What’s the Difference Between Push Notifications and SMS 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 are one-way, short messages that originate from a mobile app to deliver timely, relevant content that encourages the user to open the app. A text message is 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.

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.

And many businesses are entirely app-based. For example, an app-based meditation company would 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 (all of our phones have a default texting app) and can be used for marketing and promotions, alerts and reminders, service and support and much more. This gives businesses much more flexibility with how they can use texting to communicate with their customers.

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.

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 should automatically be removed from further communications.

Download our free e-book TCPA Compliance: Best Practices for Two-way Texting for more information, including examples to gain and revoke consent.

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.

Text messages differ in that they’re stored somewhere on your phone. 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).

Which should you choose 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.

Recent data shows that 64% of consumers are unlikely to download a business’s branded app. And for those who do download the app, 61% are “very likely” to delete it shortly after. When it comes to communicating with a business, text messages are the preferred way to go because it’s a universal, accessible channel. Seventy-seven percent of consumers say their default texting app is their most-used messaging app, and 73% say they wish more businesses would use texting to communicate with them.

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 your customers’ phones 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.)

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 apps help keep us organized and ensure 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 2020 State of Texting Report.

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