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Push Notifications vs. In-app Notifications: Spot the Difference

Published: September, 2023
Last updated: : September, 2023
Obviously, if we had to write this article, push notifications and in-app notifications are concepts that some people might find challenging to differentiate. They are kind of the same thing for an average user, but for marketers, these two are very distinct since push and in-app have different uses and reach different business goals. Let's see why there's so much buzz and which one you should go with.

Push Notifications: quick overview

Cambridge Dictionary definitionpush notification is a message sent to a smartphone relating to one of its appseven when it is not running, or the act of sending such messages.Few correctionsPush notifications are not smartphone-displayed only. They can be sent to any user’s internet device, including a tablet, computer, or smartwatch. They are also not app-related only. While mobile apps are the most prevalent push notifications users, other digital platforms can also leverage this communication channel. Their objective: Push notifications are used to deliver timely and relevant information, updates, reminders, promotions, or personalized content to engage and re-engage users. Push notifications can include text, images, links, and interactive elements, and they play a significant role in keeping users informed and connected with digital platforms.Most common use cases:📲 User Engagement and Retention: By providing relevant and timely information, push notifications encourage users to stay active and engaged with the app or website. For example, a fitness app may remind you to drink water or do sit-ups. 📲 Promotions and Offers: With push notifications, businesses can effectively reach their target audience and increase customer loyalty. For example, how else would you know about the Final Sale at your favorite store if not for push notifications?!📲 Alerts and Updates: Push notifications ensure that users receive time-sensitive information promptly so that they can act on it. For example, a bank translation notification is a good way to establish trust with the user.📲 Personalized & Location-based Recommendations: Analyzing user data and sending tailored recommendations can improve user experience, engagement, and conversions. For example, travel companies often use location-based notifications – "Welcome to Paris! Here are the top places to eat a croissant."📲 Re-engagement & Abandoned Cart Recovery: Businesses can send targeted messages to remind users about abandoned carts or unfinished actions to encourage them to return and complete the desired action. For example, a push message with an image of a t-shirt you were looking at is always a trigger to go back to finish that purchase.

In-app Notifications: quick overview

Cambridge Dictionary definitionin-app is done or available from within an app.This statement does not need correction because in-app notifications are indeed messages or alerts displayed within a mobile application while the user is actively using it. Unlike push notifications, which are delivered to the user's device regardless of whether they are using the app, in-app notifications are specific to the app and are only visible when the user is actively engaged with it. Their objective: in-app notifications are used to provide relevant and real-time updates, announcements, promotions, or personalized information to enhance the user experience and drive engagement within the app. In-app notifications can be displayed as banners, pop-ups, badges, or within specific sections of the app, depending on the design and functionality of the application. Most common use cases:📱 Onboarding and User Guidance: These notifications help users understand the app's value proposition and give insights into how to get the most out of it, making it easier to engage with the app immediately.📱 In-App Promotions and Offers: Given how much 1st party data apps have, it just makes sense to create uber-personalized messages that make users feel special and taken care of, which surely increases loyalty.📱 Important Updates and Announcements: These notifications ensure that users receive critical information promptly, leading to a better user experience and satisfaction.📱 User Engagement and Retention: These notifications can include personalized recommendations, reminders about unfinished actions, or notifications about new content to encourage users to return and stay engaged.📱 Feedback and Surveys: Notifications can ask users for feedback, ratings, or suggestions, helping businesses identify improvements, understand user preferences and make data-driven decisions.

In-app vs. Push Notifications: differences & similarities

Picture this: you are waiting for your coffee and choosing a playlist when a pop-up on your screen appears saying, “Here is a Playlist made just for you.” You click on it, and it’s a medley of all the songs you have listened to in the past year. Scenario two: you are going about your business and get a notification about a LAST CALL sale in a store you just passed by. Same but different. This is how push and in-app notifications are. 

In-app Messaging vs. Push Notifications: what do you need?

According to a survey, the open rate for in-app notifications is way higher than that of push: 75% vs. 20%. However, when it came to CTR, the tables turned, and the score became: 7% vs. 28%.Push notifications are your typical alerts and notifications. If you want your audience to know about a big event or a sale, or if you need to reengage and bring the users back, push notifications are the way to go. Because you typically target a large audience, the open rate may be less impressive; however, the CTR shows that they are successful at re/engaging users. In-app messages are more intimate and one-to-one. You cannot avoid the in-app notification when you are inside the app, thus the high open rate. Some compare in-app messaging vs. push notifications to a sales funnel where pushes are the top and the middle and the in-apps are the bottom. It might be right for some industries, but with the advancements in push notification campaigns, we see that more and more push messages are leading users to purchases, subscriptions, and other desired bottom-of-the-sales-funnel actions, not just serving as reminders. 


It ultimately comes down to the fact that push notifications have a broader range of actions. And while push notifications can also be in-app, it can never be the other way around. But still, you have to be careful and not overuse these communication channels. The worst thing you can do is bombard users with notifications chaotically. Remember that an average US user daily receives 40 notifications on their smartphone. So, to spark interest and not push the user to ‘unsubscribe,’ you have to plan your push campaigns carefully.For example, a qualified push notification platform, like Nashpush, can help you with that. With an easy-to-use interface and simple setup, you can plan and test your campaigns to achieve the desired performance. You can test out your first push campaign starting from as little as $9.
Looking for more ways to engage & retain users? Push here