SMS Short Codes

Everything you need to know about SMS short codes & short code texting.

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What is an SMS Short Code?

A short code is a 5 or 6 digit phone number that is used by organizations to send text messages at scale. People opt into SMS marketing programs by texting a word or phrase known as a "keyword" to a short code. They are specifically meant to be shorter than normal phone numbers to make the opt in process easier.

Additionally, SMS short codes are capable of sending extremely high volumes of text messages in a short period of time. This makes them the optimal choice when looking to reach large audiences.

Example of an SMS short code
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The Different Types of SMS Short Codes

There are two different types of short codes used for SMS marketing; random and vanity. They’re the exact same in terms of their functionality and capabilities. It all comes down to the number and associated costs.

Random Short Codes

Random short codes, also referred to as "non-vanity short codes", are just what you may think. When applying for a new code, you have no control over what the number will be. A random 5 or 6 digit text number is given to you. Most short code texting done today is with random codes as they are the cheapest of the two options. We’ll cover short code pricing further down.

Example of a random short code

Vanity Short Codes

Vanity short codes, just like license plates, give you the option of choosing what your number will be. You can choose between a 5 or 6 digit number as well. Vanity codes are more expensive than random because the U.S. Short Code Registry charges a premium for you to select and maintain a number of your choice. Vanity codes are more favorable as you can select numbers that are easier to remember and thus makes texting to join easier. An example of a vanity SMS short code is 888111 or 222444.

Example of a vanity short code

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Shared vs. Dedicated Short Codes

If you’ve been reading up, you’ve likely come across the topic of shared vs dedicated short codes. Historically, shared codes have been the most commonly used however with new industry changes happening, dedicated codes are now the only available option. Let’s dig deeper.

Dedicated Short Codes

Dedicated short codes, now the only available option, are ones that are used by a single brand or organization. In the past, you typically saw dedicated codes being used by larger companies or ones that could support the additional cost.

Having a dedicated short code gives you full control over the messaging content that’s sent through your number. Unlike codes that are shared, you don't have to rely on your short code texting provider to monitor the messaging and ensure the other text programs are compliant with laws and regulations. This protects the integrity of your short code and helps to minimize the risk of being shut down by the cellular carriers.

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Sample text message from an SMS short code

Shared Short Codes No Longer Available

Shared short codes, now no longer available, are simply ones that were used by multiple organizations or brands. Short codes were normally shared because of their cost. Sharing gave companies the ability to launch SMS programs at more affordable rates.

Mass texting services historically made use of shared codes for most of their users. This, however, has begun to change. The cellular carriers have updated their messaging guidelines and have decided to ban the use of shared short codes towards the end of 2021. They’ve chosen to do this for several reasons but primarily to help identify and stop individual spammers. All organizations using shared SMS codes will eventually need to switch to a dedicated short code or ten-digit phone number in order to continue sending text messages.

Shared short code icon
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Short Codes vs. Other Texting Numbers

There are several differences between SMS short codes and other types of numbers used for SMS marketing. The alternatives to a short code are toll-free and 10DLC numbers.

Short codes are only 5 or 6 digits vs. others that are 10. This makes opting into texting programs simpler as the number is easier to remember and quick to type out.

Short codes are the most expensive with a monthly cost between $500 and $1,000 depending on whether it’s a random or vanity code. Toll-free and 10DLC numbers are free or have minimal cost. SMS codes also send at much faster speeds; up to 20 times faster in some cases.

While messages sent from normal 10-digit numbers are subject to carrier spam / content filters, SMS short code texting is not typically filtered. There’s a 6 to 8 week approval process when securing a short code and part of that process is vetting the sender and texting program so messages don't need to be filtered.

Short Code Toll-Free 10DLC
5 or 6 digits 10 digits 10 digits
$500 - $1,000 per month Free $10 per month
500+ messages per second send speed ~50 messages per second send speed ~10 messages per second send speed
No carrier filtering Carrier filtering Carrier filtering
Approval process required No approval process Approval process required
6 to 8 week approval time* Available instantly 48 hour approval time
*While 6 to 8 weeks is the industry average for getting a short code approved and provisioned, we consistently make it happen up to 2 weeks faster.

