Marketing with SMS

What is SMS Short Code and How Can You Use it? Everything You Need to Know

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Getting a customer’s uninterrupted attention is every marketer’s dream. 

But with so much noise and competition on other channels, how do you achieve this?

Don’t worry. We got the answers you’re looking for – SMS short codes.

In this guide, you will learn how SMS short codes work, how to test them before launch, what to avoid, their limitations, and more. 

We’ve also added some coveted brand case study examples for your understanding. So sit tight because it’s a long ride.  

Let’s get started.

What are SMS short codes?

SMS Short Codes response showing on a  phone

SMS short code is a 5 or 6-digit number you see when you receive a marketing message from a brand. 

These numbers support two-way messaging. However, organisations practically use them to send marketing messages to their consumers. 

As the number is short, it is easy to remember. Shortcodes can also handle a high volume of SMS compared to a traditional number. 

That’s because they work slightly differently than traditional numbers do.

SMSCountry is the best bulk SMS service to serve your customers SMS short codes. Learn more about our SMS services.

How do SMS shortcodes work?

SMS service providers sell shortcodes like any traditional numbers. 

Here is what you need to do to make them work for you:

  • Register your short code: Get yours from a service provider or wireless carrier. Apply for a specific short code matching your business name and await approval. 
  • Register a keyword: Keywords start predefined action. To maximise the functionality of your short code, use easy keywords. For example, you can use the keyword “DONATE” to prompt customers to donate to your cause.
  • Advertise the code and keyword: Create a campaign that showcases the short code and the keyword. For example, you can start a fundraising drive with the “DONATE” keyword.
  • Message processing: As your customer hits ‘Send’, the message is sent to the service provider. The provider routes it to the appropriate location predefined by the business rules.
  • Your response: You can automate or send manual responses to your customer once they SMS you. These responses can provide requested information or trigger specific actions based on keywords.
SMS short codes examples

Your customers pay for the messages they send while using SMS codes. It’s a good idea to provide an opt-out mechanism. This gives them the freedom to unsubscribe when it gets overwhelming or expensive. 

An ideal way to do this is to give them the “STOP” or “UNSUB” option at the end of each message. 

How SMS short codes work in opting out

What are the benefits of using SMS short codes?

You can send hundreds of customers the same SMS with SMS short codes. 

But what else does it help you with?

  • Increasing your reach: Mobile phones are accessible to most countries’ populations.
  • Improving customer response rate: SMS messages have higher open and response rates than other channels. This helps in resonating your message with your target audience.
  • Offer real-time communication: This includes feedback, customer support, or timely information dissemination.
  • Versatile use: You can use shortcodes for many applications. These include marketing campaigns, promotions, information services, customer engagement, event registration and surveys.
  • Offers scalability: SMS short codes can handle high message volumes. They are ideal for large-scale marketing campaigns or mass communication, especially when you need to do it in minimum time.
  • Offers a branding opportunity: A unique code reinforces brand recognition and customer loyalty for your brand.
  • Offers a cost-effective option: SMS short codes are cheaper than other channels. They offer a higher return on investment.

In short, you get measurable results in the shortest amount of time.  

It’s a great asset compared to a traditional number if you plan to use it for marketing purposes.

How are SMS short codes different from traditional phone numbers?

The traditional cell number is easier to get and use. But the shortcode takes your marketing game to a different level. 

How?

We outlined the salient differences between the two in the following table.

Traditional Cell NumbersShort Codes
Format10-digit number5 or 6-digit number
PurposePersonal communicationBusiness communication, marketing campaigns, information services
AccessibilityUsed by individualsUsed by businesses/organisations
Keyword IntegrationN/AKeywords associated with campaigns trigger specific actions
Two-Way CommunicationYesLimited
CostStandard messaging rates applyCustomers are billed for messages sent or received
ScalabilityLimitedCapable of handling high message volumes for mass communication
BrandingNot specific to any brandBrand association with short code
Opt-Out MechanismN/ARequired by regulation
Analytics and TrackingN/AIntegration with analytics tools offers tracking and analytics
CustomisationN/ACustomisation offers more control over messaging
Application in daily lifePersonal messaging and callsMarketing campaigns, promotions, information services, customer engagement

Even though they differ, they both have a place in your organisation. 

You can’t use short codes to call your employees. And using traditional numbers to send marketing messages may cost you an arm and a leg with no real ROI.

Now, let’s look at the types of SMS short codes that exist. 

