Text Opt-In: What It Is and How to Be Compliant [2023]

May 11, 2023 | By Sam Pelton
Woman sitting on couch texting

We live in the age of texting.

And in the midst of this era, texting is becoming an ever-growing marketing and communication tool for businesses to take advantage of.

But some business owners and marketers—perhaps even you—may be hesitant to mess with texting because of perceived strict text opt-in regulations, or perhaps just with a lack of familiarity with the process.

So how does text opt-in work? What are the rules and regulations?

We’ll walk you through all of that, so that you can know how best to make full use of texting for your businesses

Text Opt-In: What Does Opt Mean in Text Message Marketing?

When it comes to business texting efforts, opt carries the idea of choosing something—in particular, if someone’s opting in to a text message list, they are willingly choosing to receive your text messages.

With texting, it’s typically best to only send messages to people who have actively agreed to receive your messages. While the laws regarding this aren’t as strict as they used to be, it’s still best practice and will yield the best results for you.

(Note that people can also opt out of text messages if they decide they no longer want to receive your texts.)

What Does SMS Opt In Mean?

The word “SMS” (“short message service”) is simply the official name for a text message sent through a cell network, typically via the native messaging apps on people’s mobile devices.

Technically, an SMS does not include messages sent via other messaging apps such as iMessage or Messenger. It also doesn’t include text messages that contain images or other media content (which are called “MMS” or “multimedia messaging service.”)

Since “SMS” means text messaging, “SMS opt in” is a more technical way to say “text opt-in.” So it refers to agreeing to receive text messages, typically from a business or organization.

Person texting

Text Opt-In Laws

The most important question in regards to text opt-in laws is the following…

Do You Have to Opt In for Text Messages?

The answer to this question of whether or not people have to specifically opt in to receive texts is actually not 100% straightforward.

The answer used to be a clear “yes, people must opt in for text messages” (particularly for marketing). That’s because the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) had strict opt-in requirements. Although these requirements were initially intended for phone calls, once texting became popular, the rules started being applied to texting as well.

Some of those strict requirements changed in 2021 with the groundbreaking Supreme Court case involving Facebook. This ruling lessened the restrictions on texting systems being considered “auto-dialers,” so many of the TCPA requirements no longer apply.

All of that being said, from the standpoint of the TCPA, in light of the 2021 Supreme Court ruling, you must make sure you abide by the following:

  • Don’t randomly generate or randomly “dial” numbers when you’re sending texts—your recipient list can’t be “random”
  • Don’t send texts outside of normal daytime hours in the timezone of the recipients—you can’t send a message to a customer at 10pm their time, for example
  • Don’t send messages to people who have opted out—if they’ve clearly requested to be removed from your list, don’t continue to text them

So as far as the technicalities of the law, it’s not as strict as it used to be, and users don’t necessarily have to opt in for text messages.

But there’s another element that must be considered: the non-legal regulations of the CTIA and of the mobile carriers.

Although not legally binding, the CTIA (an organization that “represents the U.S. wireless communications industry”) and the mobile carriers are the rulers of the roost in terms of deciding texting best practices.

These entities determine what texting practices are acceptable from a practical standpoint. If their regulations aren’t followed, it can result in your messages being blocked from being delivered to your recipients’ devices.

The CTIA and mobile carriers generally do require that you get opt-in consent from your recipients before sending them messages.

So the bottom line is that although you’re less likely than in times past to get into legal trouble for sending messages to people who haven’t opted in, it’s still best practice to obtain text opt-in consent. And if you don’t, you’re likely to see more delivery issues with your messages.

Obtaining opt-in consent from your users is also best practice in general. You’ll see the most engagement with an audience that is expecting your messages and is interested in receiving them.

The main principle is that you’ll want to make sure that you’re texting people who actually want to be texted—sending spam is not going to work in your favor.

Other Pertinent Regulations

In order to make sure that your messages don’t get blocked by phone carriers, you’ll also want to make sure that your opt-in process and messaging process follow a few other regulations:

  • The content must not be related to practices or products (even legal ones) related to sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, tobacco and other controlled substances, loans, gambling, “get-rich-quick” style opportunities, and questionable financial practices. (You may be able to get special permission for certain use cases—check with the Mobile Text Alerts sales team for any questions related to that.)
  • Don’t include public URL shorteners (such as bit.ly) in your messages, including in confirmation messages that are sent automatically when people opt in (more on that below).
  • Try to include opt-out instructions in every text message you send (more on that below as well).

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What are best texting practices - infographic

How Does Text Opt-In Work?

You can collect text opt-in consent from your recipients on your own—for example, by having people sign a physical opt-in form or by putting opt-in language on your website.

But you can also take advantage of SMS platform tools (like those offered by Mobile Text Alerts) to help give you additional ways to collect consent.

