What Are In-App Notifications And How Are They Different From Push Notifications?

What Are In-App Notifications And How Are They Different From Push Notifications?

If you’re a SaaS owner with a multi-platform product, you may be wondering what the difference between in-app notifications and push notifications is. In fact, some people even (erroneously) use the terms interchangeably.

Today we’re going to compare the two so you know which one to use for your in-app marketing goals! Let’s get started!


  • Push notifications are good for urgent alerts as they show up even on a locked mobile device screen.
  • The difference between an in-app notification and a push notification lies in the user state they target (an in-app notification someone using the app while a push notification targets those who don’t currently have it open)
  • A full-page message can instantly grab a user’s attention. Such messages encourage the user to respond to the CTA more than a subtler element would.
  • Modals and other full-screen pop-ups can get annoying if you use them too often. As such, avoid using an obstructive push message too often.
  • Mobile app messaging and other in-app notifications should follow the HIVR formula: helpful, interesting, valuable, and relevant.
  • You can use in-app notifications to engage users or highlight certain elements of the user interface.
  • Running NPS surveys through in-app messages is an effective approach to engaging users at every stage of the user journey.
  • Tooltips give the right guidance at the right time since you can set them to be triggered by user interaction like a cursor hovering over an element.

What are in-app notifications?

In-app messages are notifications that help you communicate with your users inside the app. They can help with onboarding, in-app guidance, driving customer expansion, and increasing feature adoption across the board.

What are push notifications?

Push notifications are short messages that an app sends to users while they aren’t using it. A few examples would be alerts when a name message comes in, suspicious account activity, update announcements, feature launches, and incoming payments. They also appear on the lock screen.

In-app notifications vs push notifications

In-app messages differ from push notifications because of the user state each one target. The former communicates with people who are currently using the application while the latter sends apps outside the app to get the attention of users who don’t currently have it open.

Userpilot in-app messaging
Push vs In-app notifications

The use case is also different as in-app messaging tends to focus on customer success while push notifications are more for urgent alerts so they can keep track of activity without having to keep the app open.

Why are in-app notifications important?

There are many applications and benefits when it comes to in-app notifications but a few notable ones are:

Enhance user experience right in the app

It’s no secret that a product-led user experience can improve your trial to paid conversion rate and help you differentiate your solution from that of competitors. In-app messages can work wonders on in-app marketing for many reasons but first and foremost it reduces friction.

Calendly new feature tooltip

Users will see the right messages at the right times which ultimately leads them to get more value out of your product. In-app messages can also walk users through new features with interactive tutorials and provide easy access to customer support or knowledge base resources from within the app.

Gather valuable insights from in-app user feedback

Using in-app messages to better understand who your users are, what they struggle with, and the goals they hope to achieve with your product can help guide your CXM optimization decisions. Knowing what your customers want is also essential to reducing churn.

Slack feature survey

Whether it’s using NPS surveys to see which features they like/dislike, feature surveys that tip you off on user sentiment after a big update, or anything else you want to find out about your user base, having in-app microsurveys can work wonders.

Boost customer lifetime value (LTV)

When you deliver a steady stream of value-packed notifications, you’ll be able to keep the user’s attention longer and reduce the odds of them churning towards a competitor. That said, poorly executed notifications could just interrupt the user and diminish their loyalty.

Source: Loom

Every notification should have a specific goal whether that’s increasing product engagement, driving account expansion, encouraging feature discovery, or gamifying the onboarding process. In fact, in-app notifications can be a highly-effective upsell tool for generating expansion revenue.

What are the different types of in-app notifications?

In-app notifications is an umbrella term but there are many different types of in-app messaging that you can capitalize on. The four main types of in-app notifications are:

  • Modals
  • Tooltips
  • Checklists
  • Micro surveys


In-app modals are pop-up messages with a call to action. They instantly capture the user’s attention and get them to perform the desired action. That said, modals can be pretty intrusive at times so reserving them for key moments is wise.

You could use modals to tell features when there’s something new in your app, send important notifications about their account, welcome users during onboarding, or collect data through microsurveys.

Kontentino modals
Kontentino welcome screen built with Userpilot. Get a demo and see how you can build one in your SaaS!


Tooltips are a specific form of in-app messaging that describes certain elements of your product, either as a small popup or when the cursor hovers a feature. They’re a great way to highlight the subtle elements in your UI or provide contextual help that only shows up when the user is already curious.

Ahrefs tooltips
Source: Ahrefs

In general, you want to make sure you stick to the HIVR formula when creating tooltips. This means your tooltips should be helpful, interesting, valuable, and relevant. This ensures that you’ll actually help the in-app targets (i.e. your users) instead of creating an app notification that will frustrate users.

Userpilot tooltips
Tooltips in Userpilot


Checklists are like an in-app message combined with a to-do list since they offer step-by-step guides for users. This reduces the time-to-value of your onboarding and therefore accelerates the user activation process.

You can also use checklists during secondary onboarding to drive engagement with more advanced features. After all, surface-level features may get users in but it’s the unique capabilities of your solution that will keep them from switching to a competitor.

