The Definitive Guide to Growing Your SMS Subscriber List (With Examples)

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SMS Marketing
Published on
May 10, 2022
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Pia Tserkonis
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List growth is one of the most important aspects of your SMS program to focus on. Get the A to Z of how to do it quickly (and compliantly).

Growing a healthy (and valuable) subscriber list is the first step in developing a successful SMS marketing program. Unlike many marketing channels, SMS allows you to build an engaged list of subscribers, move beyond the “no reply” world, and deliver timely messages your audience wants to receive. 

Keep in mind that your list growth strategy can change over time, so even if you’ve been using SMS marketing for years, you’ll want to keep your eye out for any optimizations you can make to prevent your list growth from becoming stagnant.  

The more people who opt-in to receive text messages from your brand, the greater your opportunity to encourage them to make a purchase—driving incremental revenue and ROI. 

Our State of Conversational Commerce in 2022 report found that 63% of respondents who subscribe to at least one brand’s text marketing program have made a purchase from a text message link within the last three months.

Follow these best practices to grow your SMS marketing list, whether you’re just getting started or looking to scale your existing list.

1. Design and build high-converting sign-up units

SMS marketing list growth welcome flow

Sign-up units are forms where potential subscribers enter their information (like email address and/or phone number) to opt in to communications from your brand. Before you can start growing your SMS marketing list, you need to design and create the sign-up units you’ll be using—whether that’s on your website, social, or other channels. 

Keep in mind that the main goal of your SMS sign-up unit is to engage and incentivize your audience to opt in for text messages. Depending on your business and goals, your incentive doesn’t always have to be a discount. More on this later.

criteria of SMS marketing sign-up unit

You can customize all of Attentive’s sign-up units to match the look and feel of your brand. Our intuitive editor allows you to easily style and design your sign-up units with copy and imagery unique to your brand while providing tools to enable you to comply with industry regulations

These include the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and CTIA regulations. When it comes to meeting list growth compliance requirements, subscribers must explicitly opt in for SMS marketing. Buying a list of SMS subscribers is a major no-no and could put you at risk of legal action, in addition to driving poor engagement with your messages and a higher unsubscribe rate. 

Include the following criteria on your sign-up unit to meet industry regulations:

  • Clear legal language that’s up-to-date with legal and carrier requirements
  • Link to terms and privacy pages 
  • ADA-accessible contrast between background, button, and text colors (our platform has built-in tools to flag certain ADA accessibility issues)

For the most engaging experience, your sign-up unit should also include:

  • Consistent branding, like your logo, font, and color palette
  • Captivating, actionable headline, like “Unlock,” “Save,” or “Be the first to know”
  • Attractive offer, such as a discount, free gift with purchase, or loyalty/rewards points (more on this in the next section)
  • Button with a clear call to action that reiterates what they’ll get in exchange for signing up 

The sign-up process should be as easy as possible for potential subscribers. The less work your audience has to do, the more likely they are to sign up. 

Fullscreen sign-up units

fullscreen SMS marketing sign-up unit

A fullscreen sign-up unit takes up a shopper’s full cell phone screen when it shows up. If they’re shopping on desktop, a fullscreen sign-up unit will show up on the center of their screen (but won’t be the full height and width of your site).

To maximize on-site subscriber growth, we recommend first showing a fullscreen sign-up unit on your website when someone navigates to it. 

You can collect subscriber information, like phone number, email address, and preferences within the same sign-up experience, using our 2-in-1 sign-up units and preference collection forms. 

Bubble sign-up units

SMS marketing bubble sign-up unit example

A bubble sign-up unit is a small rectangular or rounded box that appears on your website (on both desktop and mobile) at the bottom of the screen. It can only fit a limited amount of text, usually the offer that’s featured on the fullscreen sign-up unit (e.g., “Get 15% off”). 

When a shopper clicks the bubble, it expands to show your fullscreen sign-up unit. We encourage our customers to use this on later loads, after the fullscreen sign-up unit has already been shown to potential subscribers.

