SMS Short Codes – What Every Business Needs to Know

SMS Short Codes - What Every Business Needs to Know

SMS Marketing is one of the most valuable ways to increase sales for your business.  Becoming an effective SMS marketer can be the difference between increased sales and stagnant progress in your business. Learning key components within SMS marketing, and effectively using them, can make all of the difference. As you may have already learned, one of the backbones of any SMS marketing campaign is SMS short codes. To get you started in becoming a successful SMS marketer, Tatango has put together a list of everything you need to know about SMS short codes.


What is a SMS Short Code?

An SMS short code is a 5- to 6-digit phone number that is used by brands to run their text message marketing campaigns. Consumers can opt-in to these campaigns by texting a keyword to a company’s short code. Businesses then send SMS messages to these opted-in subscribers, typically containing coupons, offers, company communications, and promotions.

In order for a consumer to interact with an SMS short code, the consumer would simply compose a new text message on their cell phone and address it to a brand’s SMS short code. Watch the video to learn more.


SMS Marketing

SMS marketing is the broad term for a combination of commercial text messaging related practices. Most brands, when they talk about SMS marketing, mean the practice of sending mass text message alerts to interested consumers. You can compare SMS marketing with email marketing, only instead of emails, a brand sends out text messages to consumers who have opted in to its mobile marketing campaign.

Tatango SMS Marketing

It’s important to mention that text message marketing is strictly a subscriber only form of marketing. As a brand, you cannot send messages to people who haven’t opted in to your SMS campaign. Consumers first need to go through an opt-in process that confirms their willingness/consent to receive messages. This opt-in process starts when someone texts an SMS keyword like “PIZZA” to the brand’s SMS short code.


SMS Short Code Directory

Curious to know which businesses are using which short codes? Here at Tatango we created the U.S. Short Code Directory, a website where you can find out how each short code is being used, and even discover the most appropriate contact information for short code support. This directory is also able to provide the specific short codes on sale, as well as assistance if you are interested in purchasing a short code.

You can visit the directory here.

SMS Short Code Directory and Lookup


Premium SMS Short Code Partner

Did you know that Tatango is a Premium Short Code Partner? This partner designation is the highest designation given by the CTIA and the Short Code Registry, and is based on specific criteria, including the number of SMS short codes under management, the length of time using SMS short codes, and performance history. Although you can develop and host SMS short codes yourself, Premium Partners like Tatango specialize in software development and hosting for SMS short code applications. In addition to providing technical expertise, Premium Partners can advise on best techniques for maximizing participation and SMS short code campaign results.

If you place a premium on trust, you should choose a Premium Partner like Tatango. For more information on getting your own short code, contact Tatango here.

Tatango Premium SMS Short Code Partner


Advertising Your SMS Short Code

Effectively advertising your short code is essential, as it allows more people to opt in to hear from your business. We suggest advertising your short code to consumers in-store, online, or through traditional advertising channels such as television, radio, or print.

Advertising your SMS short code helps you grow your SMS lists faster, which results in more revenue for your business. It’s estimated that 90% of text messages are read within three minutes, whereas emails often sit unread in inboxes for hours or days, long after a sale has ended. Additionally, the average SMS marketing click-through rate is 36%, making SMS marketing a serious money-maker for a business.

Advertise your SMS short code on your website, on a pop-up, at a point-of-sale system, on store flyers, or on direct mailers. Just get it out there as much as possible, and watch your leads and profits skyrocket as a direct result.

Want to learn how best to advertise your SMS short code to customers? Download our free SMS advertising template.

SMS Short Code Advertising Examples - Champs Sports


SMS Keywords

An SMS keyword is a word or phrase that pairs with a company’s SMS short code. The combination of an SMS short code and a keyword allows customers to communicate with a brand and opt-in to receive specific SMS campaigns.

SMS keywords helps SMS providers like Tatango determine which SMS campaign a consumer is trying to opt-in to. In the example below, the SMS short code used by Chipotle is 888-222, and the SMS keyword is “RAINCHECK”. If Chipotle used a different SMS keyword like “BURRITO” in another SMS campaign, that would help keep subscribers separate between the two campaigns. This is helpful if you are a retailer selling different kinds of products, such as men’s and women’s clothing, and you want to target different lists with different text messages.

Website - Chipotle SMS Campaign - Text RAINCHECK to 888-222


SMS Short Codes & Long Codes – What Is the Difference?

Deciding whether to use a short code or long code?

An SMS long code is a 10-digit phone number used to send and receive messages. Long codes are typically used for transactional messages, such as two-factor authentication and delivery package alerts, and not intended for the use of marketing messages. Due to the nature of long codes, message throughput is significantly slower compared to short code messaging. Long codes weren’t designed to handle mass text message marketing campaigns, but to instead send transactional messaging.

