A Complete Guide to SMS Short Codes

The removal of third-party cookies has made marketing much more difficult for ecommerce companies.

Without targeted ads, many marketers don’t know what to do.

But all is not lost. 

You must adapt and take advantage of emerging channels to reach and nurture customers. And SMS is a great channel if we do say so ourselves.

To give you a few reasons why:

SMS short codes are one of the main tools to send SMS marketing campaigns. So, of course, you need to understand them.

Here you’ll learn everything you need to know about SMS short codes and how to get the most out of them. I’ll also compare SMS short codes with other types of numbers businesses use to send text messages to customers.



SMS Short Codes: What You Need to Know

What Is an SMS Short Code?

An SMS short code is a five or six-digit number that a brand uses for SMS marketing campaigns. By contrast, a long code or toll-free number consists of 10 digits. 

SMS Short Code Example

Consumers must opt in to receive messages from a brand by sending a keyword to its short code number. These are often automated SMS messages and part of a marketing sequence.

One good thing about SMS short codes is they allow you to send messages quickly and at scale (approximately 100 messages per second). 

However, you have to lease a short code number, and it’s extremely expensive at $500 per month for a non-vanity short code and $1,000 per month for a vanity short code.

Types of SMS Short Code and Other Company Numbers

Dedicated Short Codes

Dedicated short codes are leased by your brand and your brand only. Multiple companies used to be able to use the same short code at a more affordable rate, and these were called shared short codes. But shared short codes have been phased out by phone providers, so they are no longer available.

Vanity vs. Non-Vanity Short Codes

A vanity short code is a specific number chosen by the brand. It may be a number that’s easier for consumers to remember. 

For instance, AT&T once used the number “567890” for a sweepstake campaign. 

Or a vanity short code may be related to the brand in some way. Disney once used a short code that spelled out the word Disney with the numbers on the keypad. So it would’ve been “347639.”

A non-vanity short code is simply a code that’s randomly assigned to the business when it applies for a short code. As mentioned above, random short codes are cheaper to lease.

Toll-Free and 10DLC Numbers

Toll-free numbers are the 1-800 numbers that brands sometimes use. 

SMS Short Code Example 2

You can use them to send SMS at a slightly faster rate than standard long codes. Long codes have a throughput of one message per second, while toll-free numbers have a throughput of around three messages per second.

However, the problem with toll-free numbers is they don’t support MMS, unlike 10DLC numbers.

A 10DLC number is a long code number that’s used for commercial purposes. When businesses use software to send text messages, the number is referred to as an A2P 10DLC number.

SMS Short Code Example 4

You must register to receive a 10DLC number. This provides you with a stable and secure number and also protects users from receiving spam messages they didn’t sign up for.

A2P 10 DLC numbers now have a higher throughput. They allow you to send up to 3,000 messages per day and have a 40x higher per second delivery speed than unregistered long codes and toll-free numbers.

Usually, you have to pay around $10 per month for a 10DLC number. However, some software companies, like Drip, provide a 10DLC number at no extra cost.

6 SMS Short Code Best Practices

1. Adhere to Short Code Compliance Rules

You must comply with any local or federal laws pertaining to SMS messaging, such as the rules under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). It’s illegal to send spam messages and you can be fined up to $1,500 if you fail to comply.

Not only that, spamming your subscribers is a bad idea. You want to create a good relationship with customers through communications. If they lose trust in your brand, they’ll no longer purchase from you.

2. Advertise Your Short Code Number

To be able to reap the benefits of SMS marketing, you need as many people to sign up for your SMS program as possible. Achieve this by promoting your short code in a strategic way.

First, you could run a giveaway that requires an SMS opt-in. Share this giveaway with your email list and/or social media followers. 

Chipotle, for instance, sent the following campaign out to students on its email list. Users had to text its short code to be in with a chance of winning a gift card.

Chipotle SMS Example

(Image Source)

Another option is to set up a VIP club where members receive special discounts, early access to new lines, and so on via text. 

Customers can sign up for Tommy Hilfiger’s loyalty program online or by texting the short code the company advertises in its stores. Members receive messages with exclusive discounts, as in this example:

SMS Short Code Example 5

3. Use Keywords to Track Campaigns

Use different keywords to track the source of SMS subscribers. This way, you’ll be able to measure how effective your campaigns are. I also recommend researching which channels are best for acquiring new subscribers. Lastly, remember to assess the ROI of your marketing efforts.

For instance, you may run campaigns on Twitter and Facebook and ask followers to send the words TWITTER or FACEBOOK respectively to your short code number. 

