The Advantage of a Short Code in SMS Marketing

sms short codes

If you’ve ever signed up for a brand’s SMS marketing updates, you’ve probably noticed the messages don’t look the same as the ones your friends or family send you. 

Right away, you might realize the phone number the message comes from is shorter than what you’re used to seeing. 

What you may or may not already know is that these abbreviated numbers are actually called “short codes” and they serve a purpose in SMS marketing.

They’re a great way for a business to send text messages that are targeted and personalized to a long list of subscribers. We’ll discuss what an SMS short code is, what the benefit of using one is, the difference between a shared and dedicated short code, and much more.

What is an SMS short code?

An SMS short code is a four, five, or six-digit number that allows a business to send more text messages in a shorter time period to their customers. The customer will see the short code as the “from” number when they receive the text, similar to how they would see a long, 10-digit number if a friend or family member texted them directly.

sms short code

Because short codes contain less characters than a typical phone number, they’re easier to remember and are great for marketing campaigns. Similar to long, 10-digit vanity numbers, short codes can also be vanity numbers.

A vanity number is a number that spells out a word using a phone’s number keypad, making it easier to remember. For example, Pepsi may have a five-digit vanity number, 73774, which spells “Pepsi” on your phone’s numeric keypad.

If you’ve ever seen a business asking you to text “[keyword]” to “545667,” this is an example of a text messaging keyword campaign. This allows the business to know which marketing campaigns are driving a direct response and which aren’t. Businesses can use these types of campaigns to allow users to vote in a contest, opt in to receive text updates, or receive additional information about the brand.

Why use a short code?

You might wonder what the benefits are of using short codes over a regular phone number are and whether it’s right for your business. SMS short codes have several benefits over a traditional 10-digit number:

  1. Short codes are brief and memorable. You can use them in numerous areas of your business, from digital to print, radio, and other offline advertising channels. And you can easily create different keywords to know which marketing channels are working and which aren’t.
  2. They’re unmistakably a business number. When a user sees a message coming from a short code, they know it’s coming from a business or organization and not someone they know.
  3. There’s an SMS Short code directory where users can look up short codes, which can give your text campaigns more legitimacy.
  4. Short code text messages can be delivered much faster. Long code messages can typically be delivered only one per second. If you’re sending to a list of 10,000 people, it could take almost three hours for all of the messages to be delivered! Short codes, on the other hand, can be sent as quickly as 100 messages per second. This would only take just over four minutes for a text campaign to be sent to 10,000 people. If you’re running a flash sale or limited-time promotion, the added speed of short codes is crucial.
  5. Short codes can only be used to send or receive text messages, they can’t be used for phone calls or faxes (does anybody still use fax?) so you don’t have to worry about recipients trying to use it outside the purpose of SMS.


Shared vs. dedicated short codes

A shared short code is used by multiple businesses as opposed to a dedicated short code, which is used by only one business.

One of the biggest benefits of shared short codes is the cost savings. The cost is shared across multiple businesses, which reduces the total amount each individual business will spend to use the code. Some short codes may have thousands of businesses using the code, which significantly reduces costs, but also comes with risks.

Dangers of a shared code

Due to the possibility of thousands of businesses using the same number, there are many dangers associated with using a shared short code:

  • If one business does something illegal or improperly uses the short code, that shared number could be blacklisted by some or all of the major wireless carriers, preventing all businesses that use that short code from reaching their customers. If a business relies on text messaging to keep their audience up-to-date with news, discounts, or even shipping and order confirmations, it can be extremely costly to not be able to reach them.
  • If one of your customers opts into texts from your brand in addition to other brands that are using the same short code and they try to opt out of just one of the brands (without using a dedicated keyword), the customer may be opted out of every brand’s list—including yours. The system will see the opt out request coming from the customer’s phone number, but will not necessarily know which brand to associate it with. See the screenshot below for an example what this might look like. dedicated vs shared codes short codes
  • Some carriers aren’t going to support them in the future. Due to some of the issues mentioned above, many carriers are actually removing the ability to send from shared short codes. In fact, many carriers already began restricting the use of shared short codes in 2019.


Short code best practices

When it comes to using short codes, there are a few tips and tricks to ensure you both follow the rules and provide a great customer experience:

  • Comply with the Telephone Customer Protection Act (TCPA), Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), and other messaging authorities. Whether you send from a short code or a long number, you should always respect your customers’ privacy and honor their opt in and opt out requests. Never spam or send unwanted messages. It’s important for your SMS campaigns to be in compliance with the local laws where you do business. Learn more about SMS compliance for ecommerce here.
  • Vanity shortcodes can be a great way to create a memorable number for your customers to text to opt into campaigns, contests, discounts, and much more. Their versatility is often worth the extra cost because they can be used in print campaigns, billboards, digital campaigns, radios, podcasts, and other marketing channels.
  • Include your brand name in your messages whether you’re sending from a long or short number. Most people don’t save businesses to their contact list (unless it’s a business that they regularly call for customer support, for example). If you mention your brand in your marketing messages, customers never have to guess where they’re coming from.
  • Use keywords. As marketers know, attribution and tracking return on investment (ROI) is vital to the success of any marketing campaign. Using keywords in your text messaging campaigns is the best way to track attribution and discover which sources are leading to engagement. You could use a separate keyword for each campaign or source and keep track of this in your attribution reports to watch which customers are engaging and purchasing.


Short codes as part of your SMS marketing strategy

Text messaging is one of the best ways to engage with your audience and short codes are just another tactic to further increase engagement. 

If you’ve never launched an SMS campaign and aren’t using SMS automation, it’s never been a better time to start than right now. As mobile phone usage continues to grow, SMS will be of high value for you to leverage as one of your owned marketing channels.

If you’re considering using a short code for higher throughputs, faster messaging, and better engagement from customers, you should invest in a dedicated short code to avoid the possible pitfalls and risks of a poor customer experience.


Short codes in Klaviyo

Short code costs vary based on the carrier, and whether or not the short code is shared or dedicated. 

Klaviyo makes it easy to get a short code directly from within our app. You can choose between the options of having a long 10-digit number, a toll-free number, or a short code. 

Ready to get started with SMS? Sign up for Klaviyo today or login to begin using SMS.


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