages users want to see, build relationships with your target audiences, inspire more conversions, and drive revenue. This guide will walk you through:

What are push notifications?

Push notifications are pop-up messages that publishers send to users’ devices. These notifications can appear even when the app or website isn’t currently open — for instance, a social media notification can show up on a phone’s lock screen. Users can then click or tap on the notification to open the app and take the suggested action.

Push notifications on a smartphone

Audiences might notice push notifications in the corner of their laptop screens, updating them on the latest news. Or maybe they’re scrolling through Instagram on a phone and a push notification lets them know that a friend commented on a photo.

Consumers have the option to turn off push notifications completely, leave them on, or only allow notifications from select apps and brands. Some websites will ask if users would like to enable push notifications via their web browsers. In other cases, audiences can turn off all push notifications in their browser settings. Some operating systems let users pause notification delivery by turning on a Do Not Disturb setting. iOS and Android settings even let people adjust notification preferences for individual apps on their devices.

Notifications can typically be opened or closed by clicking, tapping, or swiping on the message. Many devices also have a place for notification summaries, allowing users to view all of their recent or unread notifications.

Push notifications serve a variety of purposes. They can be used to market a timely offer that customers need to act on quickly or to report the latest sports scores. They can also deliver useful information like flight times, send receipts immediately after a purchase, or encourage the recipient to check out your other digital channels.

Push notifications are visible, direct, and help boost conversions and retention. According to MoEngage, push notifications have higher delivery and click-through rates than emails, making them great for delivering important information straight to your audiences. These notifications are also engaging — 40% of users interact with the notification within an hour of receiving it.


Push notification design

While the design of push notifications can vary by device, most have the same general structure:

Push notification design

Logo icon

The first element customers will notice in the notification is your logo or browser icon. The human brain processes images faster than words, so people comprehend visuals at a glance. Research by Zippia found that customers only need to see a brand logo five to seven times to recognize the brand, which is why the image on your push notification is so important — it makes it immediately clear where the notification came from.


The title or headline is a brief sentence or phrase that explains the purpose of the notification, whether that’s to share an article, summarize social media activity, or announce an upcoming sale. Think of it like an email subject line, but even shorter. You only have around 50 characters to create the title, so squeeze as much value as you can out of those few words.


Push notifications also include a line or two of content. This copy expands on the title, explaining what the notification is about. The average length for content in most push notifications is about 14 to 25 words, so your copy needs to be concise.

A user interacting with push notification content


The content of your push notification includes a call to action (CTA). The CTA might be a clickable image or the final line of text, but it should be clear what you’re asking the user to do next. For example, a mobile push notification asking a user to review an app might have buttons reading “write a review” and “maybe later.”

Why use push notifications? Five awesome benefits

Now you know what push notifications are, but maybe you’re still wondering how they can help your brand or whether they’re more effective than other marketing methods. Here are some of the biggest benefits you can enjoy by implementing a solid push notifications strategy.

1. Capture good leads

Push notifications — particularly web notifications — can help with lead generation. When someone first visits your website, ask if they’d like to opt in to notifications. You can then use push notifications at the right moments to capture their attention. Then, you can carefully segment your audience and send timely notifications that encourage them to opt in to your mailing list, download a gated offer, or sign up for an online event.

You might choose to segment website visitors based on the actions they take so you can send more targeted notifications. For example, the amount of time a new visitor spends on your website likely indicates how interested they are in your brand. Send a notification to the people who seem most engaged, offering content or a discount behind a lead form.

You can also engage people who abandon your lead form. If a user starts filling out the form but leaves it unfinished, send a notification reminding them to come back and complete the form. Remember to state what benefit they’ll receive by finishing it.


2. Increase return traffic

Push notifications can also drive return traffic to your site, because they offer a direct link for people who otherwise may not have returned. Consider two first-time visitors — one who opts in to your web notifications and another one who doesn’t. The visitor who did not allow notifications may forget about your site as soon as they leave or they might become a casual visitor, coming to your site randomly over time. But for the user who did allow notifications, there’s a much better chance that they will turn into a customer.

Push notifications are hard to miss. Their direct delivery means they can be more visible — and effective in driving return traffic — than email newsletters or social media posts. And you’ll stay top-of-mind for users if you send regular notifications, increasing return traffic to your site.

3. Improve the user experience

A well-designed and timely push notification can improve the overall user experience (UX) for your customers. If your notifications are relevant, personal, and timely, users will be happy to receive them. And the notifications can work in tandem with your other marketing channels to provide information your customers want and need.

