What Is a Shortcode In Texting?

Aug 17, 2022

A shortcode is a vital part of digital marketing. It is a set of numbers, usually 5 or 6 digits, that organizations use to mass-send information through SMS and MMS.

These numbers are made short for customers to memorize and easily contact. Furthermore, they are the most ideal means for brands to send their personalized ads to targeted subscribers.

If you’re still wondering what a short code is, here’s an example:

Have you ever received an ad via SMS and the ‘from’ number isn’t the usual 10-digits? Or, you’ve certainly come across an ad from a brand that asks you to text any keyword to a short set of numbers?

E.G- Text WIN to 76767 to participate and win in (Brand Name)’s exclusive games for the season!

These codes are also personalized sometimes to help subscribers vote for candidates in a contest. E.G Text (Candidate’s name) to 9860 to vote for him. 

A more popular example is the shortcode generated by the Red Cross during Haiti’s tragic earthquake back in 2010: Send HAITI to 90999 to donate to Haiti’s victims.

These shortcodes, when sent or received, will show up in your inbox in the same manner that all your other messages do. And all messages sent to and received from that particular service provider will appear in a single thread.

Also read: Can You Text 911?

What Are Short Codes For?

The major aim of these shortcodes is to improve the smooth link and easy access between the service subscribers and service providers. It was initially created and used majorly for broadcast texting. However, they have become more versatile (not to mention popular) than they used to be.

These shortcodes have been proven to massively generate input and engagement between both parties involved, especially if the SMS is a call to action.

Shortcodes are used by a range of commercial industries. Here are some aspects that these industries utilize shortcodes.

  • Marketing and promotions
  • Surveys
  • Two-factor authentication 
  • Subscriber opt-ins
  • Alerts and notifications
  • Contests
  • Giveaways
  • Newsletters

As a subscriber to any shortcode service, you are at liberty to opt-out of their endless spamming at any point. The process is quick and easy. Simply text Cancel, Stop, Unsubscribe, or End back to the shortcode and you would be logged out of the spam list.

Types of Short Code

There are two primary types of shortcodes. Both have the same function, the disparity lies like the digits. Here are the two types of SMS shortcodes and their subsets.

Shared Shortcodes

Shared shortcodes are cheap, therefore they are used by thousands of businesses who want to curtail monthly costs. In this method, the businesses all use the name digits, with different keywords. So mobile carriers now help distribute the traffic evenly, based on these varying keywords. 

The only benefit of shared shortcodes is the reduced cost. Most service providers are withdrawing from these shared codes because of the high rate of cons involved.

Here are some of these cons:

  • A shared code can be easily blacklisted if one of the businesses engages in illegal activity within the number.
  • There is a high rate of spam.
  • Your subscribers can accidentally opt out of your services while trying to opt out of another.

Dedicated Shortcodes

With a dedicated shortcode, different businesses can use the same keyword. The disparity here lies in the shortcode itself. Dedicated shortcodes are more expensive to run and acquire because they are mainly utilized by a single business. 

Once your shortcode has been assigned to you, you can run multiple ads and campaigns with any keywords that you would like. Shared shortcodes do not have this privilege. In shared shortcodes, there can be a possibility that your desired keyword has already been taken by another brand that you share identities with.

Furthermore, with dedicated shortcodes, you have full access and control over all incoming messages. These messages are not subject to filter, unlike shared codes. 

There are no cases of spam either. The best part is, since you’re operating solo, there would be no need to worry about getting blacklisted because of another brand.

There are two subsets of the dedicated shortcodes, they include:

  • Random Short Code

A random short code is usually the first digit assigned to you when you request a new shortcode. It is cheaper than its counterpart, however, it is not personalized because you are just given a random number. You don’t even get to choose the number of digits.

  • Vanity Shortcodes

Vanity shortcodes provide the most personalized identity for your brand. They are usually a set of special numbers that are extremely easy to memorize: e.g. 363636, 11123, 33333, etc. 

You can liken them to a license plate in the sense that you are allowed to choose what digits you would like for your brand’s shortcode, and how many digits the shortcode would be. As expected, this is the most expensive shortcode system.

Shortcode Vs Alternatives

Shortcodes are not the only mode of SMS marketing, we also have Toll-free SMS and the 10DLC. However, shortcodes stand as the most commonly used. Here are some of the differences between these shortcodes, and their 10-digit counterparts. 

  • They are the easiest to memorize, this is the core advantage.
  • Shared codes are 20x faster than the alternatives
  • Short code messages are usually limited to 160 characters, whereas the alternatives have a threshold of up to 1600 characters.
  • Shortcodes take longer to be approved than the alternatives which are approved almost immediately after they are acquired.
  • Shortcode messages are not filtered by service providers, unlike the alternatives.
  • While 10DLC costs about $10 each month and toll-free SMS are free, Shortcode SMS can cost between $500-1000.

Getting Your Own Short Code

If you’re a business owner, there are a million reasons why you should acquire a shortcode. SMS marketing is proving to be a money-maker these days, and you do not want to be left out of the trend.

The complexity of the process depends on the type of shortcode you’re going for: shared or dedicated.

Dedicated shortcodes are leased to business owners who pay to use them for as long as they can afford to. Payments are usually monthly. After these numbers have been acquired on a lease, it takes about 4 weeks for these numbers to be completely approved and activated by cellular network providers.

Vanity shortcodes are the best alternatives, if your finances allow you, you should opt for them.

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