Why You Should NEVER Use The SMS Plugins In The WordPress Repository

Church groups do it. Woodworking clubs do it. Even some businesses try to do it.WordPress SMS Plugins

What is it?

They all try to save money by using one of the SMS/Text plugins in the WordPress Repository.

Rarely do I say “never” and one might argue that it’s a bit strong in this situation even. But once you read this article, give us your thoughts about whether using this type of text system is a viable strategy.

What is SMS/Text?

Short Message Service (SMS) or text messaging is a system that allows people to communicate between two cell phones or from a PC or handheld device to a cell phone. The “short” refers to the length of the message- which is 160 characters. You see this in action every day if you are around a teenager for more than five minutes.

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Cell Phones Can Send/Receive Text Messages Using Different Technologies

When someone sends you a text message to your cell phone from their cell phone, they are sending it using a technology called Short Message Peer-to-Peer Protocol (SMPP). This is the method that allows cell phone users to communicate millions of times a day. To send someone a text message using this method, you only need to know their ten digit telephone number – from there the cell messaging system figures out the message routing and what cell phone carrier each person is on.

But, you also have another messaging method that can be used for text messaging communication. Most cell phones have an email address associated with them (i.e. [email protected] for Verizon customers). This is known as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and it’s the method that we’ve all used to communicate by email since we sent our first email message. Anyone with an email address (or the ability to send messages through an SMTP server) can send a message to a cell phone user if they know their cell phone number AND the specific domain information for the carrier that the recipient uses.

What’s Wrong With The SMS Plugins for WordPress

The FREE SMS plugins in the WordPress repository (and any other FREE messaging plugins you pick up) rely on SMTP to send the messages. At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Well, email is pretty reliable. Why would it be any different with this?” That’s a good question – and one I intend to answer.

Using the SMTP protocol associated with cell phones is actually only meant for “occasional” use. In fact, all cell phone carriers are not required to deliver any SMTP type messages sent through their system. They usually deliver them without any problems though.

However, if their system becomes overloaded, they can delay delivery of the messages or in the worst case simply purge them from the system and your recipient never gets the message. Plus, if they detect a large number of messages coming from your SMTP server, in rare cases they could block you completely.

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Another reason to avoid using SMTP is that it falls under the regulations of email. Remember that pesky CAN-SPAM Act? Well, it applies in this case as well. Not adhering to all the regulations under CAN-SPAM can lead to some serious financial hardships.

Which leads to my next point – optin/optout capability. There’s no way for a subscriber to optin to OR optout of your email (text) list. That alone is a violation of the CAN-SPAM act.

You also have no way to brand yourself using SMTP. For example, if you text the keyword “Sonic” to 86677 (a shortcode), you will be subscribed to Sonic’s text marketing campaign. You’ll get promotional texts from Sonic – not Belk, not Cracker Barrel, and not Arby’s. So, the text marketing campaign is branded specifically for Sonic by their keyword.

There are several other reasons for NOT using SMTP as a text communication tool, but I think you get the idea from these reasons above. It is just not a reliable or professional method of communicating. Now, you may think, “Yes, but I can live with the occasional delayed/undelivered text to save some money.” What if you were arranging a woodworking meeting and that undelivered text didn’t get to the ONE member that was supposed to bring the exotic piece of wood that the group was getting together to work with that evening? Then you’ve wasted everyone’s time and embarrassed yourself.

There are many more reliable methods to communicated using SMS/text and several of them can still use WordPress. However, they are much more specialized and deserve their own post. I’d love to hear your comments below. Maybe if there’s enough interest, we can examine a more reliable SMS WordPress solution.

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Woman Reading Sms by Petr Kratochvil

Comments (14)

  1. We use a plugin called Clickatell SMS Notification for WooCommerce. Every time we ship an order it calls a Clickatell API that sends the message from our “number” assigned by Clickatell to the customer’s phone number provided during the order process. There are also plugins that connect to Twilio SMS API. Both charge about 2 cents per message. I loved how Amazon notifies me when an order ships, so this is something I try to do for my customers too.

    • Thanks for sharing Clickatell, Tony. I had not seen that one. They have a very competitive platform and their short code system is unlike most that I’ve seen (and used) in the past – very competitive on pricing.

      I’m very familiar with several WordPress plugins that use Twilio and that is one of my favorite methods to employ SMS at a competitive price. But, even using their long code methodology has some drawbacks – the same ones that Clickatell seems to have with their API. Twilio is limited to 1 message per second per number when sending mass outbound messages and if you can live with that limitation, then it should be suitable. I noticed that Clickatell has a limit of 5,000 per day and 10,000 per month so they are limiting their throughput as well – even more so than Twilio.

      But, with Clickatell, and their pricing for shortcode SMS, if you exceed their API allowance, you should probably move to the shortcode system anyway.

