We all know the good 'ol SMS. But the way we understand texts from Mom are quite different from how a UX writer thinks about SMS messages.

To cover the basics, an SMS message is a text message. Digital products send SMS messages in a very transactional way. They’re used to send information, and that’s pretty much it. There’s no conversation to it.

Here’s an example:

how to write sms
Image credit: SMSarchives

Common types of SMS messages you might work on are:

  • Two-factor authentication codes
  • Updates (ex: Your table is ready)
  • Account changes (ex: phone number removed)
  • Reminders

Two-factor authentication codes

Two-factor authentication is a security precaution where, as an extra step to log in to a product, they send you a code via SMS or email that you have to re-enter into the app.

It looks something like this:

how to write sms

Updates

SMS messages are used to let you know when something has changed. This could be that your table is ready or your DoorDash delivery has been delivered, like this:

how to write sms

Account changes

Apps also send SMS for important account changes to make sure they were intentional.

Here’s an example from Klarna letting the user know their phone number was removed:

how to write sms

Reminders

The last common type of SMS message apps send are reminders. This is to give users a heads-up about things like an upcoming date, event, booking, or appointment, like this one from Best Buy:

how to write sms

Why do SMS messages matter?

SMS messages exist to catch user’s attention about important things. They shouldn’t be overused or abused, or user’s won’t pay attention to them.

Imagine, every time you want to talk to your sibling, you have to go through their assistant. No matter what you have to tell them, big or small, you have no direct line of communication.

That can get pretty frustrating. Knock on wood, say one day one of your parents gets hurt, you can’t let your sibling know ASAP, because you have to go through their assistant. You hope they get the message in time, but there’s no guarantee.

Now, instead, imagine your sibling has no assistant, and you can text them freely. If something happens to your parent, you can let them know ASAP and problem solve together.

SMS works kind of the same way. It’s a direct line of communication with users that’s used to tell them important things to make sure they get them ASAP.

But the line of communication isn’t permanent, and the user can block your messages at any time. That’s why it’s important to be very selective about what messages you text them and why.

What makes SMS messages effective?

Effective SMS messages:

  • Are important
  • Get to the point
  • Say the app’s name

Effective SMS messages are important

Just like push notifications, every SMS message you send needs to be worthwhile, offer significant value, and help the user accomplish something.

You don’t have to lose that direct line of communication to your users, and to keep it, you have to respect it. That means only reaching out when it’s asked for, relevant, or absolutely necessary.

Marketing SMS messages go against this and are bad practice in my opinion. As a UX writer, you won’t typically be tasked with writing marketing SMS messages, but it’s important to know if your company is sending them, so you can get the full picture and write accordingly.

Effective SMS messages get to the point

It’s best practice to keep SMS messages under 160 characters. If you need to say more, link to learn more.

Again, this is a cherished direct line of communication. To be respectful of it, we need to say what the user needs to know, say it fast, and use the onion approach, or progressive disclosure, to link to more info if it’s wanted.

Here’s an example of an SMS message that gets to the point and links to more:

how to write sms

Effective SMS messages say the app’s name

Have you ever gotten an SMS message from an app and had no clue which app it was from, or if it was even real?

That’s why you gotta include the app’s name somewhere in the SMS. Users typically don’t save companies as contacts, so you have to remind the user who it is with every SMS sent.

Ways to do that are:

  • “Chime: ___”
  • “Hi, Christopher — Chime here”
  • Your Chime account has been ___”

Good examples of SMS messages

Gusto

how to write sms
Image credit: SMTP2go

Gusto does a great job telling you everything you need to know here while keeping a friendly tone. They organically tell you the SMS is from Gusto, and let you know how urgent the message is by sharing when the code expires.

Nu Med Spa

how to write sms
Image credit: MobileMonkey

Nu Med Spa does a great job getting to the point here while making the SMS actionable. Instead of having to call to confirm the appointment, they let the user simply respond “C.” This requires less time and effort for the user, which is a win-win.

Note the “STOP” opt-out copy — that’s important to include on all non-user requested SMS messages. Getting a two-factor authentication code is a user-requested message, but an appointment reminder isn’t. If the user didn’t ask for the SMS, you have to give them the opportunity to unsubscribe.

Verizon

how to write sms
Image credit: MobileMonkey

In this SMS message, Verizon clearly states the SMS is from Verizon, and even goes so far as to confirm you’re not getting charged for receiving this message. They’re clear about your balance and when it’s due. And they utilize progressive disclosure to let the user view their bill if they want to.

Bad examples of SMS messages

Afterpay

how to write sms

This SMS is… confusing. It’s my Afterpay verification code, but Afterpay will never ask me for this code? And I shouldn't share it with anyone… So how do I use this code?

Always make sure your instructions are clear. SMS access with a user is precious — don’t squander it.

Southwest

how to write sms

First, it’s not clear this SMS is from Southwest — I only know this in retrospect. Second, they go into wayyyy too much detail given they’re also sending a check-in reminder email. They could have linked to more info to make the SMS more impactful and digestible.

What Southwest did well here was include trip specifics (time, date, and city) and opt-out instructions specific to this type of SMS.

Baked by Melissa

how to write sms

Baked by Melissa sells super cute mini cupcakes. After reading closely, I understand they have a new zodiac-related cupcake collection they want to sell. But I have to read really closely. This is an example of how not to do a promotional SMS. You can’t understand it in a glance, and it doesn’t share how the offer is going to make the user’s life better.


If you're a member of the Architect's Edition(+), get a copy of the stupid-simple framework to write an on-point SMS message every single time in FRW#10 👇

If you're a member of the Architect's Edition, head to the next members-only lesson, UXW#42: How to write emails.

Otherwise, head to the next free lesson, UXW#43: What is product voice and tone.

Happy UX writing 🖖