It is widely understood that text messages have a limited character count. But short and sweet SMS messages serve a powerful purpose—getting the right message in the right hands at the right time. And readers prefer a quick yet potent message. Text messages may seem small, but they often yield powerful results.
The number of characters that can fit in a standard text message is 160 characters. Text messages or SMS messages that exceed 160 characters will often be split into two separate messages.
Why a character limit of 160? Well, it’s actually a funny story. In 1985, a man by the name of Friedhelm Hillebrand was tasked with coming up with the character limit of SMS messages. He was the chairman of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) at the time. How did he decide on a limit? He grabbed his typewriter and wrote our random thoughts! He found that most of them were under 160 characters. Later, he counted the characters in various postcards and found that most of those were under the 160 limit as well. That’s how 160 became the magic number.
Yes! With extended messaging you can send messages up to 306 characters. Depending on the mobile carriers, longer texts may break into two messages of up to 153 characters as they send. For example, a message with 161 characters may send as two texts—one with 153 characters and a second with the remaining 8.
Sometimes, words alone won’t cut it. With MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), you can send photos, videos, and GIFs to your subscribers. Each MMS message can include up to 1,600 characters!
Any standard letter, symbol or space counts as a single character. The exception to that rule is the newly popular and highly effective emoji. These symbols take up two characters. Emojis can help drive a message home and create a relatable repertoire between you and the reader, but they should be used sparingly so as to not eat up your 160 characters all at once.
SMS is different than iMessage in this aspect as iMessage allows unlimited characters in messages. But given that iMessage uses data rather than a cellular plan and can only be used to send direct messages between two iPhones, rather than any cell phone to any cell phone, it isn’t ideal since the receiving audience is limited by their devices.
The character limit of text messages is actually what makes SMS marketing such a powerful tool. Customers are inundated with advertising and prefer succinct, direct messages. By taking advantage of SMS marketing and text messages as the universal inbox, you can reach your audience within seconds of hitting send. A shorter message will grab their attention quickly and hold it.