Last Updated on
March 2, 2024

Push Notifications vs SMS vs Email: Choosing the Best Channel for Your Business

Key takeaways:

When it comes to digital communication channels, more and more businesses today are using push notifications (vs SMS and email) to connect and engage with their customers.

In this article we’re going to compare and break down these channels in detail, from their cost, to their performance in a couple of key metrics, to how they measure up in a number of other categories.

At the end, we’ll share our opinion on the best way for businesses to connect digitally with their customers in 2023.

Key Differences Between Push Notifications, SMS and Email

Push notifications, SMS and email are all "owned" communication channels. This means, once you have someone subscribed to receive messages on any of these channels, you can message them again and again and again.

You need to have certain information before you can send messages to people through each of these channels. For SMS (text messages) you need a person’s phone number, for email you need their email address. For both you should also have the person’s consent to contact them with marketing material.

Push notifications work a little differently, but the fundamentals are the same. You need a person to have downloaded your app to their mobile device (in the case of mobile push - web push notifications are slightly different). You’ll also need the recipient to allow your app to deliver push notifications to them.

There are a few differences in terms of reach, deliverability, the amount and nature of information you can convey in each message, and a few more factors, as we’ll get into later.

There’s also a difference in effectiveness and affordability between each channel, which is what we’ll look at first.

Push Notifications vs SMS vs Email: Cost

Let’s compare how push notifications, SMS and email stack up in terms of cost. Bear in mind the cost of each method varies a lot depending on the tool or service you use, and the level of features you need from each tool (e.g. choosing a push notification service’s simplest subscription level, or a higher plan that gives more complex features).

Nevertheless we’ll try and give rough cost benchmarks for each method, in terms of what it costs to message 10,000 users.

Push Notifications Cost

  • OneSignal: send unlimited push notifications to 10,000 subscribers from $39/mo ($129/mo for more complex plan)
  • PushEngage: send unlimited push notifications to 10,000 subscribers for $33/mo ($90.75/mo for more complex plan)

SMS Cost

  • Twilio: $0.0079 per message to US numbers ($79 per broadcast to 10,000 subscribers).
  • ActiveCampaign: 10,000 SMS credits costs $160 (each message to a US number costs 1 credit). Also requires a subscription to the platform plus their SMS add-on (minimum of roughly $50/mo).
  • TextMagic: $0.049 per message to US numbers ($490 per broadcast to 10,000 subscribers).
  • Omnisend: $150/mo to send up to 10,000 SMS per month to US numbers (includes email marketing features).
  • Klaviyo: $170/mo to send up to 10,000 SMS per month to US numbers (includes email marketing features).

These costs may be higher if you want to send messages to numbers in other countries, or to send multimedia (MMS) messages.

Email Cost

  • ActiveCampaign: $287/mo (Marketing Plus Plan with 10,000 subscribers, paid monthly). Also has the option of transactional emails at $15/mo for 10,000 emails.
  • Omnisend: $115/mo (Email only Plan with up to 10,000 contacts. 120,000 emails per month).
  • Klaviyo: $80/mo (Email Marketing Plan with 3,001 - 10,000 contacts. 30,000 emails per month).
  • Drip: $154/mo for up to 10,000 contacts (unlimited emails).
  • MailChimp: $100/mo for up to 10,0000 contacts. 100,000 emails per month.

Which Channel is the Most Affordable?

The affordability of each channel depends on the frequency with which you want to contact your users.

If you’re sending one message per month to each subscriber, you could do so for $80 with email (via Klaviyo), $79 with SMS text message (via Twilio) or $90.75 with push notifications (with PushEngage).

As sending frequency increases, SMS text messaging becomes a lot more expensive, as you pay per message, not per subscriber.

Email marketing tools are charged per subscriber, but many come with a monthly cap on the number of emails. If you’re looking to send multiple messages per month (approximately once per week), email and push are about equal.

If your frequency is higher than that, push notifications become the cheapest, if you use a tool like OneSignal or PushEngage that offers unlimited monthly push notifications.

