What’s the Best Push Notification Service?

Choosing the best push notification service can be confusing. We’ve pulled together some questions to help you determine what features, functions and capabilities are most important for the success of your app and your business.

It’s a question you or your team may be asking right now: what’s the best push notification service for us to use as we work to grow our app and our brand?

The answer to this question might be different for different brand at different stages of mobile growth. But, as the company that powered the very first commercial app to use push notifications way back in 2009, we know a thing or two about what to look for.

Whether you’ve currently got a push notification service, but you're considering a switch, or you’re looking to get started with push notifications for the first time, we hope we can help make the research process a little easier. 

We’ve pulled together list of questions you’ll want to consider as you decide which push notification service is right for you.

Want to talk it over with someone? Make an appointment for a demo or just to chat with one of our experts anytime. We look forward to hearing about your mobile messaging goals, and helping you figure out how our push notification service compares to others and whether it's a good fit for you.

If you'd rather just dive in and try out our solution, Engage, you can do that anytime, for free

Choosing the Best Push Notification Service for Your Business: Key Questions To Consider

What volume of push notifications do you plan to send (and how fast are you growing)?

If you’re anticipating sending a high volume of push notifications — now or in the future — then you’ll want to make sure you’re with a push notification service that can handle the volume without crashing or missing message sends. (Users who get a push notification hours or days after it was intended to arrive are not likely to be thrilled. Unfortunately, delyed send is an issue we hear about from brands looking to switch push notification services fairly regularly as one of the top reasons they're looking to switch push notification providers. A provider with the infrastructure to handle volume is critical.)

Does speed of push notification delivery matter in your app monetization business model?

For some brands, the best push notification service is the one that can make sure their messages get there first. For example, media companies need to be the first to push out breaking news — who taps on the second push notification about the same story?

To make sure your mobile messaging gets to your audience fast, your push notification partner needs to have the infrastructure to make it happen. This is especially critical when you’re trying to send push notifications fast at scale (like millions of notifications in seconds).

Even if you’re not trying to beat out competition, customers increasingly expect in-the-moment, real-time interactions with brands. That makes speed essential.

What levels of customer segmentation and message personalization are possible?

Personalized push notifications perform better, so you want to be able to make your mobile messaging as targeted as possible. Each push notification service will handle audience segmentation and message personalization differently. Urban Airship offers unlimited tagging and segmentation. We also make it simple to segment in our user-friendly Message Composer tool, so you can create messaging — and automated workflows for segmented, personalized messaging — easily.  

Will you be able to create and send interactive push notifications?

Interactive notifications — button pairs, social sharing and more — are a fantastic way to accelerate learning about your users.  By capturing how users respond to your content — what they like and don’t like — you can target and retarget your audience to better meet them in their mobile moments. Interactive notifications are so useful it’s good to know whether the push notification services providers you’re considering offer interactive functionality out of the box.  

If you’re brand new to mobile messaging, you might want to check out our cheat sheet on push notifications: what are they, what do they do best, and what terms you’ll want to know as you navigate potential push notification service partners.

Does the provider offer any tools for reaching app users who aren't opted in to push notifications (which can be up to 50% of app users)?

To get the push notifications you send, your app users with Apple devices (iOS) have to opt in to receive them. Users on Android are automatically opted in to get push notifications — but they can opt out at any time.

That means that — regardless of the platform they use — some percentage of your app users will never see your push notifications. That percentage will vary for each brand, but is often around 50%.

To reach those users you’ll need messaging tools that can reach app users regardless of whether they’ve opted in to push notifications. Those tools include in-app messages, an in-app message center (essentially an inbox for your app), web push notifications and mobile wallet passes (which you can use to reach your customers even if you don’t have an app).

Aside from helping you make sure you reach app users who have opted out of push, combining these additional mobile messaging tools with push notifications can make your mobile messages exponentially more effective.

Can you send push notifications that include videos, pictures and other rich media (i.e. rich push notifications)?

Push notifications that include images have a 56% higher engagement rate than those without. That’s according to a recent analysis we did of push notifications that include an embedded image.

It’s clear that using rich push notifications can create much higher engagement. But to do it, your push notification vendor needs to be able to handle the increased file sizes rich push notifications require. A strong infrastructure with plenty of bandwidth will be critical for sending rich push notifications at scale and a proven content delivery network will be an important option as well. 

Will you be able to send automated push notifications?

Automated push notifications — sending push notifications that are automatically triggered based on certain user actions — is a unique advantage for mobile, and something almost every brand will want to do sooner or later. You’ll want to make sure your provider makes it easy to configure automated mobile messages that help you deliver in-the-moment messaging based on your users' actions. 

