SMS marketing

Text message sequence: tips for crafting effective texts from an analysis of 50K campaigns

Kaleigh Moore, May 19th 2022

The secret is out: SMS campaigns are great for generating business. But there’s good news and bad news.

The good news? SMS marketing often delights customers, with 77% of respondents saying they think positively of a company that offers text communications.

The bad news? Your company isn’t the first to hear of SMS marketing, and competition for mobile-sourced clicks is heating up.

According to Global Business Messaging Insights 2022, a report from LINK Mobility, more than half of businesses report click-through rates below 10%, while only 1 in 8 see CTRs above 50%.

That got us wondering: With such wide disparities in click rates, there must be key elements separating the top-performing businesses from the rest.

So we started asking questions:

  • What’s the ideal number of characters in a text?
  • Do emojis have an effect, positive or negative?
  • Does it matter how many links you text?
  • Does the day of the week matter?

To answer those questions, we took a deep dive into data from Klaviyo––analyzing roughly 50K SMS campaigns across 5K companies. Here’s what we learned from the SMS data about the best-performing ecommerce SMS marketing campaigns and programs, and the SMS best practices that help brands drive clicks.

What should the ideal SMS sequence be for CTR?

Generally, the trend is simple: the shorter, the better.

Klaviyo’s data showed a clear trend in higher click rates for texts of fewer than 50 characters, at about ~12%.

However, you’ll notice there are diminishing returns. After about 150 characters, customers stop dropping off, suggesting that while shorter messages have higher click rates, if you have something important to say, a longer SMS message can still work.

Shorter SMS messages tend to perform better, and many brands use abbreviations to reduce character count. 

Since smartphone users are so quick to scan texts, we wondered if the data would look different if we isolated a different variable: the number of lines.

Turns out that no matter how you measure it—via length or character count—the result is largely the same:

SMS stands for short message service, so it makes sense that the shorter the message, the better it performs.

The bottom line? Brevity isn’t just the soul of wit—it also drives higher CTRs.

Should you use emojis in your text message marketing? 😉

First, a caveat: this data only revealed basic rules of thumb. Everyone’s niche is different and this is a great thing to A/B test on your own.

If you’re selling back-to-school supplies, emojis might be common practice. Customers might even expect them. If you’re trying to get customers to sign up for Roth IRAs? Maybe not so much.

When we ran our SMS data, we found a slight bias against using emojis, with average click rates of 10.4% with emojis and 11.21% without them. In other words, skipping the emojis offered a .8% boost on average.

SMS messages with emojis were sent in 9K+ campaigns, and SMS messages without emojis were sent in nearly 42K campaigns. 

But here’s why we won’t make it a hard rule. When we ran A/B tests with multiple SMS text variations, we found that 53% of the time, the variations with emojis performed better.

The takeaway: emojis are generally not going to improve click rates, but they’re worth testing if you’re unsure about your niche.

While there are some good rules of thumb––like keep your messages on point and personalize when you can––the most important thing you can do is test.

Tommy Blanchard, manager, data science at Klaviyo

“Everyone’s customer base is different. While there are some good rules of thumb––like keep your messages on point and personalize when you can––the most important thing you can do is test,” says Tommy Blanchard, manager, data science at Klaviyo. “Do A/B tests to figure out what works with your products and your SMS audience.“

Does it matter where you paste a link into your SMS message? When the Klaviyo SMS data science team ran the numbers, the initial data plot was similar to the chart for number of characters above.

In other words, it was hard to figure out how to isolate link location as a variable independent of message length. The longer the message, the more words would push the link toward the end.

We think this is because we measured how many characters there were before the first link. So we changed strategies. Instead, we examined whether or not the link appears within the first 5 characters or not.

Here’s what the team found:

SMS messages that used a link at the beginning were used in 77 SMS campaigns. SMS messages that did not have a link at the beginning were used in nearly 51K SMS campaigns.

Conclusion? Starting off on a conversational note before asking for the click showed a noticeable difference in CTRs, even with a limited sample size.

The experts we asked echoed this sentiment: going for the sale too soon can turn people off.

“Picture yourself shopping in a brick-and-mortar retail store. The business owner pops in your face and shouts, ‘20% OFF ENDS TONIGHT. Hurry! Shop now!’ Would you like that? Probably not,” says Connie Cen, founder of Rocketeer Media. “To build a deeper relationship with your customers via SMS, talk as if you’re talking to someone in real life. No fluff. No exaggeration. Just plain, simple, human interaction. This trumps all the marketing tactics out there.”

Hurry! Shop now!’ Would you like that? Probably not. To build a deeper relationship with your customers via SMS, talk as if you’re talking to someone in real life. No fluff. No exaggeration.

Connie Cen, founder of Rocketeer Media.

We can only theorize why this works. But one potential reason is putting links at the end is the conversational way to begin a text message. For example, Q Collective emphasizes conversational texts.

How do you get conversational in just a few lines? Simple: never put the link first.

Source: Klaviyo’s Showcase.

What’s the best day of the week to send texts?

