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SMS Short Code vs. Long Code: What’s the Best Option for Your DTC Brand?

November 23, 2020

SMS Short Code vs. Long Code: What’s the Best Option for Your DTC Brand?

If you aren’t already using text marketing to engage with your customers, you’re leaving money on the table. With open rates averaging around 98%, it’s clear that SMS communication is one of the most effective methods of attracting and retaining the attention of consumers right now. 

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make when putting together a text marketing strategy is choosing between a short code or long code to send and receive messages from. If you’re new to the world of text marketing, you may be wondering how these two code types differ and how to decide which one is right for your DTC brand. 

In a literal sense, the difference between short codes and long codes comes down to the number of digits used to opt-in and send or receive SMS messages. Both code types come with their own set of benefits and disadvantages, so it’s important that you clearly understand what separates the two before launching your first text marketing campaign. 

In this post we’ll take a closer look at the defining characteristics of each, and how you can decide which code type best aligns with your brand’s marketing goals. 

What is a short code?

A short code is a 5 to 6-digit number that businesses use to send out SMS and MMS messages to their audience. 

Short codes are intended to be used for one-way communication with customers and are often shared between multiple businesses simultaneously. 


The primary benefit to using a short code is that it’ll cost you less per message and you’ll have the ability to send bulk texts quickly–making it a preferred choice for marketers sending to a high-volume list of contacts. 

For short codes that are shared by multiple brands, keywords are used to ensure that text traffic is properly sorted. For example, if three brands shared the same short code, they would each need to use a unique keyword that separated messages being sent to that code. If one of the brands decided to use the keyword ‘HELLO’ to enroll customers into their marketing communications, the other two brands would be barred from using that particular keyword. 

Use cases for a standard SMS short code include: 

  • Promotional marketing messages/alerts
  • One-to-one transactional alerts
  • Two-factor authentication

One final thing to consider is that with a shared short code, you can occasionally run into unfortunate situations with unsubscribes. This is where a customer unsubscribing from one brand may unwittingly unsubscribe from another brand that is sharing that shortcode, like this:

This is an unfortunate possibility, and it leads us to a discussion of dedicated short codes.

What about a dedicated short code?

If the idea of sharing a number with other brands feels limiting to you, a dedicated SMS short code offers the exclusive use of a number to one business. The advantage to this method is that you’re not restricted by what keywords you’re able to use. 

Since there’s only one business using the short code, there’s no need to separate text traffic with specific keywords, allowing you to have more creativity and freedom with your SMS campaigns. 


Additionally, dedicated short codes have a much faster throughput speed–up to 30 times faster than a shared short code. If you're on a shared code and another company on that code is sending a message, your message could potentially be delayed. Dedicated short codes have their own sending queue on the SMS platform to prevent this from happening.

There are two types of dedicated short codes you can use: random, and vanity. 

As the name implies, a random short code is randomly generated and you have no control over what the number will be. 

A vanity short code can be customized to align with your company branding or SMS marketing initiatives. For instance, you could purchase a vanity short code that spells a “phone word” (like 746-37 for SHOES), or an easily remembered numerical code like 111-22.

An important thing to note about dedicated short codes is that while they can increase your brand recognition and engagement, they also come with higher set-up and maintenance costs. 

Use cases for a dedicated SMS short code include:

  • Creating a custom short code for a “text to join” opt-in
  • Aligning your short code with company branding
  • Sending subscribers your contact card to save in their phones 

What is a long code?

A long code is a 10-digit number that’s typically used for two-way customer communication. 

The main benefit to long codes is that they can be personalized to align with your company’s branding and are often perceived as more personal to consumers. 

Long codes can also be used to reach consumers internationally, so it’s an ideal choice for brands seeking to expand their reach into foreign markets. 


That said, there are several drawbacks to using a long code that you should be aware of. Long codes lack the same approval process from wireless carriers that short codes have, so you run the risk of decreasing the deliverability of your messages. 

In addition, long codes have much slower throughput speeds. Most providers are only able to send one SMS message per second through a long code, making it difficult to run a text campaign where you might be sending to thousands of contacts or if you’re offering a time-sensitive promotion. 

How to decide between short code vs long code for your DTC brand?

The decision between short code vs long code comes down to the specific goals you have for your text marketing strategy.

 If you’re planning to launch an SMS campaign and send to a high number of contacts, using a short code is likely your best option. With a short code you’ll be able to send thousands of messages instantly, as well as utilize multimedia content such as images, GIFs, or videos. In addition, short codes are registered and approved by most wireless carriers during the set-up phase, so it’s unlikely that bulk messages will get flagged as spam before reaching recipients. 

If you’re planning to use text marketing for two-way customer communication, an SMS long code may be the ideal choice. Long codes will help make your messages appear more personal, and they can be customized to align with your company branding or marketing initiative. Despite the limited texting capabilities, long codes are simple and inexpensive to set-up, and can offer a variety of different uses that’ll benefit your business’ SMS marketing efforts. 

The decision between using a short code or long code comes down to the customer experience you want to provide. 

There’s no clear-cut answer to which method is better as they both offer their own unique benefits and disadvantages. Your final decision should be determined by your marketing goals, and the needs and preferences of your target audience. 

Conclusion

Are you planning to use SMS marketing to send text campaigns to a lengthy list of contacts, or are you more focused on offering two-way customer communication? The decision you make on which SMS code type to use hinges on your answer to that question.

Clearly define the marketing objectives you have in mind with text marketing and  you’ll make the choice easier to make. 

If you’re still unsure which SMS code type is right for your DTC brand, book a free consultation so we can learn a bit more about your business, and your specific goals related to SMS marketing. At Conversmart, we help DTC brands optimize their text marketing strategies so they see the highest return on their investment.