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Shortcode vs Long Code: Which Should You Use & When?

Although often underestimated, SMS marketing has proven to be one of the most effective ways to reach customers. In 2021 alone, 67 million Americans redeemed coupons from SMS messages for a variety of industries from retail to fitness to automotive. In addition, 75% of clients admit that they prefer to receive offers via SMS and the click-through rate (CTR) for SMS is 9.18% higher than email and all other communication channels.

Since SMS is clearly proven to be one of the best marketing channels, the next question you may be asking is which type of texting is better for your business; short code vs long code?

This article will cover the differences between short code and long code text messages to help you send the most effective messages to your customers.

What is an SMS Short Code?

Short code texting is when your messages are delivered from a number with 5-6 digits instead of 10. You’ve probably received a text or two from a 5 to 6 digit phone number like “34562”–that’s a short code. They are quite common in marketing, especially in SMS polls and promotions.

Businesses often send SMS messages through short codes when they want to reach a high volume of customers in a short period of time. With short code, you can send 100 message segments per second by default. Even better, short code allows two way SMS, which means customers can respond and start a conversation.

With such a high capacity for output, short code is perfect for time-sensitive messages. There is essentially no limit to the number of people you can reach with short code.

However, as Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. Therefore, in order to receive a short code, you must meet strict rules and regulations. Keep reading for more details on how SMS short codes work.

What is an SMS Long Code?

An SMS long code, on the other hand, refers to sending messages with a longer phone number. Although similar to a private number, this 10-digit number is designed for business communication. It can be used to send both SMS and MMS messages, as well as make and receive calls.

Long codes resemble local numbers, which look more “human” for two-way communication. Therefore, many businesses choose to take a “human” approach by using long codes in marketing communications, since customers prefer to get help from an actual human being instead of a machine.

Businesses often use long codes to inform customers about products, services, package delivery, and other non-aggressive marketing content such as appointment reminders, customer service, payment reminders, employee-specific notifications, and birthday or anniversary messages.

What’s the Difference Between Short Code and Long Code Numbers?

Other than the obvious number of digits, there are several differences between short code and long code numbers. Short codes are generally better for mass campaigns, but they take much more time to receive and set up. On the other hand, long codes can be set up within a few minutes, but have sending limitations. For more details, check out the following table:

How Does an SMS Shortcode Work?

On the customer’s end, SMS short codes work in the same way as text messages from a friend or colleague. The code appears as a the sender id, like “457689.” However, the benefit for businesses is that short codes can effectively conduct high volume messaging in a very narrow time frame.

How Do You Purchase a Short Code?

When it comes to short codes, you have two options: vanity short codes or random short codes.

Vanity codes are carefully chosen or derived from some particular aspect of your business. For example, vanity codes could be great when text messaging for real estate. A real estate investor with a company name of “ABC HOUSES” could use the short code “123-815,” since the first three numbers in the vanity short code in our example above represent a letter on the company name. 

With Vanity codes, your business becomes number consistent. That is, you have a unique code that resonates with some specific aspect(s) of your business. This code goes wherever your business goes, and your fans can identify with your business through that particular number. 

You can get Short Codes from your text message service provider. Smarter Contact, for instance, keeps things simple. Instead of going all the way to the U.S. Short Code Registry for a short code, you can get yours from Smarter Contact in a few simple clicks. Try it for free!

Common Use Cases for Short Code Texting

Short codes are perfect for high volume marketing promotions and mass communication because they can reach a large audience almost instantly.

If you were a trading company, you could tell your customers to text the word “AMAZING” to a phone number “32564”. Customers who opt-in can receive discounts, prizes, or coupons. Here, we can see the ‘two-way’ communication in action with Short Codes.

Other use cases include:

  • Conducting polls and surveys
  • Sending urgent updates to thousands of customers
  • Two factor authentication: Send customers a unique identifier when they sign up for your service with a short code, like “X56743”. They’ll enter this identifier on your website and you’ll have a reliable contact method.

When Should I Use a Short Code?

There are a few common ways to use short codes in your marketing campaigns, but they may not relevant for your business. Ultimately, it comes down to your business’s overall communication strategy.

