Henry Cazalet - Director, The SMS Works
A Complete Guide to Bulk SMS
Bulk SMS is one of the most effective communication channels available to marketers.
Despite being over 25 years old and incredibly basic, bulk SMS is likely to remain a major force in customer communications for the foreseeable future.
Research from leading market intelligence company Mobile Squared, revealed that:
"SMS will continue its dominance in the A2P, space"
Nick Lane - Mobile Squared (April 2020)
While there’s loads of information available, it all tends to concentrate on one specific aspect.
We thought it would be useful to bring as much of that information about bulk SMS into one place.
This guide is broken down into 15 sections.
- What is bulk SMS?
- What's the difference between bulk SMS and an SMS API?
- Which industry sectors send the most bulk SMS campaigns?
- Bulk SMS price and features comparison table
- What are the main differences between SMS provider? 5 things to check
- What are the rules and regulations for sending bulk SMS?
- Do I have to provide an opt out in my bulk SMS message?
- Why is bulk SMS so effective?
- 4 things to check before you send your campaign
- The perfect bulk SMS marketing message
- 5 Bulk SMS marketing mistakes to avoid
- Bulk SMS marketing stats
- Bulk SMS marketing templates and examples
- What could replace bulk SMS?
- Does The SMS Works offer a web-based bulk SMS service?
1. What is bulk SMS?
Bulk SMS is simply a catch-all term to refer to any SMS communication that is sent out to more than just a few people.
A user simply logs into their account from where they upload their mobile numbers, compose their message and set the date and time of their campaign.
SMS credits for sending the campaigns are purchased in bulk from the SMS provider who usually offer discounts for larger blocks of SMS credits.
Bulk SMS is normally used to refer to SMS marketing texts rather than alerts or notifications. For example, appointment reminders going out to multiple recipients wouldn’t be referred to as a bulk SMS campaign.
A text offer, sent to the customers of a local pizza restaurant, would definitely come under the term bulk SMS.
2. What’s the difference between bulk SMS and an SMS API or bulk SMS gateway?
Bulk SMS campaigns are normally sent from a dedicated piece of SMS software, whereas SMS sent via a bulk SMS API are sent via an integration with a separate piece software.
For example, most of us receive appointment reminders by text for dentist and doctor’s appointments. These are sent automatically by the software at a set time before you visit is due.
No one has logged into a bulk SMS platform and manually sent the reminders.
Bulk SMS campaigns are usually sent out for marketing campaigns, texts sent via bulk SMS gateway are typically non-marketing, ‘transactional’ texts.
3. Which industry sectors send the most bulk SMS campaigns?
Most industries use SMS marketing n some way but the heaviest users tend to be in the leisure sector.
Several years ago, most of us were plagued by a tsunami of texts from PPI and claims companies.
Largely due to new SMS regulations and more recently, The GDPR, these nuisance texts are thankfully a thing of the past.
Please note that the following percentage breakdown of SMS use by industry is based on texts sent using bulk SMS platforms, not messages sent via an API.
|Industry Sector||Percentage Share of all Bulk SMS|
|Health and fitness||3|
4. Bulk SMS price and features comparison table
Over the past 20 years, since the industry first started, there’s been an explosion in bulk sms providers.
Back in 1998, there were about 8 companies offering bulk SMS. Now there are well over 100.
Just a few quick notes about the bulk sms price comparison table
Bulk SMS Price per text for purchasing 1000 text credits
Do they refund non delivered texts?
Cost for unique reply number
Do SMS credits expire?
Head Office Location
|textlocal.com||4.9p||No||Cost not available||Yes||UK|
|sendmode.co.uk||3.4p||No||Cost not available||Yes||Ireland|
|esendex.co.uk||6p||No||Cost not available||No||UK|
|reach-interactive.com||3.2p||No||Cost not available||Unknown||UK|
|textburst.com||4.5p||No||Cost not available||Yes||UK|
The average price per sms ranges from 2.9 pence per text up to 10 pence. There’s still a huge range of pricing available.
The average price per text is 5.0 pence.
No companies offer free bulk SMS.
Most providers have reduced their prices over the past few years and those that haven’t are now looking relatively expensive.
The cheapest bulk SMS UK price (from the companies we found) is 2.9 pence.
The cost of reply numbers varies even more wildly. The range was from just just £2.50 per month, right to an eye-watering £50 per month. The average cost is £17.70 per month.
53% of the bulk SMS companies that we looked at deleted SMS credits after 12 months.