An SMS short code, on the other hand, is a 5 to 6-digit phone number that is specifically used for marketing purposes. Short codes are registered with the wireless carries and thus have higher technical capabilities, such as a significantly faster message throughput. Due to this, brands and organizations choose short codes for mass text message marketing campaigns, and not transactional messaging.

Long codes are typically inexpensive, starting around $1 per phone number, whereas short codes can start around $500-$1,000 per month. With a difference in technical capabilities, there’s a difference in price and usage situations. Long codes and short codes help brands achieve different goals.

Check out the video below to not only find out the differences between a short code and a long code, but how and when to use each.


SMS Short Code Messaging Speeds

One of the most popular reasons why SMS marketers choose an SMS short code is because of the high messaging speeds the short codes are able to offer. While an SMS long code (a 10-digit phone number) will have a wireless carrier enforced maximum throughput speed of 60 SMS messages per minute, an SMS short code can send much faster. How much faster? In our research, SMS marketing software providers usually offer a maximum throughput speed of 6,000 SMS messages per minute. That means that an SMS short code can send, on average, 100 times faster than an SMS long code.

It’s important to note that messaging speeds on SMS short codes vary by software provider. Tatango averages a whopping 98,940 SMS message per minute for our clients, which is 1,649 times faster than an SMS long code, and 16 times faster than other SMS marketing software providers.

You may be wondering: what’s the big deal with SMS throughput speeds? If an SMS marketing software provider doesn’t send text messages fast enough, then subscribers could get a promotion once it’s already ended, or even worse, miss out on an important notification. Let’s say that you’re a sender with 2 million SMS subscribers, and you’re still sending at a rate of 6,000 MPM. While 6,000 SMS messages per minute sounds like a pretty fast SMS throughput speed – and worked just fine for a small SMS subscriber list — once you start getting into millions of SMS subscribers, that actually means that it can take hours to send. So hours later, your message is still sending, and a large portion of your list still hasn’t received it.


Dedicated SMS Short Codes

There are several different types of SMS short codes. One type of SMS short code is called a dedicated short code, which is an SMS short code used by only one business. For example, Pizza Hut has the dedicated short code 69488. Because this short code is dedicated, no other business can operate on Pizza Hut’s SMS short code, 69488.

pizza hut text messaging dedicated short code

When it comes to SMS marketing, most large brands such as Pizza Hut, Abercrombie & Fitch, AMC Theatres, Applebee’s, Baltimore Orioles, Bed Bath & Beyond, Bravo, and Burger King have a dedicated SMS short code. Read more information on dedicated short codes.

Why do brands want dedicated short codes?

There are a host of reasons why brands choose a dedicated short code, but mainly it’s for a combination of the following reasons.

  • Brand Recognition: Just as consumer comes to recognize a brand’s website address, or toll-free phone number, so will they with a brand’s short code. Dedicated short codes provide complete exclusivity of the short code number.
  • Brand Security: Dedicated short codes allow brands the ability to control the entire consumer experience from end to end. Dedicated codes ensure the consumer’s mobile messaging experience is consistent with brand expectations.
  • Keyword Exclusivity: With a dedicated short code, brands are free to use any imaginable SMS keyword, allowing for maximum creativity, and functionality.
  • Activity Control: Dedicated short codes allow brands to have complete control of how their short code is used. Control in this instance is critical for any national brand.
  • Database Portability: Customers come to know and expect your brand’s messages on a specific number. It’s important for brands to own that number in the case of a migration to another SMS provider.
  • Scalability: Messaging speed is critical in SMS marketing. Dedicated short codes allow your brand to have direct access to wireless carriers.


Shared SMS Short Codes

Another type of SMS short code is called a shared SMS short code. An SMS short code is used by many businesses. What makes this code unique from a dedicated short code is that an SMS shared short code needs to be used in conjunction with an SMS keyword. Technically speaking, each business sharing a short code would be assigned a unique SMS keyword, which helps an SMS provider like Tatango determine which SMS campaign a consumer is trying to opt-in to.

For example, let’s say there’s a sushi restaurant and a kid’s clothing store both using the same shared SMS short code of 83324. If people wanted to opt-in to receive SMS messages from the sushi restaurant, they’d text the sushi restaurant’s SMS keyword “SUSHI” to the shared SMS short code 83324.  Conversely, people that wanted to opt-in to receive SMS messages from the kids clothing store would text the retailer’s SMS keyword “KIDS” to the shared short code.


AT&T Bans All New Shared Short Codes

Did you know that AT&T has banned shared short codes on their network? Find out more in the video below, and what to do if you’re currently using a shared short code.


