Affiliate Marketing & Programs

SMS Marketing For Affiliates: Guidelines for Success


Everyone has a mobile phone it seems.  And that mobile device can be a gateway to immense profits for an affiliate if they know how to use SMS messaging.

As an affiliate you have heard all the hype about mobile.  I know firsthand what that hype looks like.  As the VP Business Development for OfferMobi, I witnessed one of the most meteoric growth spurts in affiliate marketing’s brief history.  In less than a year, OfferMobi went from unknown to rock star status by amassing over 10,000 affiliates, producing nearly 1 billion mobile ad impressions representing over 3 million clicks a month.

It seemed that every affiliate jumped into mobile marketing headlong with wallets unleashed and willing to pay to learn how the game is played.  And most paid dearly enough to find out that mobile was not their niche.  I watched as nearly all of the affiliates lost money when they tried to make mobile PPC ads work for them.

In 1997, online CPM ad rates were artificially high at around $65 to $75.  Much of this was due to the newness of the medium and the baseless predictions of the advertising community that online was the new savior.  Unfortunately, mobile ads are going through this phase of growth too.  Google’s purchase of AdMob has given them a virtual monopoly on mobile ads in search, as Google owns the majority of searches done on a mobile phone. By some estimates it is as high as 97% (Chitika Ad Network Study).

AdMob’s CPM rates are too rich for most affiliate marketers, the same as online CPM ads were out of reach for most affiliates back in 1997.  Google’s mobile dominance allows them to keep rates artificially high because there is a lack of competition.  There are many in-game ad networks that are also available to affiliates, but making the metrics work can be difficult at best.  The problem is, ads cost too much in relation to how much an affiliate can make from running a campaign.

So as an affiliate how can you find your niche in the mobile landscape?

Answer: SMS.  Short Message Service.  Text Messages.

Smart marketers are using SMS messaging to connect to their audiences in ways that Don Draper could only have imagined with the aid of some medicinal herb and a fifth of scotch.  The ability to connect on a one on one basis and be able to interact with consumers dynamically is the true fulfillment of David Ogilvy’s “market to an audience of one” philosophy.  No other medium, allows you such intimate connectivity with your audience.

And there’s the rub. The phone, and more specifically, sending text messages to it, is more of a science than an art. A science in that measurement of your audience’s propensity to use their phone and respond to messages needs to be established for any successful SMS campaign.  For affiliates, the game is not much different than what the best super-affiliates already know:

- Build a list

-Ask the list what they want

- Deliver what they asked you for

Building an SMS list is not much different than building an email list or an address list if you do direct marketing.  The key with any list building campaign is in the collection process.  As with email, a consumer must confirm that they want to receive messages.  This is done when you collect their phone number.  The disclosure that their mobile phone number will be used to send text messages must be reasonably clear and conspicuous and within close proximity to the “Submit” button.

In addition, it is also a best practice to send each list member a Confirmation Text Message that alerts them that they have subscribed to the list and that they:

A. Will be receiving messages to their phones periodically

B. They can opt out at any time by simply texting the word STOP in reply to a message

Of course there is also the matter of connectivity to the subscriber.  In one example, an affiliate marketer is revealing his/her own identity and is asking the subscriber for the right to continue the conversation through their mobile device, specifically text messages. The subscriber feels “connected” to the marketer because they feel that they “know” the person.  This is a connected list and needs to be treated much differently than an unconnected list.

An “unconnected” list is one in which the affiliate collects email addresses on a squeeze page and has little or no personal connection with the end user.  From an SMS perspective, this is a much more dangerous list to market to.  Here’s why.

The connected list expects to receive information from you, and if you deliver that information, every once in awhile alerting them to a new product or service (through an affiliate link sent via SMS message) is acceptable as long as it is on topic.  Say for example a mommy coupon site that sends messages alerting mom’s on the list to special diaper coupons or discounted baby pictures.  Or if you are an affiliate running a site devoted to gardening supplies, you can send tips and also product review links via SMS.  The key to this is to stay on topic.

The unconnected list is much harder to gauge how well as SMS campaign might perform. Typically, a squeeze page is used for a biz opp or diet offer.  “Give us your email and phone and we’ll show you a great new offer” is normally the pitch used on these pages.  Most, 98% of users will not buy, and therefore their signing up to receive SMS messages was just part of giving up a little in anticipation of some groundbreaking product that will change their lives forever.

Once they get past the squeeze page and decline to buy, they more than likely have forgotten about the consent they gave you.  Sending them a Confirmation Text Message will more than likely have a very high number of unsubscribers and could possibly lead to the carrier shutting down your account for excessive complaints.  In addition, there may also be legal ramifications that you may want to consider, as the FCC recently amended its Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) regulations regarding the use of text messages.  The best rule of thumb for sending to an unconnected list is to never send more than three messages over time to any one subscriber’s mobile number.  Then discard the number and never use it again.