Yes. There are a few of them. 

What are the different types of SMS short codes?

Choosing the suitable  SMS short codes for your business means complying with local telecom and SMS laws. 

Most countries have their own set of laws. However, the types of SMS short codes available for sale are the same.

Dedicated SMS short codes

A dedicated short code is a unique and exclusive code assigned to a single business. Dedicated short codes are expensive but provide greater control and branding opportunities. 

Large enterprises prefer investing in dedicated short codes across different regions. 

Dedicated SMS short codes

Shared SMS short codes

Shared SMS short codes are numbers shared among many businesses. Each business uses a unique keyword to distinguish its messages.  

Shared short codes are cost-effective. They are suitable for businesses that have lower messaging volumes.

If you are looking for an affordable option, you can use a shared SMS short code.

Beware, though, these short codes limit your branding options. They can also create confusion among receivers. Also, if messages are incorrectly created, they can cause unintended opt-outs.

Vanity SMS short codes

Vanity SMS short codes turn a word or phrase into a series of numbers. They are also available in an aesthetically appealing sequence. 

Coke Studio | short code used by Coke Studio

Source: tatango.com

Seven-Eleven used 711711 with multiple keywords like purple, peace and America.

So, is vanity code worth it?

The main advantage of using one is recall. A repeating sequence of numbers reinforces brand identity. This can lead to better open rates.

But vanity in all forms comes with a price tag. And so it happens with SMS short codes. 

Vanity short codes are expensive and limited in availability. And countries can restrict its use by placing specific guidelines. 

If you want a vanity code, contact SMSCountry. We’d help you understand the specific requirements of your target region.

Non-Vanity SMS short codes 

Non-vanity SMS short codes are also called random short codes. 

These SMS codes are randomly assigned or selected based on availability. They do not have any association with a specific brand or keyword.

Compared to vanity short codes, non-vanity short codes are easier to acquire. They are cheaper and ideal for businesses with lower messaging volumes. 

But there is a catch. Non-vanity SMS short codes are not as memorable as vanity codes. 

But you can create catchy campaigns by combining them with keywords and clear Call-to-Actions (CTA)s

Non-Vanity SMS short codes

Random SMS short codes are also governed by regulations. These may be different from the ones for vanity codes. Talk to your SMS service provider to learn the specifics.

What are the regulations surrounding SMS short codes?

Before you set out to buy your new SMS short code, learn how SMS regulations work. This will put you ahead of your competition. 

Some SMS regulations common to India and GCC countries:

  • Consent for promotional SMS: Get your customers’ permission before sending promotional SMSes. Consent can be explicit or implied, but you should document and record it.
  • Do-Not-Disturb (DND): The “Do-Not-Disturb” registry gives individuals the right to opt out. Run a DND status check on your number list and refrain from messaging these numbers.
  • Sender identification: Businesses need to identify themselves as senders. Include your business name and registered Sender ID when SMSing to confirm the SMS is from you. 
  • Opt-out SMS: Provide your customers with an easy and free opt-out system in every SMS. Clearly state the unsubscribing words. Use capital letters so your subscribers can find them and start the opt-out process.
  • Unsolicited Commercial Communication (UCC): UCC, also known as spam, is strictly prohibited. Promotional SMS sent without consent violate regulations. This makes you liable for fines and suspension of SMS services.
  • Time restrictions: Look for specific time windows to send promotional SMS. Sending SMS outside these hours can lead to a fine.
  • Content Restrictions: Check out the content restrictions for your country. In UAE, SMS about gambling and adults is not allowed. While in India, you cannot send more than 6 SMS from the same number and ID. 

Find the SMS regulation in different countries 

What are SMS short code best practices?

As you start working with SMS short codes, make errors and learn from them, things become more evident. 

Use SMSCountry to send fast and personalized messages via SMS or WhatsApp. See how it works and schedule a quick demo or sign up.

But it’s always good to have a starting point and a set of best practices in mind regardless of where you work.

Here are six of them.

1. Comply with short code regulations

As mentioned in the previous section, non-compliance with regulations is not recommended. It can land you in hot waters with regulatory authorities.

The first place to start is the country you want to start using SMS short codes. Familiarise yourself with the guidelines and stay updated with the changes that occur. 

You can sign up for updates on local regulatory websites for this purpose.

Next is your content. Offensive content can get you blacklisted or, worse, suspended. 

Also, keep in mind cultural sensitivities. And do not provide misleading information through your campaigns. 