Push notifications can help guide users through their entire journey with your brand — from opt-in, to sale announcements, to sending receipts or shipping updates. To make each notification valuable, make sure the information is timely and useful for the journey stage each user is in.

Push notification funnel

4. Learn about your customer

Push notifications can provide insight into your audiences’ behaviors and preferences. Paying attention to which notifications have the highest engagement, conversion rates, or opt-outs can help you learn more about your audiences.

For example, you might be surprised to discover that a certain segment of your audience responds more to value-based messaging than discount offers. That tells you that those users are more likely to become customers based on what the product offers than by how affordable it is. Another piece of the audience might not engage with urgent offers like you expected, hinting that those prospects think it’s more important to make a careful decision.

The insights you gather from your notifications can benefit other marketing channels. Broad audience insights can help shape strategies overall. More specific data points can help too. For example, if a certain push notification headline got exceptional engagement, try using that same language in an email subject line or a social media ad. Conversely, if a notification got very low engagement, you probably want to avoid using similar language with the same audience on other channels.

5. Earn higher engagement

Attention spans are getting shorter, and it’s getting harder to engage people with marketing content they actually want to see, but push notifications can cut through the noise. An Invesp study found that push notifications boost app engagement by 88%, and led 65% of users to return to an app within 30 days.

Push notifications boost app engagement by 88%

The right notifications at the right times can encourage more user engagement with your app or website. Whether you’re sending a promotional message or transactional information, you have a direct line to customers — and you’re giving them an easy route to your products and services.

Best practices for creating effective push notifications

Any marketing message needs to be personalized, targeted, and efficient. Push notifications amplify those requirements because they’re short and often appear on users’ personal devices. They’re also very easy to turn off, so marketers need to perfect their push notification strategies quickly.

Craft a compelling opt-in offer

A compelling opt-in offer is key to a successful push notification strategy because you can’t communicate with audience members unless they sign up or allow your notifications. Offer something your audience can’t resist in exchange for opting in, like:

Knowing your audience helps you understand what will be most valuable to them and how to package it. If you’re marketing to different audiences, segment from the very beginning by creating specific offers for distinct audiences and adding them to specialized push notification campaigns.

Make sure your invitation communicates the big picture benefit of opting in. Don’t just say “download the ebook” — tell them they can, “learn how to drive qualified traffic to your business.” Understanding the end value of the offer makes people more likely to accept and opt in to your offering.

Create compelling content

Short messages are especially challenging. There’s a lot to consider and it takes some creativity to communicate everything very efficiently. As you design push notification messaging, consider the length, social proof, and the CTA.

Uber push notification example

This UberEats push notification from the Uber app is a great example of compelling content. The title uses non-alpha characters that stand out and the important words — like “free” — are included early enough that they don’t get truncated. In this case, the fact that the title is too long works in favor of engagement because it leaves audiences wondering, “A free what?” Users have to tap to find out. The dual CTA tells the user what to do but also why they should.

Segment and personalize

Your push notifications can be segmented and personalized just like your marketing emails and other content. Customer segmentation is the process of grouping your audience into different categories based on criteria like location, age, or purchase history.

Once you’ve segmented your audience, personalize your push notifications. According to Statista, 90% of U.S. consumers think personalized content is somewhat-to-very appealing. Personalization can increase your conversion rate, improve ROI, and connect with customers like never before.

But effective personalization goes beyond simply adding a user’s first name onto a message. You can personalize marketing content like push notifications using:

A McDonald's personalized push notification

McDonald’s sent this notification from their mobile app during football season. The message used location-based personalization to tell the recipient that if their home team — the University of Georgia — scored a touchdown, the user was eligible to receive a free large fries and soft drink with any purchase the following Monday.

A Dexcom personalized push notification

This personalized push notification comes from the Dexcom app. Dexcom is a continuous glucose monitor used by people who have diabetes or who need to track their blood sugar levels for medical reasons. Dexcom uses push notifications to send important, timely information to users.


A/B test

An A/B test, also called a bucket test or split test, compares two versions of the same content to find out which performs better. It’s important to run an A/B test on marketing content like push notifications to determine which one will create the best ROI.

Tests for push notifications are similar to other A/B tests. Decide which variable you want to test, and send each option to similar portions of your audience. You could also experiment with:

To obtain the most accurate results only test one variable at a time. Whichever notification performs better is the one you should send to your entire audience and should inform future notifications. Continue tweaking your notifications with A/B testing over time. The more you test and optimize your push notifications, the more successful they’re going to be.

Provide an easy opt-out

Every consumer has the right to withdraw consent for receiving your marketing communications, and it’s a good business practice to make it easy to opt out of push notifications. This builds trust by showing users that you’re honest and transparent — and that you aren’t trying to bombard them with promotional material they’re not interested in.