AT&T’s 1-Strike Spam Policy for Shared Short Codes

Since AT&T started banning shared short codes, they’ve taken a 1-strike policy for handling SMS spam on shared short codes. To learn more about this policy, and what you should be doing to protect your business, watch the video below.


Buying a SMS Short Code

Did you know that businesses don’t actually own their SMS short codes, even if they’re using a dedicated short code? SMS short codes are leased either directly to a business or an SMS provider like Tatango on a 3, 6, or 12-month period.


Vanity SMS Short Codes

Short codes can also be vanity and non-vanity. A vanity short code is 5 to 6 digits chosen by a business, usually in an effort to make the short code number easier for consumers to remember. For example, a number like 12345 or 313131 would be a nice vanity short code. Both of those short codes are much easier to remember than a random number like 94021. This is helpful because if a consumer sees a short code on a billboard or commercial, and wants to remember to text in later, it’s much easier to do so with a clean vanity short code versus five random digits. The cost of a vanity SMS short code is $1,000.


Non-Vanity SMS Short Codes

Non-vanity short codes are 5 to 6 digits selected at random. For example, non-vanity short codes would be numbers like 39752, 958372, or 14930. Non-vanity short codes might be a good phone number, or they might be a horrible phone number. That’s a risk you take when you select a non-vanity short code. The cost of a non-vanity SMS short code is $500.

A vanity short code, on the other hand, is a phone number that is specifically selected by the brand. Usually, it’s selected because the phone number looks really good. It spells something on the keypad. You know, the number has some reference to the business, like 711-711, again five to six digits, so you can play with the numbers there.


Vanity vs Non-Vanity Short Codes

Check out the video below to see the difference between vanity and non-vanity short codes, on an actual mobile phone.


Top 3 Reasons Why Vanity SMS Short Code Are Better

Trying to decide which type of short code is best for your business? At Tatango, we always recommend that brands choose a vanity short code, in part because they are easier for consumers to remember when they see a brief advertisement on television or a billboard.

Check out the video below to learn the top three reasons we always recommend a business choose a vanity SMS short code.


Moving SMS Short Codes

While some SMS providers will tell you it’s impossible or against the rules to transfer SMS short codes from one SMS provider to another, or to transfer SMS subscribers from one short code to another, it’s actually pretty simple to do and is well within the best practices of SMS marketing.

When transferring SMS short codes between SMS providers, your SMS subscribers won’t even notice the move, as they’ll still opt-in and receive messages from your business from the same number as before. If you are looking to move your subscribers to a new short code, we suggest watching the following video first.


CTIA SMS Short Code Rules

To protect consumers against bad apples, the wireless carriers set up a group called the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) to enforce SMS marketing practices that are in the best interests of the consumer. To do this, the CTIA carries out audits on SMS programs based on the rules found in their CTIA Short Code Compliance Handbook. Some of these guidelines require that brands include disclosures in text messages when marketing to consumers, such as:

  • “message and data rates may apply”
  • “text HELP for help”
  • “text STOP to unsubscribe”

If a text messaging campaign is found to be in violation of any of the guidelines in the CTIA Short Code Compliance Handbook, then the text messaging campaign can be deactivated by the wireless carriers.


TCPA SMS Short Code Rules

Before starting an SMS marketing campaign, it’s important to understand what the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is, and what you as a business need to do to remain compliant with the TCPA while running a text message marketing campaign on an SMS short code.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a set of Federal Communications Commission (FFC) rules and regulations that govern robocalling, telemarketing, and mobile text messaging issues. The TCPA outlines requirements for brands and other organizations in the United States that use these technologies to communicate with consumers. The United States Congress adopted the TCPA in 1991.

For example, one part of the TCPA states that consent cannot be a condition of purchase, which means that brands cannot force a consumer to consent to receive their text messages, just because a consumer purchases something from the business. The second part of the TCPA states that brands must get the consent of the consumer to receive auto-dialed marketing messages before the brand can text message them.

TCPA federal law rules and regulations vary, as they depend on the type of message that an organization sends out to citizens of the United States. Brands need to know how the TCPA law applies to their communication practices, and they have to know what happens when they violate those rules, as the penalties for doing so are severe. For example, when brands send text messages to consumers who have not given their consent to receive messages, brands can end up paying statutory fines of $500 per SMS message. If a willful violation of the TCPA occurs, then a brand can pay as much as $1,500 per text message, per person.

The law is constantly evolving, which makes it difficult for brands to stay up-to-date about all the latest changes. To learn more about the TCPA and compliance for businesses, we recommend checking out these TCPA videos. Make sure you also download our free TCPA survival guide for more info.