Benefits of a Dedicated SMS Short Code

While dedicated short codes represent an additional cost to your text marketing or bulk SMS initiatives, there are several benefits that can make them worthwhile.

Choose your own text message short code number

Choose Your Own Number

Make opting into your SMS marketing program even easier with a vanity SMS short code. Having a memorable, easy to read number will have a meaningful impact on your opt-in performance and engagement rates.

No SMS keyword restrictions

No Keyword Restrictions

Do you need a specific keyword… or a large volume of keywords for your text marketing program? A dedicated SMS short code gives you the flexibility to use any keyword possible and an unlimited number of them.

Control the messaging content on your shortcode

Control Your Messaging

With dedicated short codes, you're in full control of what types of SMS messages are being sent on your number. Maintain a spotless image without worry of brand confusion or carrier violations by sharing with others.

Dedicated SMS messaging throughput on all short codes

Dedicated Throughput

For SMS programs that require high levels of throughput, either inbound or outbound, dedicated short codes provide the support and scalability you need to send large text message blasts at scale.

How to Get an SMS Short Code

Getting your own short code can be complex as there are several steps from beginning all the way to having it up and running. The good news is that SlickText will handle 100% of it for you at no additional charge. With that said, it's still helpful to understand what the entire process looks like for securing your own 5 digit text number.

First we need to decide what type you're looking to acquire. This will be either a random or vanity short code. Next we lease the code from the U.S. Short Code Administration.

Note that we said "lease" and not "purchase". Short codes are never purchased. They are always leased and typically on a quarterly basis.

After the short code has been acquired, it's just a number that doesn't do anything... yet. The next step is to have it provisioned with all of the cellular carriers. At this point we begin submitting applications to all of the individual carriers requesting that they activate the code on their networks.

Once all of the carriers have approved it, we officially activate it and you can begin sending text messages.

The industry average timeline for this process is between 6 and 8 weeks however with our unique carrier relationships we're consistently activating SMS short codes up to 2 weeks faster.

SlickText Handles the Process For You

  1. Decide between a random or vanity short code
  2. Acquire a code from the U.S. Short Code Administration
  3. Choose an SMS service to use it with
  4. Submit short code applications to all cellular carriers
  5. Wait for all applications to be reviewed and approved
  6. Connect the short code to your SMS service
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SMS Short Code Pricing

In the world of short code texting, codes aren't sold, they are leased. What you are paying for is the right to use it. While most SMS services bake the cost of a dedicated code directly into their monthly service fee, they are normally paid for on a quarterly basis.

The cost of an SMS short code varies only by whether it's random or vanity. Typically you will see vanity codes run between $500 and $1,000 more than random ones.

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Random Short Codes

$500per month

Vanity Short Codes

$1,000per month
Securing a short code requires a one-time carrier setup fee and a minimum plan price of $350 per month unless otherwise noted.
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SMS Short Code Compliance & Rules

When it comes to SMS short codes, compliance is a really big deal. There's a lot at stake and making sure that you're following the rules and best practices is a must. The good news is that being compliant is not difficult. There are 2 different sets of rules when it comes to short code text messaging: The CTIA's rules and the TCPA rules.

SMS Short Code Compliance

CTIA Short Code Compliance

The CTIA is a nonprofit trade association that represents the wireless carriers. This group was set up to develop, maintain and enforce best practices for short code texting. The CTIA actively audits all SMS short code programs in the US to ensure companies are following the rules and to keep consumers protected. The CTIA is largely focused on things like making sure people who are receiving texts have explicitly opted in, SMS marketing programs are disclosing the correct compliance verbiage and that short codes are sending content that is not in violation of their guidelines.

TCPA Short Code Compliance

The TCPA stands for "Telephone Consumer Protection Act" and is the set of laws governing all text messaging, not just sms short codes, in the United States. The core focus of the TCPA is to prevent consumers from receiving unwanted, spam texts and phone calls. There are large legal penalties for sending text messages to people who have not opted in so it's paramount that your short code texts are only to people who have explicitly consented to receiving them.