Spin-to-Win sign-up units

Spin-to-Win sign-up unit to grow your SMS marketing list

Spin-to-Win is a type of fullscreen sign-up unit where the potential subscriber spins a “wheel” to see which offer they’ll get. The wheel generally contains multiple offers, so it’s a more engaging type of sign-up unit, since the user won’t know which offer they’ll win until they spin the wheel. After that, they’ll be prompted to share their phone number (and email address, if you’re collecting both), before they can redeem their offer code. Learn more.

‍Customize sign-up units for major holidays, sales, or product launches

If your brand is running a big sitewide sale, or launching a new product, consider replacing your existing sign-up unit with one that promotes your initiative. If you’re launching a product, letting potential subscribers know they’ll get first access to shop is an effective incentive for getting them to opt in to your text messages. You can even schedule these sign-up units ahead of time so they automatically update during the specified period.

Groove Life St. Patrick's Day customized SMS sign-up unit

We also encourage this for big holidays, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Groove Life customized their sign-up units to promote a fun holiday-themed scavenger hunt. Instead of incentivizing potential SMS subscribers with a discount, Groove Life encouraged them to “Join the Hunt” by signing up for text messages. During a two-day period, Groove Life drove over 6,000 new SMS subscribers.

(Optional) Collect valuable zero-party data through Preference Collection 

Learn more about your subscribers and their preferences through your sign-up units. With Preference Collection, you can gather relevant data from your subscribers, such as gender, shopping preferences, and the type of content they want to receive from you. Then, you can add your subscribers to specific segments based on their response or preferences, allowing you to send them more relevant text messages in the future.

You can customize your sign-up units with various input fields, including: 

  • Text input: Collect general questions such as first and last name, zip codes, and more.
  • Radio buttons: New subscribers choose one of the predefined inputs provided. You can collect information related to shopper interests, content, demographics, and product preferences.
  • Dropdown select: Similar to radio buttons, the dropdown input field lets new subscribers choose one of the predefined inputs provided.
  • Checkboxes: Subscribers who are opting in can select as many of the predefined options as they’d like. You can use checkboxes to collect information like interests, content, demographics, and more.

Make sure you’re only collecting information that will help you better personalize future campaigns. Otherwise, you risk creating a bottleneck in the sign-up process, and may get fewer subscribers.

2. Determine your SMS sign-up incentive

Use incentives on your sign-up unit to encourage shoppers to subscribe to your SMS marketing program. Our consumer survey results show that offering discounts is the most effective way to encourage consumers to sign-up for texts from your brand. If you’re unable to offer discounts or similar incentives, consider highlighting a loyalty or rewards program, or hinting at exclusive first access to content and products.

Examples of sign-up incentives you can try:

  • Dollar-off discount 
  • Percentage-off discount 
  • Limited-time offer
  • Free gift with next purchase 
  • Free shipping
  • Loyalty or rewards points
  • First access to exclusive content
  • Entry into a giveaway

We recommend switching up your list growth incentive strategy once in a while to see what types of offers are most likely to make your audience subscribe. 

Lifestyle accessory brand Dorsal Bracelets uses Snapchat ads to direct traffic from the social media network to their website. Visitors are immediately greeted by a sign-up unit offering a 15% off discount in return for signing up to receive emails and text messages from the brand.

example SMS marketing sign-up unit and welcome flow from Dorsal Bracelets

Mobile and desktop sign-up units helped Dorsal Bracelets quickly grow their SMS subscriber list. Within seven months of launching their text messaging program with Attentive, sales attributed to text messages accounted for 30% of the brand’s total revenue.

When offering an incentive, we recommend using a dynamic coupon so you can send shoppers unique discount codes that allow you to track performance and avoid gaps in your business intelligence. Combine your dynamic coupons with auto-apply URLs to create a smooth and seamless checkout experience.