SMS Short Code Registry

The Short Code Registry, along with the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) oversees the technical and operational aspects of the common short code functions and maintains a single database of available, reserved, and registered common short codes. To learn more about the Short Code Registry, visit them at

The SMS Short Code Registry Website


SMS Short Code Costs

When a dedicated SMS short code is approved, a business must then pay for the short code lease, before they can start the wireless carrier approval process. Here are some price breakdowns for each type of short code:

  • Dedicated vanity SMS short code: $1,000
  • Dedicated non-vanity SMS short code: $500

Recall that a vanity short codes are 5- to 6-digit short codes that are specifically selected by a brand. Brands often choose vanity short codes over non-vanity short codes because the brand has more control over the selection of digits, and can therefore choose a number that is easier for consumers to recall. For example, vanity short codes would be numbers like 12345, 313131, or 711711.

Non-vanity short codes, in contrast, are 5- to 6-digit phone numbers that are randomly selected by the Short Code Registry for a brand. They are usually random numbers, like 39602, 20415, or 39204. As you can see, those numbers don’t have any pattern associated with them, and can therefore be harder for consumers to recall. For these reasons, we always recommend that brands choose vanity short codes, as brands typically get their investment back (and more) by growing their SMS subscriber lists faster and more easily.

Businesses can pay for their dedicated SMS short code leases by credit card, electronic funds transfer, or check. It’s important to note that in addition to the lease of a SMS short code, a business will also have to pay to setup and host the SMS short code.


SMS Short Code Application Process

The first step in provisioning a dedicated short code is to select an SMS provider such as Tatango. Once an SMS provider has been selected, they’ll assist you in the provisioning process. This process includes selecting the short code number, submitting it to wireless carriers for approval, and finally testing and activating the short code for commercial use. Being a Short Code Registry Premium Provider, Tatango has a unique advantage in our provisioning process, allowing for faster wireless carrier approval times.


SMS Short Code Approval Timeline

In our experience at Tatango, to get all of the wireless carriers to approve the use of a new dedicated SMS short code on their networks, it can take between 2 to 3 weeks. Unfortunately, there’s no way to speed up the process. It’s best to contact us immediately if you’re thinking about setting up an SMS short code, so we can get the process underway as quickly as possible.


SMPP Short Code Messaging

SMS short code messaging is sometimes referred to as SMPP messaging. SMPP stands for Short Message Peer to Peer Protocol. Messages sent over SMPP are routed directly to and from the wireless service provider over a secure private network. SMPP messaging is the only wireless carrier-approved method to engage and interact with customers on their mobile devices through text messaging.


Canadian SMS Short Codes

Want customers in Canada to be able to opt-in and receive messages from your SMS short code? You’re actually going to need to lease a Canadian short code to make that a reality.

If you lease a United States short code, that short code will only be connected to U.S. wireless carriers, so you are only able to send and receive text messages with customers of U.S. wireless carrier networks.

If you wanted to send messages via short code in Canada, you need to get a Canadian short code. The good news is, you can usually find the same SMS short code number in Canada that your business is using in the United States. This means that you can tell customers in both the United States and Canada to text message to the same phone number. Learn more about how to launch a US and Canadian short code for the same SMS campaign by clicking here. Or, watch the video below about international text message marketing.


SMS Short Codes for Donations

Looking to raise money for your 501(c)(3) non-profit by having people text their donation to an SMS short code? If so, you’re going to have to get a specially approved SMS short code that can accept donations. The good news is, once you do that, you can receive a nonprofit shortcode discount of up to 60% off regular shortcode pricing with SMS software providers like Tatango. See actual non-profit SMS marketing examples from organizations like the Humane Society and Peta.

Nonprofit SMS Marketing - Humane Society of America


Premium SMS Short Codes

Premium text messaging sounds like a good thing, but it actually refers to text message programs that required additional fees to subscribe for things like ringtones, jokes of the day, screensavers, trivia, and horoscopes. These fees were charged to consumer’s wireless phone bills, but the problem is, consumers weren’t always aware of these charges.

For that reason, in 2013, three of the major U.S. carriers — AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile — entered into an agreement with 45 states to stop billing customers for premium short code SMS messaging. This is great news for brands and consumers alike, as the removal of these charges allows more consumers to interact with SMS campaigns, saving consumers nearly $2 billion in additional charges on their wireless bills.

premium text messaging


SMS Short Code Error Messages

Some consumers may experience an error when engaging with an SMS short code. This is a very rare occurrence, but it happens. That’s why we created the following video to explain why and how these SMS short code errors occur, and how you can help resolve them.



You are now on your way to creating and monetizing successful SMS campaigns for your business! Still have questions about SMS short codes, or SMS marketing? Send us your questions here.

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