Since long codes are not ideal for bulk SMS messages, short codes are your best option if you have any needs or plans for mass marketing. They have a higher immunity to spam filtering systems than long codes. While your SMS marketing campaigns should be customized to your customers, having a short code for mass messages is great to have on hand.

Types of Short Codes

There are two types of short codes: Dedicated short codes and shared short codes. 

A dedicated short code is proprietary, which means no other businesses can use it. Dedicated short codes are great for branding but can be too expensive for startup businesses on a tight budget.

On the other hand, shared short codes can be used by multiple businesses simultaneously to reduce costs. Brands sharing a common short code could have similar interests, products, or end goals.

However, there are some challenges when multiple businesses share codes. The most significant risk is that one of your partners may misuse the code and lose reliability. This may result in having to switch to a new number and waste your resources.

Disadvantages of Short Codes

The most common problem with short codes is when customers think messages are from bots. This can result in ignoring or even blocking your number. Even if you area sending automated SMS messages, be sure to personalize your messages to keep your customers engaged.

Another challenge with short codes is person to person conversations. Even though short codes can be used for brief two-way communication, it doesn’t work well for full dialogues. When you need to deliver personalized customer service or receive feedback, short-code won’t be an ideal solution.

That’s where 10-digit SMS long codes come in.

How Does an SMS Long Code Work?

Long Code phone numbers are also called Long Virtual Numbers (LVNs). The 10-digit long codes are tied to a particular area code. Instead of dialing a 7-digit phone number, you’re required to dial all 10 digits; starting with the first three digits of the area code. For example; (907) XXX-XXXX.

Businesses use these phone numbers to send text messages to customers, and customers often feel that these messages were manually written for them.

Common Use Cases for Long Code Texting

Long codes tend to drive better engagement from customers. You can use them for a variety of purposes, like:

  • Order dispatches: Companies often use standard phone numbers to send order updates and delivery receipts to customers.
  • Individualized communication: Customers often trust a standard 10-digit phone number more, so you can ask specific questions or start conversations.
  • Receiving feedback: Texting is the easiest place for customers to send feedback. You can ask them to answer a simple question or provide more details.

Types of Long Codes

There are two types of SMS long codes; 10 digit Long Codes (10DLCs) and toll free numbers. Toll free numbers are simply voice enabled versions of the standard long codes. The toll number is a hybrid between long code and short code numbers (voice and text enabled). 

SMS throughput measures the number of messages sent successfully between two devices via a messaging channel. It is measured in message per second (mps). Toll numbers have a higher throughput compared to long codes, which means it is able to send more messages in a particular time frame. 

Advantages of Long Codes

Long codes are an ideal text messaging choice for many businesses because of these advantages:

  • 10-digit phone numbers tend to be more trusted by customers
  • Long codes can text and call, which feels more personalized
  • Easy set up: You can have a long codes number ready within a few minutes

The Disadvantages of Long Codes

Keep in mind that every good thing has disadvantages. Here are a few challenges you may face with long codes:

  • Mass texting limitations: Long codes can only send one message every 2 seconds
  • Inefficiency: Customers won’t remember a long code to cast a vote or win sweepstakes. Short codes are ideal for these uses.

When Should I Use a Long Code?

Regular 10-digit phone numbers tend to feel more personal to customers and are ideal for conversations and long-term interactions. When your primary goals are to build relationships, long codes should be your go-to

Long Code vs. Short Code Requirements

Here is a quick summary to help you understand the requirements of both SMS technologies.

Short or Long Codes?

Around 91% of customers say they like to receive text messages from businesses. However, if they only ever receive one type of message, they’re likely to lose interest.

Short code texting is great for businesses that send texts in masses to hundreds of local customers at the same time e.g. retail, fitnessfinance etc. 

Long code texting, on the other hand, is great for businesses that want to deliver personalized customer service. A number that appears more “complete” has a higher likelihood to connect with customers than a shorter number.

Both short and long codes have important purposes, so it’s best to have both of them for a comprehensive SMS marketing strategy.

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