Using short links for SMS communications—for marketing messages or service notifications—has become an increasingly popular way for brands to connect with their customers. 

The data is clear: more people read text messages than most any other form of communication from brands. In fact, 98% of messages sent via SMS are opened and 90% of them get read within three minutes of being sent. That’s a rate nearly 5X higher than email. 

For most businesses, the goal is not only to get your message seen but to inspire the audience to take action. In order to inspire engagement with your short links sent via SMS, there are a few tricks you need to master.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

But first, let’s understand what short links for SMS actually are.


Short links for SMS are URLs that have been shortened using a link shortening service (e.g., Bitly) to be used in SMS communications. They’re sometimes referred to as “mobile links” and “mobile tracking links.”

When businesses use short links for SMS, they typically generate a high volume (hundreds, thousands or even millions) of unique links. Using unique links in every SMS communication enables you to track user engagement metrics, like who has clicked on your message and which channel or initiative is the source of your conversions.

Some links used for SMS initiatives are specifically designed to be engaged with on a mobile device. These are called mobile deep links and they direct mobile users who click on your short links to your content within your app, as opposed to a web browser, or point them to the app store to download it. To that end, mobile deep links can create a smoother mobile experience for your brand’s audience. Just like other long links, mobile deep links are often shortened to be shared via SMS.


Brand impression

Some link shorteners enable users to attach a custom domain to their account. This gives them the ability to generate branded links, like the link in the example below. 

As you can see, instead of the default domain (in this case, bit.ly), your links become more brand-recognizable. Businesses use custom domains to create branded links all the time. For example, ESPN uses es.pn, Nike uses swoo.sh and New York Times uses nyti.ms. One of the benefits of using branded links is growing your brand. Any time someone sees your links, you collect a brand impression.

Deliverability 

For SMS communications, branded links may help improve your deliverability since some SMS providers block SMS notifications that use generic short links (i.e. unbranded links).

Inspire action

Branded links also let your audience know that you’re pointing them to your site or another trusted site. It’s an easy way to show your audience, and SMS provider, that your brand is behind the message and that they can trust the link in the SMS.

Some URL shortening services also allow you to replace the random letters and numbers that appear at the back-half of your short link with a custom call to action.

Custom branded short links for SMS

Showing your audience where you’re sending them gives them more assurance that they’re clicking through to the right place. This, combined with using a custom domain, enables you to share fully customized links in your SMS communications. 

Character count

When it comes to SMS communications, you only have 160 characters to work with for a single message, so brevity is key. This is one of the most important reasons businesses use short links for SMS. Long links can get split into two separate SMS messages, breaking the link and making it impossible for your recipient to take action.

Optimized mobile experience

You can also point mobile users to a specific location in your app, rather than a web browser using mobile deep links. If someone hasn’t installed your app, they’ll be prompted to download it or led to the mobile web experience. Mobile deep links are often used to drive important app metrics, like app installs.

More data points

Depending on your URL shortener, you can glean additional data points using short links. For Bitly, this includes organic share metrics, mobile deep link reporting, near-real time click information, as well as device-type and city-level data. Having access to this additional data on top of SMS open rates can help you better understand how your SMS initiatives are performing and how your audience is engaging.



How to get started with your SMS program

Getting started with SMS communications, whether for marketing messages or service notifications, requires you to have the right tools and services. The process of getting started will differ depending on the ones you choose. Below is a sample summary of the steps you’d have to take to get started.

1 – Build your subscriber list and get permission

If you’re using SMS for marketing communications, you’ll want to build a solid subscriber list. There are many ways to do this. If you need inspiration you can check out this post. Keep in mind that your subscribers need to have opted into receiving your messages over SMS before you send them anything.

2 – Select an SMS provider

There are lots of SMS providers you can work with to send out communications over text. (Many of our customers use Salesforce MobileConnect or Twilio.) You should select one within your price range that provides the features and services needed to support your SMS efforts.

Most of our customers have a technical lead involved in the process of selecting an SMS provider, as they can speak to their business’s needs from a technical standpoint. Make sure this person knows how you’re planning to use SMS, your audience, goals and other important information.

An important factor to consider is the provider’s network coverage. Are they compatible with major cell phone carriers in the areas you plan to send texts to? It’s important to know for sure before committing to a provider. Other things that may be important to you is selecting a provider that has quality customer support, or that integrates with tools you’re already using, such as your link shortener.  

3 – Know the text message laws and regulations

You must also comply with text message laws set by federal and industry regulators (including FCC, FTC, TCPA, etc.), mobile carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) and your messaging provider (e.g., Salesforce MobileConnect or Twilio). If you’re new to business SMS communications, making sense of all of the rules and regulations can feel overwhelming, but it’s necessary to learn to ensure you’re in compliance. Your SMS provider will likely help you out here, but at the end of the day, your business is ultimately responsible for ensuring it’s playing by the rules.  

