What Are Text or SMS Short Codes?

Published on September 14, 2015

SMS short codes are abbreviated phone numbers (5-6 digits) that businesses use to opt in consumers to SMS marketing. Short codes are commonly used for product discounts, TV program voting, and charitable donations. These text codes are “short” by definition as they are meant to be easy to remember.

Short codes are a great SMS marketing tool, but they’re also used for awareness. If you’ve been using any type of device in the last few years, chances are, you’re quite familiar with those five or six digit numbers you may receive promotional SMS messages from. With the rise of smartphones in particular, text or SMS short codes have become more and more popular as businesses embrace the technologies that bring access to users’ fingertips easily and painlessly.

"Short codes are short phone numbers that are typically five or six digits long that can be used for SMS or MMS messages only."

Here’s an example short code used in the wild:

Hand holding cellphone with Slotomania lottery app and keyword "Lucky"

Short Codes and Geography

Short codes are not universal to every geography. For example, text short codes acquired in the U.S. need to be acquired separately of a short code 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.

Opting In to Text or SMS Short Codes

To opt in to a short code message or distribution list, you will have to provide the SMS keyword for the opt-in. Think of it as the secret word you need when you knock on a door. The door won’t open for you unless you provide the opt-in word (LUCKY in the illustration above). The short code is then routed through SMS marketing software that validates the code and responds with a specific offer or opt-in confirmation.

If you receive an SMS via a short code from a provider you’ve opted in to and want to stop communications from, you can stop 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. 

Explaining how a text or SMS short code works

Sharing Short Codes

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 (ours, as you can tell, is 555888). This is why the opt-in is so important, as it informs the SMS marketing software provider which entity the user is opting in to.

Acquiring a Text or SMS Short Code

When it comes to short codes, you may want a vanity one, which is a number that you’ve chosen (if available). On the other hand, since vanity codes cost twice as much to lease, you may prefer a random short code; those numbers cannot be changed. All short codes take 12–15 weeks to be approved by the governing body and the various telecom carriers.

Oh and yes, we said the word “lease.” That’s because businesses do not own SMS short codes. Companies like ours lease them out to businesses and help them get started with text messaging. If you elect to use our short code, 555888, we’d be renting you the keyword.

Here are three fun SMS short codes:

  • 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
  • As you know, SimpleTexting has a vanity short code that is easy to remember—555888