What businesses need to know about SMS shortcodes

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SMS shortcodes are the 5-6 digit numbers used by businesses to communicate with their audience via text message campaigns. Often used for marketing, shortcodes 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 shortcode rather than a regular phone number for marketing campaigns? It’s because mobile network operators pre-approve shortcodes 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 shortcode), they have opted in to receive messages from the bakery. 

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

Shared shortcodes

Shared shortcodes are SMS shortcodes that are used by multiple brands, sometimes with thousands of users texting the same shortcode. This type of shortcode 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 shortcode for your SMS campaign. Two significant downsides are that brands won’t be able to choose their shortcode numbers — this is not a vanity shortcode — and the keyword that you want users to text you may already be taken. 

Shared shortcodes 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 shortcodes work fine for small-budget businesses, especially those that are new to SMS marketing campaigns. However, shared shortcodes can get complicated since any one brand’s behavior can impact everyone else using that shortcode. 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 shortcodes, it’s best to use caution and consider all your options first. 

Dedicated shortcodes

A dedicated shortcode is a shortcode that’s owned by one brand, and that brand is the only one running its SMS campaign on that number. Dedicated shortcodes are different from shared shortcodes in their flexibility since dedicated shortcodes 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 shortcodes cost more than shared shortcodes. 

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

Additionally, dedicated shortcodes offer a level of security that shared shortcodes don’t. Using one shortcode 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 shortcodes for any company that wants to have better conversations with customers — the type of conversations customers actually enjoy. 

Vanity shortcode

A vanity shortcode is a dedicated shortcode that’s specifically selected by a brand. Sometimes brands will want a vanity shortcode to make the number easier for customers to remember. Because SMS shortcodes 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 shortcode because they’re interested in a shortcode that spells something out or means something to the brand. Either way, vanity shortcodes help companies choose the number used for their SMS campaign, adding an additional layer of control and branding.

Generic shortcode

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

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

How do I use shortcodes?

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

Once this is done, your shortcode 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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