How to Choose SMS Keywords in 2024

April 14, 2024 (Updated by Sam Pelton) | By Jake Meador
How to Choose SMS Keywords in 2024

Choosing a good keyword for your SMS campaign is essential. Without a good keyword, it will be hard or even impossible for people to sign up to be added to your SMS marketing list.

We’ll begin by talking about some basic principles for choosing good keywords. Then we’ll consider some other questions that can come up when you are selecting a keyword or adding people to your list via keyword.

What Is an SMS Keyword?

There is sometimes a little confusion about what is meant by “keywords” in SMS marketing. For SMS purposes, a “keyword” is the word that a person will text in to a certain phone number in order to enroll in a business’s SMS marketing list.

So the term “keyword” means something different in SMS marketing than what it does in some other uses, such as in search engine technology which uses “keyword” to describe the search term someone enters into the search engine.

What Is a Short Code?

You need two things for people to sign up to receive text messages from your business. The first is a keyword, which we have discussed already. The second is a phone number for them to text the keyword to.

One type of phone number is a "short code." Short codes are five digit numbers that businesses use to send and receive text messages.

When someone wants to join a business or other group’s SMS list, they do so by texting the keyword to the short code.

For example, if your church wanted to use SMS messaging to share prayer requests with congregants, you might set it up so that your congregants text “pray” (keyword) to 41372 (short code) to join the list.

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Five Rules for Good Keywords

Below we will share our five rules for choosing the best possible keyword for your SMS marketing campaign.

Rule 1: Simple, memorable keywords are best.

Think about the most common way that you will be sharing this keyword. Examples include:

  • Poster at the cash register
  • Poster on the side of the building
  • On your website’s checkout page
  • On a digital ad
  • In your email signature
  • In your mailings

Oftentimes it will be through word of mouth—you might tell your listeners on a podcast or radio show to “sign up for texts from (business) by texting (keyword to (5-digit shortcode)”. Or a customer might recommend your business to someone else and tell them how to get added to your list.

In each of those cases, you are relying upon the listener to hear the word correctly and be able to remember it when they send the text in to sign up. This is why finding simple keywords is best.

Adding multiple words or using more complex words creates the potential for errors. Someone might be trying to sign up for your list but they cannot because of a typo in their text or because they could not remember the entire keyword.

To avoid these kinds of situations, keep your keywords simple, common words over less common, more complicated words.

Good keywords are memorable keywords. For most brands, the most memorable terms will be branded terms or terms related to the keyword’s use.

Why is that?

Because presumably people already know the name of your business. So if your keyword is also your business’s name, that’s incredibly easy for your potential customers to remember.

That said, sometimes this can be complicated. Perhaps your business’s name is long and there’s not an easy way to reduce that down to one word for a keyword.

In those cases, a keyword that is related to your business’s work can also work.

For example, if you’re a gym, you could use keywords such as “run,” “swim,” or “fit,” to add people to your list. These are all relatively easy words to remember because they are short and monosyllabic. They are also closely related to what people do at gyms, which makes it even easier.

Rule 3: Avoid made-up words or unusual spellings.

Keywords need to be memorable and easy to spell. Made up words or words with unusual spellings are neither of those things.

For example, if you have an art gallery called Parque View, don’t make “parque” part of your keyword. Many people will not remember the unique spelling and will be unable to sign up for your list as a result. What this means is that all the work you do build your list could be for naught if people are unable to sign up. A better solution might be to abbreviate your business name and add a more familiar word to it - “PVtexts”. Keep in mind, keywords are not case-sensitive.

Rule 4: Do not use special characters.

For the same reason, using special characters is not a good idea. People will not naturally assume that when they hear “and” that they should use “&”. By using a special character in your keyword, you make it more likely that people will attempt to sign up and fail because they did not correctly enter the appropriate keyword. (And some special characters may not be supported for use within a keyword.)

Rule 5: Avoid words that have homonyms.

Finally, if at all possible it’s good to avoid words that have homonyms—other words that are pronounced similarly but spelled differently.

For example, if you are a radio station, you could use “hear” as a keyword, but there is potential for confusion. While “hear” is obviously related to your brand and “here,” a homonym, is not, it is possible that there could still be confusion for your listeners. So it is better to find something that is unlikely to create that confusion, such as “music,” or “listen.”

Three Additional Keyword Considerations

Here are three more things to think about when selecting keywords.

Will you use additional keywords?

Secondary keywords are more specific terms that allow you to segment your SMS list.

For example, if you are a fencing club, you might create separate keywords for people interested in classes for adults and classes for kids.

Or if you own a local coffeeshop, you might have a general keyword, “latte,” or something like that, which you use for adding people to your general SMS list. But then perhaps you also have an events list that you use to let people know about open mic nights, game nights, and so on. You might use a secondary keyword, like “event” or “perform,” or “game” to add people to this list.

Keywords are not case sensitive.

Keep in mind that keywords are not case sensitive. This means that you do not need to worry about capitalization when users sign up for your text updates.

You can change keywords at any time, but you shouldn’t do it often.

If you decide to change keywords for any reason, you can change them whenever you want. However, you need to be careful about that.


If you have set up advertising campaigns of any kind that tell people to use a keyword to sign up for your list, then if you change your keyword you miss out on those signups and, effectively, waste whatever money you spent on those ads. So while there are benefits to changing your keywords occasionally, you should be careful about doing it too often.


Hopefully this has been a helpful overview on keywords and SMS marketing. If you would like to learn more about how Mobile Text Alerts can help your business grow, you can sign up for a free 14-day trial and get started right away.

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