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What Are Text or SMS Short Codes?

Curious about how to use text or SMS short codes for text marketing campaigns? Here’s what you need to know about short codes.

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Local and toll-free and short codes, oh my…

You have a lot of options when it comes to texting your customers. 

Which is great news ー and also pretty confusing. To start with, which type of number should you pick? 

For some businesses, SMS short codes are the answer. They’re a common texting tool, so much so that we bet you’ve gotten a text from a short code in the last six months. 

They’re convenient, versatile, and best of all, short. 

We’ll give you all the most important details on the world of short codes, including how they’re used, whether they’re right for you, and how you can get set up with one of your own.

What Is an SMS Short Code?

An SMS short code is a five or six-digit number used for sending and receiving text messages. These numbers are used by businesses and organizations to communicate with customers and members through text messaging.

Customers send a text message to the short code with a keyword or command, and the organization sends automated or personalized responses back.

What Are Short Codes Used For?

Short codes are a great SMS marketing tool for sending text blasts or mass text messaging campaigns, but they can also do so much more. Other common uses include:

  • Sending discounts or deals to contacts
  • Sharing one-time passwords or reset links
  • Allowing viewers to vote on TV show results with their phones
  • Hosting Text to Win sweepstakes or giveaways
  • Collecting feedback via a Text to Vote Survey

Scrolling through your texts, have you received promotional SMS messages from 5- or 6-digit numbers? There’s a good chance that those texts are from short codes! 

The biggest draw for short codes is that they’re easier to remember and enter into a text message than a 10-digit number, so you can gather more contacts from your campaigns.

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How To Get a Short Code

Dedicated short codes are leased, not sold. You’re paying for the exclusive right to use the number. 

As far as the timeline to get started goes, dedicated short codes take 6-8 weeks to be approved by the governing body and various telecom carriers. 

If you decide to lease a short code, you can choose between two types of short codes: vanity short codes that you can customize and random short codes that you can’t. Which one you choose depends on your business’ needs.

Vanity Short Codes

This is a number that you choose for its specific look (as long as it’s available). For example, a dance studio may choose the code 32623, which spells out DANCE.

These short codes start at $1,500/month.

Random Short Codes

Random short codes are the same as vanity codes, except that the number is randomly generated and costs less to lease. These start at $1,000/month.

Random or vanity, we have years of experience provisioning short codes and can help make the process as smooth as possible. 

From completing your service approval form to testing your short code, we’re here for you every step of the way.

How To Sign Up For Short Code Texts

Signing up for messages from a short code is easy ー all your customers need to do is text you the keyword you give them or complete a web form.

Let’s take a look at an example with a keyword:

SMS short code advertising

In this case, the keyword is “Burger” and the short code is “711711.” 

When you set up a keyword for your business, contacts who text in the word will automatically receive your confirmation message.

Today 1:25 PM
BURGER
Thank you for signing up for weekly discounts from Burger Bistro! Show this text to your server for a free side of fries. 🍟

How To Unsubscribe From Short Code Messages

If your contacts no longer want to get texts from an SMS short code, they can stop receiving messages by replying with the word STOP. 

The sender will then have to stop texting them, just like when you unsubscribe from emails.

Today 1:25 PM
STOP
You have been unsubscribed from keyword BURGER.

Short Code Compliance

We talk a lot about keeping your texts TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) compliant. Since short codes are governed by a different set of rules, there are a few specific things you need to know about short code compliance in addition to the usual TCPA regulations.

Short codes are governed by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), and they manage the Short Code Registry, which is the database of all registered and available short codes. They’re also the agency that sets the rules for short code use.

That all might sound pretty intimidating, but there’s good news: The CTIA has a handy dandy guide to help you navigate the do’s and dont’s of short codes. That’s the CTIA Short Code Monitoring Handbook.

In this handbook, you’ll find everything you need to know about how to responsibly and legally text on a short code. Highlights include:

  • Make sure the opt-in method you use (like a keyword or web form) clearly states how many messages your customers can expect to receive, how to opt out of messages, your brand name, how to get help, and that they may incur data or messaging charges.
  • You have to honor contact opt-outs.
  • A confirmation message must be sent to contacts who opt in.

What Does a Short Code Cost?

As mentioned, leasing a dedicated SMS short code starts at $1,000 per month (billed annually). Beyond that initial cost, you’ll have a one-time setup fee of $2,500 with both vanity and random short codes.

Basically, you’re paying for the exclusive right to use your specific short code to send and receive texts.

Another example of SMS short code marketing

Are There SMS Short Code Alternatives?

Short answer: yes.

Local numbers and toll-free numbers provide many of the same benefits as short codes. You can use them to send mass messages and have two-way conversations (just remember to have your local number registered or your toll-free number verified).

With one of those number types, you can start sending mass texts even if you don’t choose a short code. Whatever you decide, we’ll help you get set up with a number that has all the capabilities you need.

Examples of Companies That Use Short Codes

Businesses of all sizes and industries use short codes to reach their customers. Here are a few real-world examples you may have come across:

  • Airbnb sends reservation reminders with the short code 247262.
  • If you get suspicious activity text alerts from your bank, they often send them with a short codeーWells Fargo uses 93733.
  • 40404 is the short code you use to communicate with Twitter. You must have a Twitter account with your phone number linked.
Example of companies using SMS short codes

Short Codes and Geography

Short codes are not universal to every country. For example, text short codes acquired in the U.S. have a separate acquisition process from short codes in Canada. 

The CSCA (Common Short Code Administration) governs short codes in the United States. In Canada, it’s the CWTA (Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association). 

If you’re located outside either of these countries, you’ll work with another organization.

Who Can Use Dedicated Short Codes?

Dedicated short codes work best for businesses that want to keep in close contact with their customers as they scale. 

Check out some of the industries that use them:

Accountants & Tax FirmsDoctors & Dental OfficesE-commerce CompaniesEntertainment Venues
NonprofitsPolitical CampaignsReal EstateReligious Organizations
RestaurantsRetailSchoolsSpas & Salons

The Wrap on SMS Short Codes

Short codes have a lot of attractive potential for businesses. 

They’re easy to remember and can be customized for your brand. You can use them for large campaigns or individual conversations, and they are ideal for keyword setup.

Getting started with a short code might initially seem more complicated than the other number types you could choose from. 

Don’t worry, though. The SimpleTexting platform, along with our support team, makes the whole process smooth and easy. 

Step oneーgive SimpleTexting a free 14-day test drive.

Alfredo Salked
Alfredo Salked

Alfredo leads the marketing team at SimpleTexting. In addition to writing about SMS, he also talks about it—literally. Our how-to videos are narrated by him.

More Posts from Alfredo Salked
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