Premium SMS Billing Tutorial

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Written on Tuesday, October 05, 2010 by Giorgos Saslis

Seeing the interest from a lot of you in the various articles on SMS Marketing, and my Bulk SMS and Interactive SMS Marketing Tips, I thought it’d be interesting to present one of the most upcoming services of Premium SMS, that of Premium SMS Billing. I did a quick search online and am presenting to you the most interesting looking services on offer online, for those of you looking to add the monetization option to your websites. 

Premium SMS, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is the service of sending an SMS message, with a premium cost (tariffs vary), to an “SMS Channel”, (i.e. a pre-defined keyword on a specific range of short codes), so that you can invite your customers / users / members, etc. to “Text KEYWORD to 12345 to (e.g.) win… ”

Although SMS Marketing has been around for so long, (in fact it was the first form of ‘mobile marketing’ to appear on the scene) it’s certainly not going anywhere. Any and all predictions about the downhill trend SMS was expected to take after MMS arrived, have been disproven, and, what’s more, SMS Marketing (Text Message Marketing for U.S. folks) is growing!

Premium SMS services (or interactive SMS as I like to call it) have brought new potential, because they change the character of SMS marketing from the bulk SMS campaigns people often relate to SPAM, to the exact opposite. It gives people the power to decide which campaign to participate in, by providing an entirely opt-in model of operation: If you’re not interested, you don’t send a message. No hassle, no problem.

But, if you’re ever interested in running any interactive SMS campaign – not just Premium SMS Billing - here’s a few things you must know to understand the options being offered to you.

First of all, about acquiring short codes. Most important fact: they are country-specific. For example, 12345 in Greece is different to 12345 in India, 12345 in the U.K. and so on. This is because short codes are provided by each country’s mobile operators.

In addition, short codes are operator-specific. This means that you need to setup a contract with each network operator in order to receive SMS messages from their subscribers. (Well, not exactly. This used to be the case at the start of it all, but, fortunately, there’s now short code aggregators: Companies that go into contract with a lot of network operators so that you don’t have to). 

Finally, do note, that each short code is bound to a specific tariff so that when consumers send an SMS to that number they will always be aware of the premium they are being charged.

Different countries might also have different length short codes (usually 4 to 6 digits) but that’s not so important. The gist of it is that if you want your SMS Marketing campaign to extend beyond your country’s border, you need to go to a short code aggregator. You can, of course, attempt to connect to each of the network operators directly, but, take my word for it, it will cost you both time and money.

You then need to decide on the keyword(s) you’re going to use in your campaign. I’ve got a few relevant tips in my Interactive SMS Marketing Tutorial.

Finally, it all depends on the type of campaign or service you’re interested in running, at which point you’ll need some mobile marketing software / sms platform that processes your SMS messages, sends out the appropriate replies / notifications, etc. There are lots of different options out there as you can see..

Premium SMS Billing is a specific type of interactive SMS service that allows people (usually online users) to pay for content/services/etc. simply by texting to a short code, or replying to an incoming SMS message. Premium SMS Billing providers are both SMS & Short Code Aggregators as well as service providers. They offer a complete solution that’s easy to integrate into your website, so that you can quickly start making money.

A lot of online users are wary about giving out their credit card details, and so sometimes will look for alternate payment methods that your website might not offer. This means you lose customers. Paying with your mobile, via SMS, is a relatively new option that comes to fill this gap, and in my opinion, there certainly is a gap to fill.

Here’s the top Premium SMS Billing providers I came across. Disclaimer: The list is not 100% inclusive and it only contains the ones that came top at my searches and I had time to review:

http://www.boku.com/ - Boku provides a pretty simple and easy user experience for mobile payments, with access to 63 countries. To find out more about how a publisher gets access you need to provide them with your info, which I didn’t have time to do.  

http://www.zong.com/ - Zong operates in 38 countries worldwide with 100% carrier coverage in most countries and concentrates in online mobile payments. Somewhat limited coverage, though it seems easy and fast enough to incorporate into your website.

http://fortumo.com/ - Fortumo offers a mobile payments API for incorporating the service into your website, as well as in-app payments and access to 45 countries worldwide. Again, somewhat limited access but they do offer a range of SMS services, and an easy setup.

http://smscoin.net/ - SmsCoin offers a huge range of scripts (a very impressive 150+) for incorporating into your website, app or service. They also boast a substantial 40.000 online projects, and support for hundreds of mobile operators across 82 countries around the world. SmsCoin also offers a number of different services around Premium SMS Billing, which allows a wider coverage of audiences and businesses.

If anyone wishes to add their comments from their experience with a Premium SMS Billing provider, feel free in the comments below.


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