SMS Compliance Guide

Opt-in text messaging: What it is and 4 ways to do it


Building out your contact list with customers who have given you permission to send them messages is the single most important aspect of mass texting. 

And thanks to the wide variety of ways you can build your SMS text marketing lists, SMS compliance doesn’t have to be difficult

In fact, most of the time getting customers to opt in is a set-it-and-forget-it process. 

From definitions and regulations to instructions on getting started, this is your one-stop shop for all things opt-in methods.

⚠️ 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 does opt-in mean in texting?

Opt-in text messaging is the process of a customer giving their express written consent to a business for the purpose of receiving autodialed promotional messages. 

The way you invite people to opt in to your messages is sometimes referred to as an opt-in method. These may include SMS keywords, web forms, and mobile sign-up widgets—I’ll share more about each of these in a later section.

Why do you have to get contacts to opt in to your message

📌 It’s a legal requirement. Consumer protection agencies in North America have enacted texting laws, like the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) to help protect people from spam and scam messages. If you have contacts in North America, you have to follow the regulations.

U.S. and Canadian texting laws vary slightly, but both countries require businesses to obtain proof that your contacts agree to receive marketing text messages from you.

If someone reports your messages, you could be fined for violating the TCPA and CASL.

📌 It helps build trust with your contacts. Not only do these regulations help protect consumers, but they can help you establish trust with your contacts and show them that you value their privacy.

📌 It can increase click-through and conversion rates. When contacts give you express consent to text them, they’re showing that they find value in your brand and your texting program.

This can lead to higher link click-through rates and conversion rates from texts, since your audience is interested in what you have to offer.

Do I have to use a double-opt in method?

Double opt-in is the practice of asking contacts who have already opted in to confirm their subscription. 

For example, your first text to a new contact might include, “Reply YES to confirm your subscription.”

While not required by the TCPA, double opt-ins can help ensure that contacts know that they’ll receive promotional messages. If someone reports your business for a TCPA violation, that extra proof can come in handy.

What is an SMS opt-out message?

An SMS opt-out message is a text that includes instructions for how a contact can remove themselves from your texting list. For instance, you may include “Reply STOP to stop receiving texts” in your message.

How to advertise your SMS opt-in

Part of your responsibility when inviting people to receive texts from your business is to advertise them properly, according to TCPA and CASL regulations. 

You must clearly disclose that:

  • The messages received will be marketing/promotional in nature
  • The messages will be sent via an autodialer (legalese for SMS platforms)
  • The agreement to receive the autodialed promotional text messages isn’t a condition of any purchase

If your messages aren’t promotional, you can simply mention what kind of messages your contacts will receive (like appointment or payment reminders).

Pet store's opt in text message sign with TCPA compliant language
A pet store’s SMS keyword sign with TCPA-compliant language.

Right after you send your first message to a new contact, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) recommends that you send a compliance text that states:

  • Your campaign purpose
  • Message frequency
  • Information about message and data rates
  • How to opt out of receiving texts
  • A link to your terms and conditions and privacy policy

Thanks for joining our VIP customers text club! You’re signed up to receive exclusive discounts, sales announcements, and style advice.
VIPSHOP: Reply STOP to unsubscribe or HELP for help. 4 msgs per month, Msg&Data rates may apply.

💬 SimpleTexting is the only SMS marketing platform to offer free compliance messages, meaning you won’t be charged for this message. 

4 ways for contacts to opt in to your messages

Like I mentioned earlier, the way you invite people to give you permission to text them is called an opt-in method. 

Popular SMS opt-in methods:

  1. Texting a keyword to your number
  2. Filling out an SMS web form
  3. Using a mobile sign-up widget to send a keyword to your number
  4. Checking a box on a paper or electronic form

Method 1: Keywords

If you’re looking for an easy way to build your audience, look no further than keywords. They’re memorable words or phrases that people can use to receive your text messages.

You may have seen this before when a brand says to text a word to their number (ex. “Text SUMMERDEALS to 888-459-2034”).

Pet store's opt in text message sign with TCPA compliant language
A running store’s SMS opt-in method flyer

How to Get Started With Keywords

1. Choose your keyword

Keywords can be 3-20 characters, containing numbers and letters and no special characters. The shorter, the better.

The most important thing is that you keep your keywords on-brand and memorable. They could be your brand name or something related to a specific promotion.

