Over the last couple of years, you might have noticed that a little box regularly pops up as you browse the web.
It looks different in every browser, but it always asks the same question – just formulated slightly different ways:
“Stay up to date with the latest news and offers from this site.”
Then you can either click to allow notifications or deny.
You might wonder from time to time, why, exactly, does this site need to be able to send me notifications?
It’s just a gardening blog, after all. It’s not going to notify you of significant world events or local emergencies.
Nevertheless, they want your permission to send you notifications about, well, whatever they want. And why’s that?
Because it’s something for which advertisers are willing to pay dearly.
It’s not just on desktop
Now, you may have never once in your life clicked “allow” on any of these sites. (To the great disappointment of advertisers.) But you’ve still likely been a recipient of these “push” notifications nonetheless.
Well, think about your smartphone. Have you ever received a notification that seemingly came from nowhere and promoted some phone game or utility that you’ve never heard of before?
These are push notifications.
What happened was that, in installing and agreeing to use some other application, you permitted it to send you notifications as well.
On the phone, these might appear on your lock screen or up in the top bar that you can later pull down and expand.
They’re notifications like any other.
They behave like an email or text notification, but instead of telling you that your wife wants you to buy milk, they tell you about a new product or offer.
And to get rid of them you have to swipe them away, just like any other notification.
Why they’re so useful (to advertisers)
So why do websites and apps all want to send you these notifications?
The primary reason for which this advertising style has become so popular is that it tends to receive a high level of engagement from the user.
Notification engagement is exceptionally high on mobile.
This high level of engagement occurs because the user can’t just overlook a push notification.
It’s going to be right there between his missed texts, emails, and calls. So he’ll have to swipe it away and, in doing so, at least look at and read it.
Since advertisers can be almost certain that push notifications will reach a potential consumer, they are especially valuable.
Another reason for which they are very in demand is their unobtrusiveness.
Yes, they can potentially be obtrusive. Especially if the ads are attached to an audio event or the like when pushed. However, if these push ads appear quietly among your other notifications, they’re rarely aggravating.
Unlike popups or interstitial ads, they don’t get in the way of something the user wants to be doing. But they still maintain the near certainty that the user will see (and maybe interact with) them, even if it’s just to make them go away.
Users are also simply used to notifications. They’re a fact of life.
When you’ve been away from your phone for a few hours, you always have a bunch of notifications to swipe away when you pick it back up. They might be emails, texts, news updates, calendar reminders, etc.
You glance at them and swipe them away one by one. It’s normal. It’s expected.
An advertisement or two barely increases the swipe time and doesn’t get in the way of your reading or addressing any of the other notifications.
But the important thing is that you still read them.
A Short History of Push
But let’s take a step back first and look at what Push is and how it came to be.
So what is a push notification exactly?
A “push” notification is a notification that arrives immediately after being sent. This instantaneous arrival is known as “pushing.”
Believe it or not, this was actually a revolution.
And a recent one at that. Today we are used to emails and messages arriving right after they’re sent, but it wasn’t always like this.
In the past, the default means of retrieving messages was by “pulling” it from the server.
This process requires your computer or device to make a request to a server and check if there is anything new that it should display.
If there is something new, it is “pulled” to your device or computer.
This sequence of events occurs, for example, whenever you hit refresh on your desktop email clients and your old phones.
With this system, someone could send you a message or email, and you’d never know until your device asked the central server to find out.
Naturally, this was extremely inconvenient. Especially on mobile.
With a computer, you tend to sit down, use it and then leave. You usually don’t just sit by it and wait for something to happen or arrive.
But things are very different with phones.
They sit in your pocket, bag, or purse. And you pull it out when you need to contact someone, but you also expect it to notify you when someone has sent you something.
With cellular technology this was relatively (keyword: relatively) straightforward with calls, then paging, and then SMS. It was not, however, simple for email and other web-based technologies on mobile.
These technologies relied on the receiving device contacting the server and pulling new messages. To get real-time messages, the servers needed to be able to initiate the exchange and then push the message to the device.
Thanks to RIM, this capability finally came in 2003.
RIM and the Power of Push
The Canadian company Research in Motion, or RIM, was the first company to offer real mobile push internet notification.
Their service was called Blackberry Push Mail.
Its main selling point was that it allowed a Blackberry device to notify you as soon as an email arrived in the attached account.
In this way, email became something instantaneous like a call or a text.
And it took the world by storm.
Businessmen, politicians, and anyone else that worked with time-sensitive information or tasks were soon using Blackberries.
There was no escape from email now; you didn’t check it. It found you.
