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What’s the difference between SMS long codes and short codes?

4 Minute Read

Phone being held up by two books of different lengths on blue background

CordialMake a connection.

Sending text messages is vastly more complex for a business than it is for an individual. Your brand will want to determine how your mobile messaging program will run and decide on either a short code or a long code. What’s the difference? Let’s break it down. 

What are SMS long codes?

Long codes, which are standard 10-digit phone numbers, can make messages feel like they are coming from a person rather than a bot. However, this level of personalization comes with a price tag along with reduced throughput. 

  • Timing: Messages sent from a long code can be processed at a rate of only one message per second. In addition, you cannot send MMS messages via a long code. 
  • Best use: Long codes work best when your business strategy is focused on customer service, communicating one-to-one with your customers, or if you prefer to have a consistent phone number displayed to recipients across channels. 

What are SMS short codes?

We recommend short codes, which are short 5- or 6-digit telephone numbers, as the preferred method of sending marketing messages to your subscribers. 

They have greater message throughput than long codes and take about 8-12 weeks to acquire (before your brand can start sending from that code). So they take a greater time to secure the send codes up front, however this effort is sure to payoff in the long run due to the higher throughput and ability to send various message types. 

When you register a short code, a random 5- or 6-digit number is assigned to your business that you can then use to begin sending. Remember, it takes anywhere from 8-12 weeks to register your short code. If you want to start sending SMS messages, start planning a few months in advance. 

  • Timing: Messages sent from a short code can be processed at rates of 100 to 400+  messages per second or more.
  • Best use: Short codes work best when you’re sending high-volume marketing messages to larger segments of your audience.

Dedicated or vanity short codes

If you would like to choose your short code, you can acquire a vanity short code — aka a dedicated short code — that is a number that might be easier for your audience to remember, such as 12345. Dedicated short codes can only be used by one business. For example, Chipotle uses the dedicated short code 888222, which means that no other business can send SMS messages from that number. 

Most large organizations have a dedicated short code, but keep in mind that vanity codes generally cost twice as much as a normal short code and take about the same amount of time to acquire as a short code. 

When choosing a vanity code, you can use the U.S. Short Code Directory as a resource. There, you can find which codes are being used by which companies and which codes are available for purchase or registration. 

Shared short codes

Another type of SMS short code is called a shared short code, which is used by multiple businesses. Sounds confusing, but to keep everything segmented each company is assigned a unique keyword. For example, if two businesses are sharing the same short code, one might be assigned the keyword “PIZZA” and the other might be assigned “BOOKS.”

Shared short codes are less expensive and easier to acquire, but are less customized, which may be less attractive to some businesses. Remember that it’s important to identify your SMS strategy before submitting your short code submission to the carriers. If your messages deviate from what is in your application, the carrier can block you from sending SMS.

Phone mocks illustrating the difference between short and long code in SMS

Maximize conversions with your SMS marketing platform

Nowadays, most consumers have their phones at hand day and night. When smartphone users hear their phone beep, they tend to check for messages within minutes instead of days or hours. SMS marketing offers businesses a powerful and cost-effective way to reach consumers rapidly.

Even better, a platform like Cordial can your brand lift customer engagement with real-time personalization more than 250% by sending personal, relevant, and intelligent messages across email, SMS, and mobile apps.
Learn more about best SMS practices in our SMS Marketing Guide.