To get the real legal story, I consulted Richard B. Newman an Internet Attorney and Marketing and Communications Lawyer specializing in Internet & mobile marketing law, as well as regulatory compliance, with the firm of Hinch Newman LLP.  Mr. Newman was very candid with me regarding SMS message marketing: do it with extreme caution.


Here are a few other questions that I posed for Mr. Newman.

Me: Is SMS a viable channel for affiliates to market through and why?

Newman: SMS is now much more than a “cutting-edge” and emerging platform.  It offers powerful and innovative types of content and provides an avenue to expand revenue growth and customer acquisition by generating increasing program traffic.  Successful lead generation via mobile marketing requires deliberate planning.  However, technology is truly ahead of the law and because of the inherently intrusive nature of mobile marketing, regulators are actively policing the mobile marketing channel.  The rules pertaining to soliciting customers via text messaging are evolving and a fully-opted in list is a pre-requisite for maintaining regulatory compliance.

Me: How should affiliates go about collecting mobile numbers and what should they be telling their list members regarding their sending SMS messages?

Newman: Regulatory compliance and mobile marketing best practices require great attention to detail, perhaps more so than other marketing mediums.  It is really a matter of consumer confidence.  If consumers anticipate a mobile marketing message and believe that they will be sent relevant and engaging mobile communications, obtaining mobile numbers and opting-in consumers will be much easier, as will increasing the ROI of campaigns.  Some basic methods to properly build a list include directing email marketing campaign subscribers into SMS campaigns.  Be sure to utilize proper fields and checkboxes on web forms.  Explain the benefits of the special offers that consumers will receive and how often they will be receiving messages.  Full disclosure is key.  Avoid obtaining data under false pretenses.  Double opting-in recipients by sending a follow-up message to confirm a subscription will assist with keeping lists clean.  Always provide recipients with a clear and unambiguous method for opting-out.  Be sure to consult with an Internet Law Attorney who has experience representing online and mobile marketers in connection with federal and state regulatory inquiries, investigations and actions.

Me: What laws or regulations are in place that can impact an affiliates marketing to their list?
Newman: Clearly, state and federal regulatory authorities are becoming increasingly more vigilant with regard to non-sellers in the advertising stream.  Mobile marketers must focus intently upon regulatory compliance within the mobile landscape.  There are various statutes and regulations that apply to mobile marketing, including the CAN-SPAM Act, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and FCC Rules implementing the TCPA, the FTC Act, and the Telemarketing Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act and implementing regulations, including the Telemarketing Sales Rule and Do-Not-Call List.  The Lanham Act and state deceptive trade practices acts also apply to mobile marketing.

A text message is a “call” under the TCPA.  The CAN-SPAM Act prohibits sending commercial electronic email messages to wireless devices unless the recipient has provided express authorization to receive such messages from the sender.  A message is commercial if its primary purpose is to advertise or promote a commercial product or service.  The FTC Act and state deceptive trade practice statutes prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.  Basic principles of consumer protection law apply, including clear and conspicuous disclosures.

The FCC has recently imposed clearer requirements for how a business must obtain a consumer’s consent before it may make a telemarketing call or send a telemarketing text message.  The new rules, in part, require that a consumer first give  express written consent to receive such calls or messages, on paper or through electronic means, including website forms, a telephone keypress, or a recording of verbal consent.

SMS marketing has its benefits.  Low cost, high interactivity with consumers and high potential profits.  But it can also come with stiff penalties – fines of up to $200 per message in some cases.  As an affiliate, you need to have a plan if you are going to employ sms marketing to your advantage.  Connecting with your subscribers is top priority, as nothing annoys people more than spam text messages to their phone, and nothing upsets an advertiser more than to be linked to a lawsuit because some affiliate overstepped the bounds.

If you are promoting an offer via text messages make sure that you work with the advertiser or network that represents the advertiser.  Ask for the sms suppression list for the offer.  Ask for ad copy that the advertiser approves of.  Make sure they can opt out of every message sent to them.  And most importantly, don’t forget why they signed up to your list in the first place.  Keep your messages relevant and to the point.  When done correctly, your sms list can be a continual source of revenue.  Do it wrong, and you’ll wish mobile phones were never invented.

Jim Lillig is currently the EVP for Wheaten & Wheaten, a digital ad agency in Chicago.  Wheaten owns two CPA networks, and  He has been involved in digital media since 1996, and has been at the forefront of performance marketing.  Prior to Wheaten, Jim served as the VP of Business Development for both Offervault and Offermobi concurrently, where he honed his mobile marketing strategies by working with mobile advertisers to attract affiliates to their offers.  You can learn more about Jim at or look him up on LinkedIn.
©   2012    All Rights Reserved.


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