Push Notifications vs. SMS in Mobile Apps: Which Is More Effective?

Are you trying to choose between SMS and push notifications for your marketing strategy? Are you clear on the differences between the two? We’re here to explain more about both and help you determine if one or the other is best for your business.

SMS and push notifications each offer a way to reach target customers with short-form messaging. Since your customers will receive and interact with them differently, you should consider your message and your customer to get the most benefit from each method.

We’ll explain some of the basic differences between SMS and push notifications, cover the pros and cons of each platform, and provide some use cases to help you identify how to best leverage these technologies for your business strategy.

  • Push notifications vs. SMS
  • Which is more effective?
  • What is the final word?

Push notifications vs. SMS

From a marketing perspective, SMS and push notifications may seem like similar platforms that require similar strategies. Afterall, they’re both ways of communicating that require concise messaging due to character limits.

But when you look beyond the surface, you’ll see they’re different mobile marketing tools with differing strengths and needs.

Let’s dig in a bit more on the pros and cons of both platforms. Then, we’ll share some use cases to help illustrate some ways to develop campaigns using each platform.

What are push notifications?

Push notifications are messages or alerts that pop up over a web browser or smart device’s home screen. A push notification doesn’t require users to open a mobile app on a device or a specific website on a computer browser.

Push notification messages are limited in length. The specific limits differ by device and manufacturer. These limits have changed over time, but currently range from 65 characters to 240 characters on Android phones. Apple iPhone iOS limits characters to 110 for push notifications. You can include a link back to your app with more information, so you can find creative ways to entice users to click for a longer message.

A push notification may also have an associated sound, icon, image, or interactive button. Smartphone users can also choose to receive push notifications that display on their home or lock screen until deleted.

Both SMS and push notifications require users to opt in. To opt in means giving explicit permission for a business to send regular SMS or push notifications. The opt-in requirements come in a different form for each platform.

Push notification opt-ins are typically offered to users upon the first installation of an app. A smartphone will also have some pre-installed apps that may be preset to allow push notifications—like the iPhone’s News and Weather apps. Users can change their push notification preferences for when and how apps present notifications at any time after the initial download.


  • Typically have higher opt-in rates and higher open rates compared to email marketing
  • Automation opportunities based on behaviors or actions
  • Creative options with messaging, like gifs, sounds, images, emojis
  • Rich media, including images and content previews with links, is better enabled by push notifications
  • Reach potential customers without having their mobile phone numbers
  • For brands with an app, push notification campaigns offer ways to increase engagement and can offer added value for the user with useful content


  • Users can control and disable a push notification in their settings
  • You must continually update efforts for multiple cell phone carriers, brands, and models
  • Users must be connected to the internet to receive messages
  • Some users find them intrusive, which may cause them to disengage with your brand by uninstalling your mobile app

What are SMS messages?

SMS is an initialism for “short messaging service.” Short is a reference to the character limit for any individual message sent with SMS (160 characters). Recipients see SMS messages via text messaging applications like iMessage (iPhone) or Google Messages (Android). The SMS platform is text-only, so you can’t include rich media like images, sounds, or videos. You can, however, send a URL that can link a user with more rich media content on a website.

The federal government regulates SMS messages, however, and businesses must get explicit permission to legally send text messages to customers. Businesses can obtain consent with a website form, during an order process, or during other creative campaigns.

SMS has the benefit of being readily available to a broad range of potential customers. Users don’t need to install a particular mobile app because messaging apps come preloaded on most smartphones.

Like push notifications, SMS also has character limits. Individual SMS messages are limited to 160 characters, but there are services that can help businesses to work around the limits using message concatenation, which splits up longer messages into multiple messages that appear to be longer single messages on most devices. Generally, it is not recommended to go beyond 320 characters for the best chance of delivery.

However, more identifying data is required—namely, your potential customer’s cell phone number. And given the opt-in requirements for sending text messages, you might want to consider working with an SMS marketing professional, who can help you navigate the FCC’s rules.


