Short Messaging (Text): A Quick Rundown

November 8, 2022 | By Sam Pelton
Business woman texting

“Short messaging” (text) is an apt name for a function we all do.

In case you’re unaware, the official name for the texts you send on your phone every day is SMS.

Let’s do a quick rundown on why it’s called “short messaging,” and what that means for you.

Short Messaging (Text): 160 Characters or Less

With “short messaging,” texts must technically be 160 characters or less.

Since the average length of English words is about 4.8 characters, that means you can only have about 33 words in a text message.

To put it in perspective, that last sentence was 25 words and 129 characters. So that means you would only be able to fit about 7 or 8 more words in order to stay within the limits.

Short Messaging (Text): Alternatives

“But wait – I send texts longer than 160 characters all the time.”

Yep, although the technical limit for a text message is 160 characters, in reality, your texts can be longer due to one of a couple of reasons:

  1. Your longer text message may actually be sent out in multiple parts. But in most cases, your recipient’s phone concatenates (or combines) the messages into one thread. So neither you nor the recipient notices that it was actually sent as more than one message.
  2. Or your message may be sent as an MMS (multimedia message) rather than as a “regular” SMS. MMS allow you to attaches images (or other media) and allow for 1,600 characters. So there’s no issue sending longer messages.

In either case, the experience for your recipient is usually the same. They’ll typically receive the text on their phone as normal and won’t notice any difference.

Short Messaging (Text): Why Does It Matter?

Since the user experience for you and your recipients is usually the same no matter how your messages are processed on the back end, why do you need to worry about it?

Well, if you’re just texting your friends and family, you don’t really need to think about it.

The length of your message or whether your message is sent as an MMS is more or less irrelevant.

(Unless you or your recipient have a pay-per-text plan, rather than unlimited texting, which is rare but still happens.)

However, if you send texts on a mass scale – for your business, for example – it matters a great deal.

Why? Because if your “short messaging” text is split into more than one message, it will cost more messaging credits on your SMS platform.

What does that mean? Essentially, it means that if you don’t keep your message within 160 characters, it may end up costing you more money.

And you'll also end up spending more money if you send your message as an MMS (multimedia message).

So when sending texts for your business, you need to know how long your message is and what type of message you’re sending.

(SMS platforms like Mobile Text Alerts provide this information readily to you.)

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