      I also build some applicaitons in OpenVBX – which piggybacks on top of the Twilio system. Using OpenVBX, you can custom design just about any application you want, accomplish it quickly and easily, and be cost effective for your client. Just last week, I spent 30 minutes building an application for the local parks and recreation group to alert attendees at the July 4th fireworks where parking was available. They simply had to text in the keyword to the 10 digit number and receive a text back telling them what parking was available and where. This was very handy the last hour and a half before the fireworks when there was NO parking available. People didn’t spend a half hour circling the parking lots looking for a space.

      Thanks for your share and I look forward to other comments here as well.

  2. Hi, I am part of a community group that started an alert system that sends alerts when there is a problem in our neighborhood, something similar to Nixel but we use a cell phone line to send the alerts. Unfortunately the alert system grew extremely fast and now we have over 1500 subscribers which is too much for our line to handle; on average it takes 2hrs for all the messages to be delivered.

    We are looking for something else, but we are restricted by the funding do you have any suggestions?

    • Hey Daniel.

      I definitely understand that “limited funds” problem you all have. I see it all too often.

      I would suggest that you first look at Twilio for their cost. With Twilio, you can send 1 message per second for 1 cent per message (outbound or inbound). Therefore, 1,500 messages would cost you $15.00 and would take approximately 25 minutes to send. That’s still slow compared to a short code method, but it’s much faster than your current 2 hours to send 1,500 recipients. A way to speed that process up is to have multiple Twilio numbers. The numbers cost $1 a month plus usage. If you have NO usage, then the only cost if $1 per phone number per month.

      If you find this to be too cumbersome, then you could move over to a short code based system. All the short code systems I’ve used in the past work very fast, but the cost has always been sooooo much. The Clickatell short code system that Tony mentioned may work very well for you; however, I cannot comment on personal experience with it. From a quick visit to their website, it appears that the cost of texting is 2 cents per message outbound and ZERO cost for inbound. That’s actually a pretty good deal as long as there are no other charges that I’ve not seen. I was paying $100 a month PLUS 5 cents per message (inbound or outbound) when I was using short codes.

      You will definitely want to use someone else’s short code if you decide to go the short code route because having your own short code would cost you $1,000 per month (or $1,500 per month if you wanted a vanity short code) and it’s payable in 3 month increments. Oh, and with that, you’ve not sent a single text message – that cost is extra. Having your own short code is not for the faint of heart – that’s why there are so many services that will rent their short code out to you.

      If you decide to go with the Twilio application (if that fits your budget), post back here and I can send you some helpful information directly. The WordPress plugins that I’ve used with Twilio – and the non-WordPress methods that I’ve used with Twilio – are not very expensive to purchase. Most are pretty easy to learn to use, and they’re very reliable once you have them running.

      Let me know if any of these methods interest you. I’d love to know how you proceed.

  3. Text Messaging: You can send your announcements, new products, promotions, and discount privileges through texts. You can also conduct a raffle and the customer’s text message could be their entry. This is very easy for you since you just need to send the text message to a bunch of people. You can also have a partnership with some mobile network carrier and help you promote your products and services.

  4. This post inspired me to write a little plugin that uses the Twilio API to send real SMS messages.

    One of the big draw backs that James doesn’t mention is that text messages via-SMTP can have odd-ball senders phone numbers, on my phone it’s “1 (410) 000-040″. That number is the same no matter the “from” email address, so I have no idea who’s sending me the text.

    My plugin has a website explaining it at: https://www.kanagawa-sms-alerts.com/

    Thanks for the inspiration James!

    • Congratulations Mark.

      “One of the big draw backs that James doesn’t mention is that text messages via-SMTP can have odd-ball senders phone numbers, on my phone it’s “1 (410) 000-040″. ” – Didn’t mention it because I didn’t know that. That’s really strange – and unexpected.

      Congratulations on writing your Twilio/Wordpress plugin. That’s quite an accomplishment. Most of the things I’ve written to work with Twilio have been using OpenVBX. I’ve got a developer that has written a TON of Twilio/WordPress plugins that I’ll be reviewing in an upcoming article.

      Thanks for coming back to this thread and posting about yours. I’ll take a look at it sometime.

    • Mark the plugin looks promising. However I would recommend that you move to a widget that allows users to input their name/phone number and have it save to a database. Make sure include an unsubscribe number feature.

    • Mark, your plugin looks pretty cool! I’m interested in taking advantage of your service, but how does it work? Do I have any say in the number that I receive (ie. using my area code). Also, what service do you use to send the messages through?
      Thanks
      -Chase

      • Chase, thanks for your kind words. Yes, you pick there area code, and we give you a list of 10 or so number to pick from in that area code.

        The SMS messages that you send to your subscribers are sent using Twilio’s SMS API. But details like that are handled for you just by using the plugin.

        — Mark

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