4 – Select a URL shortening service 

Like your SMS provider, you’ll want to choose a link shortening service that meets all of your requirements as far as features and functionality. Because each of the links in your messages will point recipients to an important destination (e.g., an appointment scheduling page), finding a trustworthy service is vital.

Some of the things you should consider include the service’s record of reliability, security protocols, API speed and support services. Note that you should also be sure to choose a service that can seamlessly integrate with your SMS provider. If you’re curious about Bitly’s uptime record, link management security and advanced link management features—such as redirects and metrics—click here.

5 – Follow your provider’s steps to send SMS

This process will likely require the support of a developer or engineer, so be sure to communicate with whomever on your team will be helping with the technical setup. You may also want to work closely alongside your link shortening service. They should be able to help ensure you’re integrated with your SMS provider’s platform correctly and are able to reliably generate the volume of short links you need.


The process of setting up your custom domain will look different depending on the link shortening service and domain provider you use. Typically, you’ll need to change your DNS records to point to your link shortening service. 

For Bitly users, this process is pretty simple. 

First, make sure you’re an account admin. This means you have permission to add a custom domain. 

1 – From the Bitly Dashboard, click the profile menu in the upper right hand corner 

2 – Select “Organizational Settings”

3 – Click “Custom Domains”

4 – Select “Add Custom Domain”

How to Add a Custom Domain in Bitly to create branded short links for SMS: Step 4

These next few steps require you to first choose a custom domain for your Bitly account. You have a couple of options. You can select and purchase a custom domain from a domain provider (many Bitly customers use GoDaddy) that’s fewer than 32 characters. Alternatively, Bitly comps you one free custom domain up to $30 USD. 

If you’re using a domain that you purchased from a domain provider, follow these next steps. (If you’re using a free custom domain from Bitly, skip ahead to Step 8.):

5 – Log into your domain provider.

6 – Configure your DNS record in your domain provider’s settings:


RECORD TYPE HOSTNAME VALUE
A @ 67.199.248.12
A @ 67.199.248.13

If you’re using a subdomain, set a CNAME record type, too.

RECORD TYPE HOSTNAME VALUE
CNAME @ cname.bitly.com

Below is an example setup from GoDaddy’s DNS Management. 

How to Add a Custom Domain in Bitly: Step 6

7 – In Bitly, click “Next”

8 – Enter your custom domain. 

How to Add a Custom Domain in Bitly to create branded short links for SMS: Step 8

9 – Click “Next”

10 – Click “Track Domain Status”

How to Add a Custom Domain in Bitly to create branded short links for SMS: Step 10

You can generate branded links using your custom domain once the domain has been verified. Visit our Help Center for more support setting up your custom domain in Bitly.


1 – Hustle: measuring the ROI of their SMS campaigns

Hustle empowers organizations to scale their text messaging communications. It integrated its link shortening service, Bitly, with its own platform to help its clients measure ROI on their SMS communications. Using Bitly’s analytics tools, the platform provides its clients: 

  • The ability to create and share branded short links 
  • Conversion data so they can measure the ROI and impact of their SMS campaigns

Learn more about how Hustle uses Bitly to prove ROI on SMS.

2 – Hermes Parcelnet: creating millions of unique links

Hermes Parcelnet is the second largest package delivery service in the United Kingdom. It uses the API of its link shortening service, Bitly, to send unique SMS messages to customers at scale. In fact, Hermes has generated and shared millions of short links to keep customers informed on the status of their package delivery. Using Bitly, Hermes has been able to: 

  • Scale up its short link generation
  • Deliver more informative, branded messages

Find out how Hermes used Bitly to transform its SMS communications

3 – Specialized: building brand awareness 

Specialized, a globally-recognized bike manufacturer, sells helmets with the technology to automatically alert a rider’s emergency contact when the equipment senses a potential crash. They partnered with their links shortening service, Bitly, to generate the short links used for this technology. With Bitly, Specialized:

  • Builds their brand with every text using the custom domain “go-ri.de”
  • Generates trusted short links that enable clear and concise SMS notifications

Read more about how Specialized uses the Bitly API to send life-saving SMS alerts.

Other examples include:

  • Sending follow up messages and appointment reminders
  • Facilitating contactless interactions
  • Texting receipts and order confirmations
  • Re-engaging customers that abandon their carts
  • Promoting exclusive offers and sales
  • Sending customer surveys
  • Sharing terms of service and policy information
  • Bulk texting students and parents (education)


More resources

Use the links below to learn more about how to use Bitly to create short links for SMS.

Popular articles

Visit Bitly’s developer site for API 4.0 documentation, best practices, code samples, tutorials, and quickstarts for common use cases, and more.


Start creating powerful short links

If you’re ready to start using Bitly for your SMS initiatives, visit our website. We have a plan to suit every business and use case.

Looking for a custom solution? Contact our sales team.

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