The great news is that building a checklist is easy and doesn’t even require programming knowledge. No-code tools let you implement checklists into various areas of your product in no time at all so your customers are nudged in the right direction.

Userpilot checklist
Checklist example created by Userpilot


Microsurveys are short forms that you display within your app to collect user feedback — guiding your product decisions and helping you achieve sustainable growth. They can also help you track user behavior and start building a behavioral segmentation framework for your in-app marketing.

Leveraging data to create a product experience based on the user’s behavior is a powerful tool that can help you retain users and further promote the features that are keeping users engaged. Here are a few types of in-app microsurveys and what you can use them for:

  1. Customer feedback microsurveys let you gather feedback on a specific feature, page, or product.
  2. Customer satisfaction surveys give you a holistic view of how happy customers are with your solution and whether or not they’ll stick around.
  3. NPS surveys, gauge customer loyalty by asking them how likely they are to refer the product to a friend and getting feedback on what changes they’d like to see — like an anti-churn compass!
  4. Feature surveys can track the user sentiment for new products so you know which direction to take your product.
  5. Information collection microsurveys provide data that can be used to write case studies or present during webinars.
  6. Competitor analysis microsurveys help you find out why users chose your solution over more popular products so you can continue to emphasize your strengths during development and marketing.
  7. Welcome screen microsurveys collect customer data like a user’s current location, demographic, use case, and goals so you can personalize the experience or update your user persona.
  8. Churn/exit microsurveys tell you why your users are leaving so you can nip the problem(s) at the bud before more people churn.
Churn exit survey
Churn survey example

When to use in-app notifications?

Being familiar with all the types of in-app notifications is the first step to realizing their full potential but it’s also essential to know when you should use them. There are a few use cases where in-app notifications would be beneficial such as:

  • Onboarding new users
  • New features announcements
  • Driving account expansion
  • Collecting product feedback

Use in-app notifications to onboard new users

The onboarding experience can determine whether a user sticks around for years and upgrades their subscription or ends up churning then signing up with a competitor. That being the case, it’s essential that every onboarding flow feels tailored to the user and their needs.

In-app messaging like welcome screens can do more than greet new signups, they can also encourage users to share a few details about themselves/their goals so you can start the customer segmentation process early on.

Userpilot welcome screen user onboarding
Personalized onboarding in Userpilot

User persona data that you can gather through welcome screens could be things like:

  • What are they trying to achieve with your product?
  • What is their role is at the organization they work at?
  • How experienced are they?

Use in-app notifications for feature announcements

If your users enable push notifications and in-app notifications then that’s a signal to app creators that they’re interested in hearing more about the product. That being the case, app creators can use mobile push notifications and in-app notifications to send new feature announcements to their users.

Keeping your customers in the loop builds loyalty while also giving users a reason to keep coming back to your mobile apps or desktop apps whenever an update goes live. Furthermore, launch messages can also provide valuable feedback into which changes are popular with your users and which ones aren’t.

See how Miro used an in-app notification to launch their reactions feature.

Miro feature launch notification
Source: Miro

Use in-app notifications to drive account expansion

Customer expansion is the practice of increasing the value existing users receive with the hopes of them generating more revenue for the company as a result. Expansion MRR is an essential part of sustainably growing a SaaS since acquiring new users is five times more expensive than user retention.

Pro tip: you can also use retention push notifications to draw inactive users back to your app.

The three main types of customer expansion are:

  • Upselling: getting people to pay more for the same product i.e. by upgrading their subscription.
  • Cross-selling: selling separate products to users to supplement their customer experience.
  • Add-ons: selling customizations that expand the capabilities of their app usage with things like more cloud storage or higher participant caps in meetings

Of the three, upselling tends to be the most common method since persuading customers to upgrade to a pricier plan is the most straightforward way to increase revenue and LTV.

Slack has been known to heavily incentivize its freemium users to upgrade to a paid plan.

Source: Slack

Use in-app notifications to collect user feedback on product

The NPS metric has long been a benchmark of customer satisfaction and loyalty. While the net promoter score only asks about the likelihood to refer the product to a friend, suffice it to say that users who are dissatisfied and unloyal wouldn’t be very likely to do such a thing.

Userpilot NPS survey
NPS survey by Userpilot

You can also add qualitative follow-up questions after your NPS survey to gather more detailed feedback on what makes users love or hate your product.

NPS follow-up survey in Userpilot

When you run NPS microsurveys through in-app notifications, you’ll be able to time them perfectly throughout each stage of the user journey. NPS segmentation feature will help you notice patterns and find ways to improve certain touchpoints or experiences.

NPS segmentation in Userpilot


Whether you’re using in-app notifications or push messages, what’s important is that your in-app messaging focuses on promoting app usage and improving the customer journey. It should be combined with other customer success tactics to make the customer experience great.

Want to start using in-app notifications and optimizing the onboarding experience for your users? Get your free Userpilot demo today!

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