Most companies have a minimum period of 3 months for SMS reply numbers but some are as long as 12 months.
5. What are the main differences between bulk SMS companies and what should I look out for when choosing an SMS provider?
Thankfully the business SMS industry is reasonably reputable.
15 years ago there used to be a large number of disreputable companies that would send SMS campaigns through very low quality grey routes.
This would result in very poor delivery or lengthy delays.
Almost all those companies have now disappeared or are buried on page 10 of Google for any SMS related search, so you’re unlikely to stumble across them.
There are still a few things that you check before signing up with a bulk SMS website.
1. Do they use SMS grey routes?
As above, it’s unlikely these days but it’s still worth asking the question. Make sure that the SMS company you choose uses tier 1 direct-to-network connections.
This means you’ll be getting the fastest and most secure bulk SMS delivery.
2. Do SMS credits expire?
A surprising number of companies will remove your SMS credits if they’re not used. This information is often buried in the terms and conditions so may not be immediately obvious.
3. Do you have to pay for undelivered texts?
100% of the companies on our comparison table charge you for failed texts, even though they are not charged themselves.
For the time being, you won’t have a choice.
The SMS Works’ bulk SMS platform will not be charging for undelivered texts. We’ll of course be letting everyone know when it’s ready.
4. Clear SMS pricing
There are still plenty of SMS companies that make their pricing confusing and cloudy.
Many have an enticingly low cost per text for a new customer and then prices increase dramatically as soon as you make your second purchase.
Another area of confusion is in the use of ‘SMS credits’. Some SMS providers quote a low rate per SMS credit and then you discover that to send a text in your chosen country will use more than one SMS credit.
Make sure you know exactly how many SMS credits will be used to send a text.
If you’re sending SMS internationally, check the prices carefully. Sometimes the local rate per SMS is reasonable but sending internationally costs a fortune.
5. Support and documentation
How much support can you really expect from your bulk SMS supplier. It’s important to know. No one wants to be kept waiting for hours for a response to a simple question.
How does the bulk SMS documentation stack up? It should be clear, concise and easily understood by non-technical folk.
6. What are the rules and regulations for sending bulk SMS?
Since May 2018 and the introduction of new data protection laws under GDPR, the rules surrounding bulk SMS have been significantly tightened.
On the whole the new rules have been beneficial. Consumers have seen SMS spam reduce to almost zero and organisations have a clear and sensible set of rules to follow.
For marketers or anyone wanting to continue to communicate by bulk text, the changes have been quite dramatic.
The core principle, as stated on the ICO website is as follows..
“You must not send marketing emails or texts to individuals without specific consent. There is a limited exception for your own previous customers, often called the ‘soft opt-in’.”
The core consideration for marketers is establishing the basis or reason for consent and then making sure that you have the documented evidence to back this up.
Thankfully The ICO have published a comprehensive guide to direct marketing under the new regulations.
7. Do I have to provide an opt out in my bulk SMS message?
The rules are very clear on this. You need to provide a clear and obvious way to opt out from receiving further marketing texts.
You also need to provide the opt out using the same method of communication. In other words, you can’t send someone a text and then ask them to send an email to unsubscribe.
The ICO state that:
Organisations must not make it difficult to opt out, for example by asking customers to complete a form or confirm in writing. It is good practice to allow the individual to respond directly to the message
A typical unsubscribe instruction asks the user to text a keyword like STOP to either an SMS shortcode (e.g 88440) or a virtual mobile number which looks like a normal 11 digit mobile number
A typical instruction is as follows.
...To opt out, text STOP to 88802
8. Why is bulk SMS so effective?
Bulk SMS has been around since the mid-nineties. Despite being incredibly clunky and basic, the humble text message is still devilishly effective at making us sit up and listen.
Compared to modern messaging apps like Whatsapp and Imessage, SMS looks long overdue for retirement.
So why is bulk SMS still so effective and why do people still use it?
1. SMS is universal.
Every phone ever made is able to send and receive SMS.
There's no app to download or install and you don’t have to agree with your contacts which of the many messaging apps you’re going to use.
SMS remains the only truly universal messaging platform.
Despite the rise of other messaging apps like WhatsApp, business SMS volumes continue to rise.
Juniper research predicts that business SMS volume will increase by 7% between 2019 and 2020, from 3.2 trillion to 3.5 trillion messages.
That's despite the impact of Covid 19 on the global economy.
2. Bulk SMS has the highest response rate of all marketing channels.
The open rate for SMS is 98%, compared to just 12% for email, (if you’re extremely lucky.)
