Understanding SMS Short Codes: A Quick Guide for Your Business

Understanding SMS Short Codes_ A Quick Guide for Your Business

Picture this: You receive a text message about a great sale from your favorite store. But instead of coming from a regular 10-digit number, this text shows up from a number just 5 or 6 digits long. Sound familiar? Then you’ve already had a taste of shortcodes in action!

So, what’s the deal with these mysterious, compact numbers? Simply put, these are SMS short codes, the lifeblood of business SMS and mobile marketing. These shortcodes, often in the form of a 5 or 6-digit number, allow businesses like yours to connect with customers, send timely notifications, and deliver value-packed marketing messages.

Keep reading to learn about SMS short codes – the what, the why, the how, and the who. Plus, we’ll tackle some of the nitty-gritty details, like costs and legal aspects, to help you make an informed decision for your business. 

What Exactly Are Short Codes?

SMS short codes are concise 5-6 digit numbers that businesses like yours use to send text messages. They’re perfect for everything from marketing blasts about that summer sale to important customer service updates. 

They’re quick, efficient, and can handle high volumes of messages without breaking a sweat. Plus, their short length makes them easy for customers to recognize and remember. That’s why they’re a top choice for businesses far and wide.

Short codes are the go-to whether it’s a retail store sending out hot-off-the-press deals, a bank sharing secure online banking codes, or an airline updating flight status. 

How do You Get a Short SMS Code?

Traditionally, acquiring an SMS short code involves a multi-step process. You must lease a dedicated short code only your company uses to send SMS marketing campaigns. Dedicated short codes can be leased for 3-, 6-, or 12-month terms in the United States. 

You apply to lease your chosen code from the US Short Code Administration (CSCA), the official shortcode registry operating on US wireless carriers’ behalf. 

You’d provide details about how you intend to use the shortcode during your application. Are you planning to focus on marketing messages, customer service notifications, or a mix? The body will review your application, which can take 8-12 weeks. Once approved, you can launch your short code and register it with various telephone carriers.

While this process is comprehensive, it can be time-consuming and complex, especially for businesses new to SMS marketing.

Shared short codes, once a more affordable option used by multiple companies, have been phased out by phone providers and are no longer available.

Streamlining the Short Code Process

Some service providers and SMS platforms like OtterText simplify the short code acquisition process. They’ll manage your application and the carrier approval process on your behalf, saving you time and resources. Some providers also offer an online application process, eliminating paperwork and accelerating the overall procedure.

OtterText: Your Short Code Companion

One such provider is OtterText. With a digital-first approach, OtterText can help you lease a new shortcode or migrate your existing one. They manage the entire carrier approval process, typically lasting 8-12 weeks, allowing you to focus on your core business activities.

Moreover, we provide global coverage, with shortcodes available in the US, Canada, and beyond. This means you can extend your reach to customers across the globe.

Our transparent pricing details make it easy to budget for your SMS marketing strategy.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of SMS Short Codes

SMS short codes can be a fantastic tool for your business communication and marketing strategies. However, like any tool, they come with their own set of pros and cons. Understanding these will help you make an informed decision about whether or not to adopt shortcodes for your business.

Pros of SMS Short Codes
  1. High Send Rates: Short codes can send many texts quickly. This is great for businesses looking to reach a broad audience quickly, especially for time-sensitive communications.
  2. Brand Recognition: Because shortcodes are typically 5-6 digits, they’re easier to remember than standard phone numbers. This can help boost brand recognition and recall.
  3. High Open Rates: SMS messages have a staggering open rate of 98%, much higher than email. So, your message has a high chance of being seen and read.
  4. Customer Engagement: Shortcodes can support two-way communication, allowing customers to respond and leading to higher engagement levels.
Cons of SMS Short Codes
  1. Cost: Short codes are generally more expensive to lease than long codes. Small businesses or those just testing the SMS marketing waters might find the cost prohibitive.
  2. Approval Time: The approval process can take 8-12 weeks, which may not suit businesses looking for an immediate start.
  3. Country-Specific: Short codes are specific to each country. If you’re a business with a global customer base, you must acquire and manage separate shortcodes for each country.
  4. Type: A SHORT code will limit you to one type of use case, such as client conversations, sending informational content, or promotions. 10DLC, on the other hand, doesn’t impose such limitations.

Exploring Alternatives to Short Codes: Long Codes and Toll-Free Numbers

While SMS short codes are popular for business communications and marketing, they’re not the only game in town. Let’s explore a couple of alternatives: long codes and toll-free numbers.

Long Codes

Long codes, or long numbers, are standard 10-digit phone numbers. They’re typically used for person-to-person communication but can also be employed in business contexts. Here’s a quick rundown of their pros and cons:


  1. Budget-Friendly: Long codes are typically less expensive than short codes, making them a more accessible option for small businesses or startups.
  2. Quick Setup: Unlike short codes, long codes can be set up almost immediately, making them ideal for businesses needing a quick start.
  3. International Use: Long codes aren’t country-specific so you can use the same long code across different countries.
  4. Traffic: Multiple traffic streams can be done on a long code, unlike shortcodes that allow only one type.


  1. Lower Send Rate: Long codes can’t handle high-volume messaging like shortcodes. They’re more suited to one-on-one communications or smaller contact lists.
  2. Less Memorable: As a standard 10-digit number, long codes might not be as easy for customers to remember as shortcodes.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on 10DLC compliance.

Toll-Free Numbers

Toll-free numbers are special phone numbers that are free for the calling party. They’re often used for customer service lines but also SMS.


  1. High Volume: Like shortcodes, toll-free numbers can handle many messages.
  2. Customer-Friendly: Because they’re free for customers to text or call, toll-free numbers can improve customer experience and engagement.


  1. Cost: Toll-free numbers can be more expensive than long codes, as businesses bear the cost of the calls or messages.
  2. Availability: Not all toll-free numbers are SMS-enabled. You’ll need to ensure your chosen number supports SMS.

Conclusion: Charting Your SMS Path

Navigating through the SMS landscape—short codes, long codes, or toll-free numbers—is all about understanding your unique business needs and aligning them with the right strategy. The key lies in balancing the benefits and limitations of each method and choosing what best suits your objectives.With platforms like OtterText streamlining the process, embarking on your SMS marketing journey can be straightforward and efficient. So why wait? Start your 14-day free trial with OtterText today and explore the potential of SMS for your business. Here’s to a successful SMS journey!