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How to build your text list: 28 ideas and examples we love

To get started with text marketing, you need a list of phone numbers and permission to text them. Get inspired by these tactics.

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Even if you have a list of phone numbers, if those contacts haven’t specifically opted in to SMS marketing texts from you — it’s illegal to text them. 

If this leaves you in the position of having to build your text list from scratch, don’t panic. You’re not alone. We’ve seen thousands of businesses go from zero subscribers to a profitable, engaged text message mailing list. 

In this article, we’ve compiled the most popular tactics to collect phone numbers for SMS marketing. 

28 text list building tactics:

  1. Create a text-to-join keyword
  2. Use a click-to-text message link
  3. Leverage QR codes
  4. Use a click-to-subscribe popup
  5. Try an SMS signup form
  6. Add a phone number field to existing web forms
  7. Update paper forms or sign-in sheets
  8. Add opt-in during ecommerce checkout
  9. Add a sign at your checkout counter
  10. Add a text-to-subscribe keyword to receipts or invoices
  11. Host a text-to-win giveaway
  12. Conduct a text-to-vote poll
  13. Offer text-based customer service
  14. Start a “text for help” hotline
  15. Promote your keyword on social media
  16. Turn your email list into a text list
  17. Update your email signature
  18. Add texting to your business cards
  19. Add a call to action to your voicemail
  20. Include text opt-in print advertisements
  21. Drop off fliers at partner or sponsor locations
  22. Add keywords to your product packaging
  23. Send a postcard with a text call to action
  24. Leverage employee uniforms
  25. Advertise your phone number on company vehicles
  26. Offer an educational series through text
  27. Start a birthday text club
  28. Leverage your next event as a list-building engine

First, decide on an incentive to offer your text list

People are protective over their phone numbers. You need to offer something of value in order for someone to opt-in to your text list. This could be:

  • Exclusive discounts
  • Early access to sales 
  • First dibs on new products
  • Educational tips
  • Behind-the-scenes content 
  • Contest entries
  • Free samples

The first step to collecting phone numbers for SMS marketing is to decide on an incentive. If you’re feeling stuck, keep it simple and offer a discount.

Next, try these tried-and-true tactics to collect phone numbers for SMS marketing:

1. Create a text-to-join keyword

In SMS marketing, a keyword is a word or phrase that people can text to your number to opt-in to your text message mailing list. It’s the foundation for many of the ideas below. So, make this your first move.

🗾 How to set up a text-to-join service to collect more contacts

2. Use a click-to-text message link

Screenshot of offer that reads, "Want first dibs on new drops, exclusive deals, and 15% off another order? Just sign up for our texts today and look out for messages from the Goat."
Backcountry offered a 15% discount to sign up for texts on its website.

You can create a link that when clicked opens a person’s native message inbox with a pre-filled text message. These click-to-text message links are great for embedding in emails, blog posts, pop-ups, and other digital content you share with your audience. Note: These work when someone taps them on their mobile device.

3. Leverage QR codes for easy opt-in

QR codes can do more than direct users to a URL. Use a free QR code generator to create a QR code that opens the user’s native texting app when scanned. You can have it auto-populate the message field with your text-to-join keyword.

Add this QR code to your website, in-store signage, product packaging, and anywhere else your customers may see it.

🗾 QR code to text message: How to help your audience opt-in to receive SMS messages

Poster example with text-to-subscribe QR code.

4. Add a click-to-subscribe popup to your website

We built a free tool that lets you design a custom button that sits in the corner of your website. When a user clicks it, it launches a pop-up with more info about your text message marketing list. With one more click, the texting app on their phone will open with your text-to-join keyword pre-filled in.

example of a click-to-subscribe popup on a real estate website that says, "Interested in a showing? Text 123MainSt to 41404"
Text-to-join buttons make it easy for your site visitors to subscribe to your SMS list.

5. Put an SMS signup form on your website

You can help any web visitor to become an SMS subscriber with a simple form that invites them to share their phone number. We make it easy to input a custom form onto your website, just copy and paste this code we pre-made for you!

Once your sign-up form is up it’ll work for you 24/7 capturing new leads at every chance.

An SMS sign up form that includes a checkbox and disclaimer for compliance
To comply with SMS regulations, make sure your checkbox isn’t pre-checked.

6. Add a phone number field to your existing web forms

Already have a contact form on your site? Add a phone number field, along with a checkbox for contacts to opt-in. Be sure to include compliant SMS opt-in language. Remember, that checkbox is crucial for staying above board with texting regulations.