Is there a day of the week in which SMS recipients are particularly happy to hear from you? While we didn’t see huge differences, generally speaking, Mondays were the worst while ›midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) saw the highest CTR averages.

Sending SMS messages in the middle of the night is off limits in most SMS marketing tools like Klaviyo, but which day of the week is best––between working hours in the target audience’s time zone––is still up in the air. There are slight improvements on Tuesday and Thursday, but you’ll need to text the specifics for your brand’s SMS marketing program.

The mean CTRs for Tuesday-Thursday campaigns outperformed the weekend campaigns, scoring 11.33% to 10.84%, respectively.

But the sample sizes weren’t very large, so don’t take this slight difference as a reason to avoid all Saturday or Monday campaigns in the future. Instead, when you have something to say, just pick the right targeted audience––i.e. your subscriber segment––and send your message.

5 SMS best practices to improve engagement right now

SMS works so well because it’s a rare marketing channel with an outlet for customer replies. The best SMS campaigns often feel like games of ping-pong: you have to give your customers something they can hit back.

“It’s great to send standard offers and time-sensitive texts to SMS subscribers,” says Josh Siegel, GM of text messaging at Klaviyo. “But the brands that are doing SMS best use it as a 2-way medium, engaging their audience with a richer conversation and story than they can with other channels.”

The brands that are doing SMS best use it as a 2-way medium, engaging their audience with a richer conversation and story than they can with other channels.

Josh Siegel, GM of text messaging at Klaviyo

But what constitutes a “rich conversation” in a marketing context? Here are some of the SMS best practices we discovered that naturally drive higher conversion rates.

Tip 1: promote SMS-only exclusives

It’s a foundational question in SMS marketing: why do customers sign up for these lists in the first place? It’s usually because brands offer incentives, particularly SMS-only exclusives and first looks at new products.

These VIP-style lists give customers a sense of connection they can’t find when browsing your site alone. Exclusives and behind-the-scenes looks tap into the idea that the customer is an insider with a unique relationship with the brand.

There’s a bit of a catch: you sometimes have to remind customers when they’re getting exclusives. SWAK Lip Care often highlights the exclusive nature of its SMS offers when it sends exclusive product looks:

Image source

From “Special release alert” at the top to “just for our SMS subscribers,” SWAK uses multiple opportunities to remind people why they signed up in the first place.

What if you don’t have a new product or exciting first look coming down the pipeline? You can build that feeling of exclusivity with behind-the-scenes content. Invite SMS subscribers to a peek behind the curtain.

Give SMS subscribers a behind-the-scenes look.

Jacob Sappington, partner at Homestead

“Give them a behind-the-scenes look,” suggests Jacob Sappington, partner at Homestead. “It could be a short text that links out to a page with a hosted video—or it could just be a lengthy text.”

Tip 2: take personalization beyond a first-name basis

If the conversational approach works best, it follows that customers will appreciate it when you go above and beyond with personalization.

In SMS, that means using “Django tags,” or template tags that automatically fill in customer details like first names––similar to baseline personalization in email marketing.

Here’s what our data showed:

SMS text messages with personalization were used in 7K+ SMS campaigns. SMS messages without personalization were used in nearly 44K SMS campaigns.

Personalization outperformed by almost 2%. However, personalization also had limited effects. When we ran A/B tests to test personalization exclusively, personalized texts won 64% of the time, providing a slight 0.8% advantage.

Personalized texts won 64% of the time, providing a slight 0.8% advantage.

Maybe that’s because personalization should go beyond a first name and a Django tag. Django tags are common—which means customers are getting used to them. You can take your personalization to the next level by incorporating more precise customer segmentation into your SMS messages.

Image source

Take the apparel brand Kittenish, which uses “Black Label VIP access” to isolate specific sales to a highly engaged customer segment.

No Django tag here—just the “Hey, Kitten!” message that could apply to any of their customers. But notice what else is going on: a reference to the customer segment––“Your Black Label VIP Access starts now”––along with an offer specially tailored to that segment––“shop before anyone else!”

The image itself is one of the items on sale, ensuring there’s no disappointment when the customer clicks through. The key, argues Jason Wong, founder of Doe Lashes, is in using segmentation to “nurture intimate relationships.”

“No one wants to get brand messages in their text inbox next to messages from friends and family. You need to treat SMS as a channel to nurture intimate relationships with your customers and treat them like you’ve known them IRL,” Wong explains. “SMS should be a 2-way conversation, not a bulletin board. Knowing this will give you immense ideas on how to text your customers.”

Tip 3: give your customers options

What about giving your customers too many options? We tested an old theory, the “paradox of choice,” which says that more choices lead to more confusion.

Advocates of the KISS––“keep it simple, stupid”––approach would suggest that 1 link should outperform texts with multiple links. But what did the data say?

SMS messages with 1 link were used in 49K+ SMS campaigns. SMS messages with more than 1 link were used in nearly 2K SMS campaigns.

There may be situations when overwhelming the user with too many links and too many options is bad for click rates. But not here. In fact, texts with multiple links slightly outperformed those with just 1 link.

