Ready Mobile Apps

E-mail vs. SMS vs. Push Notifications: Which Is More Effective?

As a marketer, you must have puzzled over which digital channel is more effective for connecting and engaging with your customers. Your ROI has to be high enough to justify the marketing budget, too. So, do you need to start mobile marketing? Should you stick to traditional SMS and e-mail routes or try push notifications?

E mail vs. SMS vs. Push Notifications: Which Is More Effective?

Image Source: 

This comparison table will help you make the right choice:

Parameter E-mail SMS/Text message Push notification
First reach Slow Instant (if the cellphone is on) Instant (if the cellphone is on)
Average open rate 23% (depending on the industry) 90% 90%
Cost Medium High Low
Opt-out possibilities Low Low High
Sender’s identity Clear Often unclear Clear
Engagement Medium (if there are links) Medium (mostly for local businesses) High
Potential coverage Medium High Medium
Reach probability Low High High
Personalization Medium Medium High
Record High Medium Medium (depends on the app settings)
Spam rate High (¾ of all messages) High (¾ of all messages) Low
Malware probability High Low Low
Amount of information Substantial (unlimited amount) Small (limited amount) Small (limited amount)
Visual elements Yes Mostly no Mostly no
Feedback possibilities Yes Yes (if the sender is known) Yes (depends on the app settings)
Distractibility Medium High Medium (if your messages come without a sound)
Opt-out rate 20%–50% (depending on the industry) 60% 40%

Although e-mails and SMSs are fairly universal—i.e. if you have someone’s e-mail address or cellphone number, you can contact them directly without delay—they lack the personal touch and can even seem intrusive. And though mobile apps need to be downloaded and opened, they still have advantages over other digital channels. Here’s why.

E-mails are noted for higher malware spread probabilities, and if your e-mail marketer includes too much information in a message, it can be perceived as too noisy and not valuable to the customer.

According to ZipStripe research, it takes a recipient an average 6.5 hours to view an e-mail, but only 15 minutes to view SMSs and push notifications.

People check their personal emails for an average 20 minutes per day, but a typical smartphone is on for 16 hours per day. Coupon redemption for email averages less than 1%, while SMS coupon redemption averages 15%–20% and for push notifications it can be as high as 30%.

Text messages may seem similar to push notifications but they have significant differences. For one thing it costs the company a lot to send SMSs and it can end up costing the recipient too if they don’t have an unlimited texting plan. SMS vs text in your email loses, as the amount of textual and visual information is reduced.

A second difference is that users have total control over the push notifications they receive from mobile apps, unlike text messages, which can leave people wondering who they’re from and “How the heck did they get my cellphone number?” With push notifications users already know the brand so they’re a lot less spammy.

E mail vs. SMS vs. Push Notifications: Which Is More Effective?

Image Source: Yodel Mobile Blog, Mobile Engagement Part 1: When Push Comes to Shove

Push notifications have higher engagement rates than SMSs or e-mails because they lead to a consistent app experience where you can implement user-friendly forms, gather feedback or form other ways of interacting. E-mails with links work a lot better on desktops as not many websites have a responsive or mobile version. Text messages are perfect for local businesses with temporary promotion campaigns but if the business is remote and the user has not subscribed for these notifications voluntarily, the engagement level will be almost zero.

It’s true that all three tools let you send one message to a large group of people. However, mobile apps collect users’ data—browsing history, retention data, digital activities etc.—so their notifications are a lot more personalized than e-mails or SMS messages. The whole brand experience is deeper and more valuable.

E mail vs. SMS vs. Push Notifications: Which Is More Effective?I’m not trying to say that e-mails or text messages are not effective in modern marketing—they are still powerful and universal tools. E-mails can contain more visual elements and more information in general, while text messages have a wide reach so work well with new customers who haven’t downloaded your mobile app yet.

Push notifications are geared toward audiences with high smartphone hold rates, and you need to invest into a mobile app first before you can send them. However, the advantages of push notifications—cost, engagement and delivery speed—mean you should definitely consider complementing your existing marketing strategy with mobile apps.

The most important thing is to understand your customers’ needs and habits so you don’t overwhelm them with countless messages. What digital channel do you prefer? Have you implemented push notifications into your marketing strategy? Please share your thoughts below.

Sign up for a free trial with Mobile Apps to experience the power of mobile apps today!



