How to Pick a Short Code for Text Message Marketing

4 minute read

Team Mobile Messaging

If you are just getting started with text message marketing, one of the first choices you will need to make is how to pick a short code for text message marketing. A short code is a five to six digit number that enables brands to send messages (Example 55155) to customers. Short codes first broke out in a big way with American Idol, when subscribers texted in and voted for their favorite singer. When you look at choosing a short code there will be three types to choose from: shared, random, or vanity. Each option has distinct pros and cons for your business, but first let’s make it clear why you want a short code anyways.

Short Codes 101

Short codes provide a quick and easy method for consumers to connect with a brand. For those on the fence about getting a short code, check out this post on short codes vs. long codes. Short codes are rented from Neustar and the setup process usually takes 8-12 weeks. After a code has been leased, carriers must provision the code. The provisioning process requires lots of paperwork to ensure that you are using the code in a compliant manner. Companies like Waterfall take care of all the paperwork for you and have the experience to move the process along quickly. If you are provisioning the code on your own (not recommended) then you should expect to wait on the longer end of that 8-12 week range.

Shared Short Code

A shared short code is a number that is used by multiple companies. For example, if FedEx and the local pizza place were sharing the short code 55155, and a subscriber was signed up to mobile alerts from both, the consumer would receive notifications from FedEx that their package had arrived and pizza promotions from the local pizza place, on that same number. The two big advantages for a shared short code are time and cost. Shared codes already exist so they do not take 8-12 weeks to provision and the cost of a shared  short code is SHARED amongst several companies so it’s less than a dedicated code.

That being said, shared short codes are not without downsides. In addition to sharing the same short code, companies are also sharing the same bank of keywords. So if you want a specific keyword for your mobile campaign another company might already be using it. Finally, shared short codes have some inherent risk. When you’re on a shared code, that code needs to comply with all industry regulations. If a company on the shared code breaks a regulation and the code is suspended, all companies on that code have their programs suspended or shut off.

Dedicated – Random Short Code

The next type of short code is a dedicated random code. A random code is where you get your own short code, but do not get to choose what the numbers are. Here at Waterfall, we have provisioned thousands of random codes and they tend to be numbers like 54649.

The good thing about a random code is that this is your code and is dedicated solely to your brand. You control everything that happens on your dedicated code, you don’t share it with anyone, so you don’t have to worry about what mischief someone is up to which is the case on the shared code. A dedicated code(s) is our recommendation for companies who are going to be using short codes for commercial mobile messaging campaigns and recurring messaging programs. Although a random dedicated code is more expensive than a shared code, it’s less expensive than a dedicated vanity code and offers the key advantages for professional marketing programs.

Dedicated – Vanity Short Code

This is the code that has the highest “recall” of all short codes. Like a random short code, no one else can use it. The advantage of the vanity codes is that you request a custom set of numbers. The best practice for vanity codes is to request something that is easy to remember, like 55555 or 72722. Quick note, it used to be trendy to make the short code spell something, but as we move away from feature phones, people are less aware of what the numbers on the dial pad spell. Therefore, it’s better to go with something that is a mnemonic set of numbers (easy to remember) then using a series of numbers that spell something.

A vanity short code is the best possible number if you want consistent and uncontested branding, robust messaging features, and a long-term messaging strategy for your customers.

Now that you know how to pick a short code for text message marketing campaign, you need to pick a vendor that knows their stuff.

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