Blog Home
Texting 101

SMS short codes: What businesses need to know

Alia Paavola
minute read
Table of contents:

Chances are you’ve seen an advertisement encouraging you to text a phrase to a short and sweet number. But what are those numbers, and how do businesses set them up?

These numbers, called SMS short codes, are leveraged by brands across the globe to send text messages at scale. In this detailed guide, we walk through what companies need to know about this phone number type. You’ll get the definition of a short code, its pros and cons, and how to get one set up.

What is an SMS short code?

An SMS short code is a five or six-digit phone number built for high-volume text messaging. Brands use short code numbers to text updates, promotions, and reminders to their contacts at scale.

There are two types of short codes: memorable and random. Memorable short codes are hand-picked digits that spell out a phrase or have repeating numbers. Random short codes are auto-generated numbers. Both short code types work the same way; the included numbers and cost are the only differences. 

SMS short code vs. long code

There are some critical distinctions between an SMS short code and a long-code number, which is ten digits long and called a 10DLC. One number type is not better than the other; it just depends on your business’ messaging needs, budget, and use case.

We’ll dive into some key differences:

Cost: Short codes are more expensive than 10DLC numbers. Leasing a dedicated short code costs between $500 and $1,000 a month. On the other hand, a 10DLC number is often free to own, depending on which business texting platform you select.

Approval process: The approval process for short codes is extensive, as you need to pass a vetting stage and get approval from all mobile carriers. The short code approval process can take months (8 to 12 weeks). 10DLC numbers require approval from The Campaign Registry, but the process takes under a month (2 to 3 weeks).

‍Throughput: Short codes have the highest messaging throughput of all number types. This enables many text messages to be delivered quickly.

Appearance: Short codes are five or six digits, potentially making them more memorable because they are shorter. Long code numbers are ten digits but appear more local because of the recognizable area codes. If your brand is messaging customers in a specific area, you may want a local area code.

Long code vs. short code visual

Use case and applications:
Short codes are great for one-way communication like two-factor authentication, large marketing campaigns, and emergency alerts. They only support text messaging. On the other hand, you can use long code numbers for a broader range of applications because they support conversational messaging and voice capabilities. Long codes are often used for customer support, smaller marketing campaigns, sales follow-ups, and more.

Here’s a chart comparison between the two phone number types.


Short code

Long code




Digit length

5 or 6 


Voice and text



Conversational messaging









Vetting required



Campaign approval required



Approval timeline

8-12 weeks

2-3 weeks

Top use cases

One-way messaging like large marketing campaigns, promotional offers, or two-factor authentication

Conversational messaging like customer support, logistics coordination, sales follow-ups, small SMS marketing campaigns, or appointment reminders.

Pros and cons of SMS short codes

As a business, one of the first steps in adopting a text messaging strategy is to decide on the phone number type you want to use. In this section, we describe the advantages and disadvantages of a short code to help you make that decision.

Benefits of short codes

  • High throughput. SMS short codes were designed to send and deliver many text messages at once. Short codes have the highest throughput compared to all phone number types. This results in fast and reliable message delivery, making them an excellent choice for large-scale and high-volume SMS marketing campaigns.

  • Easy to remember. Since short codes are just five or six numbers, they’re easier to memorize or remember. Plus, a vanity short code can make the phone number even more memorable if it spells out your brand or a related phrase.

  • Less carrier filtering. Since extensive phone and brand vetting is done up-front, mobile carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon do less message filtering.

  • Scalable solution. No matter how many SMS contacts you gain, short code numbers can easily scale as you grow. 

Drawbacks of short codes

  • Cost. One of the significant deterring factors is the cost of a short code. It costs $500 monthly to lease a random short code and $1,000 monthly to lease a memorable short code. That upfront cost to lease a short code number also doesn’t include the messaging cost or price of an A2P messaging platform to manage your text campaigns.

  • Lengthy registration process. The approval and vetting process to get a short code number is extensive. The CTIA commissions a third party to screen all short code leaseholders and applications. The third party examines legal history, EINs (employee identification numbers), opt-in procedures, and more. Then, you must also set up and test your shortcode number with each mobile carrier (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.). This process, which takes months, helps protect customers from SPAM messages.

  • No voice capabilities. Short codes can’t be voice-enabled. Short codes are unsuitable if you’re looking for a phone number that can call contacts.

  • Conversational messaging limitations. Short codes are built for sizeable one-way text message blasts. While they accept simple replies like YES or JOIN, they aren’t as suitable for complex back-and-forth conversations like a customer support chat.