Keep in mind that when we’re talking about which channel is the most affordable, you also need to consider the effectiveness of reaching your subscribers. If options A and B cost the same amount per message, but option A has a 50% open rate and B has a 25% open rate, A becomes a lot more cost-effective.

We’ll look at this next.

Comparison: Open Rate and Click-Through Rate

Now we’ll compare the effectiveness of push notifications, SMS and email in open rate and click-through rate.

Open Rate

There are a lot of different figures for the average open rate for email, SMS and push notifications. For example, Reckless shows an average of 2% opens for email and 20% for push, while Omnisend puts this at 22.94% opens for email and 52.86% for push.

Comparably, SMS boasts an extremely high open rate, some sources claiming as high as 98%.

We’ve summarized the latest figures into these ballpark averages.

  • Email: 20%
  • SMS: 95%
  • Push: 50%

Click-Through Rate

Once again there are various sources that report different figures for click-through rates on email, SMS and push. For example, Clevertap reports an average CTR for push notifications of 2.25%, while Reckless puts this as high as 28%. 

OneSignal reports an average CTR of 8% for push, while Business of Apps puts it between 21.6% and 42.5%.

The same goes for SMS. Some sources report SMS click-through rate at around 20%, others as low as 6%. Tatango estimates the average CTR for SMS at between 5-10%, which is in line with our estimations as well.

Average CTRs for email are much more consistent across the board, in the 1-2% range.

  • Email: 1%
  • SMS: 8%
  • Push: 10%

Summary: Open Rates and Click-Through Rates for Push Notifications, SMS and Email

Of the three channels, SMS has the highest open rates, with nearly 100% of SMS messages opened. Push is second, with potentially as many as 50% of notifications being read, while email is third, with 20%.

Push notifications and SMS are close in terms of engagement, with 8% average CTRs for SMS, and 10% for push. Email lags quite a way behind, with a 1% average clickthrough rate.

Other Factors to Consider

So far we’ve looked at cost, open rate and click-through rate for push notifications vs SMS vs email. These are three huge factors to consider when deciding which channel ranks as the best communication channel for brands, but there are a number of other factors to look at as well.

Let’s see how they compare in various other categories now.

Reach

Consider how easy it is to reach a specific user with each channel, and how many users you’re able to contact on each.

With email and SMS, you need a piece of contact information (the user’s email or phone number). These are moderately easy to come by, if a little more difficult than in the past (due to greater awareness of privacy and misuse of personal data).

For push notifications, you need someone to download your app, which presents quite a bit more friction than giving over your email or phone number.

We give the edge to email over SMS, as it’s in general a little easier to get someone’s email, and easier to contact people in different countries with email.

Winner: Email

Deliverability

Once you have the ability to contact someone on each of these channels, how reliably can you actually reach them?

The main thing to consider here is how easy it is for people to opt out. There will also be some failed attempts at delivery for each channel, but the number of failed deliveries is likely to be inconsequential.

With email, brands first need to worry about their emails being sent to spam. And consumers are unsubscribing from marketing emails at a higher rate these days, which hurts email’s effectiveness a little.

Push is probably the lowest here, as it’s quite easy for users to simply turn off notifications, then you can’t reach them on this channel at all.

Thus SMS is the winner for deliverability, with no spam folder and a higher rate of text messages making it to the user's inbox. Users can also receive text messages to their mobile devices without an internet connection, using their cellular network.

Winner: SMS

Amount of Information

How much information are you able to convey in a message on each channel?

Email is the clear winner in this aspect. There’s virtually no limit to the amount of information you can send in an email, while text messages and push notifications give you a limited amount of real estate to work with.

This allows you to send both long and short-form marketing messages with email, where you're limited to short-form copy with the other two.

Winner: Email

Personalization

Personalization makes marketing significantly effective. So whichever channel is easier to send personalized communications has a big edge.

You can do a lot of personalization in email marketing, though it can take effort to set up and get the right information integrated with your email marketing tool.