Blackberry dominated the world of push email and later Push Messaging notifications for years.
And this in no small part led to its nigh total domination of the business mobile device market.
Apple came next, integrating advanced push capability into its iPhone iOS 3 in 2009. Google followed by integrating Push into Android in 2010.
Now it’s hard to imagine not receiving a message, email, or shared photo as soon as it is sent. But less than ten years ago there was only one game in town.
Advertising and Push
For a long time, advertisers didn’t take advantage of the incredible capability offered by Push. In fact, advertising via Push was almost non-existent in the beginning due to the lack of so-called “rich” push (push notifications that include images, etc.) and interactivity.
The other problem was the lack of platforms that allowed for push notifications to be sent to users regardless of their mobile operating system. Advertisers naturally wanted to push to both Android and Apple users at the same time, so cross-platform notification systems were a prerequisite to its growth.
Once these things were possible, push-based ads became a hit. Now they’re one of the best ways to reach consumers.
Well, we went over that a bit in the beginning, but let’s go through all the main reasons.
1. The advertiser initiates the push notification. You don’t have to wait for a user to trigger a popup/popunder, watch a video, or go to a page with a banner. With
With Push, a lot more control in the hands of the advertiser – especially when it comes to time-sensitive messaging.
2. Limited risk of fraud. Fraud is a massive problem in the online advertising industry, and limiting it is at or near the top of every advertiser’s agenda.
With push notifications, this concern is significantly reduced.
Everyone reached through push is a real user, often a user that explicitly opted into advertisements of a particular type.
3. Click through rates are excellent
Click through (CTR) is the rate users click on an ad compared to the total number of users that have seen it. This is one of the most valuable metrics in online advertising as it’s the beginning of
Push notification CTR isn’t just good, it’s often magnitudes better than that of other kinds of online advertisement.
These are just some of the many reasons that push notifications have become so popular.
The advertiser maintains greater control and initiates the interaction, the risk of fraud is low, and the click-through rate (CTR) is quite high.
It’s not perfect
The primary risk with Push is that that you’ll eventually get on customers’ nerves if you push too many things too often.
They either start simply ignoring your push notifications or, worse, begin to think of you as a spammer.
This is especially dangerous on Android where notifications aren’t necessarily opt-in, but instead opt-out.
So users that aren’t particularly dedicated (yet) to a specific product or service could quickly find themselves put off should the notifications become too frequent.
This is perhaps the primary concern with push notifications: that they’ll start to be considered spam and eventually ignored entirely.
A recent study has shown the total lifetime value of a subscriber can be predicted and measured. The study concluded that notification recipients very, very rarely stick around in the long term, even if they are dedicated users.
The article, published by Marfeel and based on their research, offers several compelling strategies for extracting the maximum value of clicks from each push subscriber. It’s a must-read.
The future of Push?
The future of Push Notifications as an advertising medium is bright. This is especially true for opt-in notifications that only show things that are closely related to an area of interest for the user.
As the Marfeel report outlines, the medium is not eternally sustainable.
It does have an expiration date for each user no matter how carefully maintained the relationship might be.
But what has been proven is the value of pushing advertisements directly to the user himself. How this will evolve in the future is difficult to predict, but Push can certainly grow beyond the simple browser or mobile notification.
Push advertisements based on events, such as exact geographic location or specific actions could provide an avenue for further growth (while also adding value).
Google, for example, already pushes notifications requesting reviews of restaurants and other businesses based on your GPS location and the amount of time that you have spent in a particular place.
In the future, this could go well beyond just asking for reviews. Companies could offer customized services and deals instead.
Indeed many companies are already rolling out GPS-based push advertisements. Though this is a subsector of the push notification industry that is still learning to walk the line between effective targeting and privacy.
Action and location-based push notifications are almost certainly going to play critical roles in the future, but there are still hurdles to overcome.
Push Notification advertisements are ads that are initiated on the advertiser’s end and appear as notifications on the user’s device, be it mobile, tablet, or desktop.
It is not the case with Android, however. With Android, simply installing an app can give it permission to display notifications. This difference in the way permission to notify is granted means that advertisers need to treat users of both devices differently.
While Push Notifications often result in impressive CTR, Push recipients do have an “expiration” date.
Therefore a balance must be found in order to maximize the number of clicks one can expect from a given subscriber.
Push Notifications also have lower rates of fraud and human traffic is essentially guaranteed given the nature of push notification distribution.
Lastly, advertisements that are “pushed” from the advertiser to the consumer are likely to become more and more valuable in the advertising world in general.