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SMS compliance: Your essential business checklist

Alia Paavola
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Text messaging is a powerful tool for business communication, but it comes with important rules that must be followed.  If your company wants to send customer texts, it’s critical to understand compliance measures and the role of certain regulatory organizations first.   

Although SMS compliance may seem daunting, having an SMS compliance checklist at hand makes it easy for your business to follow the rules confidently.

In this article, we'll guide you through the essential aspects, providing a clear roadmap for mastering SMS compliance effortlessly.

Jump right to:

<h2 id="Importance">The importance of being SMS compliant</h2>

SMS compliance should be a top priority for businesses. Failure to comply can have negative (and costly) consequences. Let’s look at these in more detail:

  • Penalties and fines. Businesses can be fined $500 to $1,500 per TCPA violation for unsolicited text messages.

  • Reputation damage. Sending customers unwanted text messages puts your business reputation at risk. Unsolicited messages will feel like spam to your contacts and may drive them away. Ultimately, this can result in lost customers, leads, and revenue.  However, being SMS compliant ensures you’re only texting the customers who want to hear from you. This results in positive results like: 
  • Better engagement. People who want texts from your business will open and often reply to your messages, improving engagement metrics like open and response rates.

  • Increased SMS campaign performance. Customers who want text updates are likely to act on your CTAs, take advantage of text deals, and appreciate being in the know.

  • Improved deliverability. You’ll significantly increase the likelihood that your customers will get your texts. Mobile networks filter suspected spam and fraud messages. When you register and stay compliant, you’re pre-verified to reach customers.

  • Faster messaging. Registered brands and approved SMS campaigns are granted faster messaging rates. 

<h2 id="Checklist">SMS compliance checklist</h2>

Here are seven essential steps to help your organization comply with text messaging compliance regulations.

1. Choose an SMS-compliant provider

The first step is to pick an SMS-compliant texting platform that is also TCPA-compliant. These platforms will have features and procedures to protect businesses and comply with texting regulations. For example, Textline:

  • Automatically opts-out contacts if they reply with words like STOP, END, UNSUBSCRIBE
  • Offers a double opt-in feature to ensure consent is obtained and documented
  • Safeguards all customer data using encryption, user controls, and more

2. Register your phone number

The next step toward a compliant SMS strategy is registering your business texting number. No matter what phone number type you use, it must be registered before you can text customers. 

This step ensures parties like mobile carriers can verify your business, texting use cases, and opt-in procedures.

The registration requirement, added for 10DLCs and toll-free numbers in 2023, was created to curb spam texting. Most SMS platforms will allow you to complete this registration requirement in the app.

3. Outline the terms and conditions

You must share your SMS terms and conditions upfront. Mobile carriers will look closely at your terms and conditions and how you share them with contacts before approving your campaigns. The key is transparency: don’t hide your SMS intent or how you’ll use your contacts’ data.

Be sure to include the following information in your SMS terms and conditions:

  • Message type. Let customers know what types of messages they’re opting into. For example, will they get marketing texts, appointment reminders, order updates, or event information?

  • Message frequency. State how often customers can expect to get messages from your brand. You can also mention that message frequency will vary.

  • Fees. State that message and data rates may apply depending on the carrier.

  • How to opt out. Give customers opt out instructions from your brand.

  • How to request help. Let contacts know how to contact your brand if they need help.

  • Privacy policy. Include a link to your privacy policy to disclose how you will use your contact’s data.

A real-life SMS terms and conditions example from Anthropologie.

4. Create a transparent opt-in process

You can’t cold text your contacts. You must obtain consent to text contacts. This consent, called an SMS opt-in, is required by law. 

There are different levels of consent: implied consent, prior express consent, and express written consent. Here’s an overview:

  • Implied consent. This is an opt-in given by a person’s action. It means the customer directly texts your business first. Implied consent can only be used for conversational messaging, like solving customer support inquiries.

  • Prior express consent. This opt-in indicates consent to be contacted via future text. This level of consent can be obtained by having contacts fill out a form, check a box, or verbally. Informational texts like appointment reminders or order updates need prior express consent.

  • Express written consent. This permission level is required by businesses wanting to send marketing texts or texts sharing any personal information. It is an explicit authorization that an individual gives to receive promotional messages or texts with personal information.

    Textline requires using our double consent feature to protect businesses needing to obtain express written consent. This feature ensures opt-in confirmations are documented.

It is vital to be transparent when obtaining express consent. You must disclose specifics about the types and frequency of messages contacts will receive.

Businesses can collect SMS opt-ins in many ways, from a website form fill to a text keyword campaign. Check out these compliant SMS opt-in examples from actual companies.

5. Establish an easy opt-out process

In addition to obtaining opt-ins, you must provide a simple way for customers to opt out. For example, you should allow them to opt out by replying to your text message.

