Basics: SMS best practices

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Learn SMS best practices to implement when you’re first getting started. This article highlights the dos and don’ts of SMS marketing, helping you avoid common pitfalls and learn the answers to common questions.

What are the SMS best practices? 

Here are the general best practices: 

  1. Get permission before sending.
  2. Make your content
    • Relevant 
    • Valuable
    • Unique
  3. Keep SMS messages short.
  4. Avoid over-sending.
  5. Show off your brand.
  6. Avoid text-speak.
  7. Include a link as a CTA.
  8. Make it easy to opt out.
  9. Stay compliant.

Get permission before sending

For SMS, you must always get permission for SMS before you send. If you don’t, it could mean thousands of dollars in fines. 

You always want to make sure someone has agreed to get marketing text messages from your brand. Simply agreeing to email, general marketing, or even one-time transactional SMS isn’t enough. To learn more, see this article on collecting SMS subscribers and what counts as consent

Make your content relevant, valuable, and unique

This is easy to say, but what does it mean? Open each section for details. 


Just like with email, social media, or any other marketing channel, sending relevant content is all about targeting customers with information they want to receive.

You can create segments based on customer’s browsing or purchasing behavior. For instance, do some of your customers only shop sales? Do they tend to buy more sweaters than T-shirts? Once you group your customers by their interests, you can provide them with the info they want. 


Part of adding value is by making your content relevant, such as by making personalized suggestions. 

The other part is making SMS as a channel valuable. Consider your SMS subscribers like your VIPs. Anyone giving you their personal phone number is providing you with direct access to reach them anytime. Treat them well, such as by giving them early access, special deals, or alerts for product launches. 


No one wants to get the same information via email, SMS, and push all at the same time. Instead, consider which details to include in each message and when to send them. Note that SMS tends to perform better when sent before email. 

Let’s say today is a product release day. In this case, a simple sending schedule may look like this:






SMS subscribers

10:00 a.m.

Early access to release


SMS subscribers who didn’t click the earlier message

1:00 p.m.

Reminder about the release and provide more details about the products


Everyone except SMS subscribers

1:00 p.m.

Generic alert about the release

Keep SMS messages short

Have you ever gotten a novel disguising itself as a text? It can feel overwhelming, even if it’s from a close friend or family member. 

For marketers, you should keep SMS messages short and concise. If you want to send a lot of information, we recommend using another channel, such as email. 

How long should my messages be? 

Typically, try to stay under ~155 characters for an SMS. While the actual limit is 160 characters, if you include any sort of dynamic content, it’s important to leave extra characters at the end of your messages.

For instance, say you include a tag to include the recipient’s first name. This tag may estimate a first name is 6 characters, which is fine for names like “Chloe” or “Ashley.” However, if the recipient’s name is “Alexandra,” you risk accidentally going over the 160 limit and sending 2 messages. This can add up, and the unexpected extra messages may lead you to overspend on SMS. 

Why am I seeing that the message limit is only 70 characters? 

Including an emoji or a special character shortens the SMS character limit from 160 to 70. 

Why isn’t my SMS counted as a single message despite it looking like one? 

This has to do with how SMS messages are transmitted. 

The limit for SMS messages is 160 characters (or 70 characters when there’s an emoji or special character). When you send an SMS that exceeds this limit, it is automatically broken up into smaller messages (called message segments) that are sent individually. 

The reason it still appears as a single message is because these message segments are reassembled when they are delivered to the recipient’s phone. 

Avoid over-sending

When you send an SMS message, it will “ping” the recipient. Your messages will often be read immediately, which makes it ideal for making sure your recipients see what you have to say. However, because they see every message, sending too much may annoy your customers. 

We recommend sending, at most, 1 to 2 times a week when you first start with SMS. As time goes on, keep an eye on how your click, conversion, and unsubscribe rates change over time. 

Depending on your industry and specific use case, the recommended sending frequency may be different. For example, if your customers sign up to get reminders to take their medication, sending daily is acceptable. 

On the other hand, if your business specializes in luxury items (e.g., jewelry or furniture), we recommend starting slower, around once a month. The exception would be for special events or holidays; for instance, if you’re a jewelry store, you can send more before Valentine’s Day or the winter holidays.

Show off your brand

When people don’t know who’s texting them, they’re more wary about the messages and less likely to click on any links. Further, many countries require you to indicate your brand in SMS so that customers know who you are. 

Mentioning your company or organization in every text is also a part of SMS compliance. 

There are several options for indicating your brand: 

  • Organizational prefix, which puts the name of your company or organization at the beginning of the text message.
  • Branded sender ID, which is a sending number that can include the name of your brand (only available in the UK and Australia).
  • Company info link, which is a link people can click on to get more information about your brand, although it doesn’t show the name of your company in the actual message (only available in Canada and New Zealand).

To make it easy for recipients, we also recommend sending anyone in the US or Canada a virtual contact card, which allows them to easily save your number. 

In addition, you can add to your brand recognition with custom keywords. For instance, if your company is “New York Pizza Pies,” you can have people opt in by texting the keyword “NYpizza.”

Avoid text-speak

While this may seem contradictory to the previous section, this is simply to make sure your audience still understands your message. 

Unless you know your audience will understand, try to avoid using too many abbreviations. 

Also, even if you know your audience will understand, it’s a best practice to not overdo it. Using 1 (or maybe 2) is fine, but any more than that and it can make your message hard to understand. 


Example of an SMS with one abbreviation

Include a link as a CTA

SMS is immediate, direct, and almost always has a higher click and conversion rate than email. 

It never hurts to include a link in your text messages. Not only does this make it easier for interested recipients to reach your site, but tracking your click rate is a key step to evaluating your SMS performance. Without it, you won’t know which messages your audience responds well to or how to improve your SMS marketing efforts going forward. 

If you’re using Klaviyo, you not only need a link to track clicks and conversions, but also use the Klaviyo link shortener. Do not use a third-party link shortener, as it will likely break the link. 

Make it easy to opt out

Another SMS best practice (and also compliance rule) is allowing recipients to unsubscribe at any time. 

You don’t want to waste sends on someone who doesn’t want to hear from you. Further, if you send to someone who wants to opt out but can’t, they may report you. 

There are a couple of ways to allow customers to opt out: 

  • Include an unsubscribe keyword (e.g., STOP)
  • Add an opt-out link 

In most cases, having an unsubscribe keyword is the best option. However, branded sender IDs (only available in the UK and Australia) cannot receive messages, making the keyword impossible to use. In that case, you can add an opt-out link to allow your customers to unsubscribe. 

Stay compliant

There are more laws regulating what businesses can and cannot do with SMS. While this can seem intimidating at first, it’s simple to obey these rules. 

Note that we don’t go into detail about each rule mentioned here; for more, check out the Basics of SMS compliance

We already went over 3 foundational rules over SMS compliance: 

  1. Always get consent
  2. Indicate your brand
  3. Make it easy to unsubscribe.

Other compliance rules include:

  1. Don’t include SHAFT and prohibited content
  2. Don't send before 9 a.m. or after 8 p.m. in the recipient’s local time
  3. Follow rules for browse abandonment or abandoned cart flows (US only)
    • Use double opt-in 
    • Only send 1 SMS per recipient
      Note: there can be more than 1 SMS or MMS in the flow, such as if you have splits, but each profile can only receive 1 text
    • Send the SMS within 48 hours
  4. Add other message requirements (Canada only)
    • Program name (e.g., for Klaviyo, it might be “Klaviyo SMS”)
    • A call to action
    • Reply HELP for help
    • Reply STOP to opt out
    • “Std. Msg&Data rates may apply” (if you include a link)

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