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December 6, 2016

The Long and Short of It: Short Code vs Long Code Texting

When Neil Papworth sent the first SMS message on a PC in 1992, it was to say “Merry Christmas.”

35 years later, 97% of people send at least one text per day. With over 250 million adults living in the U.S., think about how many “Merry Christmas” texts are about to be sent out in a few weeks.

While 57% of people are cool with receiving promotional texts from businesses, the average individual has no idea what goes on behind that number on their SMS message.

So here’s the long and short of it:

Currently, there are two common ways for businesses to send SMS messages to customers: short code texting and long code texting.

What is short code texting?

While both are used by businesses and retail companies as mobile marketing strategies, short code texts are digestible 5-or-6 digit numbers, making them easy to remember. You could also read Moonwalking with Einstein and never worry about memorization limitations, but I digress.

As with any upside, there’s a downside, too. And short codes may have more drawbacks than positives.

Any time you text a keyword to a short code number, you are automatically opting-in to a business’s database. So whether you meant to or not, get ready for the 9am text from Bed Bath & Beyond that you opted-in to, and it’s not to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Unlike long codes, short codes only work within the country. This means U.S. short code texts can only be sent within the U.S. on U.S. carriers who have approved the code. And how long does the approval process take? About 8-12 weeks.


A selfie of what you’ll look like while you wait for your short code to be approved

Credit: Mike Koziel

Not only are short codes approved at a sloth’s pace, they’re downright expensive. For businesses on a budget, and even Google has a budget (albeit an enormous one), short codes can run upwards to $1000 per month due to leasing (because you don’t own the number), carrier fees, and maintenance.

Short codes allow businesses to send bulk texts to existing customers and share information, offers, or promotions. However, short codes limit communication between a business and their customers to automated keywords, making them impersonal and cookie cutter-like.

What is long code texting?

Long code texting uses the classic 10-digit numbers we’re all familiar with. Unlike short codes, long codes are unregulated and don’t require any opt-ins. The obvious downside: they can turn into a cesspool for spammers who will flood your inbox with more shit than a portable toilet at Burning Man.

With that being said, long code texts have plenty of positives. First, long code texts can be sent internationally, making them advantageous for global organizations.

Long codes are significantly cheaper, costing less than $100 per month (long code issuers set their own price), can be set-up within a matter of hours, and work with all carriers. They also allow businesses and customers to have personalized, two-way communication. And in a time where people expect an indivualized experience, tailoring text messages to your customer is always a win.

I got 99 problems, but your pitch ain’t one…

… so don’t make it one.

Whether you choose short or long code, every SMS message sent is an opportunity to further develop your relationship with a customer. Don’t lose it with sales pitches, typos, kitschy gimmicks, and spam.

Or be prepared for a lot of 4-letter words thrown your way: STOP.

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