7. Update any paper forms or sign-in sheets

If you’re still using traditional paper forms, add a space for customers to provide their phone numbers to join your text list. If there is already a phone number field, add a checkbox for them to opt-in to receive SMS marketing messages.

8. Add opt-in during the e-commerce checkout process

You may be already collecting phone numbers for shipping notifications but remember that those are transactional messages. If someone agrees to transactional messages, that doesn’t grant you permission to add them to an SMS marketing list.

(Read more about the difference between promotional and transactional texts.) Add a checkbox with TCPA-approved language for users to opt into your text marketing list. You can then use Zapier to sync your contacts with SimpleTexting.

Illustration showing an ecommerce checkout form with an SMS opt in call-to-action

9. Add a table tent or sign at your checkout counter

In-store foot traffic presents a great opportunity to grow your text marketing list, too. A simple idea is to include a table tent on your checkout counter. A basic flier with your number, keyword, and description of your text marketing service should catch customers’ eyes as they make their purchases.

Be sure each table tent has a clear CTA so people can take action and subscribe on the spot.

Illustration of a table tent with a call-to-action to join the Cactus Club text list.

10. Add your text-to-join keyword on invoices or receipts

Empty space at the bottom of receipts or invoices is valuable real estate. Add a call-to-action like, “Save 10% on your next purchase by joining our text message list.”

11. Host a text-to-win giveaway

Advertise a giveaway where customers must text a keyword to your phone number to enter. Promote the contest on social media, in-store signage, or through your email list. Here’s a video on how to set up an SMS sweepstakes in SimpleTexting.

12. Conduct a text-to-vote poll

With text-to-vote, contacts will automatically be prompted with multiple questions after texting in your keyword. This is an easy way to engage your customers and gather their opinions while building your text message marketing list.

A website graphic that reads, "You decide who wins. Order today for dine in or takeout. Text BATTLE to (602) 637-1510 to vote."
Postino hosted a battle of the bruschetta with text-to-vote.

📕 See how Postino grew its text list with a clever text-to-vote poll.

13. Offer text-based customer service options

Utilize tools like click-to-text buttons, allowing customers to text you directly with questions. Text-based customer service provides a threaded conversation record and eliminates the need for customers to be on hold.

A card inside an Honest Paws package offers text message support.
Honest Paws packages contain a card that advertises ways to contact support, which includes text messaging.

14. Create a “text for help” hotline

Every business has an expert in something. If you’re a cosmetics company, you likely know a lot about skincare. If you’re a BBQ sauce company, you likely know a lot about grilling. Advertise a “text for help” hotline where customers can text in a keyword to be connected with an expert. SimpleTexting offers two-way texting so you can easily have 1-on-1 conversations with customers.

15. Promote your keyword on social media

Create a post, story, or short video announcing updates and discounts for members. Add THE necessary disclaimers to comply with TCPA. Your biggest fans want to hear from you. They don’t want to miss your posts or have your emails get sent to spam. They’ll be excited to be part of your SMS mailing list and be confident they’re informed about your latest offers.

Instagram account of an example coffee company that includes an invite to join their SMS list, along with a compliant disclaimer, in the bio

16. Turn your email list into a text list

Your existing email list is low-hanging fruit. Send your subscribers an email introducing your text message marketing list, complete with incentives like discounts or early access to deals.

Include a call-to-action prompting them to either text a keyword to your number or sign up through a form on your website.

Email from Athletic Brewing Company that reads, "Text ATHLETIC to 25708 to receive special offers and updates from Athletic Brewing Co."
Athletic Brewing Co. includes a text-to-join keyword call to action at the bottom of every email.

17. Update your email signature

Add a text opt-in link to your email signature. If your company sends many emails or provides customer support via email, include a line in the signature promoting your text club and linking to an opt-in form.

18. Add texting to your business cards

In addition to listing your phone number and email address on your business card, include a QR code recipients can scan or a keyword they can text in to subscribe to your SMS messages.

This will expand your reach from customers who are interested in calling or emailing you to those who’d rather text.

Don’t hand your business card to another potential lead without making sure your keyword is displayed there, too. You can even create a keyword and custom autoresponder for each employee!

19. Add a call to action to your voicemail

Include a message in your business’s voicemail, inviting callers to join your text list for faster updates or exclusive information.

20. Include text opt-in in print advertisements

If you use print media like newspapers or magazines, include your text-to-join information in these ads, targeting a broader audience including those not typically online.

21. Drop off fliers or cards at partner or sponsor locations

This is a tactic we’ve seen our own customers at Maker’s Collective, an artist and community event organizer, deploy with a lot of success. They include their email opt-in information on postcards they leave at local partner shops.