SMS & MMS Short Code Texting

Short code texting is very similar to any other type of SMS or MMS. The only difference is that with short codes, you can send much larger text broadcasts and the message content is not typically filtered or flagged for spam. This is because the company using the short code and it's content has been pre-approved by the wireless carriers during the provisioning process.

With short code texting, you're bound to the same 160 character limits as normal. With MMS, you have access to 1,600 characters and can send all sorts of multimedia including pictures, animated GIFs, videos etc. Also note that if you want to send multimedia messages, your short code will have to be set up for MMS specifically. Short code MMS doesn't have to be enabled when you first provision the code. It can be done at any time, although it's best to do it when it's first set up.

Example of an MMS short code text on an iPhone

Opting In & Out of Short Codes

Opting into a short code is fairly straightforward. Technically, you’re not opting into a code, you’re opting into a text messaging program that uses a short code as its number. In most cases, people opt into SMS marketing programs by texting a keyword to a specific short code. When this happens, you’re consenting to receive future texts. When opting in, you should receive a confirmation text letting you know that you’re subscribed.

Opting out is also very simple. All short code texting services are required to process special opt out keywords that unsubscribe people from future messaging. If you text STOP, CANCEL, END, UNSUBSCRIBE or QUIT to any SMS short code, you will be unsubscribed and receive no further message. You should also receive a one-time automated response confirming that you’ve opted out.

Example of opting in and out of short code texting

Short Code Geo-Restrictions

SMS short codes do not work universally in every country. They have to be provisioned for each country that you want to send and receive text messages in. This is because each country has a different set of carriers and network operators to provision your code with.

As an example, if you wanted to secure the short code 888111 for use in the United States, you’d also have to provision the same code in Canada as well. Doing this would give you full North American short code coverage. It would also create a seamless short code texting experience. You would, however, be responsible for the cost of two codes. One for each country.

Short Code Geo Restrictions

SMS Short Code Services

Before you get started with short code texting, it's extremely important that you find a solid short code service to work with. Most people looking to get started with their own code will work with an SMS marketing service to get it provisioned. Naturally, that service also becomes the platform provider they use for their text messaging.

Make sure that your short code service offers easy-to-use software, has plenty of features and is backed by excellent support. Messaging quality is also a big deal when selecting a service to host your SMS code. Text messaging is not a commodity and some services have poor deliverability. This means your texts aren't making it to your subscribers. Be sure to have a conversation with each SMS service you evaluate about their short code text quality.

Example of an SMS short code service's software

Moving a Short Code

If you already have a short code and want to switch from one texting service to another, you can certainly do so regardless of what anyone tells you. Some text messaging services may make it seem difficult or even tell you that it's not possible to transfer SMS short codes, however that couldn't be farther from the truth. The fact is that it's totally doable and the wireless carriers are completely fine with it.

Every short code transfer will be depending on who your current texting service is and who their SMS aggregator is. The good news is that most short code moves can be done with little to no downtime. If done correctly, your subscribers won't even notice the change.

Moving an SMS Short Code

Who's Using SMS Short Codes?

Hundreds of enterprise brands rely on SlickText SMS short codes for our scalability, high-quality message delivery and turnkey platform. Organizations who seek out the best mass text apps often partner with us. We exist for those who are serious about SMS marketing. Here are a few of our awesome customers that are using dedicated short codes.

Purple is a comfort tech company that specializes in science-backed sleep products. Their turnkey mobile marketing strategy has been a meaningful part of their success. Purple has partnered with SlickText as their Short Code SMS and mobile marketing service for the extensive featureset and high quality message deliverability.

Purple logo

Yoox is a boutique Italian clothing retailer that focuses on unique clothing for men, women and children. Their customer base is world wide and becoming more mobile every day. They are working with SlickText to power their short code SMS marketing efforts across North America.

