160 characters is all you need

160 characters is all you need

Updated on 28 April 2020

In 1985, a gentleman named Friedhelm Hillebrand was responsible for deciding how long an SMS would be. After researching the character length of the most popular short communication tools, Friedhelm concluded that 160 characters were the perfect number.

Why is 160 so important?

The truth is, you have about 2-3 seconds to capture a customer’s attention. People have endless streams of content available at their fingertips, which makes competing for their attention more difficult than ever before, especially as marketers. If that weren’t enough, a study conducted in 2018 solidified this claim by discovering that the average human’s attention span is less than that of a goldfish—at a mere 8 seconds.

In other words, those first 160 characters—no matter what medium you use—will ultimately determine the overall success of your campaign.

While this may seem daunting at first, keep in mind that this restriction doesn’t mean you have to compromise your marketing goals. SMS messages usually take 2 seconds to read, which is why it has a much higher impact on a customer’s decision than long drawn out responses. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your goal needs to be completed upon the first send. Instead, by designing campaigns to leave clients wanting more, you can build-up anticipation before finally accomplishing your goal.

That said, you can also strategically build messages to prompt immediate action. While 160 characters may not seem like much, the possibilities are actually limitless.

Do you have to stick with 160 characters?

No, but longer SMS campaigns are generally less effective.

You can send SMS marketing campaigns that are up to 612 characters long through a process of concatenation, but we recommend that you stay within 160. Remember, you only have 2-3 seconds to invoke an action from your customer, so make it as succinct as possible.

What should I have in my 160 character message?

It depends because there are so many different use cases. But here are some guidelines:

  • Personalise your messages by using their name to make them feel special
  • Make sure you identify yourself so that customers know who you are
  • Ensure that your offer and call-to-action is clear and concise
  • Have options for the customer to interact with—use links, give them the ability to respond etc.

These are only a handful of ideas to keep in mind, but if you’re looking for more details, you can also read our five best practice tips to create an SMS campaign.

160 Character Examples and Tips

Now that you are aware of how you can structure a message, here are a couple of examples and tips to keep in mind to improve your SMS game.

Example One

In this example, we show a simple “Welcome” SMS that adheres to the 160 character rule. It’s vital to know when to change the message based on how you communicate with your clientele. Keep that in mind that an SMS reminder or notification is different than an alert.

Also, be aware of the “Opt-out reply STOP” line. It’s required to remain spam compliant for sales and marketing messages, and it’s part of your character count.

Example Two

This example shows the use of line breaks and a clickable link. Line-breaks are characters. Reducing them can save you a couple of extra characters.

For higher engagement, adding a link is always a good option. However, be aware NOT to paste an entire URL in the message since it will severely impact your character limit. Instead, use our built-in URL shortener.

Final Thoughts

Strategically building messages to prompt immediate action is the goal of any marketing campaign. Keep in mind that SMS has an open rate of 98%, which gives you a high chance your customers will interact with your material. With additions that include tracked and branded links to reduce character usage, you can effectively market to your customers without concern. For more tips and message templates, check out our other articles, and we’ll see you in the next blog.