Whether advertising or just communicating with clients about transactions or appointments, every business needs to use texting. Your clients prefer being contacted over text, and it has an open rate of 98%.
But there are many things to learn about business texts, from the message types to text message character limits. You need to be aware of the text character count limit and ways to make the most of the space you have within a message.
The evolution of SMS
To better understand the text message character limit, take a minute to look back at how SMS has evolved over the years.
Given that we currently text with our phones, the fact that the first SMS (short messaging service) was sent in the 1990s may come as a surprise. More interestingly, it came from a computer.
The idea of short messages began even before that. In 1984, Friedhelm Hillebrand realized that most short messages had less than 160 characters. This would later become the standard.
The first official SMS was sent on December 3, 1992. Neil Papworth sent Richard Jarvis a message reading “Merry Christmas.” As mentioned, Papworth sent it from a computer. Unsurprisingly, Jarvis had no way to respond.
From there, it didn’t take long for mobile phones to start supporting SMS. Nokia was the first to do so in 1993. For years, you could only send SMS to people on the same network as you.
The T9 system debuted in 1995. The first phone with a QWERTY keyboard, the Nokia 9000i Communicator, arrived in 1997.
In 1999, we could finally text between networks. Text messaging expanded rapidly over the next few years.
SMS text message character limit
So, what is the SMS text character limit? It is still 160 characters, the length that Hillebrand decided was enough for short messages back in 1984.
While a single text cannot have more than 160 characters, modern phones and texting platforms automatically split longer texts into multiple messages. This lets you send longer messages, but it does mean they get divided into separate messages.
Another suitable option for increasing the text message character limit is to opt for MMS (multimedia messaging service) instead of SMS. They can support up to 1,600 characters. Importantly, MMS messages also support multimedia files, including audio, images, gifs, video, and more.
How can I use SMS effectively?
Now that you know that the text size limit is 160 characters, make sure that you know how to use SMS effectively. The following is just an overview of tips. For even more information and detail, explore our SMS marketing guide.
- Segment your customers to send more targeted texts for promotions
- Focus your efforts on your top customers
- Send exclusive offers via texts
- Use text for order updates
- Use text for appointment reminders
- Create drip campaigns
- Make your messages clear and concise
- Stick to plain English
- Minimize all caps, abbreviations, and emoticons
- Include a call-to-action
- Includes links to make contests interactive
- Promote social media platforms via text
- Personalize texts
- Send messages at the right time of day when they won’t disturb the recipients
- Gather opt-ins wherever you can, including your website, social media, and keyword campaigns
- Offer incentives to get opt-ins
- Ask about preferences during the opt-in process, including what types of texts they want to receive
- Include the ability to opt-out
- Use texts to encourage reviews
- Use texts to promote surveys
- Automate SMS marketing
- Look at data and reports about your texting and make changes when necessary
Tips to stay within SMS character limits
While 160 characters may not seem like a lot of space to include everything you want to share with customers, it can be more than enough. You don’t have to learn how to increase the text message size limit if you know how to make the most of your space.
The following are some tips from our business text messaging guide that will help you do so.
Use short, trackable links
Links are an essential part of SMS marketing, but including a full link will take up too much of your precious character count. Instead, use short trackable links and links shortening services. Bit.ly is the most famous of these, but there are also others.
Be careful when copy/pasting
Be especially careful if you copy and paste something into a text message. Don’t just assume that it will be short enough. Additionally, you don’t want to assume that it only uses the regular characters. If the text you copy and paste has Unicode or extended characters, your limit will drop.
Use SMS templates
If you don’t want to worry about crafting a message within the message length limit, just stick to templates. You can find templates that others have created and are within the limit. Or you can create your own, so you only have to make a 160-character-or-less message once instead of hundreds of times.
Use the right characters
Keep in mind that the 160-limit applies to a specific set of characters. Some special characters will count as more than one character, shortening the space you have available. Stick to GSM characters to make the most of the length.
Avoid GSM extended characters, including the following characters:
Each of these will count as two characters. You get creative, such as using parenthesis instead of brackets. Make sure to use the forward slash instead of the backslash.
You also want to avoid Unicode messages, as these will reduce the SMS limit to about 70 characters. When possible, replace Unicode characters with ones in the GSM charset. Speaking of Unicode SMS, watch out for Unicode spaces! You may not notice the difference in their appearance in the message, but they will decrease your limit of characters.
SMS vs. email
If the limit for text messages is too restricting for content you want to send, consider email. There is no limit for emails, so you can send longer content.
However, you want to think about this swap carefully before going ahead with it. That is because SMS messages are much more likely to be seen than emails, thanks to their 98% open rate.
You can even combine the two. For example, send a text message with a rapid overview and a note to watch out for the upcoming email with more detail. This will increase the open rate of the email.
Is SMS the same as iMessage?
SMS and iMessage are similar but not the same. Think of iMessage as an alternative to standard text messages. iMessages can only be sent between Apple devices. They show up on iPhones as blue and are always encrypted. MMS and SMS messages can go between Apple and Android products, and they appear green on an iPhone. Additionally, iMessage doesn’t require a texting plan; it can work over Wi-Fi. By contrast, SMS and MMS need texting plans.
If you use marketing for WhatsApp, there is a similar distinction. WhatsApp works on all devices, but it can be sent over Wi-Fi or data without requiring a texting plan. It is also encrypted.
Is it possible to send texts longer than 160 characters?
Yes, you can send texts longer than 160 characters as MMS messages. You can also send an SMS over 160 characters, but it will be broken up into two messages or more.
Can you send emojis in business messages?
Whether you can use emojis in business messages depends mainly on the type of interactions you have with customers. If you have more casual conversations, emojis can work. If they need to be more professional, stay away.
In terms of texting and character length, emojis are considered Unicode. This means that they will automatically reduce your limit to 70 characters.
The maximum text message character count for standard SMS messages is 160 characters. You can send multiple SMS messages in a row, but this looks less professional and can hurt your results. MMS messages can increase your maximum number of characters compared to a standard text message. Most businesses, however, will find that 160 characters are more than enough, primarily when you use tricks such as short links.
Now that you know how many characters you can use in your mobile communications, you can craft your message content. The right platform will make it easy to make and use message templates that stick to the GSM charset, letting you make the most of the number of characters.