If unsure, consult an SMS service provider like SMSCountry to double-check your content. 

But that’s not all.

Your content needs to adhere to privacy laws. Ensure you steer clear of DND numbers and do not share customer numbers with third parties. Protect your customer information and ensure it is used only for marketing purposes.

2. Use your brand name as a short code 

711 | short code used by 711 on merchandise

Source: tatango.com

Using your brand name as an SMS short code is an effective way to create a special connection. 

To start, research the availability of your brand name as a short code. Mobile network operators or SMS service providers manage short codes. 

Inquire about the availability of your preferred short code for texting. Also, ask them what is the process to purchase it.

Next, ensure your SMS short code is not breaking local laws

Now, start building your campaign. Align your messaging and visuals with your brand identity. Create a consistent tone and voice to reinforce your brand image. Create a balanced customer experience across all touch points.

Display your branded SMS short code as the Sender ID prominently as you run your SMS campaign. You can also add your brand name at the end of the message to establish trust with recipients.

3. Make your short codes memorable

Is there a quick way to occupy real estate in the minds of your customers?

Yes, there are a few.

Aim for concise SMS short codes. We know they are already short- the point here is to choose something simple and intuitive. 

Also, SMS short codes that align with your branding are more memorable. Like vanity codes. 

But what if you randomly got assigned a short code?

An excellent way to reinforce memory is to use visual cues alongside your SMS short codes. Add your logo or an icon to give your customers’ memory something to latch on to.

Another part of the SMS your customers will remember is the campaign and content they read. Make it engaging and share-worthy so that recipients can’t wait to forward, share and talk about it. 

4. Advertise your short codes to get opt-ins

Once you have your campaign and SMS short code, you can’t wait to tell the world about it. 

Here are a few advertising strategies to encourage opt-ins as you go all in:

  • Have a multi-channel approach: You can use as many channels to promote your SMS short code campaign as you want. Use your website, social media platforms, email newsletters, print materials, and in-store signage.
  • Create mobile-friendly forms: Add mobile-optimised opt-in forms and landing pages. The process of subscribing should be simple and user-friendly. Also, streamline the form across all channels.
  • Use QR codes: QR codes help increase opt-ins. Use QR codes on print material such as posters, brochures and product packaging. These QR codes can lead customers to the landing page or opt-in form.
  • Create influencer partnerships: Influencer partnerships help increase visibility and credibility. Collaborate with influencers who can endorse your SMS short code campaign.  
  • Use email marketing: Send your SMS short code campaigns to your existing email lists. Also, include a clear CTA and opt-in instructions in the email to maximise opt-ins. 
  • Find offline events: Find events that allow promoting SMS short codes. You can look into conferences, trade shows, and community gatherings. Create banners, posters, or signage that display the details of your campaign.
  • Word-of-mouth referrals: The plain old- asking your existing subscribers to refer people. But do offer incentives to your customers for such referrals. This will create a viral effect and expand your subscriber base.

5. Take customers’ consent for short code opt-ins

By now, customer consent should be a core aspect of your SMS strategy. But if it isn’t, here is how you can get it.

Getting consent for promotional messages is a requirement in most countries. Check your target country’s SMS regulations before you hit ‘Send’.

Once you do that, see that the language you use for opt-in is clear. You need to state what your customer is opting in to. 

For example, if you intend to send your customers updates, refrain from using the same opt-in for promotions. Share a new message with your customers asking for their permission to do so.

Take customers’ consent for short code opt-ins

The best way to collect opt-ins is online. You have a ton of audience and virtually no boundaries to whom you can reach. This means you also need forms that are easy to navigate.

We think the checkbox is the simplest solution. However, you still need to give a disclaimer to your potential customer.

Take customers’ consent for short code opt-ins

If you run an e-commerce store, you can incorporate this optional box on the checkout page. This will send your customers updates about their orders. 

Are you confused about which service providers are on the top? Here you can find a list of top service providers so that you can make an informed choice, delight your customers, and multiply your revenue.

6. Audit your processes periodically

Conduct periodic reviews of your SMS short code campaigns to ensure ongoing compliance. Also, track and address any complaints you receive during this period. 

What are some common uses of SMS short codes?

Here are 11 common uses of SMS short codes.

