Is Texting’s Touted 98% Read Rate Still Valid in 2024?

March 27, 2024 | By Sam Pelton
People texting

In 2010, messaging intelligence company Mobilesquared released some research on texting.

They found that text messages had an astounding read rate of 98% or 99%—and also that 90% of texts were read within just 3 minutes of being received.

Since then, these amazing stats have circulated all around the internet as proof of the powerful potential of texting as a way to reach people.

But that was over 2 decades ago. Are those stats still valid?

Apparently not.

The Latest Data

More recently, Mobilesquared released a short report walking back from their initial research.

While the original data may have been accurate at the time, Nick Lane of Mobilesquared now says this:

“Our latest data suggests 55% of all SMSes are read, however, 100% of SMSes are viewed.”

Nick further explained to me in personal correspondence that this new “55%” number was the average figure based on extensive consumer research they conducted in 2022.

But what does this all mean?

The Difference Between “Read” and “Viewed”

When Mobilesquared refers to 55% of text messages being “read,” they mean “actively opened.”

In other words, people now actively open a little over half of the text messages they receive.

However, all or almost all of text messages are “viewed”—meaning, the recipient is aware that the messages have come into their inbox.

And while the report doesn’t mention this specifically, it also follows that if the recipient has “viewed” the message, they have also seen the message preview.

What Does This Mean for SMS?

There are a few ramifications of this new data in regards to how we should understand SMS.

1. SMS Still Outshines

Does this revelation mean that SMS is no longer a viable option for businesses and organizations trying to communicate with their audiences? Certainly not!

Per the Mobilesquared report:

“While the performance of SMS has dropped over the last decade – which would be typical of any channel – as it jostles for airtime against competing messages, updates and alerts, even at 55% the performance is far superior to virtually every other channel (as in email, banner ads, direct mail, and so on).”

In other words, even if the open rate numbers aren’t 98%, they are still impressive. And we all can personally attest to how much more likely we are to open a text message than we are to open emails or other forms of communication.

What this new data means is simply that we have a more accurate view of the current messaging climate. And we won’t be confused when the “98% read rate” stat doesn’t seem to ring true for our audiences.

We can still have confidence that a huge percentage of recipients are opening our text messages—and virtually all of our audience are at least seeing our messages.

2. Message Previews Are Vital

Since a significant number of people will only “view” your messages, the content that you put at the beginning of each message is vital. This is the content that will show up in your message previews.

There are, therefore, at least 2 considerations you should think about when it comes to your message previews:

  1. You could use your message previews as an enticement to get people to open your message
  2. You could set up your messages in such a way that the most important information is at the beginning of the message—that way, the content is viewable by people who don’t actually open the message

How Many Characters Display in Message Previews?

Since message previews are so vital, one important thing to keep in mind is how many characters will actually display in the preview.

The answer?

It depends on the device and which preview is being referred to. While it’s not possible to give hard and fast rules because of the numerous different types of devices that exist, here’s some info that may help…

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Lock Screen Previews

Lock screen previews seem to often show around 160 characters of your messages.

And in many cases, 160 characters actually would be the full message.

However, the lock screen can get cluttered with all kinds of notifications, so you don’t want to rely on it too much.

Push Notification Previews

Push notification previews are the notifications that pop up on your screen when you receive a new message, requiring you to tap on it in order to open and view the full content of that message.

While many phones can show upwards of around 86 characters in the push notification preview, some phones are more truncated—with some being able to see just around 34 characters in the push notification preview.

Messaging App Previews

What about when you actually go into your messaging app? How much of the message content are you able to see then without actually opening the message?

This also can range. Some phones may only display around 40 characters of each message while others will display around 86 characters.

Takeaways: Use SMS, and Front-Load Your Important Information

Here are some takeaways from all of this…

  • Keep using SMS (or if you haven’t started, start)—take full advantage of texting as an effective communication medium.
    • It still has the highest guarantee of people actually seeing the messages you send.
    • It still cuts through the noise better than most if not all other marketing mediums.
  • When using SMS, front-load your important information…
    • Put your most important or most enticing content at the beginning of your message.
    • While there’s not a guarantee that people will open your message, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll see the preview, so front-loading the important information makes it more likely that people will actually see what you want them to see.
    • Also, the message preview can act in a similar way to an email’s subject line, providing an opportunity to capture your audience’s interest and get them to read the rest of your message.

So how are you best taking advantage of SMS to reach people? How can you better utilize the message preview to really hook your audience and grab their attention?

The time is now to start tweaking and optimizing… so that you can have the best reach possible.

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