Carrier violations: What to avoid during SMS text marketing

Text messaging is obviously a powerful tool that enables you to contact leads directly, but are carrier violations preventing your texts from being delivered?

According to Smart Insights, 97 percent of text messages are read within 15 minutes of delivery, and 45 percent of text message marketing campaigns “generate a successful ROI (return on investment).”

In fact, 54 percent of consumers have said they would like to receive promotions via text messages.

However, your texting success can suffer from simple mistakes that will get your message blocked by phone carriers.

What is a carrier violation? This is when carriers (such as Verizon, AT&T and such) receive an outbound SMS text and opt to not deliver the message to the destination phone number. In other words, carriers monitor and filter SMS traffic, and if your message triggers a perceived violation from the carrier’s perspective, your text will not be delivered.

The monitoring is through adaptive (machine learning) software systems that take into account the rate of sending and the content of the messages. Think of the spam filtering you’ve seen in email accounts, except that instead of being delivered to a spam folder, the message is not delivered at all. According to Betwext, messages receive a “cumulative score based on how many messages have come from a phone number during a time period, how many similar messages have transited the carrier’s network, or if the message contains content that makes it a high match for spam. Time periods are measured by the second, minute, hour and day.”

When your text messages are flagged, it becomes very likely that future messages from the same number (or those with similar content) will be filtered out as well.

While carriers do not share their exact and unique triggers for a violation (so that spammers can’t game the system), here are nine tips to avoid carrier violations during your text message marketing.

Warm up your sending reputation

Similar to warming up your email sending reputation, you should warm up your text message sending number(s).

Sending from a new number can cause recipients to opt-out, which may cause your message to get flagged.

When carriers see your text messages for the first time, it’s best to keep your messages simple and concise. Most importantly, don’t use links or any sales language.

Better yet, if you can craft a message that requests a response, such as “Reply YES for more info,” these help the carriers identify that your content is expected and welcomed by the recipient.

Consider your sending number

First, it’s important to understand that in SMS text messaging, there are short codes and long codes. 

A short code is a 5- to 6-digit number used to send SMS or MMS messages. For example, a spa health club can ask customers to text RELAX to 35353 to join its loyalty program. 

A long code is a standard, 10-digit number that also can be used to send SMS or MMS messages.

One of the differences between the two is that short codes allow you to send thousands of messages at once, making them ideal for mass texting, while long codes can only send one message per second. A common practice is to register multiple long codes to share the load because short codes can be more costly and frankly more impersonal. 

Find out more about the pros and cons of using either short or long codes.

Text frequency counts

Be aware of your texting volume and frequency. Sending too many messages from a single number during a certain time period could cause that number to be blacklisted. 

The CTIA, which represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, advises that each long code phone number should stay under 15 to 60 messages per minute and under 200 unique recipients a day. (See more best practices from the CTIA.)

Using multiple numbers and/or building in a “cool down” period where sending is paused for a day or two can both help prevent carrier violations.

Watch your links

Links are tricky. You want your lead or customer to easily click on a link as a call to action. However, “http,” “http://,” “https://,” “https,” “bit.ly,” “goo.gl,” “TinyURL.com,” “Ow.ly” and others can trigger some filters.

However, before you avoid links altogether, make sure you’re using a messaging service that will alert you for any blocked texts. DailyStory uses Twilio integration to deploy and report on text messages.

You also can prompt a text reply by asking recipients to reply YES if interested, for example.

How you write matters

Aggressive language, hyperbole (exaggeration), too many CAPITALIZED words and even certain keywords can violate a carrier’s rules.

For example, the word “gift” with a $ symbol looks like spam to the content-checking programs carriers use. Repetitive content can appear spammy as well.

Also, consider what sort of content your customers or leads are expecting from you. Did they sign up for more promotions or other types of updates? 

In general, consider “warming up” your leads before getting into any sale or promo speak.

A good rule of thumb? Put yourself in your recipient’s shoes and write in a way that would be compelling for you. It’s about delivering a good user experience always.

Consider the length of your text

The structure of your text message matters just as much as the content itself. 

Most critically, you should keep your text at no more than 160 characters. When a message is longer than 160 characters, you risk the carrier breaking it up into multiple texts. The carrier can then send those in an incorrect order and charge you for multiple messages.

That’s a bad experience for both you and the recipient.

Identify yourself

This is both a best practice and an expectation of the FTC.

If you don’t identify yourself, your text risks looking that much more mysterious and spammy to recipients. 

Confirm the source of your leads

This might sound obvious, but make sure that the phone numbers you have are opted into hearing from you.

Not only does this help you adhere to FTC guidelines, but consumers can easily report texts as spam. If they don’t really know who you even are, the likelihood of being reported as spam is that much higher.

Be upfront about opting out

On the flip side, you also should offer clear opt-out instructions. 

If users do not understand how to unsubscribe, they might automatically contact their carrier to request blocking your messages.

Unfortunately, if your think your sending number has been blacklisted, there’s not much you can do to appeal that designation. However, many carriers will automatically remove numbers from their blacklists after a certain period of time. This amount of time has not been made public by any carrier.

To find out more about the laws regarding text messaging (that all businesses should be up to date on), check with the FCC directly.