SMS Marketing Best Practices

Text Message Marketing Best Practices

SMS Marketing Best Practices for Web Opt-Ins

Text message marketing is one of the fastest-growing, most effective digital marketing channels. Given that text message open rates are as high as 99%, there is no better marketing strategy or marketing tool for reaching your customers in real time. However, there’s a lot to navigate when it comes to SMS marketing strategy, such as ensuring your campaigns are legally compliant, provisioning a short code, advertising your SMS text message marketing campaigns, and sending out messages that customers love. Below, we share text message marketing best practices you need to know.


Text Message Marketing Compliance Best Practices

When looking at SMS text message marketing best practices, the first thing to understand is the difference between the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA). Both outline rules and recommendations to help marketers stay within their legal rights when texting customers, but there are notable differences. Let’s take a look at each one so you can set your SMS campaigns up for success from the start.


Understanding the TCPA and CTIA

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a federal law in the United States that protects consumers from receiving unwanted text messages. The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) is a trade organization for US-based wireless carriers (such as Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T).

The CTIA creates guidelines on behalf of the wireless carriers for any SMS marketer. The TCPA is a law that can bring severe penalties if violated. Unlike with the TCPA, consumers can’t sue brands when they violate CTIA guidelines, but they still risk having their short code shut down. Watch the video below for more information about TCPA and CTIA compliance.

CTIA SMS Short Code Rules

To protect mobile consumers from spam text messages, the CTIA performs audits on SMS programs based on the rules found in their CTIA Short Code Compliance Handbook. Some of these guidelines require that brands include disclosures in text messages when marketing to consumers, such as:

  • “message and data rates may apply
  • “text HELP for help”
  • “text STOP to unsubscribe”

If a text messaging campaign violates any of the CTIA Short Code Compliance Handbook guidelines, the wireless carriers can deactivate the text messaging campaign. See the video below for more information.

TCPA SMS Short Code Rules

The TCPA outlines requirements for brands and other organizations in the US that use certain technologies to communicate with consumers.

For example, the TCPA states that consent cannot be a condition of purchase. This means brands can’t force consumers to consent to receive their text messages simply because they made a purchase. The TCPA also states that brands must get consumers’ consent to receive auto-dialed marketing messages sending text messages to consumers.

Brands must know how the TCPA law applies to their communication practices and the penalties resulting from failure to comply. For example, when a brand sends text alerts to consumers who haven’t given their consent to receive messages, the brand can end up paying fines of $500 per message. If a willful violation of the TCPA occurs, then the brand can pay as much as $1,500 per text message, per person.

The law is continuously evolving, making it difficult for brands to stay updated on all the latest changes. To learn more about the TCPA and compliance for businesses, we recommend watching these TCPA videos.

Make sure you also download our free TCPA survival guide for more info.


Why Is It Illegal to Send Text Messages Without Consent?

You may be wondering, how does consent between a consumer and a brand work? When consumers provide their phone numbers to a brand, they have to opt in by agreeing to receive auto-dialed marketing messages. This opt-in notice has to be clearly disclosed to the consumer.

For example, if a consumer provides their phone number when making a purchase, but there was no agreement to receive auto-dialed marketing messages, the brand isn’t legally able to text that consumer. Without consent to receive auto-dialed marketing messages and proper opt-in by your customers, you aren’t even legally allowed to text your consumers to ask for their consent. Doing so would leave your company vulnerable to being sued under the TCPA.


Text Message Marketing Opt-in Best Practices

Now that you know about the hefty penalties that can arise for brands if they don’t collect subscriber numbers correctly, below are a few best practices we recommend to safeguard your SMS marketing campaigns.


What is an SMS Double Opt-in?

The first and most important step you can take is to add a double opt-in to your text message marketing campaigns. In SMS marketing, a double opt-in is when a brand requires a subscriber to reply “YES” via text message to confirm they want to be included in a recurring text marketing messaging program. This confirmation message from a brand can either be in response to a consumer text messaging an SMS keyword to a shortcode or entering their mobile phone number into a web form.