The process for opting out of push notifications can vary by platform. In many cases, consumers can turn off notifications from specific applications in their device’s settings. They also might need to unsubscribe by clicking on the notification or an opt-out button directly on the message. If you notice that people are unsubscribing from your notifications, place those users into their own segment and work to re-engage them on other channels.

The most common reasons people opt out of push notifications are because they’re receiving too many, the messages are not personalized or relevant to them, or the timing is off. To help prevent unsubscribing, optimize every part of your push notification strategy — including how often you send messages.

Push sparingly

Don’t overuse push notifications. A report by Business of Apps found that the average smartphone user in the U.S. gets 46 push notifications per day and 42% change their settings if they feel like they’re getting too many.

If your message isn’t highly relevant or urgent, it doesn’t need to be pushed. For example, a new campaign centered around an upcoming holiday is good to push, but don’t bombard users with the same message if you’ve already sent a generic offer.

It can be difficult to determine what’s important enough to push. In general, a push notification should be either time sensitive or highly personalized.

When in doubt, hold back. You won’t engage users if they’ve disabled your notifications.

Over time, user behavior will help you understand how often to send notifications. Pay attention to trends like interactions per notification by user segment and use that information to inform future decisions about notification frequency.

Types of push notifications

There are a few ways to categorize types of push notifications. Banners, badges, and alerts are three options users can choose from on mobile devices, but the marketer can’t control which one users select. We can also talk about “types” of push notifications by platform or by purpose.

Types of push notifications by platform

Users can receive push notifications in web browsers, on mobile or wearable devices, or on their computer desktops.

Web push notifications

An example of a web push notification

Web push notifications — also called browser notifications — are delivered through users’ web browsers. Web notifications look similar to other push notifications and can include a title, icon, body text, image, and action buttons.

Keep in mind the anatomy of a web notification varies by browser and operating system. Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari all support different levels of notifications, while some browsers still don’t support push notifications at all.

While you need an app to send mobile push notifications, all you need to send web notifications is a website — making it simpler and more cost-effective. Web notifications are fairly easy to set up and usually aren’t affected by ad blockers.

Mobile push notifications

Mobile push notifications are sent from an app to users’ smartphones and tablets. To receive these messages, users need to have your app installed on their device and opt in to notifications. Mobile notifications can appear on the device’s lock screen, as a banner across the top of the screen, or in a notification summary.

Mobile notifications are highly engaging because users are very connected to their devices. Mobile notifications also let you push location-based messages, like the weather forecast for a specific city.

Desktop notifications

Desktop notifications appear on laptop or desktop computers, usually in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Similar to other types of notifications, they include a headline, body text, and a logo or icon. Users can click to view more or perform a suggested action.

A desktop push notification

Desktop notifications sent consistently at the same time of day can be highly effective and engaging. During work hours, when people are likely to be on their computers, you could see massive engagement as desktop push notifications catch people’s eyes.

Wearable notifications

Wearable notifications appear on devices like smartwatches or fitness trackers. Wearables are increasingly popular, and marketers should expand their strategies to take advantage of that growth. Forty-five percent of Americans own a smartwatch. For people who have an annual household income of $75,000 to $99,999, that number jumps to 58%. Gen Z consumers are also more likely to wear smartwatches than Gen X or baby boomers.

Connecting smartwatches to their phones lets users receive mobile notifications on their wearables, so they’ll see your notification and can take action even if their phone is out of reach.

But not every mobile notification translates to wearables because of their smaller screen sizes — the Apple Watch screen is about half the size of the iPhone 13. To provide the best user experience across all devices — including wearables — you may need to shorten text or tweak your CTA to account for the lack of keyboard. Wearables should work together with other devices as part of a cohesive push notification strategy.

Types of push notifications by purpose

Not every push notification you send has the same intent — some may be related to customer service while others might deliver earlier marketing communications.

Customer service notifications

Customer service push notifications provide assistance or information your customers need to help them during their journey with your brand. You can deliver shipping updates, flight information, receipts, appointment reminders, or similar information via push notifications. For instance, Grubhub sends push notifications updating customers on the status of their orders.

A customer service push notification

Many customer service notifications can be automated to save time, especially if you’re serving hundreds or thousands of customers. Sending push notifications via automation will also reduce the risk of error and increase the overall quality of your messaging. The notifications will be sent quickly after the user takes a specific action, so there’s no chance you’ll accidentally send out a message at the wrong time.