Different types of discount codes

  • Shared: Each subscriber receives the same discount code in their welcome message (e.g., WELCOME10, FREESHIPPING).
  • Unique (or dynamic): Each subscriber receives a different discount code (e.g. SMS3N2V, SMS4KL9). Unique discount codes ensure each subscriber can only use it once.
  • Auto-apply: If your e-commerce platform supports this, you can automatically apply the subscriber’s coupon at checkout (instead of them entering it manually).

3. Set display rules for the best results

SMS marketing sign-up unit display rule example

Your next step, after you’ve created your sign-up units, is using display rules to determine exactly when and where you’ll show your sign-up units based on whatever your goal is. 

Display sign-up units based on a visitor’s UTM parameter(s)

Create display rules based on UTM parameters that are present when a visitor lands on your site. For example, if your brand is on TikTok, you likely have a link to your website in your bio. If that link includes a UTM, you can choose to display a specific sign-up unit to anyone who visits your site by clicking your link on TikTok. This automatically hides all other active sign-up units on your website.    

Set pop-up timers and scroll delays based on user behavior

Pop-up timers give you control over when you display your sign-up unit to visitors (down to the second). You can use increments of one second, up to a maximum of 30 seconds. 

Scroll delays allow you to determine how much of a page visitors must view before a sign-up unit appears. Choose between 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100%. 

To help find the right balance for when to show your sign-up unit, you should analyze your website traffic and the average time spent. Showing your unit to visitors too early can be a distraction resulting in higher bounce rates, but you also want to capture their attention with your offer before they leave your website. 

Show your sign-up unit before visitors leave your website 

Convert website visitors into subscribers with a final exit intent incentive. Using a display rule, you can show visitors a final sign-up reminder before they leave your site, giving them another chance to become subscribers. Our platform tracks a visitor's scroll behavior and mouse movement, and triggers a sign-up unit to appear at the pivotal moment they're about to leave your website.

example of exit intent display rule for SMS marketing sign-up unit

In addition to helping you grow your list, this reminder will also reduce cart abandonment. Set up an exit intent rule so your sign-up units appear on your checkout page when someone's about to bounce. Create a sense of urgency with a message that encourages the visitor to act immediately, such as:

  • Limited-time offer
  • Before you go
  • Finish your order
  • Last chance
  • Save an extra 5%

Other display rules you can use include:

  • Immediately: sign-up units will display as soon as the visitor reaches your website.
  • URL contains: sign-up units will display based on a specific part of a URL you provide. For example, you could display a sign-up unit promoting a new collection whenever someone lands the page of your site that contains “collections.” You can also use this to prevent sign-up units from showing on specific URLs of your website.
  • Referrer domain: sign-up units will display based on a visitor’s referrer domain, or the website they were on that linked them to your site. This is different from “URL contains,” since that allows you to show a sign-up unit based on the URL they’re on, versus the URL they came from.
  • Cookie-based: sign-up units will only appear when a specified value for the cookie is present.


4. Create an effective welcome flow

The last step before officially setting your SMS sign-up units live is creating your welcome flow—the set of messages subscribers will receive after opting in to your program, and the first interaction they’ll have with your SMS channel. 

elements of an SMS marketing welcome flow

The first text message in your Welcome Journey should list out the terms of your program—including that message and data rates may apply, messaging frequency varies, instructions on how to get help or opt out, and a link to your privacy policy. 

Next, greet them with a friendly hello, and let them know what they can expect from future text messaging communications with your brand. If your sign-up unit included some sort of offer, like a discount or free shipping, be sure to include those details in this message, too. 

If you’ve activated your virtual contact card, send that next, and encourage subscribers to save you as a contact in their phone. Then, when you text them in the future, your brand’s name and photo will appear vs. your short code or toll-free number, driving more brand awareness.

We recommend adding one more step to your Welcome Journey to nudge new subscribers to use their offer if they haven’t yet. Wait 24 hours after the last welcome message you’ve sent so the new subscriber has time to browse your site. Then, if they haven’t used their offer yet, remind them that it’s still available. 

