What Are SMS Short Codes? And How to Use Them for SMS Marketing


When you receive text messages from a brand, you’ll notice they don’t use the same type of number that your friends and family do. This is because businesses use their own dedicated short code to help them achieve better results from SMS campaigns.

These aren’t just random short codes, they form an important part of SMS marketing.

If you’re wondering how to generate better results from your SMS campaigns, or how to improve deliverability, then a short code could be the answer.

Follow this guide for everything you need to know about SMS short codes, what they are, how they work, and how to use them for best results.

1. What is an SMS Short Code?
2. What are Vanity Short Codes?
3. When Do You Need a Short Code?
4. Why Use an SMS Short Code?
5. Shared Short Codes and Dedicated Short Code
6. SMS Short Code Uses
7. SMS Short Code Best Practices
8. Should I Use a Short Code for SMS Marketing?
9. SMS Short Code FAQs

What is an SMS Short Code?

SMS short codes, or short numbers, are five- or six-digit numbers that let a business send more text messages in a shorter period of time.

SMS short codes are used to address messages, so the receiver will see the short code as the number they received the text from. If you get a regular SMS from a friend, it will come from a ten-digit code.

Short codes are easier to remember because they contain fewer digits. This makes them great for marketing campaigns.

Many businesses run SMS marketing campaigns where they say something like “text BURGERS to 37437”. This is an SMS keyword campaign.

With these campaigns, businesses can understand which text messaging efforts are prompting a direct response, and which campaigns aren’t.

An SMS short code can also be used as a vanity short code.

SMS short code

Image: Klaviyo

What are Vanity Short Codes?

Vanity short codes are numbers that are used to type out a word on a phone’s keypad.

For example, a burger joint could have a vanity short code 37437 to spell out FRIES. Codes like this are easy to remember.

SMS short codes can be used as vanity short codes, although they’re not always created for this purpose.

alt_text]SMS short code

Image: Tatango

When Do You Need a Short Code?

Short codes are necessary when you’re sending a few hundred messages a day from one number. This is because SMS short code texting is far more efficient, and can easily send bulk text messages in a short space of time.

If you’re sending hundreds of text messages a day from an SMS long code, your messages also run the risk of being marked as spam.

Using an SMS short code service means your number is preapproved by carriers to offer a high deliverability output. Short code messaging also avoids carrier filtering.

Basically, this means short code texting will help you deliver higher volumes of messages faster. Business use short codes for a range of different marketing and communication uses.

Why Use an SMS Short Code?

You’re probably wondering why businesses use SMS short codes. SMS short codes offer a range of benefits for businesses instead of using a regular 10 digit number.

These benefits include:

  • As the name suggests, an SMS short code is short. This means they’re easier to remember. You can use them in various business campaigns, like digital, print, radio, and other offline channels. Businesses can create keywords around different dedicated short codes to monitor the success of different channels.
  • With SMS marketing, messages with a short code deliver much faster than messages with regular 10 digit numbers. Long code messages generally deliver one SMS per second, while SMS short codes can send 100 messages per second. If you’re sending out an SMS campaign to 10,000 people, this would result in a difference of 3 hours to 4 minutes. The speed of an SMS short code is important for things like flash sales and limited-time promotions.
  • It’s clear that SMS short codes are business numbers. People who receive SMS marketing messages from short codes know that these messages are from businesses so they won’t get confused.
  • People can also lookup a short code in the SMS short code directory. This gives your campaign more legitimacy.
  • You can only send and receive text messages with an SMS short code, so there’s no need to worry about recipients trying to use these numbers for other uses, like phone calls.

SMS short code

Image: Protexting

Shared Short Codes and Dedicated Short Code

A dedicated SMS short code can only be used by one business, while a shared SMS short code can be used by multiple businesses.

A shared SMS short code has the big advantage of being a lot cheaper to use. In some cases, thousands of different businesses use the same short code. This means each business will spend significantly less on the short code, as the cost is split up.

However, not having your own dedicated short codes comes with disadvantages:

  • All the businesses using that short code for SMS marketing needs to stay compliant. If one business isn’t compliant, the entire short code could be blacklisted. If SMS marketing forms a major part of your business, then using a dedicated short code is a good idea.
  • A subscriber can opt-out of your SMS marketing messages by mistake. In some cases, someone may be subscribed to multiple brands with the same short code. They might opt out of one list, but if they don’t use the right keyword, this could remove them from all lists on that short code.
  • Short code regulations are also changing, and carriers are taking away the ability to send from shared short codes. Using dedicated short codes is far easier. Dedicated short codes will also result in much more consistent SMS marketing efforts.