For example, people can send a text message into your SMS platform account’s phone number and the user who texted in will be automatically added to your text list. With this method, you can also select particular auto-responses to send back whenever someone texts in a particular word, and you can also assign the people who sign up to a specific grouping within your account’s recipient list.

Another way you can collect opt-in consent is by having your prospective subscribers sign up for your texts via an online web form. You can configure the web form to ask for the data points that you’re interested in, and then you can embed the form on your website or share the link with your audience. As soon as they submit the form, their information will be automatically added into your subscriber list.

Yet another way to obtain consent is to share a QR code. When people scan the code, a pre-filled text message can appear on their phone, and all they need to do is hit Send in order to subscribe to your texts.

Once a user is opted into your texting list, they will appear in your online database and you’ll be able to send them messages right away.

The flow may look something like this:

  • You decide that you want to build a list of text subscribers so that you can engage them with discounts and promotions in order to boost revenue
  • You publish several social media posts, send emails, and make in-person announcements telling people to opt into your text club
  • In your push to get people to subscribe, you tell them to text the word “Deals” into a specific phone number, and you let them know that they’ll get 20% off their next order just for subscribing
  • You have an automated message set up to go out to any user who texts in, telling them that they can get 20% off their next order using a specific promo code

Text Opt-In Language

So what kind of language do you need to include when you’re asking people to subscribe to your texts?

If you want to dot all your i’s, here are a few guidelines, ideas, and suggested best practices, which will help you get fewer opt-outs:

  • Make it clear what people are signing up for: don’t “trick” people by misrepresenting what they’re actually opting into
  • Let people know how frequently you’ll be texting them: if you’re unsure how often you’ll be texting, you can say something along the lines of, “Message frequency may vary”
  • Be upfront about any fees they may incur: you could say something like “standard messaging and data rates may apply” to let people know that their mobile carriers may charge them for messages they receive (if they aren’t on an unlimited texting plan)
  • Make sure people know how to opt out: most texting systems will allow people to automatically opt out by replying with the word STOP; you can give prospective subscribers instructions to “reply STOP to opt out” so that they know how to unsubscribe if they change their mind

Sample Opt-In Text Message

Another suggested practice is to send a confirmation message once people subscribe.

A sample opt-in text message someone receives after subscribing could be something like the following examples:

Thanks for joining our text alert system! We’ll be sending you monthly discounts, deals, and exclusive offers. Reply STOP to opt out at anytime

Welcome to [business name] text alerts! Now you'll get alerted every time we have a deal so you don't miss out. Hope to see ya soon! Txt stop 2 stop

Welcome to [business name] Alert Club! Use promo code [code] to enjoy 10% off as a 'thank you' for signing up. Text Stop to stop

Your SMS platform will automatically trigger this message whenever someone signs up, and you can edit the specifics of what the message says.

How to Opt Out (Text Messages)

We’ve discussed this already as well, but any of your subscribers/contacts can opt out of your texts at any time by simply replying with the word STOP to any of your messages.

Your text alert platform will then automatically remove them from the system.

Not only that, but their phone number will be placed on a “blacklist,” so you won’t have to be concerned about accidentally adding them back in again.

(If they ever want to add themselves back in again, they will just need to re-subscribe.)

Text Opt-Out Language

We’ve touched on this a bit already, but you’ll want to include opt-out language so that people know how to unsubscribe.

It’s actually recommended to include opt-out instructions in your messages regularly.

Opt-out language can be as simple as any of the following:

  • Reply STOP to opt out
  • Respond STOP to unsubscribe
  • Text Stop to stop
  • Text Stop 2 stop
  • Txt stop 2 stop

You can simply tack this language on to the end of whatever message you’re sending.

How to Set Up a Text Opt-In System

In order to set up your own text opt-in system, you first need to choose an SMS platform that fits your needs.

Select a Platform

As mentioned previously, you can select a platform that allows users to subscribe to your SMS list simply by sending in a text (this is the most popular subscription method for SMS systems). But you may also want to consider incorporating other opt-in tools such as customizable web forms or QR codes.

If you have the development resources to implement a programmable API, you can choose an SMS platform that also has an SMS API to allow you to set up integrations with other services you use.

(You’ll want to try a free test account so that you can get a feel for how services work in order to determine if an SMS platform is a good fit for you.)

Load in Contacts

Once you’ve set up an account with an SMS platform, you can start loading in contacts.

If you already have a list of contacts who have opted in, you can import that list via a spreadsheet, or pull in that list via API (or through a Zapier integration).

Set Up Messages

You’ll have several different messaging options once you have a platform implemented:

  • Set up auto-response text messages for when people opt in
  • Set up a series of automated messages people start receiving when they opt in (or at a different point in their subscriber journey)
  • Send and schedule one-off blasts and campaigns to people who have opted in

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