How to Create Text Message Short Codes?

🕒 6 min.

If you want to engage with your customers via SMS, you’ll need a short code.

SMS short codes give your business a unique number that your audience can use to engage with your brand.

Considering the average person checks their phone 47 times per day, text is a great channel to engage with your audience.

Think of your short code like an email address.

It gives your customers a direct way to engage with your brand and you’ll receive all of your messages in one place.

That said, starting a text message marketing campaign can feel like a lot of effort, especially if SMS isn’t a marketing channel you’ve used before.

If you’re unsure what a short code is, and how to get one for your business, you’re in the right place.

I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about short codes, including:

  • What are Short Codes?
  • How can you create an SMS Short Code?
  • Short Code best practices and tips
  • Short Codes vs. Long Codes: what’s the difference?


Let’s jump in.

What are SMS Short Codes?

Short codes are unique codes, usually made up of five to six digits, that are used to send and receive both SMS and MMS messages.

There are two main types of short code you can use:

Shared short code

As the name suggests, this is a short code that your business shares with other companies.

You’ll share part of the code, but depending on the keyword used, different businesses will receive the message.

In practice, it would look like this:

Two businesses can use the short code “12345”.

But, depending on what keyword their customers are asked to use, the messages will land in different inboxes.

  • Business A could ask their customers to text “PRIZE” to 12345.
  • Business B could ask their customers to text “DISCOUNT” to 12345.

Even though the short code number is identical, the keyword will determine which business receives the text.

If your budget for your text message marketing campaigns is on the lower end, you’ll be able to use a shared short code to save on costs.

The main downside is that you only receive messages sent to your unique keyword.

If your customer makes an error, the text won’t land in a catch-all inbox like it would if you had a dedicated short code, which could lead to missed engagement opportunities.

Dedicated short code

A dedicated short code is a number that you own. Your customers will text your own unique number, and other businesses can’t use it.

The advantage of this is that you can use any keywords you want.

You can run multiple campaigns at the same time and manage them with one simple short code.

Another advantage is that you can use keywords that would typically be taken by other companies. For example, running a sale and want to use “SALE” as a keyword? You can.

If you were on a shared short code and another business was using that keyword, you’d have to find something new.

Dedicated short codes give you more control over receiving messages, and are usually better for branding purposes.

How Can You Create an SMS Short Code?

Before launching a text message marketing campaign you’ll need to have a short code.

Most good text message providers will walk you through the process of getting a short code.

Short codes are leased to you at a cost, and depending on the short code you want, the cost will vary.

The cost will also vary depending on the country your business and your customers are based in.

A short code like 001100 will cost more than a randomly generated number like 541379.

Think of short codes like domain names – there is a vanity and branding aspect of the number you choose that could affect your campaign engagement and how easily your audience can use it.

If it’s hard to remember, they’re less likely to text it.

That said, if your campaign is fundamentally good and your audience wants to engage with it, they will.

SMS Short Code Best Practices

SMS short code Best Practices

Comply With Local, National, and International Laws

Like with most marketing activities, there are laws around how you handle and use customer data.

Talk to a legal professional in your industry who knows your local, national, and international laws and regulations. These may affect how you use your short code.

As a rule of thumb, don’t text people unless they’ve specifically opted-in to your campaign, and allow people to easily opt-out of receiving messages.

Some laws and regulations you should be thinking about before launching your campaigns include the GDPR and the TCPA.

Choose a Short Code and Stick With It

Once you choose a short code, you should stick with it.

If you’re switching your code every few months, your customers will start to get confused about who’s texting them and quickly unsubscribe or block your number.

Even if you have to pay a premium for a memorable short code, in the long run it will help you maintain engagement more effectively than if you were regularly switching codes and keywords to cut costs.

Make Terms and Conditions Easily Accessible

When a customer signs up to your campaign, you need to let them know what they’re actually signing up for.

After a subscriber opts-in, tell them where they can access your terms and conditions. In these, you’ll outline how their data is used and stored, and what type of communication they can expect from you.

Your audience will appreciate the transparency, and depending on your location, it may also be a legal requirement.

Short Codes vs. Long Codes

You may have heard of Long Codes during your research.

These fulfill the same fundamental function as Short Codes but instead of getting a phone number with only five or six digits, it will be the length of a regular phone number.

Differences between long and short codes

Clearly, a short code is the better option from a branding perspective because your audience is more likely to remember it than a long code.

While a long code can work, it means your audience is less likely to take the time to text you because people won’t remember it and may not want to spend the time to type it out unless you’re offering something in return that’s compelling enough to motivate them to.

The main advantage of a Long Code is that it’s more affordable than a Short Code and still lets you communicate two-ways with your subscribers.

Wrapping Up

If you’re ready to start using SMS to drive engagement and sales in your business, you’re going to want a short code.

Your unique short code will allow your audience to engage with your brand, and you can easily respond at scale.

We’d recommend using a short code over a long code for a few reasons, but the main one is that it’s more memorable for the people you want to engage with it – your audience.

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