A Guide to SMS for WordPress and Integrating It With Your Website
It’s funny. I think that for every step forward we make in bridging the physical gaps that separate us from one another, we take one step backward in terms of actual human-to-human contact.
I’m not saying I object to any of it. As a millennial, I’m much more comfortable with emailing and Facebook messaging than I am with meeting clients in person or talking to friends on the phone.
Maybe you have a large base of millennial customers who would rather get a refund than talk to someone about switching to a better-suited plan. Or maybe your site caters to an older audience who needs more convenient and accessible communication options. Regardless of who your site ultimately serves, your goal should be to provide them with channels through which they are more comfortable engaging with you.
So, what I’d like to discuss today is why SMS (i.e. text messaging) communications make sense for WordPress sites as well as how you can go about equipping your site with that functionality.
Is SMS the New Marketing Gateway for WordPress?
I recently saw an article that talked about the rise of Facebook Messenger as a business communications platform. While it’s not my favorite idea in the world—since I prefer Facebook to be the channel through which I maintain personal relationships; not professional ones—I have to admit that it’s actually a pretty brilliant idea.
Facebook has had messaging capabilities for a couple years now and the data they’ve collected on their users’ engagements with businesses through Messenger is interesting, to say the least:
- Every month, there are 2 billion messages exchanged between businesses and consumers through Messenger.
- 53% of their users said they are more likely to buy from a brand that they have a direct line of communication with.
- 56% said that they prefer those communications to be done via message instead of a phone call.
Other studies have shown a similar gravitation of the consumer to “instant” messaging with businesses; specifically, in the form of SMS. In the report “The High Demand for Customer Service via Text Message”, Harris Interactive and OneReach found that 64% of consumers who have the option to text a business would prefer to do that instead of call.
And if you’re still not sold on the idea of integrating SMS within your WordPress site or marketing strategy, think about it like this:
A Dynmark report says that SMS have a 98% open rate. Just stop and think about that for a moment. What is the average open rate of your newsletter? And what does Buffer tell you about the percentage of people who actually see your social media posts and then click on them? With a text message, you’d not only have a nearly 100% open rate, but Dynmark also showed that 90% of messages received are read within three seconds.
It’s clear that SMS is a viable marketing channel for businesses. There’s the speed with which your marketing messages are not only seen, but read. There are higher open rates. And then we have the conversion rate to think about, too:
Mark Tack of Vibes, a mobile marketing solution in Chicago, explained, “Both email and SMS are important channels. Looking at data between December 2013 and March 2014, we’ve discovered that mobile users are more loyal based on a higher redemption percentage of 16.6 compared to 3.3 for email.”
With SMS, you don’t have to worry about on-site popup blockers, instant email deletion, or ad blindness. Business SMS communications get more views and, if your CTA is appealing enough, more engagement.
What Can You Do with SMS on Your WordPress Site?
You already know how to integrate your other marketing channels into WordPress—social, video, email. But with SMS getting so little airtime when compared to the rest, you might not be aware of the full range of its capabilities.
I was actually surprised by one of these use cases recently when I found out that my favorite local food truck sends out text messages when they’re parked nearby (since their schedule can be erratic). It ended up being a huge timesaver for me as I was getting tired of having to stalk their site (both physical and digital) whenever I had a jonesing for their tacos. It’s also just a really nice touch for a small business to offer a notification service like this—something I was able to sign up for through their WordPress site.
So, if you’re thinking that SMS is only for super-sized ecommerce sites, think again. SMS would be great for:
- Instant verification or confirmation of a signup
- eCommerce notifications as a purchase is confirmed, order is processed, package is shipped, etc.
- Customer feedback surveys
- Event announcements or reminders—especially if it can help you generate a higher head count at the last minute (the Viking Cooking School generated hundreds of extra dollars in revenue by doing this)
- A heads-up about special, insider deals
- Sending discount codes and coupons that could drive traffic instantly back to the site as Julep did
- Notification about new blog posts, video content, etc. published to the site
- Alerts related to exceeding account limits, password verifications, recent transactions, and so on
- Confirmation for upcoming appointments
- Reminders that products need to be refilled or reordered
- “Did you see our email?” follow-ups after sending out important information you don’t want them to miss
- SMS-only contests like the one Tide ran to get new mobile subscribers and generate greater brand awareness
Here’s an example of how American Airlines handles their flight notifications. This is what it looks like on their site:
And here is the SMS notification I received:
As you can see, there’s a lot that can be accomplished by sending a simple text message to your visitors. And, even better, you can use these messages to complement your other marketing efforts, driving them back to the site or turning their attention to your other marketing channels.
