The dos and don’ts of using SMS keywords

The dos and don'ts of using SMS keywords

What are SMS keywords?

In SMS marketing, a keyword is a single word that users text in to a business virtual phone number, which triggers an action.

The most common SMS keyword is “STOP”. You’ve probably used or seen it before—they should appear at the end of every SMS marketing campaign (for spam compliance). Replying with “STOP” unsubscribes you from further receiving promotions from that company or virtual mobile number, but “STOP” isn’t the only keyword you can use.

How are SMS keywords used in marketing?

SMS keywords are simple to create and easy for customers to use, making them very popular for building your SMS subscriber database. Customers only need to text your SMS keyword to your virtual mobile number to subscribe.

Say, for example, a radio station is looking to build their mobile subscriber list, so they decide to give a pair of free tickets to an upcoming rugby game. They can ask listeners to text “RUGBY” to their dedicated virtual number to enter and subscribe to their list.

SMS keyword use cases include:

  • Subscribing to an SMS list for notifications of upcoming events
  • Voting in a poll
  • Completing a survey
  • Sending an auto-response answering FAQs
  • Entering a contest, competition, or giveaway
  • Subscribing for a discount code
  • Managing a queue, for example, a line up for a restaurant
  • Functioning as an autoresponder, driving traffic to your website with a link
  • Forwarding messages to your email, external apps, or a mobile number allowing you to compile and quickly respond to enquiries
  • Helping you track the performance of different CTAs and campaigns to constantly improve and adapt

Best practices for SMS keywords

Though SMS keywords are easy to create and use, getting too creative can sometimes backfire—it’s best to keep things simple. Here are some best practices for optimising user experience and maximising the end results.

  • Use short and easy to remember keywords
  • Use branded and relevant keywords relating to a product or service. For example, Victorians refer to swimwear as bathers, while New South Wales call them swimmers.
  • Lease a dedicated virtual number to unlock unlimited SMS keywords and establish a better brand reputation
  • Use one word instead of two joined together (i.e. BURGER instead of BOBBYSBURGERS), as this helps to avoid issues with autocorrect
  • Avoid generic keywords like “Yes”, “No”, “Enter”, or any other common words that a customer can text in and unintentionally trigger an action
  • Avoid shortening your keywords into acronyms, abbreviations, or slang spellings of words
  • Avoid numbers or special characters like #, !, @, and ^, as these are easy to get wrong and hard to remember
  • Use a trusted tracked link service to shorten any long URLs that you send

Promoting your SMS keywords

From real estate and banking to e-commerce and retail, SMS keywords are an effective way for your customers to engage with your business, especially since the average person checks their phones up to 52 times per day.

You can promote them almost anywhere:

  • Website: Use a pop-up or a static banner on your website, or add your keyword to community sites like RetailMeNot
  • Social media: Publish an image, or post to encourage followers to text in your keyword for whatever you are offering
  • Email newsletters: Send an email blast to encourage recipients to join your mobile database
  • In-store: Add your SMS keyword to your signage and receipts
  • Physical packaging: On the delivery box or product package
  • Traditional media: Take advantage of high foot traffic areas and use billboards on transit
  • Digital ads: Use pay-per-click advertising to get your keyword out to new potential customers

Examples to help promote your SMS keywords

It’s essential to be clear about what your leads and customers are getting in return for their mobile number. Here are some examples.

Discount Offer:

20% off your first purchase when you sign up for SMS alerts! Text ‘JOIN’ to +61123456789 to sign up.

List Sign-up:

For exciting weekly deals, coupons, and offers, text ‘DEALS’ to +61123456789. Opt-out any time.


Text ‘HOME’ to +61123456789 to get full listing details about this home on sale!

What happens next?

Once your leads and customers text in your keyword, the next step is to start communicating with them. Send reminders, alerts, or marketing campaigns. All you need is 160 characters to make an impact. Check out our collection of SMS templates to help you get started.

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