Urban Airship hits 5B notifications as engagement reigns

For mobile developers looking to engage their users, push notifications have become a key tool in drawing users back into apps and getting them to spend more time there. Now we’re getting a better sense of just how popular push notifications have become with developers and publishers.

Urban Airship, a Portland, Ore.–based notification provider (see disclosure below), told me it has hit 5 billion push notifications since it delivered its first message on June 14, 2009. The company took 1 year and 3 months to get to 1 billion notifications sent and took just another 11 months to push out another 4 billion messages. Now Urban Airship is delivering 520 million push notifications per month, or roughly 13,000 messages per minute.

The milestone is helpful in understanding how the game has changed for mobile developers. While they used to chase download numbers, they’re now seeing that it’s not enough to get users in the door; it’s about keeping them engaged over time. That’s how developers can keep monetizing them, through in-app purchases and mobile advertising. And one of the most effective things is a timely push notification that can alert a user to new content, an update, a local deal or some other message.

Urban Airship now has more than 20,000 iOS (s aapl), Android (s goog) and BlackBerry (s rimm) apps that use its messaging platform. And it’s helping enable more commerce and opportunities for developers. The company said it has enabled and authenticated 4.2 million transactions through its push notifications. Time in apps and app launches also increase with push notifications. A comScore study earlier this year found that 14 percent of Groupon and Living Social users engaged with those companies’ mobile apps after receiving push notifications.

“If I can grab a user back into the app, I can get them to purchase things,” said Urban Airship CEO Scott Kveton. “Push notifications are a great way to get people back into apps and consuming content over time.”

Urban Airship, which has also added Dylan Anderson as its new CFO, sees a bigger play than just mobile phones and is hoping to become a ubiquitous messaging layer between all kinds of connected devices. It’s working to make its notification system even more intelligent, using anonymized data to help determine the best and most effective times to deliver notifications. And because it can see across a number of apps on one device, it can also help direct messaging traffic, staggering notifications so that they’re clumped together. It’s something the company is working on and should help it become even more attractive to publishers.

The company is also building in location information into its notifications with its recent partnership with Simple Geo, which will team with Urban Airship on releasing a co-branded library for developers that leverages both messages and location. That will enable developers to push out location-aware notifications based on a user’s context, where they are, what’s around, what’s going on and other signals. That’s something we’ve talked about before, but it is ramping up as more publishers and advertisers look to better leverage location.

I asked Kveton if there are any signs of push-notification fatigue, and he said at this point, no. But that will be something to watch. People are responding positively to notifications now, but it will be important to not overwhelm users and devalue the power of notifications altogether by inundating them. The new Notifications Center in iOS 5 will certainly help by giving users more power over how they view and organize notifications.

When done right, notifications can really keep people involved in apps and be a primary way they interact with them, rather than launching them from their home screen. If users can come to trust that all the notifications are legitimate and helpful, it strengthens that relationship between publisher and consumer. And it opens the door for a lot of moneymaking opportunities. We still have a lot of apps that don’t utilize push notifications, but that should change quickly as developers learn the value of keeping the channel of communication open with users.

DisclosureUrban Airship is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, the founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.