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Texting 101

SMS keywords: Your ultimate playbook

Alia Paavola
minute read
Table of contents:

With the rise of text message marketing, more brands are turning to SMS keywords to engage and expand their customer base.

Whether you’re aiming to gain SMS subscribers, streamline customer support interactions, or are just looking for a deeper understanding of SMS keywords, you’re in the right place. This all-inclusive guide will delve into SMS keyword must-knows, including the top benefits, diverse use cases, and best practices.

Table of Contents

<h2 id="Whatis">What is an SMS keyword?</h2>

An SMS keyword is a word, phrase, or series of numbers people text to a business phone number or shortcode. Often, brands encourage customers to text this keyword to subscribe to SMS marketing campaigns, request information, receive discounts, and more.

For example, a cosmetics brand could advertise encouraging customers to join their rewards program by texting ‘MAKEUP’ (the SMS keyword) to 62626. 

<h2 id="Benefits">Benefits of using SMS keywords in your campaigns</h2>

Keywords are powerful for brands using an SMS message marketing strategy. Let’s look at some of the benefits of using SMS keywords for your business. 

SMS keywords …

  • Grow your SMS subscriber list quickly. SMS keywords are a simple and effective way for your brand to build your SMS contact list.

  • Help you comply with SMS opt-in laws. SMS keywords encourage customers to text your business first, which helps you meet SMS opt-in requirements. It also presents an excellent opportunity to get a double opt-in to help protect your business.

  • Boost customer engagement. Texting is a highly engaging business communication channel, boasting higher open and response rates than email. By encouraging customers to text your phone number, you invite them to participate and interact with your brand.

  • Improve personalization. Using different text message keywords lets you segment your audience for better personalization. For example, you could have customers at your downtown store location text ‘DOWNTOWN’ to your phone number, and your suburb store text ‘SUBURB’ to your phone number.

  • Increase customer loyalty. SMS keywords can get customers to subscribe to your loyalty program and get key updates from your brand.

Learn more: Benefits of using SMS marketing for your business.

<h2 id="Ways">15 ways to use SMS keywords</h2>

There are many different SMS keyword campaigns your business can utilize to boost customer engagement, subscriptions and sales. Let’s learn more about them.

Subscriptions and opt-ins

Subscriptions are one of the most popular ways brands use SMS keywords. For this strategy, allow customers to subscribe to your SMS campaigns by texting a keyword to your phone number. 

For example, customers could text 'JOIN' to 55555 to subscribe to your text marketing program. You could also encourage customers to text in a keyword to subscribe to important updates, like emergency weather alerts.

An SMS keyword campaign encouraging subscribers from Outdoor Voices.
An SMS keyword campaign encouraging subscribers from Outdoor Voices.

An SMS keyword post from a church in East Bedford.
An SMS keyword post from a church in East Bedford.

Learn more about the benefits of using a double opt-in for SMS marketing.

VIP clubs

Other businesses set up SMS keywords to encourage customers to subscribe to VIP clubs or to get VIP offers. For example, you could text your existing SMS subscribers, asking them to reply with the keyword ‘VIP’ to get access to more exclusive products or discounts.

Promotions and discounts

Give exclusive coupons, offers, or discounts to SMS subscribers who reply to your marketing message with a particular keyword. For example, you could set up an SMS campaign asking customers to text ‘DEALS’ for a 20 percent off code to use on their next purchase.

Check out 21 other SMS marketing campaign ideas.

Product launch alerts 

Encourage people to join your SMS marketing campaigns to learn about new product drops. You can inform them about exclusive deals or products before launching them online. In the following example from SKIMS, the retailer asks customers to text its short code phone number to “never miss a drop.”

An SMS keyword campaign for product drops from SKIMS.
An SMS keyword campaign for product drops from SKIMS.

Contests or sweepstakes

Encourage customers to text a unique keyword to enter a contest or a drawing to win a prize. In the following example, a radio station asks customers to text a keyword to their business phone number to win concert tickets. 

An SMS keyword contest from a radio station.
An SMS keyword contest from a radio station.

Offer trivia or educational content

Engage with your audience by running SMS-based trivia games. You could have them text QUIZ or TRIVIA to your business phone number to get daily trivia questions for a month. This is an especially fun keyword campaign if you’re a restaurant that does trivia night and wants to promote it.

Request donations

Nonprofit organizations can use SMS keywords to facilitate donations via text. Keywords provide an easy way for customers to receive a donation link quickly.

For example, you could say: Text 'GIVE' to 51555 to support the Red Cross’ hurricane relief efforts. 

An SMS keyword advertisement from Clear Creek Community Church.
An SMS keyword advertisement from Clear Creek Community Church.

Appointment confirmations

Use SMS keywords to confirm appointments, demos, meetings, or other bookings. This can help you reduce no-shows to avoid operational and financial headaches. 

In the following example, Trademark Venues asks a customer to confirm a phone consultation by texting back YES.

Appointment confirmation text keyword from Trademark Venues.
Appointment confirmation text keyword from Trademark Venues.

Learn more: How to write the perfect appointment confirmation text.

Appointment scheduling

Give customers an option to text a word like ‘SCHEDULE’ or ‘BOOK’ to schedule an appointment with your company. You can include a link to your scheduler on the document. 

Customer support

Let customers know they can reply with a keyword to your message for access to help or customer service. This helps them know where to reach out to quickly. The following example from USPS advises customers to reply HELP to messages and immediately gives them a number to call. 