  • Marketing campaigns: Use SMS short codes to promote products or services. You can engage your customers through targeted messaging. You can also distribute exclusive offers and coupons.
  • On-demand information: You can use SMS short codes to send weather updates and news alerts. SMS short codes can also deliver traffic updates and sports scores.
  • Text-to-donate services: Short codes are helpful for organisations that conduct donation drives. Ask your supporters to make pledges by sending a text message to the short code. 
  • Voting sessions: You can buy an SMS short code to conduct a poll. Share the number and keyword with your participants so they can cast their votes. 
  • Subscription services: You can add an SMS short code for subscription services. Ask your customers to subscribe to updates, alerts and your newsletter by opting in. 
  • Lead generation: Use your SMS short codes with subscription services. Urge your customers to text a keyword to a short code to opt-in and receive specific information.
  • Loyalty programs: You can use SMS short codes to update your customers about their status. Send them messages about their points earned, new rewards, or access exclusive benefits.
  • Appointment scheduling: You can share or confirm/reschedule existing appointments. This use case is helpful if you run a clinic or a hospital. 
  • Account notifications: As a bank, you can send account notifications, balance updates, payment reminders, or transaction alerts to customers using short codes. 
  • Ordering and delivery updates: You can use SMS short codes to inform customers about their orders and deliveries. 
  • Emergency alerts: Educational institutes and government authorities can send alerts using short codes. These include weather warnings, safety instructions, or evacuation notices.

How do top brands leverage SMS short codes in marketing?

Many well-known brands use SMS short codes to get an edge. Here are some examples.

Chipotle

Chipotle is a chain of restaurants specialising in tacos and burritos made to order in front of customers.

SMSCountry provides all you need to delight your customers with fast and secure OTP and transactional SMS. At the best price

In 2016, the chain came under scrutiny for outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. The team at Chipotle decided to close its doors one Monday in February for a Food Safety Meeting for the entire team. 

But they did not let this opportunity go by. 

They hung this advertisement on the doors of closed restaurants.

Chipotle | Door banner showing a marketing campaign by the food company Chipotle

As people got on to their website, they were greeted with an SMS short code and keyword that got them free burritos. 

Chipotle | An landing page from Chipotle showing short code usage

After texting, they received the following SMS, leading them to a landing page to enter their details.

Chipotle | A SMS campaign by Chipotle
Chipotle | Opt-in landing page by Chipotle

As they entered their details, they received their free burritos. And the company kept their customers. 

Chipotle | Thank you screen on the landing page by Chipotle

Facebook

Facebook is a well-known social media platform. But people do run into problems with even the best.

To sort out such problems, Facebook launched a helpline in 2014. The number 32665 (FBOOK) is a way for Facebook to reach out to its users who opted for this service. 

To opt out, you can send “STOP” as a response or change your settings.

Starbucks

Starbucks is not new to SMS marketing. In 2014, they put out marketing banners in their cafes urging people to sign up for their loyalty program. All you had to do was send a message with your email ID to 22122.

Starbucks | sign-up for loyalty program via short code

The Starbucks loyalty program has grown in popularity over the years. As of April 2021, the program boasts over 20 million subscribers in the US alone. 

How can I register for a short code for my business?

How to register for a short code for my business?

Convinced that SMS short codes can do wonders for your business?

It’s time to register an SMS short code for your business.

  • Research and plan: Outline the purpose and objectives your SMS short code will achieve. Also, look at the available keywords and campaign ideas for your targeted region.
  • Choose a provider: Consider pricing, reliability, customer support, features, and the provider’s experience. Shortlist your favourite providers and choose one.
  • Apply for the SMS short code: Contact your chosen provider to start the application. Provide them with your information, the reason for purchasing the short code and contact details. 
  • Select your keyword: Shortlist the keywords you want to use for your campaign. Choose relevant and easy-to-remember keywords that align with your brand. For example, the keyword “DRESS” suits a clothing brand. 
  • Wait for approval: Submit your application. The process will ensure you are in compliance with the laws. Also, it will verify short code and keyword availability in the region.
  • Run the campaign: Once you receive approval, you can start integration. Add the keyword and SMS short code in your marketing materials and website to start using them. 

But before you can roll out the functionality for general use, test it. This will save you a lot of time and embarrassment. 

In the next section, we discuss how to do this.

How can I test my SMS short code before launching it?

Follow these steps.

Step 1: Set up a testing environment

Set up test accounts, create sample data, and replicate the messaging flow.

Step 2: Test SMS short code texting

There is no correct testing sequence. Your testing sequence will depend on the variables most important for your campaign. For example, if deliverability and opt-out mechanisms are essential, your testing sequence will highlight them. 