While double opt-ins are not a requirement of the TCPA, the level of confirmation a double opt-in requires makes it the only practical way of meeting the law’s requirements. For more information, watch these videos.


Short Code Provisioning Best Practices

Now that you know how to be within your rights when text messaging consumers, it’s time to select your short code. Short code provisioning is the process of getting approvals from the wireless carriers to send and receive mobile messages on your short code—your brand’s 5- to 6-digit phone number used for text message marketing.

A shortcode can be provisioned for SMS messaging, MMS messaging, or both text marketing messaging types. To provision your short code, decide which kind of messaging you want to use at the beginning of the short code provisioning process: SMS or MMS. Recall that an SMS message is a plain-text message allowing 160 characters or less of text, including hyperlinks. An MMS message is a multimedia message that can contain copy, images, GIFs, hyperlinks, videos, and even sound files.

If a short code is provisioned only for an SMS blast, and a mobile marketer attempts to send an MMS message using that short code, the message will not send.

However, the reverse is possible. If you initially provision a short code for SMS messaging and eventually want to enable MMS messaging on that short code, you can. To do this, you’ll need to reprovision the short code with the wireless carrier for SMS and MMS messaging. The process to reprovision a short code can take 8 to 12 weeks and will most likely include re-provisioning fees.

Keep in touch with your mobile carriers and mobile operators. If something goes wrong on their end, your campaign is going to stall and become ineffective. Make sure your service providers (like Tatango) are stable and consistent—and meet their requirements as well.


Short Code Advertising Best Practices

Once you have provisioned your short code, you’re ready to start growing your SMS marketing subscriber lists and sending your SMS marketing campaigns. First things first: advertise your short code. Make sure your text message marketing campaigns are highly visible on your online digital marketing channels such as your website or social media platforms, as well as through traditional advertising channels such as in-store, television, radio, or print.


How to Create Compelling SMS Opt-In Incentives

The fastest way to grow your SMS campaign list is by offering the consumer an incentive in your advertisements and telling them that to receive the incentive, they must opt in. For example, you could advertise: “Buy one get one free when you join our SMS list.” An opt-in incentive builds your SMS phone numbers list faster, resulting in more revenue for your business because the more subscribers you have on your list, the more people can take advantage of your sales, coupons, and promotions.

Additionally, an estimated 90% of text messages are read within three minutes in a messaging app, whereas emails often sit as unread notifications long after a sale has ended. (This is also often the case with push notifications since users can disable them, something they can’t do with text messages.) The average SMS marketing click-through rate is 36%, proving that SMS marketing is a vastly more effective marketing channel to focus on growing.


How to Use the Correct Opt-In Disclosures

We recommend that all businesses offer some sort of opt-in incentive for sending out SMS marketing messages, especially if they want to grow their SMS list faster. That said, don’t mislead the customer when advertising your opt-in incentive or promotional message.

The exact wording of an opt-in advertisement is crucial. A retailer can’t just say something like, “Get 20% off your next purchase by texting us.” This is a misleading advertisement because consumers won’t be aware that to get 20% off their next purchase, they must opt in to receive promotional text messages from that business. If the retailer doesn’t disclose that, consumers will be opted into an SMS text message campaign without fully understanding, and the retailer will be in violation of the TCPA.

As a best practice, you should always disclose the following information to consumers wherever they’re opting into an SMS text marketing campaign:

“By participating, you agree to the terms & privacy policy {insert link} for recurring autodialed marketing messages from (insert business name) to the phone number you provide. No consent required to buy. Msg&data rates may apply.”

How to Use Checkboxes

If you’re promoting your SMS advertising campaigns on your website, some wireless carriers have recently created guidance around the use of checkboxes on web forms. Some website pop-ups and online forms invite consumers to provide a mobile phone number without disclosing that it will be used for SMS marketing messages. This isn’t a text message marketing best practice because it’s a violation of the TCPA.

As of April 2020, wireless carriers require that all opt-in checkboxes must be unchecked when a consumer initially lands on the page. This ensures that consumers have to check the box to clearly opt in to receive SMS marketing messages from a business. For more information, watch this video below.

