What is SMS Opt-In + Examples, Guidelines, & Best Practices

Mike Arsenault
January 4, 2023
5
minute read

Arguably the most important part of your SMS marketing strategy is a solid SMS opt-in. It’s not only a matter of compliance, your SMS opt-in is the first text interaction that your business has with a customer.

Your SMS opt-in is your chance to make a great first impression by setting expectations, delivering value, and establishing a relationship for further SMS marketing interactions. It’s vital to take full advantage of this opportunity, rather than brush it off as a formality to stay in compliance.

This article will show you everything you need to know to make the absolute most of your SMS opt-in.

What is SMS opt-In?

SMS marketing is a type of digital marketing that uses text messaging to communicate with customers or potential customers. SMS marketing campaigns are often used to send promotional messages, alerts, reminders, and other types of information to a targeted audience. The messages are typically sent through SMS (Short Message Service) or MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), which are types of text messaging that can be sent from one cell phone to another.

In most cases, your SMS opt-in is an opt-in mechanism, a confirmation message, and an initial text message.

The opt-in mechanism is how the customer asks to receive text messages from your brand. This could be a web form popup on your website or in your checkout flow, a link in an email, or texting a keyword to your SMS shortcode.

In terms of conversions, this is the most important part of your SMS opt-in, because it’s when the customer actually gives you their phone number. You’ll spend most of your time tweaking this part of the SMS opt-in journey when it comes time to optimize for conversions.

The confirmation message is a simple message that prompts the customer to text a keyword to your SMS short code to verify they give permission to receive your texts. Using a confirmation message creates a double SMS opt-in.

A double opt-in is now the standard in SMS marketing. It’s more airtight for compliance, and it’s better for marketing. If you’ve ever signed up for text messaging on a website or through an email, then received a text asking you to reply “YES” or some other keyword to confirm that you want to receive text messages, that’s an SMS double opt-in.

The double opt-in is better for compliance because you have two documented instances of the customer confirming you have permission to text them. For SMS marketing, the double opt-in is great because you have a built-in reason to send a text message and start the first conversation with the customer.

Lastly, the first message you send a customer after the confirmation message is considered part of your SMS opt-in, even though the customer has technically already completed the opt-in. This first message is viewed as part of the SMS opt-in because it’s where you do the formal introduction, thank the customer for subscribing, deliver the incentive for subscribing, and so on.

This is the first conversation you have with new SMS subscribers. This is why the SMS opt-in is considered a cornerstone of your SMS marketing program.

Why is SMS opt-In important?

Avoiding FCC fines is enough to make your SMS opt-in important. You can’t text customers just because you have their phone number.

However, your SMS opt-in is important because it’s how you get more SMS subscribers (similar to building a list of email subscribers). You’re not allowed to text customers until they’ve opted in, so your SMS opt-in is the thing that makes your entire SMS marketing program work.

Your SMS opt-in gives you an opportunity to deliver a discount or other incentive to inspire a purchase. Whether it’s a customer’s first purchase or a repeat purchase, any additional conversion opportunity helps you build or extend your relationship with a customer and generate more revenue. An SMS opt-in also delivers a better customer experience.

Once customers have agreed to receive text messages from your brand, it gives you an additional point of contact with your customers for future promotions, product launches, sales, and announcements.

Your SMS opt-in ensures your SMS marketing contact list is filled exclusively with customers who are interested in your brand and makes it far easier to start conversations with those customers when you have something special to offer.

What is an SMS opt-out in SMS marketing?

An SMS opt-out includes both the mechanism for customers to stop receiving text messages from your brand and the instructions for using that mechanism to opt out of further text messages. Similar to your SMS opt-in, an SMS opt-out is required for FCC compliance, and it improves the customer experience.

If you’ve received a marketing text message with instructions at the end such as “Reply STOP to stop receiving text messages,” those are the opt-out instructions. Replying “STOP” is the mechanism for opting out of further SMS messages.

Your SMS opt-out should be as easy as replying to a text message with a certain keyword. If a customer has no interest in making a purchase from you, it just saves your marketing budget when they opt out because you won’t pay to send any more text messages to a customer who isn’t going to convert anyway.

There’s no need to include opt-out instructions in every text message you send, but you should always include opt-out instructions in the last text message in a conversation. Stop texting immediately if a customer opts out of further text messages. The only exception to this is sending a final text message to confirm that the customer has opted out.

SMS opt-in messaging guidelines

These could almost be considered SMS opt-in best practices, but there are going to be times when you may not be able to do all three of these because of character count limitations or the sort of incentive you offered for opting-in to SMS marketing. Use each of these as best you can.

Though, it’s wise to do these things in your SMS opt-in whenever possible.

  • Include other contact options

    SMS marketing works best as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy. If you have the character count, include at least one alternate contact option with your SMS opt-in, even if it’s just a link to a website where all of your outreach channels are available.