Here, we outline a generic testing sequence.

Select some test accounts and send a message to them to test for deliverability and routing. 

Once you establish a route, add as many mobile devices as possible in your test environment. This will help you establish compatibility.

Next, test for character limit and media support. Send messages of all character lengths, and note where your SMS are cut off.

Keywords are an essential part of SMS short code campaigns. To test their effectiveness, get some people to give you feedback on your campaign. Send them messages and observe how your test subjects respond. You can also supply them with a short questionnaire to gauge their responses. 

Make adjustments to your campaign as you receive feedback.  

Next is the response mechanism. 

How do you intend to communicate with your customers when they respond to the SMS code? Will it be automated or manual?

Test for both. Send your test subjects the responses and verify receipt. For example, if your subjects signed up for updates, verify receipt of dummy updates. 

The last bit is the opt-out mechanism. Send your test subjects messages with the opt-out keywords, like “STOP” or “UNSUBSCRIBE”. 

At this point, your route and deliverability should be verified. Hence, your test subjects should be able to respond ideally. 

As soon as the test subjects opt out, ensure the system delists them. 

Step 3: Integration, load and exception testing

Call all your technical support team for this. 

The technical backend is where your SMS short code works without you knowing it. Hence, testing system integration for seamless data flow and communication is essential.

But systems have tons of messages to process per second. 

So test the performance of your SMS short code under high message volumes. 

Create workflows and scenarios where your system has to send and handle many SMSes simultaneously. Note how your system delivers, responds, and the overall system stability.

But exceptions and errors can happen out of the blue. Your customers may respond ideally.

So, create messages with invalid formats, incorrect keywords, or other error scenarios to see how the system handles it. 

As you go about testing your system, document all your results. Include all the issues and areas for improvement. Provide this feedback to your SMS short code provider. Also, send them your suggestions for enhancements.

Once you have tested out your system, you are all set for launch. The next step is to define KPIs for your campaign.

Let’s take a look at some.

How can you measure the success of your SMS short code campaigns?

To measure the success of your campaign, you need to set out some KPIs. Can you just copy the KPIs that some hot brands use? 

Copying KPIs off a brand may give you a solid starting point. But unless you have the same business with the same audience, expect different results. 

An alternative is to gather information on all metrics. Then, select the ones that help you reach your marketing goals. 

So, for example, if your marketing goal is to increase brand awareness, then response and opt-in rates may be important KPIs.

Here are some essential SMS KPIs for your SMS short code tracking and measurement:

  • Conversion rate: The percentage of recipients who took the required action after getting the SMS.
  • Response rate: The percentage of recipients who engaged the SMS.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of clients who clicked on the CTA. 
  • Opt-in rate: The percentage of recipients who opt-in to receive further info.
  • Delivery rate: The percentage of SMS successfully delivered to recipients’ mobile devices.
  • Revenue generated: Direct revenue was generated from the short text code campaign.
  • Opt-out rate: The percentage of recipients who unsubscribed from further communications. 
  • Cost per conversion: Acquiring a customer through the SMS short code campaign.  
  • Redemption rate: The percentage of people who took advantage of an offer.  

If you have run campaigns previously, you have collected data on some metrics. Add all the metrics to a spreadsheet and connect them to a data visualisation tool. This will help you establish a baseline to work from.

Sift through the visualisation to find out any past trends. Such trends will help you answer questions about your current short code texting campaign.

As you build a successful campaign, it can come under the radar of miscreants. Let’s look at how to protect your account from such people.

How can businesses protect their short code from being hijacked or stolen?

How can businesses protect their short code from being hijacked? | a woman scared of a dark black man stealing her information

Since SMS short codes do not have any built-in security, you need to set them up externally.

Here are a few ways you can go about this:

  • Add 2FA and strong passwords to your SMS marketing platforms and short code management system. Also, limit the authorised personnel so you know who is accessing the system.
  • Install all security patches as you receive software update notifications.
  • Install vulnerability assessment systems to detect unauthorised access to the system. This system will also help you monitor your system and send a report to your provider.
  • Perform periodic security audits and assessments of your short code systems. This helps you identify potential vulnerabilities and address them proactively.
  • Choose reputable SMS short code providers that follow the best practices. Such providers will have strong security measures.

What are the limitations of SMS short codes?