“Since our event is focused on local artists, it’s really effective to have postcards in local coffee shops and anywhere that will take a stack of postcards. That kind of grassroots method works well for our event.”
Lib Ramos

Lib Ramos

Maker’s Collective

22. Add inserts to your product packaging

If you sell physical products, consider including a sticker or small paper slip encouraging customers to join your text message marketing list. One common use case is to use a text-to-join keyword connected to an autoresponder that requests a product review.

Coffee cup packaging with an SMS list call to action that says "Text COFFEE to 711711"

23. Send a postcard with a text call to action

Direct mail may be an old-school tactic, but it’s highly effective when combined with SMS marketing. When I ran a small beekeeping company, I sent out postcards encouraging people to text us for a property assessment. It cost $590, but yielded a 21x return.

24. Leverage employee uniforms

If you run a brick-and-mortar business, take advantage of the real estate on the back of your employee’s uniforms. Print custom t-shirts with your shortcode and keyword.

company t-shirt with an SMS list invite that says "text COFFEE to 711711"

25. Advertise your phone number on company vehicles

Display your phone number on company vehicles and invite people to text you. When parked outside homes or business locations, your fleet essentially becomes free advertising. As I mentioned in tip 7, don’t forget there is a difference between transactional and promotional messages. If you want to add customers to a text marketing list, you will need to include the relevant disclaimers.

Bin Blasters' cleaning trucks, which feature their phone number on the back.

📕 Learn how Bin Blasters uses vehicle wraps to build their text mailing list.

26. Offer an educational series through text

This approach doesn’t require offering discounts but instead capitalizes on your expertise. For instance, if you run a lawn care business, send timely reminders about essential lawn maintenance tasks, like when to schedule lawn aeration.

Similarly, a pest control company could provide seasonal alerts for critical treatments, such as termite prevention. The beauty of this strategy lies in its simplicity and value. It costs you nothing but offers significant value to your subscribers.

A text message from Snapple reads, "In 1878, the first telephone book ever issued contained only 50 names"
Snapple’s Real Facts texts educate with daily trivia.

27. Start a birthday text club

Advertise it and have customers sign up with your text-to-subscribe keyword. Use SimpleTexting’s birthday text app to automate the process of sending a discount to your SMS subscribers when their birthdays roll around.

28. Leverage your next event as a list-building engine

Maker’s Collective hosts Indie Craft Parade among other events. At a recent event, the organization hung a poster with a message, “Text MAP to…” to receive a digital map of the event texted right to their phone number.

They also asked attendees to sign up to receive text messages at check-in.

Listen to how Maker’s Collective did it in the first episode of the Shoestring podcast, brought to you by SimpleTexting. It’s on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Don’t forget about compliance

SMS marketing is regulated by the TCPA. Regardless of how you choose to get mobile numbers for marketing, you will need to follow promotional requirements. Your calls to action must be accompanied by a disclaimer such as:

You agree to receive automated promotional messages. This agreement isn’t a condition of any purchase. Terms and Privacy policy can be found at (link). You may receive up to 4 msgs/mo. Reply STOP to end or HELP for help.

This disclaimer must include the following:

  • Business Name
  • Program Name
  • STOP Instructions
  • HELP Instructions
  • Frequency
  • T&C/Privacy Policy Link
  • Message and Data Rates May Apply

Ultimately, following these guidelines will help you build trust with your customers, lower your unsubscribe rate, and set you up for success with your text list-building efforts!

Disclaimer: Please note that this advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and/or your organization’s regulatory compliance team.


What is a text marketing list?

A text marketing list is a record of contact phone numbers to which businesses send text messages. Synonyms for a text marketing list include text list and SMS list. Text marketing lists are collections of individuals’ phone numbers. Therefore, some businesses call their lists text subscriber lists, text contact lists, and even text mailing lists.
If you have any doubt about whether your existing contacts are compliant, you may need to invite those contacts to join your list through another communication channel.
Nathan Ellering
Nathan Ellering

Nathan is the head of content and SEO at SimpleTexting. With the help of an awesome team, he’s attracted more than 65 million website visitors, converted 10 million email subscribers, and supported 300,000 software users. He's written for the likes of Fast Company and his work has been referenced in publications like Forbes. Nathan has 15 years of proven corporate and startup marketing experience and continues to venture off the beaten path. When he’s not marketing, you’ll catch Nathan canoeing in the Boundary Waters or training for his next ultra marathon. Connect with Nathan on LinkedIn.

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