Here, for example, Starbucks uses the custom keyword “WOOHOO” for a particular marketing campaign:

SMS Short Code Example 3

4. Choose a Memorable Vanity Short Code

Though it may still happen, it doesn’t really make sense to use a short code that spells out a word these days. Unless your customers use an old-school Nokia 3310, they won’t have the chance to spell out a word with the keypad.

But, it is a good idea to choose a memorable vanity code if you have the budget for it. Say, for instance, a customer sees the number in your brick and mortar store. You want them to be able to remember it later and still be able to sign up if they don’t do so straight away.

If you have a particular vanity short code in mind, then you can head to the US Short C0de Directory website and use the search function to see if your short code is available.

US Short Code Directory

5. Use It to Send High-Volume, Time-Limited Messages

The main benefit of using a short code is the ability to send a ton of messages in a short space of time. This means you can use them strategically to send time-sensitive alerts or even time-limited offers.

Time-limited offers are effective as they use the idea of scarcity and urgency to encourage customers to make a purchase (before it’s too late). In this example, Domino’s Pizza emphasizes the urgency by starting the message with “ENDING SOON!”

SMS Short Code Example 6

6. Improve Customer Service

The customer experience is everything in ecommerce these days. A positive experience sets your business apart from the hundreds of other stores in the same category.

The good news is that SMS isn’t just for promoting your products. You can also use your short code to provide quick, useful customer support.

Alternative bank Card One Money, for instance, allows customers to check their account balance via text when they text the word BALANCE to the company’s short code. 

To give you another example, soft drinks company Britvic has its customers text the word BRITVIC and their zip code to its short code number to receive contact details for their local customer service rep. That’s a great example of personalized customer service.

SMS Short Code FAQs

How Do You Get an SMS Short Code Number?

You must apply to lease a short code from the US Short Code Administration. As part of the application process, you’ll need to share information on how you’re going to use the short code. For instance, if you’ll use the short code for customer care, marketing, etc.

Short Code Registry

You’ll also need to share what types of media you’ll be sending out to customers. 

When the administration approves your information, you can launch your short code. At this point, you’ll need to register the code with the different telephone carriers.

Do Short Codes Work In Other Countries?

Other countries do indeed use short codes. However, you have to apply and pay for a short code in each country separately. 

To create a consistent brand experience, you may wish to use the same short code in different locations. However, you may find that your short code is already taken in another country. Therefore, it may be a good idea to do your research and change your number to one that’s available in multiple countries.

Who Can Get an SMS Short Code?

Most businesses will have no trouble applying for and leasing a short code. However, there are some types of industries in which you may be denied or at least find it difficult to acquire a short code. These are companies in categories such as alcohol, tobacco, and similar that are deemed risky.

How Do Users Opt In and Out?

As you’ve seen, opting in usually involves customers sending a keyword to the short code number. In some cases, they may also register by entering their phone number online. When a user opts in, they consent to receive future messages from your brand.

By law, you must also have an option for users to opt out of receiving messages. This generally involves the user texting a specific keyword chosen by you, such as “UNSUBSCRIBE,” “STOP,” or “CANCEL.” You’ll be able to send a final automated response that confirms the subscription.

Short Code vs. Long Code Numbers: Which Should You Use?

There’s no doubting that SMS short codes are beneficial. They, undeniably, have the best throughput of all types of texting numbers.

That means, if you have a ton of SMS subscribers and need to send messages on a large scale (more than 3,000 a day), short codes are the right choice. This may be the case if you run a large ecommerce business, for instance.

However, 10 DLC numbers are ideal for SMBs that want to automate SMS marketing without paying through the nose for it. With a 10DLC number, you can still send one-off campaigns, alerts, two-factor authentication messages, automated responses, and use automated workflows.

What’s more, it only takes 48 hours to register a 10DLC number, compared to six to eight weeks for a short code. Hence, it’s the better choice if you want to avoid a lengthy application process and get started with SMS marketing right away.

10DLC numbers are also superior to unregistered long codes. This is because your messages won’t get blocked by the spam filters regular long numbers are subjected to when you try to send messages at scale.

And as for toll-free numbers, the lack of MMS is a problem. Images are key to SMS marketing. You can send appealing product images, eye-catching graphics to promote deals, images that convey your brand identity, and more with a 10DLC number.


Final Word

All in all, it’s a good idea to use a 10DLC number as a starting point if you want to set up an SMS marketing strategy. As your business and/or subscriber list grows, you may wish to consider other options.

Yet, with the advancements that telephone carriers are making in terms of delivery and throughput for long code numbers, who knows, you may be able to stick with a more affordable 10DLC number.

An illustration of a an envelope with a thumbs up.
An illustration of an envelope with an arrow.

Come for the automated marketing. Stay for the endless revenue growth.

Start a 14-day free trial, no credit card required.