SMS short codes also present certain limitations. Let’s look at them:

  • The messages are limited to 160 characters. This restricts the amount of information you can convey in a single SMS.
  • SMS short codes support only text-based messages. They do not support multimedia content. 
  • SMS short codes also support limited formatting options. This limits your branding opportunities.
  • Tracking links in messages is only possible via link shorteners. Compared to other platforms, this offers limited tracking analytics.
  • SMS short codes rely on mobile coverage. In areas with limited networks, this will impact your reach.
  • Unlike email, you can not store SMS indefinitely on the recipient’s devices. Once read or deleted, they lose their ability to be referred back to.

Even with these limitations, SMS short codes present an opportunity for quick rewards. 

You can maximise these opportunities by avoiding common mistakes many others succumb to. 

What are the most common mistakes businesses make when using SMS short codes?

Anything that annoys your customer will leave a bad taste, so here are some issues and ways to fix them. 

Lack of or no clear Call-to-Action (CTA) 

We are calling out the elephant in the room. Failing to provide a clear and compelling call-to-action in your SMS can backfire. This is because your customers would not know what to do with the message they received.

The fix is to tell your customers what you want them to do. 

Don’t be shy. 

Use action-oriented language, such as “Text ‘JOIN’ to 12345 to receive exclusive offers”.

Excessive messages 

Bombarding your customers with too many or irrelevant messages is not recommended. It will push them to opt-out to regain peace of mind. 

It also creates a negative image of your brand. 

The fix: Use segmentation and only send targeted messages. Personalise the SMS and refrain from messaging when people are busy or sleeping. Also, mind the time zone your customer is living in. 

Overcomplicating the opt-in process 

When was the last time you saw a lengthy opt-in form? What was the first thought that came to your mind? 

Adding too many steps, cross-linking and lengthy landing pages discourages your potential customer. 

The fix is to simplify, simplify, simplify. 

Use three interlinked assets (landing pages, forms, and social media). Add clear instructions and use your keywords to get the opt-ins. 

Lack of or no clear branding

Your customers need to associate your SMS short code with your brand. But without clear branding elements, they can not form a strong mental connection. 

The fix?

Add your brand name at the end of the SMS. Also, add visual elements to your print advertisement to create brand recall. 

Not using SMS campaign tracking tools

Most service providers give you some reporting and tracking tools. Use it.

Use the tools your provider provides even if you have your own installed. You may find differences in the reports. This will help you identify areas of improvement you were previously unaware of. 

Low customer support

What’s the point of having an SMS short code if you aren’t available anyway? 

The fix: Create a system within your business that can handle such queries. Provide helpful responses on time to build trust and maintain positive customer relationships.

How do I choose an SMS short code provider?

You need a reliable delivery and coverage partner to get the most out of your SMS short code. Plus, they should offer competitive pricing and excellent customer support.

At SMSCountry, we are all about quality service and reliable partnerships. While we do not offer short code services as part of our SMS messaging suite, our team can help you with the process. Contact us today!

If SMS and WhatsApp are a big part of your messaging channel, we’ve got you covered. Whether it’s OTP, alerts, updates, promotional SMS or WhatsApp messages.

We provide you with a fast, secure and reliable SMS and WhatsApp API and platform backed by 24/7 customer support to delight your customers everywhere, at scale, via personalised SMS messages.

Schedule a free demo to discover more and get started.

TL;DR

  • SMS short code applications include marketing campaigns, promotions, information services, customer engagement, event registration, and surveys: SMS short codes have many applications. Explore the possibilities and use them to achieve your business goals.
  • Create memorable campaigns that showcase your short code and keywords.
  • Automate or send manual responses to customers. Provide timely and helpful responses to your customers to build trust.
  • Don’t forget to take your customers’ explicit consent for short code opt-ins.
  • Conduct periodic reviews of your SMS short code campaigns to ensure ongoing compliance.
  • Enrol staff in training programs about SMS marketing and best practices. Qualified staff can help you build high compliance and trust with your customers.

FAQS

How do SMS short codes differ from SMS long codes?

SMS Short codes are 5 or 6 digits long and designed for high-volume messaging. Long codes are regular 10-digit phone numbers that can send and receive SMS messages.

SMS short codes are commonly used for mass marketing campaigns, alerts, and promotions. Long codes are used for personalised, one-on-one messaging, customer support, and small-scale campaigns.

How long does it take to get a dedicated short code?

The time it takes to get a dedicated short code varies. It depends on the country, regulatory requirements, and the provider you work with. 

