What businesses need to know about SMS short codes

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SMS short codes are the 5-6 digit numbers used by businesses to communicate with their audience via text message campaigns. Often used for marketing, short codes are a way to draw consumers in to get them on your SMS marketing list. Because communicating with customers via text messaging requires an opt-in, it’s essential that brands get the attention of their audience through other channels and entice them to message the business first. 

So why use a short code rather than a regular phone number for sms marketing campaigns? It’s because mobile network operators pre-approve short code for large volume messaging, which is important if you’re sending lots of messages for your campaigns. Long code phone numbers aren’t approved for this purpose and are much more likely to appear as spam.

Typically, businesses will use keywords to distinguish the marketing campaign. For example, a bakery may advertise: “Text BREAD to 90009 to get fresh baked deals.” Using this example, once a customer messages “BREAD” (the keyword) to 90009 (the short code), they have opted in to receive messages from the bakery. Read more SMS marketing examples.

There are various types of SMS short code businesses should be aware of when launching marketing campaigns. Each type of short code has its place and ideal use, and brands have to discern which is best for their particular campaign goals.

Shared short code

Shared short codes are short codes that are used by multiple brands, sometimes with thousands of users texting the same short code. This type of short code has been phased out of use for most major carriers over the last year. It does have one major benefit: It’s one of the least expensive ways to utilize a short code for your SMS campaign. Two significant downsides are that brands won’t be able to choose their short code numbers — this is not a vanity short code — and the keyword that you want users to text you may already be taken. 

Shared short codes distinguish between different campaigns through the keyword, so any given keyword can only be used for one campaign. This may not be an issue if you’re ready to get creative with your keywords, but it can be limiting for some brands with a larger reach that want more control over their keyword. 

Shared short codes work fine for small-budget businesses, especially those that are new to SMS marketing campaigns. However, shared short codes can get complicated since any one brand’s behavior can impact everyone else using that short code. For example, if a brand spams its audience or misuses the number in any way, that number may become white listed and inaccessible to other brands using it.  

When deploying shared short codes, it’s best to use caution and consider all your options first. 

Dedicated SMS short code

A dedicated code is a short code that’s owned by one brand, and that brand is the only one running its SMS campaign on that number. Dedicated short codes are different from shared short codes in their flexibility since dedicated short code can use any keywords to distinguish between campaigns. Because the number is not shared, you can use the keyword of your choice without worrying that the keyword might already be in use. Because of this flexibility, dedicated short codes cost more than shared short codes. 

Dedicated short code also benefit the brand that’s looking to enhance their customer experience by having longer, back-and-forth conversations with their customers. Because Shared short codes require a keyword to be applied to a campaign, they cannot handle one-to-one conversations. Dedicated short codes, however, can. 

Additionally, dedicated short codes offer a level of security that shared short codes don’t. Using own dedicated short code that’s only being used by your brand gives you complete control over your messaging and won’t risk outside influences compromising the security of your customers. This is a big plus for any business, but is particularly useful for brands in financial, healthcare and other sectors whose communications with customers need to be highly secure.

We highly recommend dedicated short codes for any company that wants to have better conversations with customers — the type of conversations customers actually enjoy. 

Vanity sms short code

A vanity short code is a dedicated short code that’s specifically selected by a brand. Sometimes brands will want a vanity short code to make the number easier for customers to remember. Because SMS short codes are 5-6 digits long, selecting a simple or pattern-based code is often best practice. 

Other companies may like the idea of a vanity short code because they’re interested in a short code that spells something out or means something to the brand. Either way, vanity short codes help companies choose the number used for their SMS campaign, adding an additional layer of control and branding.

Generic sms short code

A generic short code (random short codes) is the opposite of a vanity short code. It’s a dedicated text short code that can’t be selected by a brand. Instead, it’s a number that’s randomly assigned. Random short codes are often less of an investment than vanity short codes but may not come with the same easy-to-text branding that a vanity short code can provide. 

Budget and campaign goals should ultimately decide which short code a company chooses.

How do I use short codes?

SMS short codes can be used for marketing and other campaigns. Use another channel to advertise your SMS short code, whether it’s email or online ads or billboards, and get your audience to opt in by sending your designated keyword to your dedicated short code. 

Once this is done, your short code has done its work, and you can send a double opt-in message to your audience to make sure you’re compliant with messaging laws. Then, you can communicate with your customers via SMS. Repeat this process anytime you want to launch a new marketing campaign or reach out to new consumers via SMS. 

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