What Are Text or SMS Short Codes?

What Are Text or SMS Short Codes?

Are you curious about how to use text or SMS short codes for text marketing campaigns? Find out what your business needs to know about short codes.

What Is a Short Code?

A short code is an abbreviated phone number that is 5 or 6 digits in length. Short codes are commonly used to send SMS and MMS messages with product discounts, passwords, text-to-win sweepstakes and more. These numbers are “short” by definition as they are designed to be easily remembered when sending a text message.

What Are Short Codes Used For?

Short codes are designed for instances when a business or organization needs to send or receive a high volume of text messages in a short amount of time. Short code numbers are generally pre-approved by wireless carriers to send more messages than a long code phone number would be able to in a similar period.

Short codes are a great SMS marketing tool for sending text blasts or mass text messaging campaigns. Other common uses include:

  • Sending product discounts to subscribers
  • Sharing one-time passwords or reset linkings
  • Allowing viewers to vote on TV programs with their phones
  • Hosting Text to Win sweepstakes or giveaways
  • Collecting feedback via a Text to Vote Survey

Take a quick scroll through your messages. Have you received any promotional SMS messages from 5 or 6-digit numbers? There are all short codes! With the rise of smartphones in particular, text or SMS short codes have become more and more popular.

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How To Subscribe to Text Short Codes

To subscribe to a short code message or distribution list, you have to text in an SMS keyword, or sign-up using a web form.

Think of a keyword as the secret word you need when you knock on a door. Let’s take a look at an example:

Example of an SMS short number on a sign

In this case, the keyword is “Burger” and the short code is “555888.” When someone texts the keyword to the short code, it’s routed through SMS marketing software. The software validates the code and responds with your specific offer or confirmation message.

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

There is one exception to this rule. If your company wants to send a transactional message, they don’t need consent first. In other words, there’s no need for a keyword. Transactional messages include:

  • Order confirmations with tracking numbers
  • Password reset requests
  • Two-factor authentication

There’s a fine line between transactional and promotional messages. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and get consent before sending messages.

How to Unsubscribe from Short Codes

If you no longer want to receive communications from an SMS short code, you can stop all future messages by replying with the word STOP. The sender is then obligated to cease all communications with you, just as a newsletter opt-out removes you from receiving any email communications that are unwanted.

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

What Are Shared Short Codes?

The cost of an SMS short code service begins at a minimum of $1,000 per month plus a one-time set-up fee. This price is out-of-reach for many brands. Therefore, some short codes are shared for a cost savings benefit.

For example, it is possible that a single number represents multiple entities, such as a local office supply store and another local pet shop. This is why the opt-in keyword is so important, as it informs the SMS marketing software provider which entity the user is subscribing to. Below you’ll see an example of a shared short code—555888.

Text short code advertised on a sign

Recent Changes to Shared Short Codes

In October of 2018, AT&T announced its decision to discontinue most shared short codes. While they have not announced an exact timeline, we expect other carriers to follow suit.

That’s why we encourage customers to use toll-free numbers instead. Toll-free numbers provide all the same benefits, but they belong to you and you only. Every new SimpleTexting account comes with a dedicated toll-free number.

[Read: How to Pick the Right Number for Your SMS Marketing Efforts]

That said, if you still want to use a shared short code, we have good news! It’s still possible. AT&T and other carriers will continue to allow shared short codes, as long as all the businesses and organizations that use them are in one industry, sending similar types of messages. At SimpleTexting, we have several short codes approved for use by specific industries:

  • Churches can use 94090 to send messages such as prayer requests and event reminders.
  • Real estate companies and independent agents can use 41404 for lead generation, open house check-in, follow-up, and more.
  • E-commerce and retail stores can use 900900 to alert customers of new promotions, send shipping updates, and other marketing purposes.
  • Businesses in the service industry, such as doctors or accountants, can use 47177 to send appointment reminders and more.
  • Nonprofits can use 56525 to send reminders to volunteers, keep donors up-to-date, and communicate with staff.
  • Restaurants can use 35344 to send info about special offers and promotions.

You can start sending mass texts, even without a short code. Sign up for a 14-day free trial and we’ll set you up with a toll-free number that has all the same capabilities as a short code.

How To Get a Short Code

If you’d like to use a shared short code, start a conversation with our onboarding team by clicking the blue chat bubble in the corner of your screen. Our team will ask you a few questions about your use case and determine if we have an appropriate short code for you!

We can also help you lease a dedicated short code. Yes—in the wireless communications industry, text short codes are leased, not sold. What you’re paying for is the exclusive right to use the number. All short codes take 6-8 weeks to be approved by the governing body and the various telecom carriers. 

Two types of dedicated short codes are available: a vanity short code with a customized number and a random short code with a predetermined number that you cannot request or change. A company like SimpleTexting can help you select the right type of short code for your specific use case. 

Vanity Short Codes
This is a number that you’ve chosen (if available). For example, a dance studio may choose the code 32623 which spells out DANCE.

Random Short Codes
Random short codes are exactly the same as vanity codes. The only difference is that the number is randomly generated, and costs half as much to lease.

Examples of Companies Who Use Short Codes

Businesses small and large use short codes to reach their customers. Here are a few short codes you may have come across:

  • When Airbnb sends reservation reminders, they use the short code 247262.
  • If you choose to receive suspicious activity text alerts from your bank, they likely send them via a short code. For example, Wells Fargo’s is 93733.
  • 40404 is the short code you can use to communicate with Twitter. You must have a Twitter account and ensure it’s associated with your phone number.
  • If you are on a public computer, want to log in to Facebook, and don’t want to type your password on a shared machine, you can request a temporary password by texting “otp” to 32665. You’ll receive an 8-character passcode that is only valid for the next 20 minutes.
  • SimpleTexting has a vanity short code that is easy to remember—555888. This is used by a variety of customers. Below is just one example.

Keyword and short code example

Short Codes and Geography

Short codes are not universal to every country. For example, text short codes acquired in the U.S. need to be acquired separately of short codes in Canada. The CSCA (Common Short Code Administration) is the national body that governs short codes in the United States. In Canada, this is the CWTA (Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association). If you’re located outside of either of these countries, you will be working with another governing body.

Who Can Use Dedicated Short Codes?

Dedicated short codes work like a charm and help your business scale. They’re the perfect solution if you want to keep in close contact with your growing customer base.

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