Acquiring a dedicated short code can take a few weeks or months. 

What happens if I don’t comply with short code regulations?

We don’t recommend you do so. Failure to comply with SMS short code regulations can have various consequences. Your mobile network operator (MNO) or provider may suspend your service. 

Regulatory authorities can impose fines or penalties for non-compliance. The amount of the fines depends on the severity of the violation and the regulations in place. Non-payment of fines can lead to further legal actions.

The worst of all is it can erode customer trust. Adverse publicity and social media backlash can have a long-lasting impact on your business.

What is the typical length of an SMS short code?

The typical length of an SMS short code is 5 or 6 digits. 

Can SMS short codes be customised?

Yes, you can customise SMS short codes to some extent. 

The numeric part of the SMS short code (e.g., 12345) is standardised. But you can add a keyword to the short code to create a customised user experience. 

What are the costs associated with using SMS short codes?

The costs associated with using SMS short codes vary from country to country. Here are some common cost considerations:

  • Setup fee: An initial setup fee to get a dedicated short code varies depending on the region and the provider you work with.
  • Recurring fee: SMS short code may charge a monthly fee to maintain and use the short code. 
  • Message volume fee: SMS short code services charge on the number of messages sent or received. 
  • Campaign management fee: If your provider also manages your SMS campaigns, there may be extra fees to pay.
  • Regulatory fees: Some regions or countries may add costs to ensure compliance with local regulations. 

Please consult with your SMS short code provider to understand their pricing structure. Also, discuss your specific needs and usage patterns. 

How can businesses use SMS short codes to communicate with customers?

You can use the following options in conjunction with SMS short codes: 

  • Opt-in subscriptions
  • Transactional notifications
  • Promotional offers
  • Surveys 
  • Contests and Sweepstakes. 

How long does it take to set up an SMS short code?

The time it takes to set up an SMS short code depends on the approval. The approval is subject to the workload of the regulatory authority. 

Once you receive approval, your provider will set up the routing and additional services you need. Working with a reputable short code provider and staying informed about the requirements in your country will help you get ahead smoothly. 

Can SMS short codes be used internationally?

Yes, you can use SMS short codes internationally. But the availability of SMS short codes varies from country to country. Check with your SMS short code provider if they provide this service. Also, check your target country’s local laws to see if they support international usage.

How do customers opt-in to receive SMS messages from a short code?

Here are the steps your customers can take to opt-in:

  • Customer finds a promo: Promos on websites, social media, print materials, or in-store show customers how to opt-in. They see the SMS short code and keyword in the promo.
  • Customer creates an SMS: The customer initiates the opt-in process by composing a text message on their mobile device. They enter the specified keyword in the message body. 
  • Customer hits send: Once the customer sends the keyword to the short code, the message is transmitted to the SMS short code provider. The short code provider receives and processes the opt-in request.
  • Confirmation: Upon receiving the opt-in message, your business sends out an automated reply to the customer. This confirms their subscription.
  • Customer opted-in: The opt-in process is complete once the customer receives the confirmation message. From this point onward, the customer expects an SMS from your business on the SMS short code.

How can customers opt out of receiving SMS messages from a short code?

Businesses provide customers with an opt-out keyword to unsubscribe from SMS messages. 

Customers can compose a text message on their mobile device, write the keyword in the body and send it.  

Common opt-out keywords include “STOP,” “UNSUBSCRIBE,” or “QUIT.” 

What happens if a customer texts the wrong short code?

If a customer texts the wrong SMS short code by mistake, the outcome can vary based on how the short code is set up. Here are a few possible scenarios:

  • Invalid response: If the SMS short code doesn’t associate the SMS with any campaigns, it sends this automated message indicating it. 
  • No response: If you have not preset any specific instruction, the SMS short code may not generate any response. The customer will not receive any acknowledgement in this case.
  • Redirected response: The SMS short code provider may have set up a response for the wrong SMS. This response will inform the customer that their message was invalid. It may provide further instructions too.

Can SMS short codes be used for two-way communication?

Yes, SMS short codes can be used for two-way communication between businesses and customers. 

Are SMS short codes secure?

SMS short codes inherently do not provide encryption or advanced security features. They are primarily a means of communication and identification within the SMS system. 

But businesses can and do add end-to-end encryption for sensitive messages. They also use secure data transmission protocols for web-based interactions. And implement 2FA for systems and retrieving sensitive info.

How long does it take to get a vanity SMS short code?