According to MobileSquared, 90% of text messages are read within 5 minutes.
Cellit claims that SMS response rates are 6-7 times more responsive than direct mail.
These stats sound credible, when was the last time you actually ignored a text?
3. Bulk SMS Spam has plummeted
Thanks to the threat of large fines for people that ignore GDPR rules, Bulk SMS software spam has collapsed.
We all used to receive dozens of texts a week, now we hardly ever have to suffer them.
Since GDPR came into force, spam has reduced by over 90%.
4. ROI is easily tracked
Clicks made from links within texts can easily be monitored, so that you can calculate the resulting sales from your campaign.
5. Bulk SMS campaigns are quick to deploy
No other marketing option is as quick and nimble as SMS.
Once you have your list of numbers, it’s simply a case of composing your message, uploading your data and setting a date and time.
Your SMS campaign can be on your customers’ phones in minutes.
6. Bulk SMS is low cost
SMS credits cost just a few pence and most providers don’t have a minimum order.
Whether a campaign is targeted at just a few hundred people of hundreds of thousands, SMS continues to deliver great value.
9. Bulk SMS campaign checklist - 4 things to check before you send your campaign.
1. Message length
A standard text is 160 characters, including spaces. If your text exceeds the character count, then more than 1 text credit will be used. (Also bear in mind that your opt out instructions will use 25 - 30 characters.)
2. GSM character set
Most bulk SMS companies use the GSM character set to send messages. This is a standard set of characters that encompass the most common letters and characters.
If you use any other characters, then the message might be sent in unicode format , which restricts the number of characters in a text to just 70!
Don't copy and paste from Word, there are characters that look correct but are actually not standard.
Watch out in particular for the apostrophe and the hyphen.
3. Send yourself and colleagues a test
Make sure you always send yourself and few others the text before your bulk SMS campaign goes out.
Check that the links are correct and the mobile landing page works correctly on all handsets.
Make sure that you’ve hooked the landing page into Google Analytics or whichever analytics package you’re using.
Were there any rough or snaggy elements to the user experience?
4. Is your bulk SMS campaign GDPR compliant?
Do you have the required consent from the people you are targeting? Can you prove it?
Have you included an opt out in the text that is clear and easy to use?
Are you handling the data in a responsible and protective manner?
It’s far better to make sure you’ve got this all covered in advance, rather than risking having to explain your actions to The ICO. (Information Commissioner’s Office).
10. The perfect bulk SMS marketing message
This SMS MOT reminder that I received from Kwik Fit was so good I had to share it.
It’s modest and uncomplicated but contains all the elements that make a devilishly persuasive campaign.
Needless to say, as soon as I received it, I booked my car in.
They managed to merge 6 personalised pieces of information into their SMS campaign, which made it almost impossible to ignore.
- Customer name
- Vehicle make and model
- REgistration number
- Test type (e.g. MOT)
- Due date
- Nearest test centre
11. 5 Bulk SMS marketing mistakes to avoid
Bulk SMS marketing is more popular now than ever.
Despite the rise of new channels like RCS messaging, nothing can beat the responsiveness of SMS.
UK Research company Mobilesquared reveals that last year, 1.67 business SMS messages were sent globally. This numner is expected to rise to 2.8 trillion by 2022.
That’s a 68% rise in business to consumer texts over a 4-year period.
Despite the continued rise of bulk SMS, there are still some very simple bulk SMS mistakes that companies are making with their campaigns.
1. Fail to use an opt out
This is one of the most common mistakes despite that failing to use an opt out on your bulk SMS campaign could land you in all sorts of trouble with the ICO.
The GDPR explicitly states that you need to us an opt out
“both when first collecting the details and in every message after that.”
2. Fail to make the landing page mobile friendly
Most bulk SMS messages contain a link, inviting the customer to click through to a website where they can respond to the offer.
Surprisingly, many campaigns fail to use an mobile optimised landing page, making for a clunky and unpleasant user experience.
Most of us will be very intolerant of this type of shoddiness and click away almost immediately.
Make sure that your landing pages actually deliver a great experience or your bulk SMS campaign is likely to fall flat on its face.
3. Send a confusing text
With only 160 characters to play with, it’s tempting to try and cram in too many messages. This is almost always a mistake.
Stick to one clear offer with one simple ‘call to action’. If you make people think or confuse them, then the overall response rate will be squashed.