  1. You make a lot of good points in your article but this does seem to leave out some good bits of information in the comparison or positive and negatives of both sms and push via app. With the recent push of “small business app” that are “native” apps that build their value on push messaging vs the same small business using a planned sms campaign, being a company that promotes both to small businesses I would have to lean toward the effectiveness of sms for long term results. What you didn’t mention in the article is once the “new” has worn off of the small business app, people tend to begin ignoring the messages. I have also discovered that most don’t have an unlimited amount of data storage on their devices so once they run out of room for updates or pictures the first thing to go are what they consider “unneeded apps” which 100% of the time is the small business’ app. Their phone may have a social app for each one of their friends but they will not dump it. Once that app has been deleted the greatest push notification in the world has no effect. What I have learned is once we have a properly trained client they know the benefits of the sms “introduction” so they are not confused by the push message with a funny number. Also, one can connect the message to a mobile website or mobile app that will do all that they need which is engage the customer with a coupon or special with a call to action. Selling short the benefits of SMS I think is a little short sided. I am a huge fan of Apps but they definitely have some serious shortcomings when it comes to small business marketing. For that reason, I can say from experience there is a smaller market for mobile apps than a properly ran sms.

    • Dear Christopher, thanks for your comment.

      What do you mean by a properly trained client? There’s still a lack of personalisation when it comes to SMS, and they are being deleted too, just as unnecessary e-mails or excess apps. Moreover, it’s even easier to delete those – generally just one swipe, unlike the mobile app.
      Undoubtedly, integrating several tools together – just like SMS and apps that you’ve mentioned – will work great for any business. The decision to delete a mobile app, in my view, does not depend on the size of the business as people generally turn away from mass brands to their customised and personalised local businesses. The developer needs to work over the size of the app, its functionality and work on retention – that is the other point I discussed in another article.
      Surely, SMS have many advantages but mobile apps have more. Have you heard of the Macy’s case when they can actually track if you step inside Macy’s store and the exact shelves you crossed and stopped by while searching for whatever you needed? This is possible only with an app that has a special monitor integrated with the app and geolocation.

  2. Nice post Sasha…. I agree with your conclusion that Push notifications have higher engagement rates than SMSs or e-mails. The reason behind this is that currently Smart phones form an integral part of users’ lives. This is among the major reasons why the Push notifications for mobile app has been so successful in linking the various companies with their customers. With push notifications, you can easily put a message across millions of app users across the globe in a cost-effective manner. While these notifications are not entirely new, they have gained immense popularity over the past few years.

  3. Hi Sasha,

    Great article! Just wanted to clear up some things about SMS for business:

    Open rate—The average open rate for SMS is actually 98%.
    Cost—Low. From a company perspective, it only costs $1-2/month to provision a long code text-enabled number, and ~$100 for use of an SMS platform. Meanwhile, it costs about $150,000 to develop an app (with accompanying push notifications).
    Opt-out possibilities—High. It’s important for marketers to offer people the chance to opt-out, and the Mobile Marketing Association, which oversees text marketing, demands double opt-in authentication and the opportunity to opt-out with a simple keyword.
    Sender’s identity—Clear. If you are texting with someone, you know who they are, and if you text with a business, you can add your contact information to your phone for ease of recognition.
    Engagement—High. SMS can be used for any business for a variety of different use cases (scheduling, reporting, payment, etc.) In customer service, for example, SMS engagement is very high because people are trying to resolve their problem on a channel they prefer. Push notification engagement is very low: only 6% of consumers react to (receive and clicked on) push notifications from mobile apps across industries and OS types
    Personalization—High. By integrating with CRMs, SMS can deliver a personalized, contextualized experience, drawing from past interactions to inform future ones. SMS can incorporate data as simple as name or email, or as advanced as available appt times drawn from a scheduling system. Plus, from a customer perspective, text messages seem like they’re coming from a person
    Record—High. Depending on the system you use, you can get advanced reporting about the message sent: how many people have opened your message, how many people have engaged with the text flow, etc.
    Spam rate—Low (even lower with long code text messages). Texts on short codes are regulated by the CTIA, with clear rules for opt-in and opt-out. Failure to comply means your short code can be revoked.
    Amount of information—The amount of information with SMS is medium. Although it may take a few messages to resolve a problem, the fact that SMS platforms can tie into a CRM means relevant customer information can be incorporated into the first text, speeding up the interaction.
    Distractibility—SMS distractibility is only high if you aren’t expecting a text message. If you are waiting for customer service information over SMS, it won’t distract you to get a new message.

    As I’ve laid out, SMS is a great channel for customer engagement. In fact, 64% of Americans would rather text than call a business. If you’d like to learn more, you can download our 2014 report here:



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>