So…Your text messaging was flagged as SPAM?

The industry is shifting and the carriers are cracking down. Here's how not to be a SPAMMER.

Kathryn Collins | Carrier Ops Manager

Mar 14, 2022

SPAM has been a growing problem in the SMS industry. Everyday mobile phone users are sick and tired of receiving SPAM text messages. They’ve made their voices known to the carriers - and the carriers have had enough.

The carriers have been fighting tooth and and nail to cut down on SPAM messaging, which includes SPAM filters with advanced machine learning capabilities, as well as daily SPAM reports. Sometimes the filters can trigger a false SPAM block, but if the shoe fits and you're wearing it...

So let’s take a moment to define what “SPAM” means in the context of SMS Campaigns

Definition of SMS SPAM

SPAM may include (but is not limited to):

  • Unsolicited bulk commercial messages
  • "Phishing” messages intended to access private or confidential information via deception
  • Other forms of abusive, harmful, malicious, unlawful, or otherwise inappropriate messages
  • Messages that require an opt-in but did not obtain opt-in consent (or opt-in consent was revoked)
  • Any unwanted SMS messages

Notice that last point: SPAM can be as simple as “Unwanted Messages”.

Let that sink in for a moment! 

Even if you gathered written opt-in consent, if there ever comes a point in time where a recipient has had enough, the recipient can opt-out at any time by sending “STOP”. Often you will see that if a carrier receives a high amount of opt-out messages, your content may start being actively flagged as SPAM by default.

We will receive reports from our downstream providers if people are reporting your messages as SPAM. When we receive downstream SPAM reports, it is our duty to open an investigation into your traffic. 

We’ll open a ticket for you and will work with you to validate your current campaign. We’ll be taking steps to make sure your SMS/MMS content is compliant, and that your processes (including opt-ins and opt-outs) are up-to-date with the current requirements.

If we continue to see SPAM complaints on your SMS traffic, we may shut down your entire campaign. 

There is no appeal process for this - once a campaign is deactivated, we will not be able to allow the offending content on our platform. This is why it’s extremely important to us that you follow our messaging best practices to the best of your ability.

In order to appeal these active SPAM blocks, a downstream investigation must occur, so if this happens, have some message SIDs handy!

Best Practices To Keep Your SMS Campaigns Compliant and Active

Make sure you have Opt-In Consent

Opt-In Consent is one of the most important things to consider if your content is receiving SPAM reports. Opt-In Consent can help us prove to the carriers that the traffic was wanted, but when people start opting out, the carriers grow concerned.

If the carriers deem a certain opt-out ratio is met, they may begin to throttle your campaign, or block it altogether. The reasoning behind that is “if a consumer actually wants this message, why would they opt out?”.

Therefore, a high opt-out ratio means the message content is no longer wanted by the recipient, justifying the carriers’ choice to start throttling or blocking. If you want to avoid this issue altogether, it’s best that you continue reading!

Most A2P Campaign use cases require express written consent to satisfy opt-in requirements. If the content of a campaign is P2P in nature (see proxy services for inmates or apps that offer a proxy number for conversational messaging) implied consent is acceptable.

Here are some use cases that always require express written consent:

  • 2FA/One-Time Passwords

  • Account Notifications

  • Customer Care

  • Delivery Notifications

  • Fraud Alert Messaging

  • Educational

  • Marketing Messages

  • Polling and voting

  • Public Service Announcement

  • Security Alert

  • Political

  • Social

  • Sweepstakes

When it comes to opt-in consent, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • It needs to be clear what message recipients are subscribing to when they opt-in

  • Messages should only be sent after the end user has opted-in

  • Opt-in only applies to the individual campaign and can not be applied to other campaigns

  • Opt-in consent is non-transferable and non-assignable

  • Message Senders should not use opt-in lists that have been rented, sold, or shared to send messages

  • Message Senders should create and vet their own opt-in lists

  • Message Senders should retain and maintain all opt-in and opt-out requests in their records to ensure that future messages are not attempted (in the case of an opt-out request!) and consumer consent is honored to minimize SPAM. 

  • Message Senders should process telephone deactivation files regularly (e.g., daily) and remove any deactivated telephone numbers from any opt-in lists

Depending on the use case, opt-in consent can be obtained in the following ways:

  • Entering a telephone number through a website

  • Clicking a button on a mobile webpage

  • Sending a message from the Consumer’s mobile device that contains an advertising keyword

  • Initiating the text message exchange in which the Message Sender replies to the Consumer only with responsive information

  • Signing up at a point-of-sale (POS) or other Message Sender on-site location

  • Opting-in over the phone using interactive voice response (IVR) technology

Message Senders should also document opt-in consent by retaining the following data where applicable:

  • Timestamp of consent acquisition

  • Consent acquisition medium (e.g., cell-submit form, physical sign-up form, SMS keyword, etc.)

  • Capture of experience (e.g., language and action) used to secure consent

  • Specific campaign for which the opt-in was provided

  • IP address used to grant consent

  • Consumer phone number for which consent to receive messaging was granted

  • Identity of the individual who consented (name of the individual or other identifier (e.g., online user name, session ID, etc.))

Focus on Maintaining High Content Quality

Ideally, you want to include identifying information in the first message you send to your newly opted-in recipients! You also want to include opt-out language. 

An example of the picture perfect message format is as follows:

[Brand Name] [Message] [Opt-out Language]

For example, here is how a message would look from a SignalWire test campaign!

[SignalWire] This is a test message from SignalWire! Reply STOP to Opt Out.

A lack of identifying information may confuse message recipients and make them think they’re getting messages that they don’t want. This can be easily avoided with simple messaging branding/watermarks.

You also want to avoid typos, poor grammar, and limit unnecessary punctuation or emojis. There’s a saying out there - “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…” if your content is coming from a business and looks messy or unprofessional, the recipients will likely see your messages as SPAM and treat them accordingly.

Links can be an issue as well - especially if they don’t lead back to a legitimate website that includes branding, contact information, a privacy policy and terms and conditions pages. 

Our carriers do not like seeing public URL shorteners being used. Avoid at all costs!

Clarify Your Messaging Frequency Upfront + Don't Overdo it.

When message recipients opt-in, they need to be informed how frequently they will receive messages! Is this a daily message, weekly message, or monthly message? Does something specific trigger a message?

Most recipients don’t like receiving messages every single day. The carriers actually recommend 4 or less per month, especially for marketing or political use cases.

Final Words

If you’re seeing an increasing number of opt-outs each time you send a message blast, it's probably time to reevaluate how often you’re sending blasts out, the quality standards of your content, and the degree to which your opt-in processes are up-to-date.