It’s not dead yet, but the heydey of Push Notifications seems to be coming to an end. With Google Chrome 80, the advertising/search/tech giant is planning on greatly restricting the use of Push Notifications and blocking them entirely for sites that don’t comply with their Best Practices.
Google is no stranger to using its enormously popular browser to force the digital advertising industry as a whole to change. Google has already done almost the same thing in the past. In July of 2019, Google began blocking advertising on sites that didn’t comply with the Better Ads Standards. This ban led to a sea change in the industry as it essentially banned pop-ups on the most popular browser.
Now it seems like Google is at it again – but this time, the victim is push advertising.
In a rush? Read our short situation summary here.
Table of Contents
1. What is Push Advertising
2. Why has Push been so successful
3. Push advertising is low fraud
4. Why is Google targeting it
5. Google’s plans
6. Ethical questions
7. What is the future of Push?
What is Push Advertising
Before we go any further, let’s quickly established what Push Notifications are and how Push Advertising itself works.
Push notifications are generally mobile or browser notifications that are pushed to the user in real-time rather than waiting for some retrieval action from the user.
This kind of technology was revolutionary back in the days when email was still king. Originally, desktop email clients had to “pull” from an email server by requesting to see if there was any mail there. Later, this technology was replaced by “push.” That is to say, as soon as the email arrived at the mail server, the server “pushed” an update to the desktop email client.
Naturally, it’s more convenient to receive an instant notification that you have mail, rather than having to have your client repeatedly check at some interval.
This technology took a little longer to develop for mobile, but eventually, push email technology brought this tech to the mobile world.
On the browser, things were slightly more complicated. There were some tricks that one could use to do push-like notifications, such as tricking a server into remaining in “loading” for as long as possible. That way, notifications could be made in real-time since the page was continually loading. However, this workaround was never very useful because eventually, the connection simply timed out.
Push notifications for mobile began to take off when Google and Apple integrated App push notifications into their respective APIs. Now any app (provided you had permitted it) could display notifications.
On the browser, Push Notifications took off with the introduction of HTML5. Ths latest update to the bedrock of front-end web tech made push notifications direct to the browser extremely simple – both insofar as getting permission to send an update to the browser and sending that update notification itself.
Want to learn more about Push Advertising? Check out our introductory article on the topic here.
Why has Push been so successful
So why have push notifications been so successful?
Just a few years ago, one rarely received requests regarding push notifications. Now, whenever one lands on a new site, one of the first things that they’ll see is a request to allow notifications from the site.
Then the site can forward the user updates on their products, the news, a sports game, or any number of things. And initially, that was the idea.
But eventually, someone had the idea that Push Notifications would be great for digital advertising. And the rest is, as they say, history.
Now every site you land on asks for permission to show you notifications. Many android apps regularly send notifications about other applications, DLC for games, or even new movies.
You might have experienced this before, or maybe you’ve experienced your browser giving you notifications regarding software or deals that have nothing to do with the site that’s sending them out.
This is the magic of push notifications – the magic for advertisers anyway.
Push advertising arrives directly in front of the user in real-time. When the advertiser pushes the button, the ad is sent out and arrives milliseconds later.
The primary benefit here is the lack of fraud.
Push advertising is low fraud
Digital advertising is an industry steeped in fraud. Certain estimates indicate that up to 1 in 4 dollars spent on digital advertising is lost to fraud.
Push notifications, because they are pushed directly to a person, have a significantly lower incidence of fraud. While one can fake a click, use a bot to raise page views, or commit any number of heinous advertising sins, it is rather difficult to fake the opting-in, reception of, and interaction with a push notification.
For this reason, traffic acquired via Push Notification-based advertising is often considered to be much higher quality.
Further, it has very high visibility.
Notifications send via browser arrive right on the desktop and attract the users’ attention like any other notification from the system. Though rather than the notification telling you that you have mail, it’s telling you that there’s a great offer waiting for you or some new movie is getting good reviews.
On mobile, it’s even harder to miss push notifications.
Mobile push notifications tend to appear on the phone lock screen and in the top bar, just like a message or email notification.
This kind of notification is hard to miss and ensures that a high percentage of users will see the ad.
Push has undoubtedly been a boon for digital advertisers.
Why is Google targeting it
So why has the gaze of the great eye of Google fallen upon this form of advertising in particular?
Much like Google’s clean up of aggressive ad forms in the past, it has a lot to do with making other digital advertisers get in line and behave.
In the recent past, they targeted pop-ups and various other aggressive ad formats. They wanted to prevent bad ads from annoying users, ruining their online experience, and driving them to go install adblockers. Adblockers which, consequently, wouldn’t just block the annoying pop-ups, but also a whole lot of Google’s ads as well.
Thereby costing them money.
This time Google is targeting Push Notifications – for similar reasons, but to a lesser extent.
Why? Mainly because everyone is asking for permission to send push notifications now, and it’s starting to annoy users. Oftentimes, you arrive on a new website, and one of the first things that happen is the request for notification permission. In the EU, this happens after GDPR consent for cookies, therefore compounding the annoyance of notification requests.
Google wants, if not to put an end to the annoyance, at least to limit it by forcing websites to conform to new rules.
Google is planning to automatically block push notifications on Chrome for sites that don’t conform to its usage guidelines.
You can find these guidelines here.
Among other things, sites will not be able to prompt a user for permission to send them Push Notifications just after landing on the page. This will likely go a long way to limiting the annoyance factor of push advertising.
Google is both the leading digital advertising provider and the owner of the world’s most popular browser. This market dominance allows them to dictate to the rest of the industry what will be allowed and what won’t.
Of course, they say that all of these decisions are in the interest of consumers – and sometimes they have a point. Who can say that the average person browsing the web enjoys pop-ups or countdown ads?
The collateral effect, however, is that prime sources of digital advertising revenue outside of Google’s walled garden are removed. By Google and in Google’s interest.
They have a truly massive conflict of interest.
What is the future of Push?
Google isn’t banning all Push Notifications on Chrome. They’re simply too useful. They’re great for news, email, chats – all kinds of web-based services are better with browser notifications. Likewise, there are many legitimate uses for mobile push notifications. If you’re a consistent war game player, you might want a notification when someone attacks your city!
So Push Notifications are here to stay.
And, in the long run, these new rules and the tightening up it will induce could end up being good for advertisers.
Why? Well, because the push traffic that will still be around after these new rules go into effect will likely be of significantly higher and more uniform quality. For example, Google’s rules will make things like aggressive notification permission collecting a thing of the past.
So, while this change will likely cause quite a stir in the industry at first, once the dust has settled, we might all be better off for it.
As things stand now, Push Notification advertising is one of the highest-quality ad formats in the digital advertising industry.
The news that Google will be aggressively cracking down on this comes as little surprise given the extremely aggressive methods certain advertisers have been employing in Push.
While this news is certainly alarming, once the panic passes, something else becomes clear. Since this isn’t a total ban, the remaining push notification traffic will likely be of even higher quality (and consequently, at a higher price).
Of course, this is just one potential offering. If Google’s rules get even stricter or publishers become loathe to ask for notification permission, then push advertising could be in for a rough patch.
As an optimist, I think that this could be the beginning of a newer, higher quality era for Push Advertising – even if volumes decline sharply and the price increases.
With the newest Chrome update, Google is planning to institute much stricter rules regarding push notifications. While push notifications will not be banned entirely, their use will be greatly limited. While this will likely cause a large amount of turbulence in the short term, in the long term, it could further improve the quality of push notification advertising traffic. This could lead to higher CTR/CR for an ad format that is already better than average.