USPS sets up SMS keywords to connect people to customer service.
USPS sets up SMS keywords to connect people to customer service.

Request more information

Set up an SMS keyword like ‘INFO’ to encourage customers to get more information about a product, service, or opportunity. In the following example, you’ll see a customer ask to get more details about taking a research survey.

An SMS keyword campaign to request more information
An SMS keyword campaign to request more information

Event updates and reminders

Encourage attendees to text in a keyword to get reminders or important updates about an event. For example, you could have posters throughout your event letting attendees know they can text ‘EVENT’ to a phone number to get the daily schedule or learn more about a particular speaking session.

Collect feedback and surveys

Ask customers to leave feedback or take a survey after an interaction with your brand. Leave a note on a receipt encouraging them to initiate a text survey via SMS. For example, have them text ‘SURVEY’ to your phone number to leave feedback. Consider offering an incentive to take the SMS survey for a higher response rate.

Lead generation

Capture better leads from your website by setting up an SMS keyword. You could have an advertisement encouraging new customers to text ‘LEARN’ to your business phone number or get helpful links to learn about your service offering. 

Membership renewals

Create an SMS keyword campaign to remind customers to renew their sunsetting subscriptions or memberships. For example, if you’re a gym that does annual memberships, ask them to text ‘RENEW’ to your gym phone number to talk to someone about renewing the memberships or any discounts you may offer. 

How to use SMS keywords for a renewal campaign.
How to use SMS keywords for a renewal campaign.

<h2 id="Howto">How to choose the right SMS keywords for your campaigns</h2>

It’s essential to put some thought into picking your SMS keywords. Here are some general guidelines to help you choose effective text messaging keywords.

  • Use one word. The better-performing keywords are just one word rather than phrases or multiple fused words.

  • Keep it simple. Keep your text keywords simple and easy to spell. This makes it easier for customers to remember. For example, if you’re a company selling cherries, make your keyword “cherry” not “maraschino.”

  • Make it memorable. Ensure your keyword is memorable and somewhat unique to your brand. It’s easier to remember a word than random numbers, for example.

  • Make it relevant to the campaign. The more relevant to the campaign, the better the keyword. For example, a keyword like ‘GIVE’ would make more sense than ‘HELLO’ if you run a fundraising text campaign.

  • Keep auto-correct in mind. Most mobile phones these days use a form of autocorrect (take “ducking,” for example). Keep this in mind while choosing your keyword. You can test autocorrect by typing your keyword in a message.

<h2 id="BestPractices">SMS keywords best practices to get you on the right track</h2>

In addition to picking the right keyword, here are some best practices to help you get the most out of your SMS keyword campaigns.

  • Promote across channels. Publicize your SMS keyword campaigns across channels, both online and offline. Promote your keyword in your physical stores, social media posts, and website. Use clear and concise language to explain how customers can engage with your business using the keyword.

  • Monitor keyword performance. Like any SMS campaign, you’ll want to regularly track your keywords’ performance. Create reports that analyze which keywords generate the most engagement or subscribers, then learn from your data to optimize them.

  • Test and refine your strategy. In addition to measuring performance, you’ll want to test and refine your keyword strategy. To help you determine which keywords generate the most engagement, try A/B testing different keywords and promotion ideas to see which ones perform the best. Then, use these insights to help refine your keyword strategy.

  • Segment keywords. For some companies, creating unique keywords for different products, services, or campaigns will allow you to segment  your audience. For example, if you run an all-inclusive home services company, you could ask customers to text in ‘DESIGN’ or ‘PLUMBING’ to understand what services they’re interested in.

  • Automate keyword responses. Ensure your messages trigger automatically when a contact texts your keyword. This provides them with immediate information or confirmation to improve the user experience.

  • Limit keyword choices. Don’t set up hundreds of keywords at once. Offer a smaller, more manageable keyword selection that aligns with your business offerings.

  • Plan for keyword expiration. If you plan to run the keyword campaign for a limited time, clearly communicate the expiration date. This helps you set expectations for subscribers.

  • Avoid ambiguity. Try to avoid any easily confused keywords. This can result in opt-in errors. For example, shy away from words that often get confused with each other, like elicit vs. illicit or capital vs. capitol.

  • Optimize keywords for texting and mobile phones. Avoid overly complex or case-sensitive keywords that may be hard to enter on a mobile device. For example, if it’s a proper noun, remember that auto-correct on smartphones may try to capitalize it.

  • Keep inclusivity in mind. Ensure your keywords aren’t biased, and consider accessibility. Avoid visually confusing keywords and make any keyword promotional materials easy to read.

Get 17 other SMS marketing tips to set you up for success

<h2 id="Using">Using SMS keywords on Textline</h2>

After signing up for a Textline account, you must set up a Send Message automation to create an SMS keyword campaign. Here are the steps to do that: 

1. Create a new automation from scratch. 

Creating an automation on Textline.

2. Name your automation and choose which department (phone number) it’s attached to.

Assigning an automation to a phone number in Textline.

3. Set your automation type, conditions, and actions.

  • Automation Type: When a message is received
  • Automation Condition: When the entire message matches this content exactly: Your Keyword
  • Automation Action: Send a message

Setting an automation type and action in Textline.

4. Preview your SMS keyword automation.

Preview your keyword automation on Textline.

Partner with Textline, your ultimate automated texting provider 

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Textline is a top-rated SMS marketing platform with robust yet simple-to-use automation features. Partner with the market's most secure automated texting provider and get started with business texting today. 

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