The timeline varies from a few weeks to several months. It is advisable to start the process well in advance. This will give you ample time for application, review, and any necessary adjustments.

What are dedicated SMS short codes?

Dedicated SMS short codes are exclusively assigned to an individual or organisation. Unlike shared short codes, which many businesses use jointly, dedicated short codes are unique to one business. 

What is a short code lease agreement?

A short code lease agreement is a contract between a business and a short code provider. It outlines all the terms and conditions under which the business can lease and use a dedicated SMS short code.

What is the difference between a dedicated short code and a shared short code?

Dedicated Short CodeShared Short Code
UsageExclusive to a single business or organisationShared among multiple businesses or organisations
OwnershipOwned and controlled by the business or organisationManaged by a short code provider or aggregator
BrandingProvides strong brand recognition and identityShared branding among multiple users
KeywordCan have a unique keyword associated with the short codeEach user is assigned a unique keyword for differentiation
Message HandlingDirectly routed to the designated business Routed to respective users based on their assigned keyword
ControlFull control over messaging campaigns and customer interactionsLimited control as per shared short code guidelines
CostHigher costs involved in setup, leasing, and maintenanceLower costs compared to dedicated short codes
ScalabilitySuitable for businesses with high messaging volume or specific needsSuitable for businesses with lower messaging volume or shared resources
ComplianceEasier to maintain compliance with regulations and campaigns separationRequires strict compliance measures to ensure proper campaign separation
CustomisationCan implement advanced features and customisation optionsLimited customisation options due to shared infrastructure

How can I ensure that my SMS short code campaigns comply with the law?

Here is what you must do:

  • Familiarise yourself with the relevant SMS regulations in your targeted jurisdiction. 
  • Get explicit consent from recipients before sending them SMSes. Use an opt-in process where customers willingly subscribe.
  • Provide a simple and easy opt-out mechanism for recipients to unsubscribe. Honour the opt-out requests.
  • Ensure your SMS content complies with regulations and industry guidelines. Avoid misleading content and identify your business as the sender. 
  • Respect recipients’ privacy and send SMS at appropriate times. Limiting the frequency of messages. 
  • Laws and guidelines may evolve. So keep yourself informed about any changes or updates in SMS marketing regulations. 

How many messages can I send from my SMS short code per second?

SMS short codes support large volumes of messages per second. However, your provider may offer varying levels of throughput. Please discuss this with them directly.

How can I integrate SMS short codes with my existing marketing and customer service systems?

Ask your service provider for the integration options. Standard integration methods include APIs, webhooks, or third-party platforms. 

Can SMS short codes be used to send multimedia messages?

No, SMS short codes are primarily designed for sending explicit text messages. 

How can I personalise SMS messages sent through a short code?

You can use variables in your SMS messages to dynamically insert customer-specific information. For example, you can include a tag like “[FirstName]” in your message. The subscriber’s actual first name will replace this tag when the SMS is sent. 

Also, you can divide your subscribers into segments based on preset criteria. Then, create content for each segment. Use location-based segmenting if you have the relevant data set. 

You can also use past behaviour to send personalised offers or exclusive discounts. 

What are the alternatives to using SMS short codes for text message marketing and communication?

You can use the following when not using SMS short codes:

  • Long codes: These are standard phone numbers that can send and receive SMS messages. They function like SMS short codes.
  • Messaging apps: WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger offer multimedia, group chats, and chatbots. But, the availability and popularity of specific messaging apps can vary by region.
  • Chatbots: An automated version of your agents that texts customers. You can integrate chatbots into various applications like websites and mobile apps. Chatbots offer scalability and 24/7 availability.
  • Push notifications: They are short pop-ups sent directly to your customer’s mobile device. They are not traditional SMS but are highly engaging and effective. You can deliver time-sensitive updates, promotions, and alerts.
  • Email Marketing: Email marketing allows extensive content and reaches a broader audience. It can complement SMS efforts in sending a detailed message and customer engagement.
  • Broadcast: Sending pre-recorded voice messages to a list of contacts is useful for making announcements. You can also send reminders or urgent information to a large audience.
Nisha Parikh

Nisha is the VP of Marketing at Telebu. With a love for anything product or marketing, she has successfully driven growth for Telebu by steering partnerships across the Middle East and South East Asia - establishing offices and commencing operations in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Hong Kong, and UAE. Outside of the office, Nisha enjoys spending time with her nephews and doing a lot of extensive reading.

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