What to Look For in an SMS Provider

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SMS providers have given thousands of businesses the ability to reach their customers through texting. Learn what sets the best ones apart from the rest.

In the era of smartphones, the ability to send and receive texts is something we take for granted. But not long ago sending text messages wasn’t so simple, and cell phone plans limited how many you could send each month—remember that?

But with significant internet growth came a new player in the game: messaging providers. SMS providers took texting, which was once reserved for communicating with close friends and family, and turned it into a tool for organizations to communicate with their publics. And the best part? All you need to send texts through an SMS provider is an internet connection.

Groups like SimpleTexting (that’s us) got a seat at the table with a new, internet-based way to send texts. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s backup and explain exactly what an SMS provider is. Then we’ll go on to share with you the top ten things you should look for when choosing an SMS provider to fit your needs.

What is an SMS or Text Message Provider?

The simple definition would be: SMS providers enable businesses and organizations to send text messages to individuals or groups. Before we go any further, here’s a quick rundown of some industry-related terms that will make understanding all of what’s to come a whole lot easier.

  • Mass Texting: Also known as bulk SMS, mass texting is a communication service that lets an organization or business send a single text message to thousands of subscribers at the same time.
  • 1-on-1 Business Texting: SMS messaging used for having conversations with individuals. It is commonly used for customer service.
  • Carrier: A wireless service provider that gives cell phones and other devices cellular connectivity. SimpleTexting’s services support all major US and Canadian carriers.
  • SMS Short Code: A short code is an easy-to-remember, 5 to 6-digit number used to send SMS or MMS messages. Ours is 555888. Users text a keyword to this number to opt-in for messages.
  • Virtual SMS: Think of this as a virtual phone number. Folks can’t call it like a landline, but the number can both send and receive text messages for your business (all without incurring international charges).

With all that in mind, let’s expand on our original definition in a little more detail…

With a traditional cell phone carrier, you can send messages 1-on-1, or (in the case of some smartphones) to a group. However, you can’t send hundreds, or even thousands, of texts to individual folks at once. That’s where an SMS provider comes in.

SMS providers are a service for your businesses that gives you the ability to send messages via the internet to one, or thousands of people at once. We enable you to send these texts via a short code, or 10-digit toll-free or text-enabled landline.

For many businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions, and more, this is a great way to directly connect with an active audience in ways that emails, direct mail, and phone calls cannot.

But we’re not here to tell you why you should utilize text marketing. We’re here to explain the telltale signs of a good SMS provider so you, the consumer, can make an informed decision!

Top 10 Things All Good SMS Providers Should Have

At their core, SMS providers exist to text enable your organization. However, added value is the name of the game. Most text message providers offer more than just the basics. Some also offer a host of additional features that support your text marketing efforts.

In short, it’s not enough to settle for just being able to send a group text. With that in mind, let’s go over what you should look for as you shop around for an SMS provider.

1. Clear and Reasonable Pricing

Price is a large deciding factor for most people when it comes to just about anything. To help you make an educated decision, there are a few things you should know about text marketing costs. The first is that most providers operate on a credit-based system. So if you see a pricing plan tiered by “credits” know that’s just a way of quantifying how many messages you’re sending per month. Some messages, like those including photos or video, can cost you more “credits” which is why it’s broken down that way. For example, with SimpleTexting SMS costs one credit and MMS three. By estimating how many messages you plan on sending each month you can roughly determine how many credits you’ll need. In turn, you can pick a plan best suited to your needs.

By estimating how many messages you plan on sending each month you can roughly determine how many credits you’ll need. In turn, you can pick a plan best suited to your needs.

When it comes to hidden costs, some providers are less upfront about charging for incoming messages as well as outgoing. So be sure to find that out before you sign your life away. In general, you may want to favor a plan that doesn’t charge for incoming SMS messages due to the unpredictability of volume.

2. Two-Way Messaging Abilities

Giving customers the ability to text your business is just as important as your ability to message them. Two-way communication is the key to relationship building. Without the ability to receive messages in addition to sending them, you chop yourselves off at the knee as a marketer. While this may seem straightforward, it’s not always a given. So be sure you ask your provider if they’re able to fully text-enable your organization so you have the ability to both send and receive.