According to Erica Aarons, retention and engagement manager at Rumpl, optimizing the number of links isn’t as important as creating a conversational interaction with customers that begins with their consent.

Make it easy on SMS subscribers by asking questions. Give them opportunities to reply and give you insight into their lives.

Erica Aarons, retention and engagement manager at Rumpl

“Without a prior standing relationship, it’s unnatural to text new friends out of the blue,” says Aarons. “Make it easy on [customers] by asking questions. Give them opportunities to reply and give you insight into their lives.”

Asking questions often comes with giving customers multiple options to choose from, including multiple links. It works for Athletic Greens, which often incorporates add-on links with its messaging to deepen relationships with customers. Here’s an example from one of their emails:

Image source

If you still want to keep your SMS marketing messages simple, you can use Klaviyo to incorporate time delays between messages with links. However, our data suggests that as long as you’re providing value to your customers, they won’t mind how many links or options you give them. They just want options.

Tip 4: provide value at every turn

Being conversational with customers means more than casual phrases and Django tags. You can only have a real conversation if you sometimes ditch the salesperson-customer relationship.

Yes, you’re selling products to customers, so at some point, you’re going to have to make the sale. But your SMS messages will feel more genuine if you bring something else to the table—something of value that serves as a convenient excuse for reaching out, such as:

  • Discounts
  • Special offers/exclusive first looks
  • Behind-the-scenes content
  • Flash sales
  • Customer support or bespoke services

Customers might roll their eyes if you’re constantly texting them and asking for the click, offering nothing in exchange. But providing value puts the relationship on equal footing.

SMS is a channel normally reserved for friends and family, so if they accept marketing from you, that’s a huge stamp of approval.

Lillie Sun, growth marketer at Three Ships Beauty

“Using SMS as a channel to communicate with your customers is a great way to be more intimate. It’s a channel normally reserved for friends and family, so if they accept marketing from you, that’s a huge stamp of approval,” says Lillie Sun, growth marketer at Three Ships Beauty. “That’s why we aim to make sure our marketing messages through SMS are high value and provide support for our customers.”

In fall 2021, ecommerce brand Elsie Green leaned hard into that approach, creating a fall inspiration guide and sending it to SMS subscribers before anyone else.

Source: Klaviyo’s Showcase.

Tip 5: treat SMS as a conversation and invite customers to respond

The team at Suvie, the brand behind the kitchen countertop robot, knew that its unboxing experience is better than most products. It was a golden opportunity to differentiate themselves.

Rather than write a standard shipment notification, they reached out to customers and asked them to share their unboxing experiences on social media.

But they didn’t write it in bland corporate-speak. Here’s how they worded it:

Image source

While the Suvie example isn’t unique only to them––plenty of brands ask customers to respond to emails or to post user-generated content on social media––this same technique can be applied to SMS marketing, too.

When you text the way people actually text, it humanizes your brand—as if customers are receiving a message from a kind uncle or aunt.

Take Latico Leathers, which uses a simple question to inspire a conversational approach when going back and forth with customers. They make a product suggestion and then ask, “What do you think?”

Notice the conversational ping-pong happening here. “What do you think?” isn’t a prompt to make a sale—Latico Leather really wants to know, because the answer will determine which link they send.

No matter how many emojis and casual phrases you use, your SMS marketing campaigns aren’t conversational without this basic human back-and-forth.

Customers don’t want to take the time to write out a thoughtful response, only for you to hit them back with “Great! Here’s our link!” as though their answer never mattered.

According to Chris Meade, founder of CROSSNET, whose goal is to bring in 5% of DTC revenue via SMS, the brand is using a conversational approach to building higher click rates. He even makes himself available for Q-and-A sessions, showing how legitimately CROSSNET’s brand wants to engage with customers.

One way we’re starting to think about SMS is making it much more conversational and less sale, sale, sale.

Chris Meade, founder of CROSSNET

“One way we’re starting to think about SMS is making it much more conversational and less sale, sale, sale,” Meade explains. “Instead, we are working on things such as ‘Chris, the founder of CROSSNET, is texting back for the next hour. Ask him anything about entrepreneurship or launching a business!’ or ‘Have a question on the rules? Our refs are live and ready to help.’”

Get ready for higher click rates from your next SMS campaign

If you want to know the magical, pixie-dust, SMS best practices secrets for higher click rates on SMS campaigns, the conclusion of our data is simple: There isn’t one.

There are, however, plenty of little SMS tips you can use to accelerate the cumulative effect of every text message you send, resulting in campaigns that compel customers to click.

A single emoji might not revolutionize the click rates of your texts. But combine this with SMS tips like personalization, conversation, brevity, and always offering the customer value, and then you’ll have a recipe for a successful campaign.

That recipe will be unique to you and your customers. For that, you’ll want to use Klaviyo’s 2-way customer interactions to humanize your brand, making your links worth clicking, have more questions? Get some SMS FAQ answers.

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Kaleigh Moore
Kaleigh Moore
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer and consultant for ecommerce platforms and the software that integrates with them.