Yoox logo

Maglite is one of the most popular flashlight brands used by police, military and civilians around the globe. Staying engaged with their expansive and active following is what's helping them to grow their audience. Maglite chose SlickText to power their dedicated vanity short code for all SMS engagements from product warranties to sales and alerts.

Maglite logo

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Common Short Code FAQs

There's a lot to understand and figure out before moving forward with a dedicated SMS short code. If you're like most, you'll have outstanding questions that need to be answered before choosing a service and getting started. Here are some of the most common questions we get regarding SMS codes and short code texting.

How much does an SMS short code cost?

The cost to have your own dedicated short code will vary based on whether it's a random or vanity code. Random short codes run $500 per month. Vanity short codes will cost you $1,000 per month.

What's the difference between a random and vanity short code?

Random short codes are chosen at random and you're assigned whatever 5 or 6 digit number happens to be picked for you. Vanity short codes are ones where you can choose the number and are based on availability. Both short code types are 100% equal in terms of their functionality and capabilities.

How long does it take to get a short code?

The industry average timeline for provisioning a short code is between 6 and 8 weeks however with our unique carrier relationships we're consistently activating our client's short codes up to 2 weeks faster.

What are the alternatives to using a short code?

A great alternative to using a dedicated short code is a 10-digit toll free number. Toll free numbers are free, immediately available, and can send at speeds similar to standards short codes. They are the next best option if you’re not willing to pay for a dedicated code.

How do you text a short code number?

Texting a short code is simple and just like texting other phone numbers. The only difference is that the number is shorter. Simply create a new text message, type the short code where you’d normally put the recipient’s number, type your message and hit send.

Can any business get an SMS short code?

Most businesses and organizations will have no problem getting their own dedicated short code. With that said, the carriers do have some strict rules about what message content is prohibited.

There is a well known acronym in the world of SMS called "SHAFT." It stands for sex, hate, alcohol, firearms and tobacco. If your text messaging program promotes content related to these topics or others deemed "risky", getting your short code application approved may be more difficult. In some cases, it will be denied. You can work with your SMS short code service to better understand what your options look like in these cases.

How fast can short codes send text messages?

One of the benefits of SMS short codes is that they can send text messages at extremely high speeds. This is referred to as "messages per second" or "MPS." Most short codes can send at rates between 100 and 500 messages per second.

Do short code sms messages get filtered by the carriers?

Typically, no. There is currently no algorithmic filtering of short code text messages. This is because your message content is pre-approved during the application process. With that said, if the carriers receive any spam complaints or there is an "audit" on your short code, they may conduct a manual review of your message content.

What is a short code audit?

A short code audit happens when a carrier or auditing agency on behalf of the carriers tests your short code and it fails to meet one or more of the basic requirements. There are varying levels of severity when it comes to audits which range from being required to fix some CTA verbiage to having your short code messaging suspended.

Audit severity depends on what the issue happens to be. It could be anything from forgetting to include opt-out instructions when people opt in, to sending message content that violates carrier guidelines. The majority of short code audits are minor issues and simply require you to update basic verbiage.

How do I unsubscribe from a short code?

All short code texting services are required to process special “opt out keywords” that will immediately take you off any texting list that uses a short code. If you text STOP, END, CANCEL, QUIT or UNSUBSCRIBE to any SMS code, you should receive an immediate response confirming that you’ve been opted out.

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Why Choose SlickText as Your SMS Short Code Service?

With all of the group texting solutions out there, why would you choose SlickText as your SMS short code service? There are hundreds of reasons. Here are a few...

A Hassle-Free Provisioning Process

We take the hard work out of provisioning your own SMS short code. From obtaining the code itself, to submitting the carrier applications and getting it connected, everything is handled by us, for you.

Lightning Fast Throughput

While some services will limit your short code's throughput or send rates, our platform is built on an incredibly strong infrastructure that can support sending hundreds of text messages per second per code.

Better Deliverability

Some SMS services save money by using low quality methods to send your messages. That just leaves people not getting your texts. We use the best possible North American messaging routes to ensure your text messages are delivered.

Short codes on a mobile device

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