    SMS messaging is a great communication tool. It’s not perfect for everything, though. It should be easy to contact your business through email or phone if the customer has a problem that can’t be solved through SMS messages.
  • Always offer value upfront (but not too much)

    If you offer an incentive for subscribing or exclusive benefits for SMS subscribers, always include it in your first SMS message to the customer.

    However, it’s best to deliver just one incentive or benefit in your SMS opt-in. Don’t burden customers with more decisions than necessary. That can decrease conversion rates. There are just as many SMS scams going around as there are email scams, so many people are skeptical of offers that seem too good to be true.

    Deliver any promised value in your first text message, but keep it simple and stick with one point of value in your SMS opt-in.
  • Be as brief as possible

    There’s plenty of information to deliver in your SMS opt-in sequence, but it shouldn’t be a huge block of text or several text messages. You should be able to get everything done in two or three text messages, including the message to confirm the customer wants to receive text messages.

    You may occasionally need more than 160 characters—the typical character limit for an SMS message—in your first text message. If this is the case, phrase the message so that the second message is just a link or coupon code for the sign-up incentive.

    That way it’s easy to interact with the value in your SMS opt-in. And it makes the most of sending two messages in your SMS opt-in.

There are times when you may not be able to perfectly adhere to these guidelines. However, they are a great baseline for crafting your SMS opt-in.

SMS opt-in requirements

There are a couple of rules regarding SMS opt-ins. These were established by the FCC and are non-negotiable.

On a technical level, the FCC SMS opt-in requirements only apply to messages sent using an “autodialer.” It’s a bit of a confusing term, given the difference between making calls and sending SMS messages. However, the FCC is referring to text messages sent using any sort of SMS software.

If there isn’t a person manually tapping out and sending a message, the FCC guidelines for SMS messaging most likely apply. It’s best to automate compliance with these requirements as much as possible.

Quiet hours

Standard quiet hours are from 8 AM to 9 PM in the recipient’s time zone. Your subscriber list likely contains recipients in several time zones. Take advantage of automation in your A2P messaging to avoid violating quiet hours.

Additionally, certain jurisdictions have quiet hours that vary from the standard quiet hours. Usually, it’s only a difference of an hour or two, but it’s wise to restrict your message sending to standard business hours—9 AM to 5 PM—if you don’t have a way to track the quiet hours in all the regions where your subscribers reside.

Explicit consent

The FCC rule is that you cannot text customers without their explicit consent. As far as the FCC is concerned, there are three ways to give explicit consent: in writing, digitally, and by contacting the business via SMS message. In most SMS marketing use cases, the customer will give explicit consent digitally or by contacting your SMS number.

Digital consent can be given in a recorded verbal message or by ticking a box on a web form. If subscribed to a business’s SMS program on a web form, you probably saw a statement such as this on the form: 

You agree to receive automated promotional messages. This agreement is not a condition of purchase. Receive up to 4 messages per month. Reply STOP to opt-out or HELP for help. Message & data rates apply. Our terms and privacy policies can be found at rejoiner.com.

That’s the opt-in statement that ensures the web form checkbox meets the requirements for giving explicit consent. There are some variations of this statement, but it must contain five pieces of information:

  1. The type of messages the customer is agreeing to receive (promotional, order status updates, shipping notifications, etc.).
  2. How frequently you will text the customer.
  3. Instructions for opting out of receiving future text messages.
  4. Information about whether or not the customer may be required to pay for the text messages in accordance with their mobile phone plan.
  5. Terms, conditions, and privacy policy information or information about where to find those disclosures.

Customers might not read this statement, but you need to have it wherever you collect consent to send SMS messages to customers.

Alternatively, the FCC considers a customer to be giving consent for you to text them if they contact you first. However, sending a text message to your business only gives you consent to respond to their text message with information relevant to their message.

This is how SMS keyword opt-ins work. The customer texts your SMS number, giving you consent to respond. The best practice for SMS keyword opt-ins is to respond to their text with your SMS opt-in message, prompting the customer to text a confirmation message that gives explicit consent for you to continue texting them.

The last thing to know is that you cannot text a customer to ask for permission to continue texting them. Sending that first text message is considered texting a customer without explicit consent, and it’s strictly off-limits. Only text customers who have already given consent digitally or by texting your business first.

GUIDE
SMS Marketing: The Ultimate Guide for Ecommerce
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SMS opt-in examples

Much like collecting email addresses, the trickiest part of building an SMS subscriber list is getting people to give you their phone number in the first place.

Your opt-in confirmation message and the first message you send new subscribers are important. However, the majority of the friction is in the first step, when you ask the customer to give you their phone number.

The good news is that 78% of customers want to communicate with businesses via text. You just need to give them a good reason to communicate with your business.

These are some examples of SMS opt-ins that really help customers get over the hump and give you their phone number and opt-in to your SMS marketing program.

SMS keywords

We’re big fans of using one marketing channel to support another. Using email to deliver this keyword opt-in is clever.