A few special considerations if you’re not a mobile app developer:  

  • How many dev resources do you have available to you? Smaller push notification services can be buggier, and require more developer attention.

  • If you don’t have access to mobile development resources, look for a push notification service with a track record of reliability, and a lot of out-of-the-box functionality that will allow you to do what you want to do without requiring frequent help from a mobile developer. 

  • You’ll also want to get comfortable with the push notification message composer for the service you’re considering. Is it easy to use and understand? Will you be able to create and send push notifications quickly and easily, or will you need help every time? How streamlined is the message composer workflow for the kinds of messages you’ll be sending most often?

A few special considerations if you are a mobile app developer:

  • Take a look at the code for the push notification SDKs you’re considering. Are they clear and well-documented? Updated regularly? Open source? Lightweight for bandwidth and processing constraints?

  • Does the service you're considering have a good relationship with developers? Check Git Hub, Stack Overflow — even Twitter — to see how well the vendor you’re looking at supports and interacts with developers.

  • How easy is it to integrate the push notification platform with other technology in your stack? Are the APIs clear and easy to access from your back-end systems? How easily can you make use of the mobile analytics you’ll be getting in your current business intelligence systems?

Can you try the push notification service for free before you buy?

It’s a good sign when a push notification service offers a free version for you to try out. That usually means they’re confident you’ll have a positive experience. Plus, if you're a smaller organization whose push notification send volume might be low, the free version might meet your needs for quite some time.

Once you’ve given your push notification service a try, ensuring a smooth transition to your production app will be critical. (And a great push notification partner will make sure to offer the support you need to ensure everything’s on track — see the next question for more about support.)

How's their customer support?

This can be a significant differentiator. At Urban Airship, we’ve made significant investments in our customer support resources, and will continue to do so. In fact, our support team has a 98% customer approval rating.

Our free users have access to self-service support, which includes our Docs, a Knowledge Base that’s growing every day and support-monitored Community Forums.

Paid levels of our push notification service have access to all of the same resources as free users, plus (depending on which plan they’ve chosen), phone and email support, dedicated account managers, as well as access to our technical account managers and engineers who love complex use cases.

What mobile analytics and user-level data will you have access to?

To determine if your push notifications are effective, you’ll need to be able to access at least basic performance analytics. If you’re further along in your mobile strategy, you’ll probably want access to user-level mobile analytics. More advanced mobile analytics tools mean you can match push notification sends with user actions — and to revenue.  

Is it easy to bring data into the push notification platform from other business systems — and export data to use in other channels for retargeting?

Does the vendor make it easy to import (and export) customer information so you can use it to inform your push notifications? Taking what you know about your customers from their email, in-store or other behaviors and using it to personalize push notifications (or vice versa – using in-app behavior to personalize interactions in other channels) isn’t a far off dream — it’s possible now. But only if your vendor makes it possible — and relatively easy.

How is pricing structured?

With push notification providers, the truism “you get what you pay for” isn’t always quite true — there are many push notification services that can get you started for free.

But it’s the next step up where pricing can make a big difference — when you outgrow the free version, and need to upgrade. Consider how vendors price (this varies) — and the “extras” the company offers (technical support, reliability, speed, dedicated account management, strategic consulting, etc.) It’s a package deal. Get details on Urban Airship pricing here.

What’s your big picture mobile marketing strategy?

This is really the biggest consideration of them all. What are your mobile growth goals and how will you reach them?

Like any marketing tactic, it’s important to define what you expect from your push notifications — and how they fit in with your overall marketing mix. That will help you make sure that you’re successful in the short term — and that you can make smart decisions about how you prioritize mobile marketing efforts in the future.

We’re biased, but we believe that it’s critical for brands to think holistically about their mobile strategy, and choose a service that will grow along with them — both in terms of the technology/features/functions available today, as well as a commitment to staying on the cutting edge of what's next as the mobile landscape continues to shift. It’s our goal to provide our customers with the services they need — no matter where they are in their business growth — as well as help them future-proof their business by staying ahead of the curve on everything brands need to achieve exponential mobile growth.

At Urban Airship, we think a solid strategy is so critical we have a Strategic Services team in the US and in EMEA. They consult with clients of all sizes to help create mobile strategies that get results. (Get in touch with team leads Alyssa or Emily anytime to set up a consultation.)

We hope this list of questions will help as you decide the best push notification service for you! Did we miss anything? Have more questions about the information here? Get in touch anytime: we’re happy to have a conversation about what you're looking for, and help you figure out if we’re a good fit.

Or, if you’d like, you can sign up and take our push notification service for a test drive, for free.