How to Build a Powerful SMS Subscriber List

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You need a perfect storm of reputation, revenue, and referrals to whirlwind your business into success.

In the middle of running your business, maintaining your website, and perfecting your product, it can feel impossible to also find time to connect with clients. But connecting with clients is vital to increasing engagements, and engagements drive revenue.

So what do you do?

You start by gathering a group of customers who keep coming back—and there’s no better way to do that than through an SMS subscriber list.

Why build an SMS subscriber list?

Chances are you already have an email subscriber list you’re building, but you’re noticing that less than 15% of your emails are actually opened.

In between struggling to increase your email subscribers’ engagement and raising your email click-through rate (the average is less than 3%), are you going to have time to also build an SMS subscriber list? Absolutely, and here’s why.

The results with SMS are going to be fast and huge:

  • 98% of text messages are opened
  • 95% of text messages are read within three minutes
  • 90 seconds is the average response time for any text

Plus, you build these lists passively, because it’s the customers who choose to signup (which means less work for you).

The lifetime SMS subscriber opt-out rate is under 5%—which is amazing compared to the 15% of email subscribers you’re expected to lose every year if you send out one email a week (and this number goes even higher if you send more than one).

With SMS, you know the customers you add to your subscriber list are ones you’ll keep.

So how do you set your SMS subscriber list up for success?

You’ll need to consider how to manage all your contacts and messages. Let’s talk through the steps:

1. Make sure you’re messaging compliantly.

Your reputation is going to be a big player in who wants to join your subscriber list. You can establish your reputability by practicing compliance and following this golden rule:

If your customer asks for one thing, don’t give them another.

This means:

  • If your customer signed up for updates on an event they registered for, don’t send them product promotions.
  • If your customer agreed to take your survey, don’t start sending them your newsletter.
  • If your customer asked for product promotions, don’t send them updates on your ongoing events.

Also, customers have to give you permission to text them.

You can’t just add phone numbers to your list if you find them online or receive them from another company—you have to get direct consent from the customer. Taking shortcuts could permanently damage your credibility (and your company). You should never buy lists of contacts to text.

Compliant messaging keeps you from being held liable, and it comforts customers who will want to join your SMS subscriber list, because they know you’re going to treat them well.

2. Choose between short code and long code.

Both can be used in completely different ways to successfully build your subscriber list.

Short code is a 5- to 6-digit phone number that is best for reaching an unlimited amount of people with automation. Because short code is completely automated, you cannot have conversations with the customers who text in.

PC: U.S. Short Code Directory

Long code is a standard 10-digit phone number that is best for one-on-one communication with audiences up to several thousand contacts. Your business phone number is a long code, and using that can make texting easier for everyone.

When choosing between the two, it’s important to recognize that a short code can be incredibly expensive and tricky compared to long code. You essentially rent short codes, so the digits connect to your business, instead of to another business who may have previously used the code.

Long codes are cheaper, and can feel more personal, but they also can only send one text per second (which is slow compared to the 1,000 texts per second a short code can send).

Knowing how and when to choose between codes will help you get the most bang for your buck. (I’ll share a few more tips on this later. If you have questions, just use the SMS Chat in the bottom corner.)

3. Utilize SMS features to streamline your messaging.

There are four main tools SMS can provide to make managing your subscribers a cinch. Text Request offers all of these features.

  • Groups: organize your subscribers for targeted text messages based on interests or questions
  • Keywords: a word subscribers can text to join your list, or opt-in for information and promotions
  • Autorespones: customizable and automatic replies to any texts from your subscribers that may come in while you’re out out of office
  • Escalation: a customizable timer that will automatically alert you to any unanswered subscriber messages

Each of these features can help passively build your subscriber list.

So, say a someone texts in a keyword to join your SMS subscription while you’re out of the office. An autoresponse will welcome them to the list, and if they have any questions, their message will automatically be escalated to your attention.

Let’s build your SMS subscriber list.

Here are five quick ways you can begin growing your subscriber list.

1. Catch customers at your brick-and-mortar register.

Customers always have to pass your register before they leave with a purchase—which means you know you’ll always have a chance to catch them.

Display a traditional signup sheet beside the register, or invest in a short or long code customers can text to signup and receive a free item at checkout.

SMS platforms, like Twilio for short code or Text Request for long code, can help you get setup.

PC: U.S. Short Code Directory

As part of your setup process, you should answer questions like:

  • How will you advertise your subscription?
  • How often will you message subscribers?
  • What will you send in response to HELP?
  • What will you send in response to STOP?
  • Do you want subscribers to also text in questions?

These questions are meant to help you protect your reputability.

2. Add a signup option to your online checkout.

It’s not just brick-and-mortars that have checkouts—online customers have to visit a digital register too.

Simply add a form customers can fill out to be included in your list, or offer customers a mini discount for joining. Discounts have been found to speed up a customer’s decision making process by 48%.

PC: The Children's Place

To set up a discount code for customers who want to join your subscriber list, create a space for them to enter their number during checkout. The code will then be texted to customers, who will enter it into a separate form for their discount.

Platforms like Typeform can help you create forms for your website, and app integrators, like Zapier, can connect these forms to your SMS list so the discount codes automatically send to customers.

Text Request, for example, is compatible with Zapier, and can easily be automated to send texts to customers immediately after they enter their numbers into a Typeform generated form.

PC: Zapier

3. Display signup forms at conferences.

Forms should have their layouts carefully designed to attract the most signups at a conference. Here are some quick tips to help yours stand out in a sea of other booths (these apply to both  digital and physical forms).

  • Use one column instead of two
  • Eliminate distractions, like unneeded images and extra wording
  • List out every reward a new subscriber will receive for joining

PC: Domino's

And speaking of rewards, 61% of consumers will subscribe to an SMS list if they’re offered coupons. Raffles for coupons and gifts are popular at conferences and serve as a great way to get customers to visit your booth multiple times in order to receive their prizes.

Simply have customers who opt-in to your SMS subscriber list text their name to be entered into your raffle, or have a computer/tablet with a digital form submission handy.

4. Advertise your subscription on your website.

If a customer sees something at least seven times, they’re more likely to take action. That means customers who frequently visit your website are going to notice an ad for your subscription if it stands out enough.

PC: Econsultancy

Advertisements for your subscription can appear on your website’s banner, sidebar, or as a popup on your homepage (but of the three, banners have been found to have the highest conversion rate for traditional signups).

PC: Econsultancy

Online graphic design tools, like Canva, are free and have pre-made templates to help you create eye-catching banners and popups for your website.

5. Ask existing contacts for referrals.

60% of customers will tell their friends and family about your business, if they feel loyal to it—all you have to do is ask for the referral.

You can directly ask your most loyal subscribers for referrals, or offer new subscribers gifts and discounts for getting their friends to sign up.

Your referral program can exist in a custom link you send to subscribers to share with their friends. Most SMS platforms, like Text Request, allow you to simply paste links into the body of your messages.

And if you have a unique link for every subscriber, you can still send all of those out at once using Text Request’s merge messaging.

Once you have a decent sized subscriber list, referrals can become a continuous cycle that passively builds your SMS subscriber list. Almost 80% of all customers, no matter what their age, trust referrals.


PC: Extole

Keep going!

Now that you know the bread and butter of building your subscriber list, you can start actively reaching out to current customers for their numbers.

Check out our Customer Promotions Cheat Sheet eBook for more tips on how to gather customer contacts, and watch the rain of new SMS subscribers begin to funnel in!