  • No app downloads required, as messaging apps are pre-installed
  • Does not require internet connection, only cell service
  • Can be configured to allow for two-way text messaging between brand and customer
  • Typically opened within 15 minutes, with read rates over 90%
  • Customers can save messages in their app for future reference
  • SMS texting allows businesses to offer wide-scale promotions with mass texting


  • Must have customer phone numbers
  • No multimedia, text only
  • Messaging pricing can be high when sending high quantities of texts
  • May be considered “spammy” by some customers

Which is more effective for marketing?

Which of these two platforms is the most effective marketing tool for businesses? Let’s talk about when you might use push notifications or SMS messaging in a marketing strategy; when looking at the statistics, a few data points are worth noting.

Push notifications have lower open and response rates than SMS messaging, but are still very effective. When comparing read times and subscription rates, push notifications are read an average of 6.4 hours faster than an email newsletter—and the subscription rates for push notifications are twice as high as email newsletters. Open and view statistics also favor push notifications with newsletters ranging from 15% to 30%, while push notifications enjoy a whopping 45% to 90% open rate.

Push notifications can remind users about scheduled activities (i.e., an airline app notifying you of your flight status or an itinerary change). They can encourage users to take a desired action (i.e., a fitness app reminding them to exercise or drink water). They can inform users of achievements (i.e., game progress or a personal best in a running app). When combined with geofencing, push notifications can deliver perfectly timed special offers to users (i.e., a restaurant app offering a free app special while a user is nearby).

Additional use cases for push notifications include:

  • Real-time delivery updates (packages, taxi services, grocery delivery, etc.)
  • Breaking news updates (news services, timely company announcements)
  • Activity updates (airline flight changes, gate changes, delays)
  • Community service updates (weather updates, power outages)
  • Announcing new blog posts
  • Delivery coupons, special offers, or discounts based on product interest

To take advantage of push notifications, you must have a mobile app or website configured for web push notifications. If you’ve created a mobile app prototype, check out some of the next steps for developing it.

One benefit of push notifications is that they are less expensive than mass SMS campaigns. The cost is effectively baked into the cost of your mobile application. Once the application is built with the capability, there is no cost to send out as many notifications to your app users as you wish to. Whereas, mass SMS texting requires a service for distribution that will charge for each message.

And once the app development is complete, there are currently no hard costs to sending push notifications to subscribed users. This approach allows a company to include the implementation costs of a push into their mobile application development expenses, and creates a communication channel that allows them free and unlimited messages.

SMS messages are a versatile business communication tool because they allow you to connect with potential and existing customers from various contact points within your business. For marketing campaigns, you can reach a large number of potential customers quickly and reliably.

Providers report that 98% of text messages are opened, and 95% are responded to within three minutes of delivery. Clearly, SMS messaging has the attention of smartphone users. Beyond marketing purposes, you can also connect with your existing customers to provide timely order updates, billing reminders, special offers, and two-way technical support communication.

Some use cases for SMS messaging include:

  • Real-time order tracking (meal delivery updates, driver updates)
  • Time-sensitive alerts (flight changes, security alerts)
  • Appointment reminders (doctors, haircuts)
  • Billing or payment notification reminders (monthly services)
  • Provide survey links or service feedback requests
  • Sending promotional offers
  • Technical support assistance with two-way communication potential

What’s the final word?

Push notifications are great tools for encouraging customer engagement with your app and brand, and they allow you to deliver more creative initial messaging with rich media.

SMS outshines push notifications in its ability to foster two-way communication and deliver messages people aren’t likely to ignore.

Companies that want to increase app engagement may find push notifications a better investment. Businesses that want to offer real-time updates and customer support may prefer to invest in SMS text messaging for its versatility.

Both SMS and push notifications are excellent marketing channels for communicating with current and potential customers. It may make sense for your business to incorporate both platforms in your customer acquisition and retention strategies.

Need more? Get help from top-rated mobile developers

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