  • International limitations. If you lease a short code in the U.S., it only works domestically. Each country has its own regulations and rule makers. For example, if you need to text in Canada, you must get a different short code provisioned by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Using SMS short codes in marketing

Many prominent brands, from CVS Health to Anthropologie, are leasing short codes for their text message marketing campaigns. That’s because short codes are built to deliver large-scale campaigns to many customers quickly and reliably. In this section, we dive into different use cases and real-life examples of SMS marketing conducted via a short code.

10 common SMS short code marketing use cases

  • SMS keyword opt-ins. Many brands encourage people to subscribe to their SMS marketing campaigns by running SMS keyword campaigns set up from their short code. For example, text ‘BRAND’ to 60613 to never miss a product drop.

  • Welcome messages. Use your short code to send automated welcome messages to your contacts. They will get this welcome message when subscribing to your text marketing program. You can simply say ‘thanks for subscribing’ or give them a discount code to encourage an immediate purchase.

  • Product launches. Alert SMS subscribers to your new product or service offerings via text message. This will keep them informed and aware of new items.

  • Flash sales. Encourage customers to buy quickly by sending a flash sale text to subscribers via your short code number. Use words like TODAY ONLY or ENDS SOON.

  • Company sales. Inform customers about any company-wide sales via text message. For example, let them know about a holiday sale or limited-time promotion.

  • Personal discounts. Give your SMS subscribers access to exclusive or personalized deals. This can help you boost sales on any given day by incentivizing them to buy an item.

  • Black Friday campaigns. Use SMS marketing on Black Friday to capture customers’ attention. Use your SMS short code number to run your Black Friday text campaign and encourage customers to take advantage of the season’s best deals.

  • Restock alerts. Send customers a text message when a popular item is back in stock.

  • Abandoned cart campaigns. Cut cart abandonment rates with a text message reminder. You can link customers back to their abandoned cart to encourage them to complete a purchase. This is a top use case for short code SMS marketing.

  • Re-engagement. Run a text message campaign to re-engage customers who haven’t purchased. You could offer them a discount or simply say, “Hey, it’s been a while.”

💰 Check out additional SMS marketing examples to boost revenue.

10 examples of successful marketing campaigns using short codes

Here are 10 real-life SMS marketing campaigns that use short code numbers.

1. Abandoned cart from Alphalete

An abandoned cart SMS marketing text.

2. Product launch from Crunchi

A product launch SMS marketing example.

3. Welcome from Show Me Your Mumu

A welcome SMS short code marketing text example.

4. Flash sale from Outdoor Voices

A flash sale SMS marketing example.

5. Limited-time deal from Wag!

A limited-time discount sent via SMS short code from Wag!

6. Company sale from Anthropologie

A company-wide discount sent via SMS short code.

7. Event promotion from CVS

A public health SMS short code text from CVS.

8. Restock from SKIMS

A restock SMS alert from SKIMS sent from a short code.

9. Reengagement from Alphalete

A reengagement text message campaign from Alphalete.

10. Black Friday campaign from Lovepop

A Black Friday SMS marketing example from Lovepop

How to get an SMS short code

Here’s how to secure a short code for your business.

  1. Choose a short code. Head to the U.S. Short Code Administration’s website to pick from a list of available short codes. This is where you’ll decide if you want a memorable or random short code.

  2. Lease the short code. Complete a lease application and pay the U.S. Short Code Administration to officially acquire a platform.

  3. Develop a campaign. The next step is to develop an SMS campaign for approval. Most companies develop a campaign in conjunction with an SMS provider partner. A campaign includes details on your SMS opt-in procedures, messaging, use cases, and more.

  4. Pick an SMS platform. Typically, the next step is to find an SMS application that allows you to send mass messages using your short code number.

  5. Wait for approval. You’ll need to get approval from the carriers on your campaign and test your number before your short code can be used to message.

  6. Start texting. Once your campaign is approved, you can start messaging your contacts!

Partner with Textline for your business texting needs

No matter your use case, Textline can help support your business’ texting strategy. Textline is the market's most secure business texting platform, with robust features like metrics, automations, and mass texting. Textline makes it easy to measure and scale text communication.

If you have a leased and approved short code that you want to use on Textline, we can help you set it up. Just text us at (415) 849-4349 to discuss your options.

If, however, the cons of short code texting outweigh the benefits for your company – we have a solution! Textline offers more affordable phone number options like 10DLC and text-enabled toll-free numbers. 

Get a feel of the Textline platform and how it can work for your business by requesting a demo from our expert team.

Start texting now

Sign up for a free 14-day trial today
Get Started
No credit card required

Earn commission for referrals

Get paid for each customer you bring to Textline.