The good news with your Welcome Journey is that once you set it up, it sends each time a new subscriber opts in. There’s no limit to the number of messages you can send as part of your welcome flow. But, you’ll want to get subscribers to purchase before you identify them as “unengaged,” so we recommend your welcome flow lasts for about 14 days. 

example of Momofuku two-way text messaging welcome flow

As your SMS channel becomes more sophisticated, consider adding Attentive’s Two-Way Journeys™ to your flow. Culinary brand Momofuku uses Two-Way Journeys to allow new subscribers to customize their SMS experience from the get-go. Subscribers can reply with a number to choose from weekly updates featuring new recipes, exclusive offers, and more; or 1-2 text messages per month with “only the most exciting stuff.” Momofuku can then add these new subscribers to a segment that matches their preferred frequency, making sure the brand isn’t texting their audience too much or too little.

5. Launch your SMS growth strategy across channels

Here’s you in the not-so-distant future: you’ve built beautiful, on-brand sign-up units, determined when and where you’ll show them, and crafted an effective welcome flow. Now, it’s time to set your SMS list growth strategy live. Connect with your audience and invite them to sign up for text messages across your marketing channels, uniting online and offline experiences.                

Mobile and desktop website

SMS marketing sign-up unit examples

Your mobile and desktop sites should be the foundation of your SMS list growth strategy. You’re already driving traffic to your site using organic and paid marketing; capitalize on your efforts to drive traffic, and capture the attention of shoppers with a sign-up unit that incentivizes them to subscribe to your SMS program.

With our two-tap sign-up technology on mobile, subscribers simply tap the button on your sign-up unit that loads a pre-populated text message on their device. Then, they hit “send” to opt in and start receiving messages from your brand.  

Instagram Stories 

example of Instagram Story to grow SMS subscriber list

Grow your SMS subscriber list on Instagram Stories with our SMART links. They incorporate our signature two-tap sign-up flow directly into Instagram Stories, making it as easy as possible for your engaged followers to opt in to your SMS marketing program in just a few taps. Once your follower taps the SMART link, it loads a pre-populated “join” message in their text inbox. Once they push send, they’ll be opted in. If you’re using Instagram Stories to grow your SMS list, be sure to include the accompanying legal language on your Story.

You can also set up dedicated landing pages to link to from your Instagram profile’s bio. If one of your followers clicks the link, they’ll be redirected to your landing page, which hosts the legal language and makes it easy for them to opt in. With this strategy, you can also keep an eye on how many of your subscribers have opted in through your landing page. This is an effective way to partner with influencers. Ask them to include a link in their bio, so you can tap into their community, too.

Dedicated landing pages

dedicated landing page example for SMS list growth

Create dedicated landing pages where shoppers can learn more about your SMS marketing program and opt in. Not only will this give consumers another path to sign-up, but it'll also provide you with flexibility on where you drive traffic beyond your homepage. These landing pages are especially helpful for driving traffic from paid advertising, social (like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok), and more.

Checkout page

example of growing your SMS list at online checkout

Asking for consent at checkout to send marketing text messages is one of the best ways to quickly grow your list, since that audience is already highly engaged with your brand. Capture subscribers at the point of sale by including a sign-up option on your checkout page. This makes signing up for your SMS program as easy as checking a box when shoppers submit their shipping information. If you use Shopify, you can collect consent during checkout to send transactional messages, too. If you don’t use Shopify, explore our API documentation to learn how to create a custom feature for collecting SMS opt-ins at checkout.


example email to grow your SMS marketing list

Tap into the list you’ve built for your email marketing channel, and encourage email subscribers to sign-up for your SMS program to receive more timely updates and discounts from your brand. This strategy pairs well with our landing pages. Include a link to your dedicated sign-up landing page within your email. 

Offline list growth

example of offline list growth or Text to Join for SMS marketing

Make sure you’re taking advantage of every opportunity to capture subscribers both online and offline. Drive new SMS opt-ins by encouraging your audience to text a unique keyword to your brand’s SMS shortcode. Include Text-to-Join (TTJ) information on your in-store signage, checkout kiosks, packaging, physical mailers, business cards, receipts, event collateral, and more.

