Even the best writers are often told to pare down their writing. A concise message is easier to digest and retain than a convoluted one. So, why is this so hard when it comes to texting?

Oftentimes, we see brands trying to duplicate their email strategy for texting and become frustrated when they don’t see the same results. They don’t realize the conversational, brief nature of texting differentiates it from email. Text messaging requires a completely different approach than email, social media or any other communication channel.

Text message length is one of the unique characteristics of texting that often stumps communicators. Here are some text message best practices for businesses.

Is there a maximum SMS message length? What is the SMS character limit?

Texting is Not Email – And It Never Will Be

“Why can’t I make a text as long as an email?” This is a question we hear frequently. Although a valid question, it fails to recognize that texting is not email – and it never will be. The goals of texting and email are extremely different, so naturally, they should be composed differently.

Before our inboxes were flooded with spam daily, email used to be like texting: high priority. But now, “inbox zero” feels like a myth – most of us spend our work days scrambling frantically to climb out of the never-ending black hole of unread emails.

“Remember that email used to be a high-priority form of communication, like texting is today. But years of increasing email lengths and frequency have eroded its impact and threatened its core purpose to help people connect.” – Zipwhip CEO and Co-founder, John Lauer

Email has become a long-format, low-priority communication channel. There’s a reason why email has a 20 percent open rate, yet texting has a 98 percent open rate. We skim email subject lines quickly – conditioned to tune out most messages from brands or people we don’t know.

In order to maintain texting’s urgency and effectiveness, we need to protect it from falling to the same fate as email. And this means continuing to enforce character limits on SMS texts.

Why Brevity is Better for Texting

We text how we talk. We don’t talk in essays or monologues – we talk in bullet points, headlines and short paragraphs. Text message structure and character limits serve to facilitate this type of communication. That’s why texting requires you to make your point with fewer characters.

You’re more strategic when you have limitations. At Zipwhip, we limit businesses to 250 characters per text message. This isn’t to be stingy – it’s actually designed to make business text messaging more effective. In forcing senders to adhere to a character limit, we help them be more efficient and thoughtful with their messages. It takes skill to strip a message down to its core and eliminate the fluff.

It’s a way to show respect and gain trust. In adopting texting as a communication channel, you’re already acknowledging your customers are busy people. They’ve generously opted-in to your texting, so it’s your job to respect their time. Get to your point quickly and clearly, so customers can respond immediately without being inconvenienced. In turn, customers will trust your communication and be more receptive to incoming messages.

A shorter message doesn’t mean it’s less powerful. Don’t confuse brevity as lacking substance. Many of us learned how to stretch a 500-word paragraph into a 1500-word paper in high school, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to communicate – especially not with today’s busy, multi-tasking consumer. In fact, shorter messages are frequently revered as more impactful. When Twitter increased their character limit, many people were upset because they felt it would dilute messaging and reduce the power of the channel.

How to Write an Effective Text Message in Fewer Characters

Immediately Include a CTA
Take the guesswork out of your message by telling your reader exactly what you want them to do upfront. Don’t even make them read to the bottom of your message – lead with a call-to-action.

Add Links
It almost feels like cheating, but including a link is a smart way to include more information in your text without actually writing more. Since you only have a few seconds to capture their attention, you want to put the most important information first. If your recipient is interested in learning more, they’ll have the option to click on that link.

Think in Headlines
Imagine you’re writing your message as a headline for a newspaper. What would you say? Journalists always have to consider how to inject the right balance of attention-grabbing and informative. Taking a similar approach with your text messages will help grab your reader’s attention and convey your message effectively.

Use Images
They say a picture is worth a thousand words – but it’s not a thousand characters! Use picture messaging to tell a story without using up your limited texting character count.

Stop Writing
As soon as you made your point, stop writing. And then cut some more words. Whatever you do, don’t add new information you don’t need. Ask yourself if what you’re writing is necessary to the message and remove anything that doesn’t qualify as mandatory.

“The moment that lengthy texts become commonplace is the moment that texting loses its biggest value – that it gets an immediate response.” – Zipwhip CEO and Co-founder, John Lauer

One of the things we’re proud of here at Zipwhip is protecting the integrity of the medium of texting. We want texting to remain conversational and convenient. While we don’t necessarily think there’s an optimal text message length, SMS character limits provide guardrails to help produce the best results possible. In other words, the character limit helps improve the effectiveness and impact of the texting channel.

Want to try texting your customers? Sign up for a tree trial of Zipwhip.

Madeleine Wilson

Madeleine Wilson

Content Marketing Manager at Zipwhip
Madeleine Wilson is the content marketing manager for Zipwhip. Her experience in brand strategy, strong writing skills, and eye for design help drive traffic to the Zipwhip website. She loves telling the stories of how Zipwhip impacts businesses and consumers.
Madeleine Wilson