4. Use ‘text speak’
Some people are fine with using text speak in a bulk SMS marketing messages but many are not.
It can come across as too casual and unprofessional.
Play it safe, use complete words and sentences where possible and you won’t run the risk of alienating sections of your audience.
5. Send text too frequently
Nothing will have your customers unsubscribing more quickly than if you pummel them with a constant stream of bulk SMS messages.
It may seem logical to try and recreate the success of a previous campaign by sending follow texts shortly afterwards.
This normally ends in diminishing returns and an increasingly large list of unsubscribers.
Less is most definitely more.
12. Bulk SMS marketing stats
If you ever need to convince your company to get involved in bulk SMS, here are some compelling stats that will help your cause.
96% of marketers rated mobile welcome SMS as “very effective/effective” or “somewhat effective - Salesforce
77% of consumers said they opted in to a brand’s text messages to receive coupons or deals - Salesforce
90% of text messages are read within 3 minutes - Venture Beat
60% of consumers say they’d redeem a mobile coupon they received via text message within a week. - Code Broker
Mobile Marketers are on average 79% more likely to use other mobile-specific marketing tactics if they employ SMS marketing strategies. - Gartner
90% vs 20% – Open rate of SMS compared to email open rates - Voice Sage
75% of people wouldn’t mind receiving an SMS text message from a brand (after opt-in) - Marketing profs
13. Bulk SMS marketing templates and examples
Constructing the right bulk SMS message in just 160 characters is a challenge.
It’s a tiny amount of space that has to achieve the following..
- Grab the reader’s attention
- Make it clear who the message is from
- Make them an enticing offer
- Give them a clear and easy call to action
- Provide an opt out.
If all that can be achieved with some charm and a little humour, so much the better.
To help provide some ideas and inspiration, we’ve put together a comprehensive library of 34 Bulk SMS marketing templates.
They are split down by industry sector but please have a read through them all. You may be able to use an idea of approach from a different industry.
14. What could replace bulk SMS?
SMS is ridiculously basic.
It’s incredible to think that we’re still dealing in 160 plain text characters and that’s it still so effective.
Surely there must be something better. Well, there is...
It's called RCS or Rich Communication Services. RCS is the long-awaited replacement to SMS.
It promises to sweep bulk SMS away by offering all the features that we’ve come to excpect with messaging apps like What’sApp and IMessage.
With RCS you’ll be able to send image, video and audio files. RCS also supports group chat, typing indicators and location sharing.
It has the potential to completely change the way that businesses communicate with their customers.
But there are problems with RCS. Big problems that may mean that RCS never really takes off.
The list of issues is worryingly long and unless ALL of these are completely resolved, RCS will struggle to gain traction with marketers.
- Apple is very unlikely to adopt RCS. Anyone owning an Iphone will not be able to receive an RCS message, wiping out a huge section of the potential market.
- It’s complex. Setting up an RCS campaign is not a simple process.
- RCS pricing has not been set. No one knows how much it will cost to send an RCS message.
- RCS messages are not encrypted and could potentially present a hacking risk.
- There are already reports of RCS spam and fraudsters attempting phishing using RCS
- Apart from a few encouraging case studies, there are almost no RCS software integrations.
Tim Green from Mobile Economic Forum suggested that:
RCS is – for now at least – classic ‘vapourware’. It’s something that might take off… at some point in the future… we’re not sure when
With all these problems to solve it seems unlikely that RCS messaging will replace bulk SMS any time in the next couple of years.
15. Does The SMS Works offer a web-based bulk SMS service?
No, not yet! But we will be.
We’re hard at it as you read this. Using our 20 years of experience in the bulk SMS sector, we’ll be bringing all the tools you’d expect to find into one easy to use platform.
The plan is to offer a complete bulk SMS platform that will include the following core features.
- Copy, paste, send - Paste a list of numbers, write your message, choose a time and send.
- Import and manage contacts - Upload contacts and schedule a campaign at any time.
- 2 way SMS - Receive replies to your online in box.
- Address book - Upload and manage all your contacts.
- Merge data - Personalise your bulk sms campaign by merging up to six data fields
- Include Links - use our URL shortener to include links to mobile optimised web pages
- Send long texts - Send texts up 918 characters long
- Message library - Store up to 100 message templates
- Staggered delivery - Set a start and end time and your messages will be staggered
- SMS delivery reports - Download delivery reports for all your SMS campaigns
- Payments flexibility - Buy SMS credits by card or BACS.
- Low credit warning - low credit email sent when credits fall below a set level.