What Is a Short Code?

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by Angela Shaffield | Last Updated: Mar 13, 2023

A short code can be simply defined as a short phone number. They are typically five to six digits which is much shorter than a traditional phone number or long code consisting of ten digits that short codes are not subject to carrier filtering also known as spam, and since they are only five to six digits long they are easier to remember. 

Different Types of Short Codes

Previously, shared short codes were extremely popular. A shared short code allowed multiple companies to use the same five or six-digit short code for their SMS campaigns. Brands initially liked the benefits of shared short codes because they were often already approved by wireless carriers making it fast to launch new mobile messaging campaigns and the cost structure was more affordable. However, wireless carriers decided it wasn’t in the best interests of consumers to allow shared short codes so the practice stopped in 2021.

Now, if you want a short code for your brand then you’re leasing the short code for use by only your company. These short codes are referred to as dedicated short codes and require your brand to go through the full application and approval process. This process approves your overall use of the short code and gives consumers confidence that the messages they receive from this number are truly from your brand. A dedicated short code is the only option for brands that want to use a short code rather than a long code for mobile messaging programs in the United States today.

When moving forward with a dedicated short code, you can choose a random or vanity short code. The functionality for the two types of short codes is the exact same. The difference comes down to cost and the specific number of the short code.

Random short codes are, what they sound like, random. When you apply for a short code the five to six digits used for the short code are randomly generated and assigned for you to use. They usually cost less than vanity codes because you have no control over which number is assigned for your use.

Vanity short codes are numbers specifically chosen by your brand. The benefit of using a vanity code is that your customer may find it easier to remember and could align to your brand in some way. These codes usually are the more expensive of the two. It’s also possible that your desired vanity short code is not available for selection.

What Are Short Codes Used For?

Since short codes require pre-approval by wireless carriers prior to use, they allow a large volume of text messages to be sent per second. This can be extremely beneficial to a consumer brand that sends a substantial amount of text messages every day. They also are highly regulated in terms of how mobile opt-ins are managed so it’s rare for consumers to receive spam from a short code. Similar to long codes, a consumer must opt-in to receive text messages from a short code. This opt-in process happens by the consumer texting a keyword to the short code or completing an online form where the consumer opts-in and confirms via a double opt-in text message sent by the brand.

You can use your short code mobile messaging program in a multitude of ways. Short codes are a great way for marketing teams to send text messages for promotional offers, announce a new product, share transactional information about shipping or billing, or ask for post-purchase feedback. There are really unlimited possibilities for how you structure your mobile messaging program. Just make sure that whatever you do aligns with how you outlined using your short code during your application process. Any major changes to your outlined use will need to be resubmitted. When using short codes, you MUST comply with all of the short code compliance rules. Complying with compliance rules and the law is always a good idea, especially the rules that fall under the Telephone Consumer Protection ACT (TCPA). Following texting compliance rules allows you to maintain trust with your customers and build stronger relationships with them. Wireless carriers also monitor your compliance with these regulations and will stop delivering your text messages if they find your brand to be in violation. 

Considerations for Getting Started with Mobile Messaging

If your business wants to have a successful mobile marketing program, then you have to not only think about the purpose of the program and the content you’ll send but also how you’ll drive mobile subscribers. To maximize results from SMS marketing efforts, you want as many people to sign up for your SMS campaign as possible. The most common ways to strategically advertise your short code number are by sharing an incentive to join the SMS program with your customers either in store or through your email list. 

Whether you advertise your short code number online or in store,  you have to use a keyword to drive opt-ins. Sometimes it’s helpful to use different keywords by location so you can track what channels are driving the most subscribers. Unique keywords can also be used to further segment mobile subscribers by interests so you can ensure your brand is delivering highly-personalized text messages to each subscriber. If you use different keywords to track campaigns, you will be able to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns and which strategies give you the highest ROI.

If your marketing budget allows, it may be a good idea to choose a memorable vanity short code. Your customers may not be able to sign up at the time that they learn your keyword and short code, so in order for your customers to sign up later you should make your short code and keyword easy to remember. 

Mobile messaging can be used for more than just promoting products. You can give your customers great customer service by using your short code to automate customer service requests. A customer can request specific information by using different keywords. Using these keywords can even give customers contact information for a more personalized customer experience.

How Do I Get Started?

Getting started with using short codes and mobile messaging can seem overwhelming and complicated. The easiest way to get started is to use a mobile messaging software. A mobile messaging software can help you launch your SMS program quickly and ensure your brand is always in compliance. It can also allow you to easily segment your subscribers, track message analytics, and manage subscriber opt-in. Some mobile messaging providers such as Lumavate will even guide you through the short code application process to ensure your program is designed to meet your business needs and adhere to all compliance regulations.

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