Long Codes vs. Short Codes – Which Should You Use for SMS Marketing?

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With over 50% of website traffic coming from mobile devices, smart marketers understand that mobile marketing is their most loyal friend. From sending appointment reminders over SMS, to package delivery notifications, to targeted SMS messages that increase store traffic, mobile messaging is an extremely effective channel, boasting a 98% open rate. If you are getting started with mobile messaging, the day will come that you’ll need to make a decision. Before you set up your call to action, before you even start thinking of your keyword, and before you pick the most perfect offer, you need to decide: short code or long code?

Unsure what that means and why you should even care? That’s okay. Here is everything you need to know about long codes vs. short codes so that you’re ready to make an informed decision about your SMS marketing program.

Long codes: The good and the not so good

Long codes are a fine choice for a company for a few reasons. First, a long code is an actual 10-digit phone number, which can be appealing if your company is local. For example, if you own a delivery company in Austin, TX, you can send your customers text messages with a 512 area code when their order is on the way and have it appear to come from the driver’s actual phone number. Second, long codes are a good choice when a company would like to reach customers internationally. Third, long codes are typically free or very inexpensive to use. Besides these few positives, long codes come with a lot of negative baggage.

Unlike short codes, long codes do not have definitive guidelines for acceptable use in the United States, and therefore lack any best practices recommendations. Long codes are not submitted to carriers and are not required to go through an approval process in the same way that short codes are. Long codes are inexpensive and unregulated, which is why text message spammers relish using long codes. Finally, the messaging throughput with long codes is slower than a sloth creeping down a tree for his afternoon snack. In fact, leading providers can still only send 1 message per second on a long code. That makes sending a messaging blast to a one million person database an 11 day adventure.

Short codes rule

If you’re thinking of launching an SMS marketing campaign, you should use a short code, not a long code.

Why? Due to consumer protection regulations put in place by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), companies sending marketing messages via SMS must first request permission from a consumer and provide a level of value in exchange. This helps to protect the consumer and equips you to create a more successful SMS marketing program. Short codes are used to opt consumers into a company’s marketing program by enabling the consumer to text the keyword to that specific short code in a compliant manner.

Now that we have a basic understanding of short codes, it’s time to pinpoint why short codes are more advantageous than long codes. The 4 ways that short codes stand out are: branding, memory, ad copy, and taking mobile campaigns to the next level.

Brand recognition

Companies opt for a short code (especially a dedicated code) to ensure that their image and branding are upheld. When having a dedicated short code, no other brand can promote their code or send messages on it. Your short code is part of your brand. Further, a brand can select the numbers that they want for their short code and even spell out a specific word to align with their brand’s identity. Every time a company sends a marketing message to their customers, they are sending it from the same short code, which helps to cement and build the brand’s identity and relationship with the customer. Over time, this number will be just as noteworthy as a brand’s logo and corporate identity. Next, a dedicated code enables that brand to be the first line of support for the customer, opposed to using a universal help message from the SMS vendor. Lastly, by using a dedicated short code, every message sent from that short code will be from the same brand and not confused with other messages from other brands.


A compelling call to action and a memorable short code are bite-sized advertisements that make for a highly effective campaign. One of the fastest ways to ensure your campaign is a failure is to use a long, unmemorable number. Advertisers that invest in a short code with a memorable string of numbers and a catchy repetition (such as 55155) are smart. Also, a short and memorable number minimizes user error when inputting the number. This is especially important when your exposure to the message is very limited, like hearing a blurb about a contest on the radio or driving by a billboard. The takeaway: short and sweet is the way to go.

Advertising copy

Advertising for SMS/MMS short codes is usually done on social media, billboards, print materials, radio, or television. If you’ve invested money in a mobile marketing campaign, you want to make sure people know about it. Not only is a short code better for memorization, but having a short code with 5 digits is much more compelling on a billboard than a ten-digit code and it’s easier to enter into your phone. Plus, you’ll save 5 digits worth of space!

Kick it up a notch

If I’m at my favorite store and I hand over my phone number and opt-in for messaging-based marketing, I expect to receive relevant and useful messages from that store. Short codes managed by application service providers often come with customer relationship management software that allows for segmentation and targeting. This makes short codes the most effective and reliable way to send interactive messages based on customer data.

Now, I know, you might be  thinking, “but I don’t want to send personalized messages based on customer data. I only want to send alerts and notifications.” And my response to you is “Why?”  Why would you go so far as collecting a person’s phone number and then not maximize that opportunity. If your customer is so loyal to give you their phone number, provide them with added value by sending opted in and relevant marketing messages in addition to basic notifications.

If the goal of your mobile program is to create a unique, memorable and engaging program, short codes are your best bet. Remember that short codes go through a lengthy approval process by the carriers, which ensures the content of messages is appropriate as well as enables the program to run without fear of being audited and shut down. Now that you’re convinced you need that short code, it’s time to get started. If you’d like to learn more about creating effective mobile messaging campaigns with Upland Mobile Messaging, check out a quick demo of our platform.

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