Just keep in mind the general “rules” you’ll want to abide by:
- Only send text messages if your visitors have expressly given you permission to opt them in.
- Always give them an easy out if they decide to change their mind. Include a STOP or OPT OUT option in the message.
- Keep your messages under 160 characters.
- Include a clear call-to-action. SMS should always be sent with a purpose: read this, fill out this survey, use this coupon code, etc.
- If you do include a link, make sure the landing page is optimized for mobile and removes any unnecessary steps so your visitors can get right to what they need, just like Silverstone did.
- And, of course, don’t forget to schedule them for an optimal time and date. A text on a Monday at midnight is not likely to go over well with your audience.
7 WordPress Plugins and Tools for SMS Integration
Unsurprisingly, SMS plugins were kind of difficult to track down for WordPress. It’s not that they don’t exist, it’s more that many of them don’t have very good reviews or haven’t been updated in a long time. With SMS receiving so little fanfare and probably not being the simplest thing to integrate into WordPress, it makes sense.
Plus, there’s the additional cost of signing up with an SMS service provider. Most plugins work with Twilio, but you’ll find others (like Clickatell and Plivo) that work just as well. Before you jump into any of the recommended plugins below, be sure to do your research on which SMS provider services are actually compatible with the one you want, so you don’t get stuck with a plugin you can’t use.
This plugin could come in handy for anything from a restaurant website to a local hair salon or even a financial advisor. Including appointment scheduling on your site can do wonders for streamlining the conversion process since you’re essentially removing the middle man. If you use the Easy Appointments plugin and want to give visitors the option to sign up for SMS notifications at the time of scheduling, you’ll need the paid extension.
No good contact form plugin roundup would be complete without a mention of Gravity Forms. But what you might not know about this contact form builder tool is that it has a powerful SMS counterpart. This SMS Pro plugin gives you the ability to add SMS confirmations and messaging to all your contact forms, even at the payment gateway.
The free “Lite” version of this plugin will give you the power to send quick confirmation notifications to new subscribers. If you’re interested in SMS, but aren’t quite sure if it’s worth too much of an investment at this time, this is a good one to start with—especially if you have a blog, newsletter, membership, or some other subscription service they can sign up to. Pro extensions for this plugin will open you up to more possibilities for ecommerce, scheduling, and BuddyPress forums.
This is probably the one form of SMS marketing that most people are aware of as many e-retailers already make use of this. Although it doesn’t require much explanation, this plugin basically acts as a text messaging notification system for customers when they order something through your WooCommerce site.
Alright, so we’ve covered scheduling, ecommerce, and subscriptions. Now, let’s take a look at this marketing plugin specifically meant to work with SMS. Like with most automated marketing tools, this one empowers you to streamline your marketing efforts through bulk scheduling, automated messages, trigger actions, and more. This one also comes with built-in analytics so you can review the results of your SMS marketing campaigns to see how well they’re performing.
vCita isn’t actually a WordPress plugin, but I still think it’s worth including on this list since it’s an incredibly powerful business management tool that comes with SMS capabilities. This is the sort of thing that I think you as a WordPress developer might find valuable for your own business. With the “Business” plan, you can add scheduling, payment, and subscription functionality to your site and then send SMS text messages and even marketing campaigns to customers who opt in when they use those tools.
As I mentioned above, Twilio is the primary provider of SMS services for businesses aiming to integrate this capability into their WordPress sites. That said, they know what they’re talking about when it comes to SMS functionality and WordPress. So, if you find that the plugin options above just aren’t doing it for you and you’re feeling adventurous, why not build your own plugin?
Twilio has provided a number of guides on how to do this. There’s this one that shows you how to create an SMS plugin from-scratch and there’s this one that will give you the ability to automate SMS notifications to subscribers every time a new blog post publishes. Then, once you’re comfortable using PHP to build your own, you can get crazy and try your hand at something new.
As we move more and more into omni-channel marketing, it’s essential that our WordPress sites keep up. If you know that your target audience is using their smartphones to engage with your site, social media, email messages, and more, then SMS is likely a smart move for you right now. And if you should find that your visitors aren’t receptive to or just don’t need SMS integration, that’s fine, too. But you’ll never know unless you give it a shot.