What are short codes, and why should I be using them?

Chances are, you’ve received an automated text message from a very short number—only 5 or 6 digits long. It might have been a notification that your online purchase was shipped, or a request from your doctor to confirm an appointment. Either way, the message was short, professional, and requested that you consent to receiving communication with a “yes” or “no” before following up with more information. There’s a reason for all of that: you were messaged from what’s known as a short code.

Short Codes

A short code is a five to six digit long phone number that is only enabled to send SMS or MMS messages.

So, why are short codes so highly desired by marketers and large organizations? What exactly are the benefits of using a short code, and what are the costs? To learn more, we spoke with Jason Smith, a sales engineer with years of technical telecom experience.

 

Why would someone send messages via a short code, rather than a conventional phone number?

 

It really depends on what their use case is. A marketer, for example, would really benefit from a short code because the shorter numbers tend to be much more memorable. Ever seen a commercial that offered a special promotion through sending a message to a five or six digit number? Maybe something like “Text 555-55 to receive your free ringtone”. Well, you probably remembered that number long after the commercial ended, and that’s a huge victory for both the business and their marketing team. That short, memorable number—the short code—was incredibly effective merely because it stayed with you after the advertisement was over.

Now, a large organization like Walmart or CVS would value short codes for an entirely different reason. See, short codes are powerful through more than just ease of memorization. With a short code, you can actually contact up to 100 people simultaneously! So, a business could get their message out to a much larger audience, much more quickly, than if they’d used a traditional phone number.

You might be thinking, “Can’t a regular phone number text 100 people at the same time?” The answer is no. Even if your phone might make it seem like group texts are sent at the same time, they’re actually quite limited. Conventional phone numbers are restricted to a maximum rate of one SMS or MMS message per second, no matter which carrier you’re using. So, if you’re sending promotional messages to hundreds or thousands of interested parties, the ability to contact large groups concurrently is pretty huge.

 

I’ve heard that short codes cost more than regular numbers, and take longer to set up. Is that true?

 

Yes, that’s true, and it’s probably the only reason everyone isn’t using them. There’s a larger set up fee for a short code, which might vary slightly depending on where you’re purchasing it from. Then, you face an approval process. Your short code, and the reason you’re using it, are sent to a governing body who determines whether the purpose is legitimate. They may take a few weeks to process the application, and might even request samples of the messages you’re planning to send. During this time, you still need to pay for the number, even though you’re not yet able to use it.

 

Could I still access some of the benefits of a short code using a conventional phone number?

 

Sure, there’s definitely ways to emulate the speed and convenience of a short code with a regular phone number, even though you’ve got 4 or 5 more digits to work with, and a slower send rate.

For marketers, I’d suggest using a vanity phone number—whose digits spell out a keyword like “1-800-WINDOWS”—to ensure your contact information is memorable. These numbers may cost slightly more than a randomly assigned phone number, but it’s definitely worth it. Not only will your customers, patients or leads easily remember how to contact you; your business will actually seem more professional. If you’re not interested in using a vanity number, your information can still be made more memorable simply by using a phone number with lots of repeating digits.

Without a short code, businesses would still be restricted to one SMS or MMS per second, but they could still speed up the process of sending texts through the use of automation tools. For example, with CallTrackingMetrics, you can automatically enroll or opt-out users from your messaging, send personalized or custom messages (including emojis and gifs!), and even offer self-service appointment booking and confirmations. Your business communications could be run entirely via SMS or MMS messages that are tracked, analyzed, and safely recorded in our secure servers. Not only would this reduce the time and effort of your agents, allowing them to focus on more complex or creative tasks, but it could reduce your marketing spend by illuminating which text campaigns are resulting in the highest ROI.

 

How do I get set up with a new short code?

 

Short codes are becoming more popular as a campaign strategy across all industries, and demand is growing for this type of service offering. We have already helped several clients port over existing short codes and purchase new ones through the platform. To learn more about the process, review our comprehensive guide to using short codes, which outlines technical requirements, pricing, and links to forms to get you started.

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