When using TTJ, create a short and memorable keyword for your brand. Your brand’s name or something closely associated with your products and services will make it easier for consumers to remember and opt in to become subscribers. Like other sign-up methods, make sure to include legal language wherever you’re promoting TTJ.

6. Stay consistent, analyze, and iterate

Remember, your subscriber list directly impacts how much incremental revenue you can drive from SMS marketing. For the best results, make sure you’re always prioritizing subscriber growth. You should continually analyze the performance of your list growth tactics, and refine them based on your subscribers’ behaviors.

A/B test your SMS sign-up units

example of SMS marketing sign-up unit with A/B test

We recommend A/B testing different versions of your sign-up creatives—comparing copy, imagery, and calls to action side by side—to see what performs best with your subscribers.

‍Analyze your list growth performance

example of SMS list growth performance metrics

You should analyze your subscriber growth metrics to see how your acquisition strategy is performing over time. In our Analytics tab, you can quickly understand what’s working (and what’s not) with your strategy without pulling a report or analyzing a spreadsheet of numbers. 

Filter by pre-set date ranges, such as last 30 days, last year, and more, or set your own custom range. You can also compare list growth performance from a specified date with previous dates to see performance over time. Pay close attention to metrics like new subscribers and unsubscribe rates to identify where you can improve, based on your goals.

If you’re noticing a drop in subscriber growth, try refreshing your sign-up units by replacing the background, changing your incentive, or testing different copy. 

example of subscriber growth for sms marketing

You should also check your Subscribers tab to see patterns in join dates, or to track which sign-up sources are driving the most conversions. In this tab, you’ll get a quick snapshot of total active subscribers and total unsubscribes in addition to seeing metrics for all active sign-up sources. This is also where you can manage your sign-up units, or create a new sign-up flow.

example of smart recommendations for SMS list growth

If you’re looking for new sign-up ideas to try, check out the Smart Recommendations within our Home tab. All of the recommendations are customized to you, based on your previous activity in the Attentive platform. Suggested actions are broken out by goals, including SMS list growth. Or, see what “Featured” recommendations are available to you, based on the highest impact suggestions that will drive immediate value for your SMS program.

7. SMS list growth best practices

If you ever need a quick refresher on how to grow your SMS list, bookmark this article, and reference this list of best practices:

Design and build high-converting sign-up units: 

  • Include consistent branding, an attractive offer, and a clear call to action.
  • Test different types of sign-up units, like Spin-to-Win or 2-in-1.
  • Customize your sign-up units for major holidays, sales, and product launches.

Determine your SMS sign-up incentive:

  • Use incentives on your sign-up to encourage more opt-ins, including discounts, early access, or free shipping.
  • Switch up your incentive strategy once in a while to see what types of offers work best.

Set display rules:

  • Create display rules based on UTM parameters that are present when a visitor lands on your site.
  • Set pop-up timers and scroll delays to control when your sign-up units appear.
  • Show your sign-up unit before visitors leave your website.

Create an effective welcome flow:

  • Greet new subscribers with a friendly “hello,” and let them know what to expect from future text messages from your brand.
  • Send your virtual contact card, and encourage subscribers to save you as a contact in their phone.
  • Add a reminder to nudge new subscribers who haven’t yet used their offer.

Launch your SMS growth strategy across channels:

  • Connect with your audience and encourage them to subscribe to your brand across all your marketing channels, including your website, social media, email, checkout page, and Text-to-Join opportunities.

Analyze, optimize, and refine

  • A/B test different versions of your sign-up unit to see what performs best.
  • Pay close attention to key metrics like new subscribers, unsubscribes, join date, and sign-up source.
  • Try implementing Smart Recommendations given to you in Attentive’s platform.

For more SMS list growth examples, explore our SMS gallery, Texts We Love.

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