What’s the Difference Between Push Notifications and Text Messages?

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Push notifications and text messages are prime tools for audience engagement but differ greatly in terms of your communication goals and their method of delivery.

In this post, we’ll go over the general differences between push notifications and SMS text messages so you can determine which is best to use with your customers for its intended purpose.

Communication goals: the difference between push notifications and SMS text messages

Push notifications, or push messages, are one-way, short messages that originate from a mobile app to deliver timely, relevant content that encourages the user to open the app. Once an app is installed, push notifications are used to entice users to routinely open the app. For example, a retailer will alert users about a sale so they’ll shop in the app or a news app will send a notification about a recently published story so the user can read it right away.

Businesses that are entirely app-based may heavily rely on push notifications for user engagement. For example, an app-based meditation company could send push notifications to remind users that it’s time for their daily mediation sessions.

A text message, however, doesn’t require the recipient to download an app since all of our phones have a default texting app. And texting offers businesses much more flexibility with how they can communicate with customers. Examples include marketing and promotional text messages, an alert or reminder text message, text customer service and much more. A text message is also different in that it’s sent and received from one device to another from a texting app and can offer a two-way, conversational experience between two or more recipients.

Communication intentions aside, there are major operational distinctions between push notifications and texts.

1. How your customer can opt-in and opt-out

A big difference between push notifications and SMS text messages is how your recipient can choose to receive them on their mobile device.

With text messages, businesses generally must have consent from the recipient before they can send texts. For marketing or sales purposes, express written consent is required. For informational, non-telemarketing texts, businesses need either verbal or written consent. Consent can be achieved in the form of an opt-in text message.

To opt-out of text messages from a business, recipients generally reply to the text conversation with a single word, such as STOP or UNSUBSCRIBE, and they would automatically be removed from further communications.

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Push notification consent is much different. As an in-app function, users must go to the app’s settings to turn on notifications. Or they can go to their phone’s general settings to switch on the notifications there. The same process goes for opting out.

2. Where the recipient sees your message

Delivery is also a major difference between push notifications and SMS text messages.

Push notifications pop up on your screen, and if you don’t immediately tap on the message, it will disappear to your lock screen. When you’re not using your phone, the notification will sit on your lock screen until you tap on it or clear it. If the user happens to receive a lot of push notifications from other apps, their lock screen can get crowded, making it easy to overlook yours. A push notification example can be seen here (multiple notifications on a screen):

push notification example

Push notification example: Here’s what push notifications may look like on a lock screen.

An SMS notification is an alert that will pop up on your phone to let you know that you have a new text message. SMS notifications look similar to a push notification but differ in a few ways. You can choose whether you want to see a preview of the text you just received in the notification itself or you can choose to not see a preview and only receive a plain alert. The latter may be chosen for more privacy.

Text messages are also stored in your phone differently than a push notification. If you don’t immediately open a text, it sits in your default messaging app where you can access it any time.

3. The content type and length

The type and length of content also differ in each medium. Push notifications are short, meant as a marketing tool to get your users to engage with your application, while text messages have a flexible length and can contain both marketing and informational messages for customer engagement.

Push notifications have a character limit so that your message can appropriately show up on your recipient’s screen. Messages for Android should be around 60-90 and less than 120 for iOS. And the shorter the better: push notifications that have 10 or fewer words get the best click rate. The limited space means you have to be crafty with your copy.

Text messages give your business a lot more leeway with content. SMS texts have a 160-character limit, but if you’re using business-texting software to text your customers, the limit can be much more flexible.

Texts can also include multimedia, such as images, and links so you have choices as to where you want to direct your customers (any page of your website, your social media pages, etc.).

Push notifications don’t support multimedia content or links, just text (and emojis).

4. The sense of urgency to open the message

Another difference to consider is the sense of urgency that one feels to read either a push notification or a text message.

If a customer has enabled many of their apps to send them push notifications, they may run the risk of ignoring the notifications when they pop up. A lock screen can become cluttered with push notifications, making it less likely they’ll be read individually.

An SMS notification is harder to ignore. Many of us have a text tone enabled when we receive an SMS notification. While sounds are an option for push notifications, customers may be selective especially if they receive notifications from many apps. Additionally, a text message is much more exciting to us than a push notification. We reserve texts for friends, family and businesses that we trust, so we’re more likely to reach for the phone faster when we get a text.

Should you use push notifications or SMS notifications for your customers?

Knowing the difference between push notifications and SMS text messages is key when deciding which to choose for your customers.

If you have an app as a primary or major part of your business model, you’ll want your user to engage with your app as much as possible. Push notifications are the attention-grabbing tool to do that. However, if you have a broader communication goal, such as having engaging two-way conversations with customers, an app may not be the best way to stay in touch.

According to Zipwhip’s 2020 State of Texting report:

  • 64% of consumers are unlikely to download a business’s branded app.
  • For those who do download an app, 61% are “very likely” to delete it shortly after.
  • 77% percent of consumers say their default texting app is their most-used messaging app.

When it comes to communicating with a business, text messages are the preferred way to go because it’s a universal, accessible channel: 73% of consumers wish more businesses would use texting to communicate with them (2018 text generation survey).

Using an app as the leading way to get in touch with your customers, therefore, isn’t very cost-effective as even a small app with a few basic functions can get quite expensive to build and maintain. A texting app, however, is already on a customer’s phone and doesn’t require your business to create an app from scratch. (For a better experience for both businesses and customers, a business texting solution would be needed. See how Zipwhip works).

Use texting to get your customers’ attention for both general and targeted communications

The simple text message is a powerful tool to ensure your customers actually see your message. While a user can easily miss the ephemeral push notification, a text message is delivered to the recipient’s texting app where they can reference it any time they open it. Our texting app helps to keep us organized and ensures that new messages don’t get buried in other messaging apps downloaded on our phones.

To learn more about the effectiveness of texting for customer communication and to stay on top of the latest business communication trends, read our free 2021 State of Texting Report.

If you’re ready to start texting, check out out these other free resources:

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