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Push Notifications vs. Text Messages: What's the Difference?

Angela Stringfellow

Last updated on

There are various communication and media tools that enable you to reach your target audience in nearly every market. Two of the most popular and affordable options are push notifications and SMS text messaging. From the outside, these tools may look identical, but the truth is, they differ quite a bit.

Both SMS text messaging and push notifications are effective ways to communicate with your audience, but what are the differences and which is the best option? This article explains the differences between the two and will help you decide which is the best option for your audience.

What Are Text Messages?

The term “text message” tends to be universal for messages sent via mobile phones. Short Messaging Service (SMS) is the universal text messaging system, unlike Apple’s iMessage, which can only be used between Apple devices.

SMS texts are limited to 160 characters per message. You can type out a longer message, but the system will send multiple messages to the recipient and not always in the correct sequence. Unlike other messaging systems like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, SMS messages are delivered via a mobile network, and recipients will need an active network to receive them. As such, SMS text messages cannot be sent with an internet connection.

Here are a few benefits and disadvantages of SMS text messages.

Benefits of Text Messages:

  • Delivery is immediate.
  • Internet is not necessary to send or receive messages.
  • The default app is pre-installed.
  • A two-way communication stream is available.
  • Businesses can track delivery status, replies, opt-outs, etc.
  • All message content is stored and can be accessed unless it’s deleted.


  • Promotional texting without consent is illegal.
  • Opt-in process can be challenging.
  • Messages are limited to 160 characters.
  • Authenticating data is challenging.
  • Your number can be blocked by consumers.
  • Consumers can label messages as spam.

What Are Push Notifications?

Push notifications are short informative messages that pop up on the recipient’s desktop or mobile device. Push messages should remain under 40 characters but can contain up to 240 characters. Push messages can also include rich media, such as images or GIFs, to enhance the text.

Push notifications are delivered through the backend of a mobile or web application via an Operating System Push Notification Service (OSPNS). Push notifications only need an internet connection to be received, therefore the recipient does not require an active network or plan with a mobile carrier to receive a push message.

Here are a few benefits and disadvantages of push notifications.

Benefits of Push Notifications:

  • Easy, one-click opt-in process.
  • Users are not required to provide an email address or phone number.
  • Personalized, segmented messages can be delivered in real-time.
  • Messages can include links and CTAs.
  • Push notifications can be automated based on user actions or triggered events.
  • High open and conversion rates.
  • Messages can consist of rich media such as images, videos, GIFs, etc.


  • Users must be connected to the internet to receive push notifications.
  • Users need to download a mobile app or visit a web app or website via a browser.
  • Users can easily opt-out and disable push messages.
  • The push notification market is becoming saturated, which can annoy consumers and cause app and notification fatigue.

Key Differences Between Push Notifications and Text Messages

Push notifications and SMS text messaging certainly have similarities, but their differences can impact how your audience receives your messages. It’s essential to understand their differences in order to make the right choice for your business.

The Subject Matter

Push notifications have few limitations when it comes to content. Unlike SMS text messages, push notifications have more creative scope because they can include rich media alongside text. When it comes to SMS text messages, the media is sent separately via MMS (Multimedia messaging service).

The length of the content also differs between the two. Push notifications don't have strict character limitations, but there is a rule of thumb marketers follow to be successful. Typically, push alerts should remain under 40 characters, while successful push notifications with high click-through rates tend to contain 10 or fewer words.

SMS, on the other hand, has a limit of 160 characters. If the content goes over that amount, multiple SMS messages will be sent. Marketers have learned that consumers respond better to receiving only one message.

Permission Request Process

Both text messaging and push messaging are permission-based, meaning the recipient must opt-in to be contacted. A critical difference between the two is that businesses must receive written consent from recipients to send business or marketing messages via SMS. Consent can be achieved via other marketing channels such as email, text-to-win campaigns, or online forms.

Opt-in consent for push notifications tends to be more accessible. When users visit your website or download your app, an alert will request permission. This allows users to opt-in with one click. Another way users can opt-in is through the app’s settings or their phone’s notification settings.

The opt-out process for users is relatively simple for both text and push. To opt-out of SMS messages, users can simply reply to a text with a keyword such as UNSUBSCRIBE or STOP. They can also block the phone number or call the company and ask to be removed. Disabling push notifications requires a few more steps; typically users need to go into the settings of whichever device they would like to disable the notifications on. Users can also disable notifications via the mobile app’s settings.

One thing to note about web/browser push notifications is that each browser must receive permission to send messages. Meaning, if the user has given both Google Chrome and Safari permission to receive notifications, the user must disable notifications on each browser.

Display on Screen

Push notifications can appear differently on various devices, depending upon the hardware and operating system. Most push messages can pop up with or without sound and remain on your screen for a moment before settling on the notification center or lock screen. The message will then remain on the lock or notification screen until selected or cleared by the user. Push notifications can also appear as a red badge on the actual app icon.

SMS notifications resemble push pop-ups, except users have the option to see a preview of the text (or not). SMS messages are stored in the device’s default messaging app and are accessible at any time, whereas push notifications are ephemeral. Push messages will disappear once viewed or cleared.

Device Compatibility

Text messages can be sent and received by any mobile device, regardless of whether it’s considered a smartphone or not. The only stipulation is that the device must be connected to a cellular network with a mobile carrier. SMS text messages cannot be sent via the internet alone.

Conversely, push notifications are compatible with modern smart devices, desktops, and web browsers and do not need a cellular-connected network. Devices only need an internet connection to receive push notifications.


The effect these marketing tools have and how people interact with them is another key difference between push notifications and SMS messages. Push notifications have proven to be quite effective when the goal is targeted, whereas SMS messages tend to perform better for a broader range of topics like travel, urgent banking alerts, and reservation check-ins.

Statistics from 2021 show that SMS messages have a lower click-through rate (CTR) of 7%, while push notifications see an average CTR of 35% or more. Open rates for SMS text messages tend to be higher, remaining at 98%, with push notifications following close behind at 90%.

Ultimately, the impact either of these tools makes on your business will depend on your business goals and your target audience.

Push vs. SMS Text: Which Should You Use?

Push notifications and SMS text messages are valuable and effective in their respective fields. Understanding the distinction between these two messaging platforms and how they each work will help you determine which technology you should include in your overall marketing strategy. The best practice is usually to use a multi-channel approach to marketing.

The decision to utilize push notifications or text messages should lie with your audience and your goals for growth. If you’re looking to increase traffic, engagement, and conversions, push notifications are an excellent tool. If you’re ready to implement push notifications into your growth and marketing plans, we recommend using MagicBell.

MagicBell offers an innovative and easy-to-use notification system with an inbox to capture and store messages across all channels. MagicBell can also integrate this function into your application in a matter of minutes, saving you the time and hassle that usually comes with other solutions.