SMS Compliance Guide

The Complete Guide to SMS Compliance


Sending your first text messaging campaign is exhilarating. 

You’re about to connect with your audience through the only marketing channel that boasts a 98% average open rate

Hang on a second. Before you even upload your first contact, it’s crucial that you understand SMS compliance.

While the legal requirements of SMS marketing may seem complicated at first, we’re here to make them as simple as possible. 

We’ll start with an overview of the most important parts of SMS compliance. Then, we’ll take a detailed look at opt-in methods, promotion requirements, SMS laws, and more. 

By the end, you’ll have the confidence you need to send texts without worrying about breaking any rules.

Why SMS Compliance Is Important

Maintaining text message compliance isn’t just a helpful practice. It’s absolutely mandatory in the SMS industry.

We don’t want to scare you, but failing to follow texting laws can have consequences. You could face fines of $500 to $1,500 per occurrence.

So, if you sent 1,000 non-compliant messages, you’d be looking at a fine of $500,000 or more 😱

importance of sms compliance guidelines

Along with the financial penalties, SMS compliance standards help maintain the integrity of the industry as a whole. 

SMS spam can hurt your customers’ trust in text message marketing, leading to lower-performing campaigns and a lower ROI for every business and organization that sends texts.

SMS Compliance Terms and Definitions

Before we dig further into specific texting compliance guidelines, let’s run through a couple of important terms.

Express Written Consent

Express written consent is permission your contacts give you via paper form or electronically. It shows that they understand they’ll receive marketing text messages and don’t have to agree to receive them as a condition of any transaction with you.


An SMS opt-in is the action a contact takes to show that they’ve given you permission to text them for marketing purposes.


An SMS opt-out is the action a contact takes to show that they no longer want to receive text messages from you. In most cases, contacts opt out of text messages by replying STOP. Think of it like an email unsubscribe button. It’s mandatory when sending texts.

Opt-in Method

Your opt-in method is the way you collect express written permission from your contacts. Some popular opt-in methods include keywords, web forms, and paper forms.

Transactional Text Message

Transactional text messages are sent to keep customers up to date on important information or to help them perform an action that doesn’t result in a sale. These types of messages don’t require express written consent, but it’s still a good practice to make sure your customers are comfortable receiving texts from you. 

Promotional Text Message

Promotional text messages are sent with the intent to sell, upsell, or advertise a product, business, or service. These messages require express consent.

A Quick Overview of SMS Legal Requirements

There are rules and regulations in place in the texting world to help protect consumers from SMS spam and scammers.

In case you’re curious, here are the organizations and governing bodies that regulate the texting industry:

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA)

We’ll go into more detail about SMS compliance laws in Chapter 6 of this guide.

5 Essential SMS Marketing Compliance Guidelines

Let’s jump in to the five rules you absolutely need to know before texting your audience.

1. Get Express Written Consent Before Texting

According to the TCPA, customers must give businesses “express written consent” — or explicit permission — before the business sends them automated promotional text messages. 

This written consent can’t be buried in a pages-long form full of legalese. It must be clear and conspicuous, so the recipient knows what they’re signing up for. Failure to adhere to this guideline is a TCPA violation.

In our chapter about opt-in methods, we’ll cover the ways customers can give consent to receive text messages from you. 

Who Does Express Written Consent Apply To?

Express written consent isn’t just for new contacts. It’s also for any contacts you import manually to your SMS service provider’s platform. 

Although we may manually review import requests to ensure your messages can be sent, only you know whether the contact list that you’re importing was gathered in a compliant way. 

So, before you import a list, be sure that each and every contact who has provided you with a phone number has given you permission to send them messages.

2. Include a Call-to-action in Your Opt-in Method

example of an sms compliance opt in method

No matter the opt-in method you choose to get your contacts’ express written consent, you should have a clear and compliant call-to-action (CTA) in the messaging.

A CTA is the invitation to join your texting list. It should consist of the following:

Automated Marketing Messages

The federal rules for express written consent require consumers to agree to receive automated marketing messages, so be sure to make that clear in your CTA. 

You must also advise them that they don’t have to agree to receive the texts as a condition of buying anything from you.

SMS Campaign Purpose

Let your contacts know what they’re signing up for. Are they getting reminders? Coupons? Tips? Specify what you’re offering so there aren’t any surprises.

Message Frequency

Let them know if they’ll only receive one message (like a one-time coupon) or if they’re agreeing to sign up for a recurring message campaign (like weekly alerts or deals). 

You can include the approximate number of messages the customer should expect to receive in a given week or month.

Message and Data Rates

Even though unlimited texting has become more common, some users may still have to pay a small fee to receive text messages. Wireless carriers require you to inform your contacts that these charges may be incurred if they sign up for your texting program.

Terms and Conditions

List all your terms and conditions in full beneath your CTA or provide a link to them. This list should contain:

  • The identity of your company/brand/program
  • Customer care contact information
  • Description of the product people are signing up for
  • Opt-out instructions in bold type (e.g., Reply STOP to unsubscribe)

Privacy Policy

List your privacy policy in full beneath your CTA, or provide a link to them.

💡 Jump ahead to our chapter on promotion requirements to see call-to-action examples.

3. Send a Confirmation Message to New Contacts

Regardless of how contacts signed up for your texting list, your very first text must be a carrier compliance message confirming opt-in

It should reiterate some important information:

  • Your identity
  • Message frequency
  • The fact that message and data rates may apply
  • How to opt out

📣 If you use SimpleTexting’s SMS marketing platform, you get free compliance messages (we’re the only provider to offer this!).

When you send your first message to a new contact — whether it’s sent manually or via an automated message — we’ll send out the required disclosures and consent language in a text that comes at no extra cost to you.

example confirmation text message for sms compliance

4. Don’t Send SHAFT Content

The CTIA has outlined a set of content rules is known as SHAFT—sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco. 

Including content related to any of these topics in your call-to-action or any of your messages is considered one of the highest violations and may result in an immediate ban.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. If, for example, you operate a bar, you may still be able to send messages about happy hour specials. However, it is crucial that you operate on a dedicated, verified toll-free number or registered local number and have an age gate preventing under the age of 21 from signing up for your texts. 

If you plan on sending texts about alcohol or tobacco, check with our support team first so we can help ensure that you’re remaining compliant.

5. Don’t Text Contacts During Quiet Hours

According to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), you can’t send promotional text messages during “quiet hours”—the time before 8:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m. (local time for the recipient).

This might make things tricky if you have contacts all over North America, but you can segment your contacts into lists (if you know where they’re located) and schedule text message campaigns to send at different times. 

💡 If you to find out where your contacts are located, you can use our Data Collection and Custom Fields features to collect their location data.

Text Message Compliance Is Mandatory (But We Make it Easy)

Text blasts are an effective marketing tool as long as you follow SMS legal requirements from the first text and continue to implement them after customers have legally opted in to your messages. 

The five guidelines above will help you prevent any headaches in the future. In the next chapter of this guide, we’ll take a deeper dive into express written consent.

💡 Let’s recap:

  • Text marketing is legal, but it’s important to understand compliance before you send a message.
  • Express written consent from your contacts is mandatory.
  • Your call-to-action must include your campaign purpose, frequency, terms and conditions, privacy policy, and info about message and data rates.
  • Your first message to new contacts must be a confirmation message. SimpleTexting makes this automatic.

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.

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