SMS Short Code Uses

What are some ways that businesses use SMS short codes? Here are a few popular strategies:

  • Cart abandonment campaigns: If you run an online store, strategic SMS marketing can help you recover abandoned carts in a big way. This is one of the best ways for eCommerce businesses to generate a great ROI. Using short codes makes this process more efficient.
  • Appointment reminders and confirmations: You can automate appointment reminders to make sure clients can easily confirm or reschedule appointments.
  • Order tracking and delivery confirmations: Here’s another use for short codes in eCommerce. You can use them to send out automated updates to customers when they make a purchase and want to monitor shipping.
  • Giveaways: Contests and giveaways are awesome strategies for boosting brand awareness and generating leads. With short codes, you can also get people to enter your contests via text message.
  • Customer feedback: Use your short code to gain feedback from customers through simple message replies. Ask them if they were happy with their service, and ask for a YES or NO answer.
  • Opt ins: Short codes can receive messages, so they’re great for sending out opt-in requests. People can simply respond to the short code to opt-out.
  • Lead generation: You can even use short codes for lead generation, through strategies like simple surveys. Customers can rate products or services with YES or NO responses to help you score and manage leads.
  • Donations: You can gather up support from subscribers more easily by asking them to send a reply to your short code to accept donations.

SMS marketing

Image: Ozioma

SMS Short Code Best Practices

If you’re using an SMS short code, there are a couple of things you can do to provide a better experience and achieve better SMS marketing results. Always consider these 4 best practices.

Understand SMS Compliance

Before launching any type of SMS marketing campaign with your own short code, always understand SMS compliance. It’s essential that you remain in compliance with your local area where you do business.

Depending on where you’re based, this could include keeping up to date with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) or the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA). There are various other messaging authorities too.

Always let subscribers opt-out when they want to, and honor any privacy requests of your subscribers.

Keeping up with SMS compliance is necessary whether you’re using a dedicated SMS short code or a regular long number.

Use Keywords in Your SMS Campaign

An important element of running an SMS marketing campaign is tracking the success of the campaign.

You should use custom keywords to track the sources you’re using to grow the SMS list. This will help you understand attribution and monitor your ROI on the campaign.

So, how do you do this?

Focus the campaign on a certain keyword that subscribers need to send to you. Then you can monitor this keyword to see the exact results it generated.

For example, you could say “Text FRIES to 37437 for free fries with your next meal”. Now you can track the keyword FRIES and see how many times it was used.

Maintain a Strong Brand Presence

A good SMS marketing best practice is to keep your brand highly visible. This applies to short codes and long numbers.

Whenever you send out an SMS, clearly include your brand name in your messages. Unlike texting your friends and family, people won’t save a brand’s promotional number. So if you don’t include your brand name every time, recipients won’t know who the message is from.

No matter what number you use or how often you send out marketing messages, always include your brand name in the message.

Try Vanity Short Codes

A vanity short code offers a more unique brand experience.

If customers need to send your brand a message to opt-in to a campaign, then it’s always a good idea to use a vanity short code to make the number more memorable.

This is especially important if you want to get people to remember the number from other sources – like radio, print, or digital campaigns on different channels.

People will remember a short word far more easily than they will remember a number. Not only this, but vanity short codes are just more fun for your brand to use.

Should I Use a Short Code for SMS Marketing?

If you want to offer the best SMS marketing experience, then getting a dedicated short code is a good idea.

Shared short code texting is being retired by all mobile carriers. This means brands either need a dedicated short code, or they can use 10 digit numbers or toll-free numbers.

If you’re new to this form of marketing, you can always get started with a regular 10 digit number. By using an automated SMS marketing solution like Winback, you can still send out fast and efficient marketing messages that offer a great impact.

However, if you are using a long number and have hundreds of SMS subscribers, you might start to notice some deliverability issues. And as your subscriber list continues to grow, having a dedicated short code will come in very handy.

Besides short code texting, having a toll-free number is another good option. These numbers offer better rates than long numbers.

While shared short codes had their risks, they came with the advantage that small businesses could afford them. If dedicated short code pricing seems out of reach, don’t worry. Using an efficient SMS marketing platform that strategically sends messages at different times will help you avoid the need for an SMS short code service.

For example, Winback is a cart abandonment solution that sends text messages to lost eCommerce customers. If your messaging list has 500 subscribers, you don’t send text messages to all of them at the same time. Instead, the platform automatically targets the right customers with relevant offers.

This makes deliverability a lot easier, eliminating the need for a short code service.

SMS marketing

Image: Tatango


An SMS short code may be a simple thing, but it can totally transform the way your business communicates and does marketing.

The basic idea is that dedicated SMS short codes let you send out a high throughput of text messages without deliverability issues. Short code text messages are also easier to identify and remember. This can result in more effective campaigns.

If your business isn’t sending out SMS messages yet, then it’s definitely something to consider.


SMS Short Code FAQs

How much do short codes cost?

When determining how much short codes cost, there are two important factors to consider. These are the cost to lease the short code, and the volume cost of sending messages from the short code. The more messages you send out, the more expensive your short code will be.

Is SMS marketing effective?

SMS marketing boasts incredibly high open rates and much faster response times compared to email marketing. This is because SMS messages are always delivered straight to the subscriber’s inbox, where they will check them straight away.

Why should companies use SMS marketing?

Text messaging is more immediate and instantly attention-grabbing than other forms of digital marketing. People always check their phones when they receive a text message, and text messaging never ends up in a spam folder. You can also send a high volume of text messages very quickly if you use short code messages.

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