Now, if you’re only collecting mobile phone numbers with your opt-in form, and it’s clear to consumers that you’re collecting their mobile phone number to subscribe them to your SMS text marketing campaign, then you don’t need a checkbox. For more information, here’s another helpful video.

Want to learn how best to advertise your SMS short code to customers and get some fresh ideas for your opt-in advertisements? Download our free SMS advertising template.


Text Message Marketing Best Practices

Once you’ve legally collected subscriber numbers, you can send out an SMS text message marketing campaign. Here are some helpful SMS marketing best practices.


Provide Value

In both SMS marketing and MMS text message marketing, there’s a reason your subscribers signed up for your texts. It may be to receive updates and information, but most of the time, it’s to receive value in exchange for them giving you their phone number. It’s essential to provide value in your SMS text message marketing campaigns to prevent subscriber churn and increase subscriber satisfaction. Providing value by offering an incentive to sign up is also a great way to build SMS subscriber lists.

Tip: State the offer first, then the texting details. For example:

  • Take [discount amount] off when you [take an action]. EXP [date]


Give a Clear Call to Action (CTA)

As a best practice, every message should include a clear call to action directing the recipient to take action. This is your chance to help your subscribers take the next step. A good call to action should include the action they need to take to receive the value.

Tip: The call-to-action should be cohesive with the offer provided. For example:

  • A store might want to increase foot traffic, so their call to action could be, “Visit a store today, save 15% w/code 67859.” 


Add an Expiration Date to Increase Urgency

Especially for promotional text messages, including an expiration date is a text message marketing best practice to increase urgency and strengthen conversion rates. Without an expiration date, subscribers might not know when to redeem the offer, or worse, they might never take action.

Tip: Experiment with the language and placement of your expiration date. For example:

  • Try “END” or “EXP” for urgency and mix up the date notation; “END Midnight” or “EXP 12am Tonight.” 


Use Subject lines

With MMS messages, you can include a subject line, a perfect way to add even more effective mobile marketing. The subject line can be up to around 40 characters, which allows you to really hook customers and entice them to keep reading the message. On some mobile phones, the subject line appears in bold type, so it attracts the customer’s attention to the message. In an SMS message, a subject line isn’t an option.


Take Advantage of Character Limits

SMS messages have a limit of 160 characters per message. With an MMS message, Tatango allows up to characters of text. (Note that we state 500 characters of text in the video, but that amount has since grown significantly.) This allows organizations to clearly and accurately get their message across.


Getting Started with Text Message Marketing

Now that you know all about text message marketing best practices, it’s time to get started creating, measuring, and optimizing your own SMS text campaigns! As the industry leader for more than 13 years, we’d love to help you set up your campaigns for the most ROI. Contact our text message marketing experts today to get started.

Even though double opt-in is not strictly a requirement of the TCPA, the burden of proof to establish that a consumer provided consent be a part of a brand’s recurring messaging program lies with the brand. This means that it’s the brand’s responsibility to prove that by text messaging a short code, or entering a mobile phone number into a website form, the consumer was aware that they were consenting to be a part of the brand’s recurring text messaging program.

In a perfect world, the act of a consumer text messaging a short code, or entering a mobile phone number into a website form would be good enough. Unfortunately, TCPA plaintiffs can claim that they were not aware that they were opting-in to a recurring text message program when they text messaged a short code, or entered a mobile phone number into a website form. TCPA plaintiffs can make this claim even if the brand thought they were clearly and conspicuously disclosing this information before consumers took either of those actions.

A double opt-in creates a digital text messaging trail of a consumer’s consent to opt-in to receive a brand’s recurring text messages, ensuring that the brand can prove the consumer knowingly opted-in, if they ever needed to.


New Rules for Shopping Cart Reminders

On May 2, 2020, we were informed of a new T-Mobile Policy regarding abandoned shopping cart text messages. This new policy went into effect immediately. It’s important for all ecommerce stores that are using abandoned shopping cart text messages to update their purchase pages in order to comply with this new policy. For more information on these new rules, check out this blog post.

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