2. Create your keyword

Set up your keyword in the back end of your SMS marketing platform. Watch our video tutorial to see how it’s done in SimpleTexting’s app.

Screenshot of creating a new keyword in SimpleTexting's opt-in text message service
Setting up a keyword in SimpleTexting’s SMS marketing platform

3. Promote Your keyword

Share the keyword you created anywhere that your audience interacts with your brand:

  • Social media profile bios
  • Website
  • Email campaign or signature at the bottom of a message
  • Flyers, posters, and signs
  • Packaging
  • Direct mail postcards

📚 Read our article about where to advertise your keyword for more ideas.

Method 2: SMS web forms

Web sign-up forms allow your website visitors to easily sign up to receive texts from you. Like the mobile opt-in forms that we discussed in the previous section, you’ll need to set up a form and install it on your site.

A web form created in SimpleTexting’s opt-in text message service
A web form created in SimpleTexting’s opt-in text message service

Luckily, we have a free website form builder app in the SimpleTexting platform that you can use. It’s super easy to customize and install the form, and there’s no need for an integration or even a developer to build it.

💡 Note: If you decide to add a phone number field to an existing form, a) make sure the text message opt-in language is TCPA compliant and b) be sure to have a box that users must check to opt-in for messages. This checkbox cannot be pre-checked.

How to get started with web forms

1. Create your web form in SimpleTexting

When you upgrade to a paid plan, you can set up a custom web form in your SimpleTexting dashboard. Watch the video tutorial for a visual guide.

2. Embed the form into a page on your site

Copy the form’s embed code in SimpleTexting and add it to an existing page on your site, like the home page or service page. 

3. Direct people to fill out your form

Send people to the page on your site from other channels, like social media and email. Include a call to action on your site that explains why they should sign up for your texts.

Method 3: Mobile sign-up widgets

A mobile sign-up form is specifically for users viewing your website on a cellphone. We have a free mobile sign-up widget that lets people sign up for text messages within seconds.

How mobile sign-up works for your contacts:

  • When you add a mobile sign-up form to your website, a button in the corner of your website asks customers to click on it. After clicking on it, a pop-up widget will appear asking contacts to sign up for text updates.
  • It will also ask for opt-in consent, which is a legal requirement when collecting phone numbers.
  • When they tap on the sign-up button, their phone’s messaging app will autofill information, including your number and keyword.
  • All new contacts need to do is tap the send button to sign-up and start receiving your text updates.

How to get started with mobile sign-up widgets

1. Set up an SMS keyword.

As a reminder, a keyword is a word or phrase that people can text to your number to sign up for future messages (E.g. Text STDEMO to 855-900-8181). 

You can create one in just a few steps in your SimpleTexting dashboard. If you already have a keyword from another texting platform, you can use it in our free tool as well.

2. Create and customize your widget.

Follow these steps to build your mobile sign-up widget.

3. Add the widget to your site.

After creating your mobile sign-up widget, you’ll receive the embed code and instructions via email. Add the code to your site’s footer.

Method 4: Paper and electronic forms

What if you already ask for people’s phone numbers on a paper or electronic form? 

These forms — like registration or order forms — are a convenient place to invite people to opt in to your text messages, since they’re already providing their number.  

Order form with a TCPA-compliant checkbox to opt in to text messages
Order form with a TCPA-compliant checkbox to opt in to text messages

Paper and electronic form compliance

Your opt-in form needs to have a checkbox and a disclaimer that the person filling out the form agrees to receive your text messages. Make sure the checkbox isn’t pre-checked.

SMS opt-in method FAQs

Do employees have to opt-in for text messages?
In most cases, texting employees falls under a type of permission under the TCPA called “implied consent”. It’s used for situations when the relationship between the sender and recipient imply that texting is acceptable and expected.

That said, it’s always best practice to tell them what you’re going to text them and provide a clear way to opt out.
Even if you already have a business relationship with someone, you should always try to obtain express consent to text them.

If a customer texts you first, and you’re not sending them promotional messages, it may fall under implied consent under TCPA guidelines since they’d reasonably expect a reply. If you’re unsure, get your recipients’ permission using a compliant opt-in method.
The opt-in process for text messages involves getting permission to text your contacts ahead of time. The TCPA and CASL have guidelines on how to legally invite people to opt in.

This article was published on June 11, 2019, and was updated on August 10, 2023, by Dani Henion. Nathan Ellering contributed to this piece.


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