You can personalize with SMS as well, though you can do less with limited space to work with.

Push notifications are generally the easiest to personalize, as they’re integrated directly with your app, making it easier to transfer data from users’ accounts to set up personalized notifications with a service like OneSignal.

Winner: Push notifications

Trust

Which channel do users trust the most for commercial communications?

Email’s trust is dipping, with it developing a bigger reputation for spam and unwanted communications. SMS is particularly low on the trust scale, as one of the favorite channels for scammers, such as phishing operations.

Push notifications are easily #1 in this aspect, coming from a brand the user already knows, having made a conscious decision to download the app.

Winner: Push notifications

Visual Elements

How easy is it to add visual elements to your messages?

With SMS this is basically zero - unless you send MMS messages, which are extremely expensive, and even then don’t look very good.

You can do a little to visually enhance push notifications, but it’s still limited with the space you have to work with.

That leaves email as the winner for visual flexibility. 

Winner: Email

Interaction

How well can users reply to messages, and thus allow businesses to create a direct dialogue with their users?

With push notifications, users can’t open a dialogue directly in the notification, though they can often click from the push notification and take an action in-app that works similarly.

With both email and SMS it’s quite easy for users to reply to messages and communicate with a brand. We put email as the winner here, as there are no messaging charges (as there are at times for SMS), and the trust factor is higher meaning people feel safer responding to emails than text messages.

Winner: Email

Usability

Finally, how easy is it for brands to set up and run communications on each channel?

Email marketing tools have been around a long time, and have become very sophisticated and user-friendly. It’s also extremely easy to set up email opt-ins today with the raft of SaaS tools, plugins and apps that help website or app owners do this.

The SMS marketing industry is not quite as sophisticated or user-friendly, though many email marketing tools today do SMS as well, letting you utilize the same platform for opt-ins and sending SMS notifications or broadcasts.

Push notifications can be a little more technical, at least in the setup. Though with platforms like OneSignal and PushEngage, it’s become much easier for non-developers to set up and send push notifications.

Winner: Email

Summing Up: What’s the Best Way to Connect With Your Customers?

Though there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, push notifications have emerged as one of the most cost-effective ways for brands to communicate with their customers today.

Push notifications are around equal with email as the cheapest way to send frequent messages to users. Yet each push notification is more likely to be read by the user than an email, and is more likely to generate engagement.

Push notifications also have a higher level of trust and better personalization, two things that contribute to higher engagement levels.

If you need longer-form communication with your users, or you want to start a dialogue, email is the better bet. That’s why we recommend an omnichannel approach that utilizes email, push and, from time to time, SMS in your marketing and communications strategy.

Unlock Mobile Push Notifications with MobiLoud

When we’re talking about push notifications, the real power comes from mobile push notifications, not web.

Web push notifications have a limited reach, not being able to reach mobile users on iOS devices. It's also more difficult to subscribe users to receive push notifications via the web. When sent on desktop, push notifications don’t have quite the same impact that a mobile push messages does, delivering a personalized message straight to a user’s mobile phone lock screen.

For full use of mobile push, you need a mobile app, and MobiLoud is here to help you build it. 

If you have a mobile-optimized website, you’re 90% of the way to having an app already. MobiLoud wraps your website in native mobile code, allowing you to launch a mobile app in as little as a month, for minimal investment.

The John Varvatos app, built with MobiLoud

When you do that, you’ll have full access to mobile push notifications through our integration with OneSignal, along with the many other benefits of having your own mobile app.

Send push notifications like this, straight to your customers' mobile phones

MobiLoud is the most effective way for many online businesses, from publishers to ecommerce brands, to grow. Launching your own app helps you offer a better mobile user experience, boost retention, conversion rate and average order value, and unlock mobile push notifications.

You can learn more, and get the process of launching your own app started, by scheduling a free demo with a MobiLoud product manager.

This is your opportunity to take your business to the next level and connect with the growing majority of mobile users in a bigger and better way.

Convert your website into a mobile app

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