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What’s the Scoop with the 160-character Limit?

June 10, 2015 8:00 pm by

Text message marketing can be an effective tool for engaging customers and sharing information, tips, and special offers. However, it comes with a limitation: 160 characters. This limit corresponds with the amount of text that can be included in a single message through most carriers and cell phones, including smartphones. As technology has improved, the character limit has remained, making many people wonder about its origins.

Character Limitation: A History

Text messaging has been around since the 1980s, although it became more popular as a form of communication in the late 1990s and early 2000s. One of the founders of text messaging, Friedhlem Hillebrand, came up with the magic number when he was playing with a typewriter and discovered that one line of text had approximately 160 characters, according to an article in the LA Times.

The typewriter influenced the character limitation of text messages.

At the time, basic mobile technology limited the amount of data that could be transmitted and received. When Hillebrand and others were looking for the standardized amount of text that could be transmitted and displayed, he found himself returning to this number. He believed 160 characters would allow enough room to convey a message while remaining small enough to transmit.

Why Has it Not Increased?

A limitation of 160 characters seems reasonable when taking into account early mobile technology of the 1980s and 1990s, but with today’s high-tech smartphones and increasing ability to send large amounts of data, it seems as though this number could increase. However, most wireless carriers still limit the amount of data in one message to 160 characters. The reason comes down to infrastructure.

Cell phone towers are still set up to only send a certain amount of data per text.

Most carriers still use a special channel that was specially made to transmit SMS messages. The infrastructure for wireless telecommunications, including the network of towers that send and receive the calls and messages, still has system hardware restrictions which impose limits to the size of SMS messages. Even phones that look as through they have sent and received longer messages have most likely had them broken down to smaller messages for the actual transmission, according to WiseGeek.

Why Is it Important to Remain Within the Limit?

Even with the changes in technology, you still need to respect the character limit when sending out messages to your customers. Although a significant number of wireless carriers now offer unlimited text messages per billing cycle, some customers may still have a limit on the number of messages they receive. You could end up costing your customers money by sending them messages with more than 160 characters.

Don’t be tempted to go over the 160 character limit.

Another reason to be conscious of the limit is that most marketing messages are 160 characters or less. This means that when your customers receive your text, if it is longer than 160 characters it may be broken down across multiple messages. Although some phones automatically self-correct this issue, multiple messages could lead to confusion and misunderstanding among some of your mobile subscribers.

Tips for Sending Short and Concise Messages

Although 160 characters seem like too little space to convey your message, it is adequate to share information. Some people overcome the limitations with special abbreviations and slang, but as a business, it’s good practice to avoid this type of speech. It can make your company seem unprofessional and may confuse some users.

Avoid text speak and abbreviations as a way to shorten your message.

Instead, you should stick to sending basic information in your text messages. If you want to share more information with your customers, consider sending a link to your website along with the message. It’s also important to remember to include your company name or signature when determining the length of a text.

Although the 160 character limit was initially identified due to technology and infrastructure limitations, it still remains intact today despite mobile technology advancing in leaps and bounds. Therefore, you need to keep this number in mind anytime you create a text message campaign for your business. If you are ready to get started with SMS marketing, try Group Texting for free today!

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