Beyond that, the keyword is memorable because it’s a thematic phrase, and the incentive is access to exclusive benefits that are only available to SMS subscribers, which is a great conversion-boosting tactic.

Checkout forms

The key with SMS opt-ins on checkout forms is to make opting in as simple and streamlined as possible. The customer usually needs to give their phone number as a piece of contact information for their order, so a checkbox just below the phone number field makes it as simple and easy as possible for customers to opt in, which increases conversions.

Website popups

Website popups are a staple in both email and SMS opt-ins. This one is especially good because it’s short and sweet. Sign up and you get this right now. When it comes to website popups, simpler is almost always better, and this one nails it.

Online and physical banners

Physical SMS opt-ins have the benefit of geographical relevance. Online banners can work similarly if the banner is on a website that’s related to your product or service.

This physical SMS opt-in takes advantage of that geographical relevance by prompting the customer to opt-in when they’re most interested in PetPalace’s products: when they go into the store. The smart thing about this opt in is that it establishes a line of communication to bring the customer back for their next purchase.

How to increase SMS opt-in rates

Like most marketers, you’re probably looking for some info on how to increase SMS opt-in rates. More subscribers mean more conversions in the long run, after all.

Fortunately, SMS opt-ins are relatively simple, so increasing conversion rates is also pretty straightforward.

Set expectations

Uncertainty makes people hesitant to give out their phone number. How many messages will I get? How often will I get messages from this business? What do I get for giving out my phone number?

Removing that uncertainty will make people more willing to subscribe because they know exactly what they’re going to get.

Be as specific as possible about the benefits you’re offering for subscribing to your SMS marketing program. “Exclusive benefits” are good, but “15% off” often performs better, because it’s more exact, and the customer can immediately determine if that’s something they want.

Additionally, be precise about how many messages you’re going to send in your compliance statement. Some brands use “recurring” or “regular” to meet FCC transparency SMS requirements. However, this is rather vague from the customer’s point of view. It’s much better to say something such as, “One message a week,” or “Eight messages each month.”

It may be tempting to hedge your language, so you can send more messages if you need to. You’ll get more conversions if you’re more specific, though. Being specific removes more uncertainty for the customer.

Offer an incentive

As you may have gathered from the previous point, using incentives in your SMS opt-in is a tried and true tactic.

In the realm of incentives, discounts are also tried and true. Giving discounts on their order is a simple way to incentivize customers to subscribe to SMS promotions. Free shipping is another reliable incentive, with the added benefit of increasing order values if you offer free shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount.

You may be able to design other incentive strategies, but offering some sort of immediate discount is a sure way to increase conversions, and you should do it whenever you can.

Exclusivity for SMS subscribers

Everyone likes to feel special. That’s why exclusivity works in all sorts of marketing use cases.

There’s some gray area between incentives and exclusivity for SMS subscribers because exclusivity might include discounts.

The difference is that exclusivity typically focuses on increasing repeat purchases. Incentives, like 10% off, focus more on getting the customer to make their next purchase. One isn’t any better than the other, they just involve different tradeoffs.

Exclusivity for SMS subscribers may not increase opt-in conversions as much as a discount or free shipping. However, those ongoing exclusive benefits could get more repeat purchases from the customers who do sign up for text messages.

On the other hand, an opt-in discount may deliver higher opt-in conversion rates but will have less impact on future purchases.

A third option is to offer exclusive benefits and a sign-up discount. This can be the best of both worlds, but you should A/B test this against a discount or exclusive benefits alone to make sure that offering both isn’t a bit overwhelming for customers.

Opt-in to SMS marketing

Your SMS subscriber list is the foundation of any SMS marketing strategy. You simply cannot send messages if you don’t have phone numbers and permission to text them.

Get your SMS opt-in journey dialed in, and you’ll get the biggest revenue boost possible from your SMS marketing strategy.

What to do now

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does SMS require double opt-in?

Technically, no. The FCC specifies that you must get written permission before texting a customer, which can be accomplished with a single opt-in. However, a double opt-in is absolutely a best practice for SMS marketing. It double-confirms permission to text customers and offers an opportunity to immediately build trust.

What language should I use for SMS opt-in

Make sure you have your compliance language in place anywhere you ask a customer to subscribe to your SMS marketing program. Beyond that, your SMS opt-in language should be precise and concise. Don’t worry too much about being super on-brand or clever. Tell the customer exactly what they’re going to get for signing up in the fewest words possible, and close out with a simple call-to-action of a couple of words.

AUTHOR

Mike Arsenault

Founder & CEO

Mike is a martech veteran and the Founder of Rejoiner, a SaaS marketing automation platform built for ecommerce. For the last 10 years, Mike has worked with brands like Moosejaw, Hydroflask, Peak Design, Triumph, Hearst & Guthy Renker to provide the strategy & technology with which they use email to drive revenue growth.