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SMS Short Codes: What They Are and Why Your Business Needs Them

Learn what SMS short codes are and how they can be used to maximize your company’s marketing efforts.

If you want an easier and more effective way to communicate with your customers, you can use SMS short codes. SMS short codes make it easy for customers to receive marketing messages from businesses they want to engage with regularly. A short code is much easier to use than a long code, and customers can learn to identify the code with the business when they see it show up in their text message alerts.

Short codes eliminate the need to type in a 10-digit phone number, also known as a long code, into the text messaging app. There's no comparison when it comes to the ease of using SMS short codes vs. long codes. The customer can quickly tap out five or six digits, press send, then agree to receive text messages from their favorite brand or business.

There is a cost to using an SMS short code service, but the conversion rate of SMS marketing is much higher than other forms of marketing that have a similar cost. A business can save money by getting a free SMS short code that consists of random digits, then purchasing a messaging package from a short code messaging provider.

In this article, we'll go over how to get an SMS short code, how SMS marketing can benefit your business, and more. Continue reading to learn how to use SMS short codes to engage with more customers and improve your brand awareness.

What are SMS short codes?

An SMS short code is a five or six-digit number that businesses use to market via SMS text messaging to their customers. Messages can be sent by either Multimedia Messaging System (MMS) or Short Message Service (SMS) systems through all mobile networks.

The advantage of using a short code for text message marketing is that mobile carriers don't filter them in the same way they do 1-800 numbers. Carriers have pre-approved short code messages, meaning most of the messages sent are delivered to customers who have opted in to receive them.

The customer consents to receive text messages from a business by typing the code into their text messaging app, then responding to the acceptance message. The business can send SMS and MMS messages once the customer gives permission and send various communications to the customer to attract their attention.

Types of SMS short codes

There are four types of short codes commonly used by businesses for SMS marketing efforts. They include:

Shared short codes

Shared short codes consist of a five to six-digit number that is shared by multiple businesses. However, in February 2023, US and Canadian mobile carriers announced they are phasing out shared short codes.

The major reason for this decision is the issues that come from multiple businesses using the same shared codes. For example, a subscriber who opts out of receiving shared short code messages for one business effectively unsubscribes themselves from all the businesses that use the same shared short code.

Vanity short codes

Vanity short codes are your own dedicated short code that you pick to reflect your brand or relate in some way to your business or product that you sell.

This type of code is more expensive because you're selecting a specific short code and may be taking a short code that other businesses desire. One example of a vanity short code is Target's 827438 short code. The six numbers spell out TARGET on the phone's keypad.

Dedicated short codes

A dedicated short code is similar to that of a phone number, but it uses a five or six-digit number instead of an area code, prefix, and station number.

The benefit of a dedicated short code is that you can control the content you share with your customers without keyword restrictions. The sms short code cost for a dedicated number depends on the service provider and the content you send.

Random short codes

Random short codes are a random set of numbers that can't be selected. The system randomly picks the digits for your code and assigns them to your business. Once the short code has been assigned to your business, it's yours until you stop using SMS and MMS messages for marketing.

Random short code pricing is the least expensive out of all the SMS code types because most businesses do not want to use random numbers for their short codes.

Benefits of using SMS short codes

Adding SMS text messaging to your marketing campaign strategy is an effective way to increase your reach, improve brand awareness, and save money on your marketing materials.

There are many reasons why you should use SMS short codes for your marketing campaigns, such as:

Boosts open rates

It's a well-known fact that consumers tend to ignore printed media for various reasons, which means this type of advertising has a low open rate.

However, short code messages are known to boost open rates due to the fact that the media is more targeted, the customer wants to receive updates from the business, and people feel they have to open the text message to clear a notification. This results in the customer viewing the text and getting information about a promotion or news related to the business.

Increases consumer engagement

Consumers use SMS messages as a convenient way to communicate with each other, businesses, and just about every entity they need to come into contact with.

Text messages allow the consumer to engage with the sender on their terms and in their own time. That means the consumer is more likely to take their time to read a short code text message from a business. They can quickly identify who it's from and look at the message at their leisure.


SMS marketing is more cost-effective than other forms of marketing due to its reach and efficiency. Designing a text takes less time than a flyer, and you don't have to pay for printing costs, postage, or per- rates for click-throughs or impressions.

There is an SMS short code cost for the service, but ultimately, the cost-to-conversion ratio tends to be lower when compared to most other types of marketing campaigns.


Most people receive their texts on their smartphones and keep their phones with them throughout the day. That means you can reach your customer base anywhere they happen to be. You don't have to wait for them to get home and check their mailbox for a flyer, only to have them discard it because the message wasn't compelling.

Increases brand awareness

Short code text messages help to increase brand awareness without causing your customers to tune out. Sending a text message to customers gently reminds them of a new promotion or news about your business. Anything you would do through other marketing efforts can also be done with SMS and MMS messages.

SMS short code best practices

SMS marketing involves using direct contact with your customers via a cellular phone that can send and receive text messages.

That means you or your marketing team must be familiar with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) before starting a short code SMS marketing campaign. Violating the TCPA rules and regulations for short code marketing can result in fines that max out at $500 per violation.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) is another governing body that you need to pay attention to. The CTIA created the short code format and maintains the short code registry. The CTIA does not issue fines but will report non-compliant short code operators to the mobile carriers, who can then shut down your marketing efforts until the problem has been cleared.

In order to avoid issues with the TCPA and CTIA, you need to engage in best practices when signing up customers and sending them text messages. Make sure to use an opt-in method that clearly states the customer has to agree to receive the messages and use opt-in language such as "yes" or "I'm in" that shows a clear acceptance and agreement.

It's also important to make it easy for your customers to find your short code number to help increase the number of people who opt in. More customers that opt in means a larger audience and the opportunity to send a high volume of messages at once.

You should also keywords in your messages, such as help, press # for more information, and stop, to make it easy for customers to get more information or opt out of receiving further text messages.

Maximize your marketing efforts with SMS short codes

SMS short code marketing increases your customer engagement, improves brand awareness, and boosts your sales. Start by getting an SMS short code service that meets your needs and gets you connected with your customers in a way that other forms of marketing can't.

At Mailchimp, we can show you how to get started with an SMS campaign and show you the best practices for account security. Come check out our free resource library and the tools we offer to aid you with your marketing efforts. Mailchimp has all the tools and resources you need to help your business succeed.

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