3. Defined Network Coverage

You want to ensure your SMS provider is compatible with all major cell phone carriers in the geographic areas you wish to send your text messages. For example, if a provider wasn’t compatible with Sprint, that means any text you send to a customer who has a Sprint cell phone plan won’t receive your text.

You want to be on the lookout for language like “compatible with all major U.S. and Canadian carriers” and don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for a complete list of the supported carriers just to be sure.

4. Quality Support

As with any software, there’s a learning curve. You want to make sure your SMS provider has a full staff of support team members on call to assist you should something go wrong. Good questions to ask yourself (or the provider) are: how long does a typical client onboarding process take? What’s the average response time for a chat, text, or email request? What’s the quality of the support given? Are there resources on the site that I can use to expand my product knowledge and supplement the support given?

To get some insider insight, head to sites like G2 Crowd, Shopper Approved, or Capterra for industry specific ratings and reviews.

5. Compliance Guides

Text message marketing is regulated by something known as the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Overseeing the enforcement of the TCPA is the FCC (Federal Communications Commission**), FTC (Federal Trade Commission), and CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association)**.

We won’t go into all of the rules that govern text or SMS marketing in this article, but you can review our guide on text message laws and regulations to learn more.  And it’s even more important to know that your provider is well versed in it and takes matters of consent very seriously. It doesn’t hurt to ask them in advance of purchase what they do for you, the marketer, to make things such as compliance as simple and attainable as possible.

6. Integrations

More likely than not, text marketing isn’t all your organization is doing to communicate. You might also have a host of other digital tools making up your internal or external operations. With that in mind, you want to find a provider who takes the flexible nature of text marketing into consideration and allows you to integrate it with your existing marketing programs. A good SMS provider will have ample integration opportunities, either through Zapier or another program, that allows you to connect your text marketing with your existing systems.

On the topic of integrations, if you’re a developer, a provider’s API capabilities are invaluable. If accessing features from your text marketing program within your own platform or application is important to you, you want to make sure your provider can give you API access. To find out if this is a possibility, simply ask about the API documentation.

7. Mass Texting AND 1-On-1

There are two kinds of text marketing, and a good provider supports both. Returning back to the list of definitions above, you want to ensure you find a provider who supports mass text message marketing as well as business texting (or 1-on-1 texting). Even though you’re interested in sending mass messages right now, whose to say that down the line you won’t benefit from individualized conversations with customers? Don’t limit yourself, find a provider who gives you both.

8. MMS Capabilities

Once again, depending on your business needs, plain text may not be enough. Perhaps you’ll need to send photos, videos, links, or soundbites. Texting out rich media like that utilizes something different known as MMS (see the difference between SMS and MMS here) and not every provider supports it. Just ask the provider, “do you support MMS?” to get your answer. Simple!

9. Ease of Account Management

Everyone’s tech abilities fall somewhere on the spectrum of totally technology repellant to computer guru. Because of that, you want to ensure you find a provider who not only caters to the less tech-inclined but doesn’t limit the possibilities of those with a proclivity. In short, you want to find a software that can be used by anyone, with advanced features available to those who have mastered the basics.

Ask to see a sample tour of the dashboard to get a feel for how user-friendly the interface is. How many clicks does it take to get a campaign sent out? What tools are there to stay organized? These are all valuable things to consider when getting started with a new platform.

10. Free Trial

Providers should have nothing to hide. If you’re new to text marketing there’s a learning curve for sure. A good provider will give you the chance to work out the kinks without spending a dime. Free trials ranging in the 7-14 day range give you a good chance to test things out before making your final decision. Plus, after all the questions we’ve helped you come up with to ask, you may need the extra time to do all of your research! A good provider will award you that opportunity.

As an SMS provider ourselves, we may be biased. But these tips aren’t. If you feel so inclined give us a try, or feel free to reach out for further clarification on any of the above. We’re here seven days a week to help you out!

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