Writing effective SMS marketing copy can make a huge impact on engagement—and conversion. Use this post as a guide for how to communicate in 160 characters or less.
Copywriting is tough—especially when you have limited characters to work with—and it might not be at the top of your job description. But even if writing is your jam, writing for your text channel isn’t the same as writing for email.
To help you write and send the most effective text messages possible, we’ve pulled together best practices from over 5,000 brands who partner with us to identify the patterns that lead to higher click-through rates.
Learn our top tips for what to do—and what not to do—when it comes to writing effective SMS marketing copy.
SMS marketing do’s
- Keep it concise. Subscribers’ attention spans are short, so get to the point quickly to ensure you capture your subscriber’s attention. The shorter the better. We recommend keeping copy between 75-115 characters, or 3-4 lines long.
- Treat your first few words like a subject line. You should consider what subscribers will see as the preview in their text message inbox. Treat the first few words as you would an email subject line: it’s the subscriber’s first impression of your message before they open it. Use powerful words (e.g., “explore,” “start,” “level up,” etc.), short sentences, or the subscriber’s first name to catch attention.
- Use line breaks to increase your texts’ readability. Think about your own texting habits—a wall of text can feel overwhelming, and may encourage subscribers to tune the message out. Consider adding a line break after your “subject line” to make it more approachable.
- Use visuals. Incorporating multimedia like images, GIFs, video, and audio is a fun way to add personality to your texts. You can communicate important information within the image to catch subscribers’ eyes if they’re quickly scanning a text. Images must be under 500kb. We recommend sending square or portrait-oriented graphics to optimize for readability.
- Use timely language. Powerful, emotional words and short sentences can effectively communicate when there is a time-sensitive event like a sale or low-inventory. Key phrases like “this weekend, starting now, almost over, today only, ending soon, act before the end of the week” work well to catch your subscribers’ attention, as they’re likely to be on the go when the text hits their inbox.
- Express gratitude. Help your subscribers feel appreciated by incorporating phrases like “you’re the best, we appreciate you, your loyalty has paid off, thanks for being our customer, because you're a valued customer.”
- Speak in first person. Remember, subscribers text their favorite brands alongside their close friends and family. Speaking from a first-person point of view matches your audience’s texting habits, and makes it feel more personalized.
- Promote multiple items in one text message. Messages that promote multiple items vs. a single item are more likely to get engagement. Just like a salesperson brings a shopper options to the dressing room, a text with multiple items invites engagement by presenting shoppers with a choice.
- Include a sale or a discount. This one isn’t surprising: shoppers like a good deal. Messages that present a sale or a discount tend to engage consumers.
- Provide value in every message. Even if your brand doesn’t offer discounts, you should still make sure there’s value for the subscriber in every single text message you send. Opt for loyalty rewards, first access, or free shipping in lieu of discounts.
- Test your messages before you send them. We’ve all experienced that moment when we’ve sent something, only to realize there’s a typo. Save yourself the stress by sending yourself a test of your message every time. Proofread and check all links you’re including in the message before officially hitting “send.”
SMS marketing don’ts
- Don’t use the same exact copy across text and email. Although this strategy might seem like an effective way to be consistent across channels and save time writing, text message and email copywriting is not synonymous. Keep it short and sweet over text, and save the details for email.
- Don’t overdo it with emojis. Emojis are a fun way to add visual excitement and highlight important takeaways. They also add visual interest to longer texts. But don’t take it too far, as too many can come across as disingenuous. As a general rule, limit yourself to one or two well-placed emoji per text (unless using them to break out a list in place of bullet points).
- Don’t go off brand. Make sure your text message copy clearly embodies your brand’s voice. This means using words and phrases that your subscribers know and resonate with. Use SMS to communicate your brand story and how it's aligned to rising cultural trends that your customers care about. You can experiment with unique lingo or slang to speak in your audience’s voice, but don’t go overboard. It’s important to stay consistent to who you are as a brand, especially if you’re trying to build loyal subscribers.
- Don’t go overboard with abbreviations. If you need to save characters, start with the most obvious words first, but keep them to a minimum. You want your subscribers to understand what you’re saying with ease. Too much ‘text speak’ like “l8r” or “LOL” can lead to opt-outs.
- Don’t overdo it with all caps. People use text to talk to one another, not shout. All caps writing can be an effective way to place emphasis on certain words, but consider how much you’re capitalizing.
- Don’t leave your subscribers hanging. End your message with a strong and clear call to action. Our attention spans are limited, so tell your subscribers exactly what step to take next—whether it’s taking advantage of a sale or signing up for a loyalty program—to avoid confusion.
Our final tip for writing effective text message copy is to ask yourself if the text message you’re sending is something you'd want to engage with if you received it. With limited characters, make each word matter. You can even subscribe to other brands’ SMS marketing channels to study what makes you take action.
Want more inspiration? Explore real SMS marketing examples from our customers by heading over to Texts We Love.
Want to experience Attentive in action? Sign up for texts to unlock our exclusive, interactive SMS overview and see what might be missing in your current SMS program.