It’s also worth noting that when you use push notifications to provide customer service, the basic format of each notification will remain consistent, helping you maintain the quality of your customer service. You don’t have to worry about customer service agents forgetting their script or not adhering to your brand values. Instead, the messages follow the same format every time — making it easy for customers to understand and interact with the notifications.

Marketing notifications

Marketing push notifications are promotional rather than transactional. Marketing notifications might share special offers or inform customers about a sale. You can get creative and use push notifications to announce a new product, provide an exclusive discount, or recommend an item based on browsing history.

Marketing push notifications can be highly engaging and effective because they go straight to the user — no need to worry about email spam filters or whether your Instagram post will get lost in a sea of other promotions. With push notifications, you know your message was delivered directly.

A marketing push notification

Video game Disc Golf Valley sent a notification advertising a Cyber Monday deal. The body copy of the message tells users that they can buy two items for a discounted price. Tapping the notification will then take the user directly to the in-game store to complete the purchase.

How push notifications work

The details of how push notifications work varies by platform, but the general process is the same.

  1. Apps or websites need to register with an operating system push notification service (OSPNS) for each service they want to use and then communicate with the platform using the application programming interface (API).
  2. The website or app publisher composes the message and decides when to send it and which users to send it to.
  3. The target users then see the notification appear on their devices.

How push notifications work

Learning the specifics of push notification technology can be confusing. Let’s look at how the process works with Google’s Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), a free cross-platform notification service.

First, the application servers take the notification and the subscriber information and send them to FCM. FCM then delivers the notification to user devices, which send data back to the application servers for performance tracking.

It might sound complicated, but the technology you use won’t be too complex. Your only job as the publisher is to design each notification and hit send.

History of push notifications

Push notifications have been around for longer than you might think.

Measuring success — ROI and other push notification metrics

Once you’ve successfully integrated push notifications into your overall marketing strategy, track performance and ROI. There are a few important metrics that can help you determine the success of your notification strategy, allowing you to tweak and optimize them to boost performance.

Uninstalls cost apps $57K monthly in 2020

Push notification platforms and automations

Push notifications can be time-consuming and difficult to produce. Segmentation and personalization requires collecting and organizing a lot of data, and learning each platform’s notification system can be intimidating.

A good marketing platform will alleviate these problems, creating a seamless process by automating notifications for you. Look for a platform that makes it easy to use the data you’ve collected to identify your best opportunities. You should also be able to personalize content at scale, segment marketing data, and easily build automated marketing campaigns. This kind of marketing platform will allow you to focus on reaching your audience without worrying about the process details.

Push notification FAQs

Take a look at these push notification FAQs if you still have questions.

What is push notification marketing?

Push notification marketing uses pop-up messages sent directly to a user’s device to promote a brand. They appear even when the app or website sending them isn’t currently open. Push notifications are a beneficial marketing method because they are a highly engaging way to improve user experience.

What should push notifications be used for?

Push notifications are typically used to send either transactional or promotional messages. Transactional notifications — or customer service notifications — provide useful information to customers, like shipping updates, appointment reminders, or receipts. Promotional or marketing notifications send users information about an offer, promotion, or discount, encouraging them to make a purchase.

Are push notifications effective?

Push notifications can be one of the most effective marketing channels. According to a study by PushEngage, push notifications have a CTR that’s five to 10 times higher than email. And research by Invesp found that push notifications increase app engagement by 88%. With push notifications, you can increase both your conversion rate and customer engagement, helping improve your overall revenue.

What does push notification software do?

Push notification software gives you a place to build your campaigns, organize data, and automate routine messages. You should be able to use behavioral data to segment your audience and identify the best opportunities. Push notification software should make it easy to create personalized content at scale and send your notifications with just the press of a button.

What are the benefits of using push notification software?

Push notification software saves time and effort, reduces human error, and gives your marketing team more time to focus on big picture creative work. Using automation to send your notifications cuts down on the time needed to design and send each message. Plus, the software’s data capabilities make segmentation and personalization easy.

Getting started with push notifications

Getting started with push notifications

Push notifications can be a valuable strategy for your brand. From lead generation to increased web traffic to a better user experience, you can enjoy many benefits from a good push notification strategy.

To get started, create a list of opportunities for push notifications — both transactional messages and your latest deals and offers. Use marketing software to segment your audience and build your notifications and you’ll be well on your way to boosting your brand.

Adobe Marketo Engage provides the marketing automation solution you need to make the complex buyer journey simple. Engage the right customers, build automated marketing campaigns for your notifications, and see how each one impacts your revenue.

Ready to begin? Take an interactive product tour of Adobe Marketo Engage to see how our Engagement Marketing Solutions can help you.