Additionally, when a customer asks to unsubscribe, ensure your business acknowledges these requests. You must remove the contact from your subscriber list and no longer send them messages.

Textline’s SMS-compliant software automatically unsubscribes contacts who reply with words like STOP, END, CANCEL, UNSUBSCRIBE, and QUIT.

6. Avoid prohibited language

Mobile carriers want the messages you send to promote a positive user experience. As a result, mobile networks heavily restrict or prohibit companies from texting about certain topics. 

Generally, this banned content is illegal, harmful, unwanted, inappropriate, or threatening.

Prohibited messaging content includes:

  • SHAFT (sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, or tobacco)
  • Scam, fraudulent, or malicious messaging
  • Illegal substances (cannabis, CBD, Kratom, or drug paraphernalia)
  • High-risk financial services (third-party loans, student loans, or pay-day loans)
  • Debt collection or forgiveness (debt consolidation, debt relief, credit repair, or third-party debt collection)
  • Get rich quick schemes
  • Gambling
  • Sweepstakes
  • Third-party lead generation services 

Restricted content includes:

  • Prescription drugs
  • Tax relief
  • Mortgages
  • Gift cards
  • Free prizes

7. Text during appropriate hours

TCPA and FCC guidance tells businesses to avoid sending texts before 8 am or after 9 pm. These hours are known as “quiet hours.” One of the best ways to ensure you meet this guidance is to text during typical business hours. 

Not only is this suggested, but it also respects your customers' time. No one wants to be woken up in the morning or at night from a business text message. 

<h2 id="Who">Who regulates SMS compliance?</h2>

Several organizations create and enforce SMS regulations and guidelines. Let's examine the critical roles of rule makers in ensuring SMS compliance laws. 


The Federal Communications Commission is a federal agency that regulates media and phone communication. The agency sets regulations for wireless carriers, issues new rules to protect customers, and oversees the primary texting legislation: The Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The TCPA became law in 1991. It was created to stop unwanted telemarketing calls but has since been extended to apply to text messages. TCPA rules include:

  • Getting express consent to text
  • Providing transparent SMS terms and policies
  • Letting contacts opt out at any time
  • Texting during appropriate hours

Another legislation that falls under the FCC is the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM). This legislation was passed in 2003 to reduce unwanted electronic mail, but also applies to some commercial text messages. Rules for CAN-SPAM compliance include:

  • Not using misleading information
  • Making it clear the content is an advertisement
  • Telling recipients how to op -out
  • Honoring opt-outs promptly

Customers who receive unwanted or spam text messages can file a complaint with the FCC.


Originally known as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association, the CTIA is an industry trade group. It represents the wireless communication industry, including mobile carriers, equipment makers, and mobile app developers. 

The CTIA maintains a set of principles and best practices for business texting. The CTIA has a hand in shaping new regulations to protect customers while expanding the use of business texting.

One of the regulations established by the CTIA is the restriction of SHAFT content. SHAFT stands for Sex, Hate, Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco. This restriction prohibits or heavily restricts companies from sending messages related to these topics.


Mobile network operators, also called cellular companies or mobile carriers, set message content, deliverability, and SMS cost rules. The most popular MNOs in the U.S. are AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. The FCC has pushed the MNOs to curb spam messaging. 

As a result, carriers have mandated phone number registration for businesses and have filters in place to block objectionable content.

Curious about registration requirements? Get details about The Campaign Registry for 10DLCs and toll-free number verification.


CSPS are campaign service providers or business texting platforms. CSPs, like Textline, create platforms that allow companies to send text messages to their customers. CSPs help businesses comply with the necessary SMS compliance requirements. 

For example, they submit registration information on your behalf. They also help companies stay in the know about regulation changes.


Direct connect aggregators act as middlemen between MNOs and CSPs. This allows businesses to get text messages through to various MNOs at once. DCAs have implemented a vetting process. This vetting process verifies the legitimacy of a brand and its messaging use case before it can start texting.


The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) is an industry group that helps set best practices for SMS marketing. These best practices help marketers wanting to implement a text marketing strategy, including guidance on implementing short code programs.

Partner with Textline – an SMS-compliant provider

Textline is a highly secure SMS platform known for its compliance. Our dedicated team works closely with key stakeholders, investing significant time to understand SMS rules and prioritize customer protection. We are committed to providing a safe and reliable messaging experience.

Textline lets our customers register their phone numbers in the app and has features to help companies stay compliant. This includes a patented double-consent feature and message blockers for unregistered accounts. 

Partner with Textline for your SMS compliance needs. Request a demo from our expert team to see our SMS-compliant platform in action.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is the opinion of the Textline editorial team. It is not intended to substitute legal advice from a qualified legal counsel. Please check with your legal counsel if you have any questions or concerns.

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