So, you’re thinking about implementing a SMS / text message marketing program and you’re wondering about short codes and long codes; what they are, what the differences between them are, why you should choose one over the other, and so on.
Makes sense to me.
So let’s talk about short codes Vs. long codes. We’ll start with simple definitions…
Short codes are 5 or 6 digit phone numbers used specifically for the transmission of text messages. They look like this: 58279, 363256.
Long codes are 10-digit numbers much like regular phone numbers that can also be used to transmit text messages. They look like this: 613-707-1807
So what are the major differences?
Short codes are:
- Designed specifically for the transmission of text messages – one can send huge volumes of messages over a short code with no difficulty.
- Registered with the CTIA (the mobile industy), which means the short code holder has to obtain approval before being allocated one (there’s a 8-12 week approval process), he/she has adhere to certain protocols to maintain the integrity of text message marketing as a valuable marketing medium as well as be audited periodically for compliance.
- Easy to memorize at a glance.
- Looks professional.
- There’s an on-going monthly cost to lease a short code ($500-$1500/month, depending on where you lease it, and whether or not you have opted for a vanity code).
- Country specific: Short codes are only “good” in the country in which they are registered. To run a North America-wide campaign with a short code, you’d need two different short codes, one for Canada, and one for the U.S.
Long codes are:
- Not designed for text messages and are relatively slow (1 message per second) and are therefore not ideal for businesses planning to send large volumes of messages.
- Not registered with the CTIA, not audited for protocols to ensure good text marketing practices.
- No carrier approval needed to obtain long code.
- No compliance audits.
- Long codes are disposable.
- Long codes are cheap ($1/month lease).
- Tougher to memorize at a glance.
- Looks unprofessional; when was the last time you saw a national brand use a long code for a text message marketing campaign? That’s right… never.
- Depends on the service, but not usually country specific. A single long code can be used for promotions in Canada and the U.S., for example.
- Are used for the transmission of spam / bulk SMS blasts.
Looking at this breakdown, the BIG difference, short of the length of the numbers and the ease at which large numbers of SMS messages can be sent over it, is the lease cost of the number and the carrier approval process – which again is required for short codes, but not for long codes. Both types of numbers, of course, are subject to the consumer protection laws of the country they are operated in (for us, it’s the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in the U.S. and CASL in Canada).
But what does that tell us?
It tells us that companies using short codes (like we do), have significantly more “skin in the game”. Not only do they have to ensure their systems comply with the CTIA rules (which go a long way to ensure a beneficial user experience on their own) and with the regulations in the countries in which they operate, they have to ensure their customers do as well, since a short code is easily traced back to its “owner.”
That’s not to say operators who use long codes only are not credible or serious.
But if there’s any “hanky panky” going on with SMS messages (and by “hanky panky” I mean “spamming”) 99 times out of a 100 it’s going to done on a long code, by operators of long codes.
In other words, when text messaging spam is sent, 9 times out of 10 it is sent on a long code, not a short code.
Because too many spam complaints and the carriers will rescind their approval of a short code. No short code = no business.
On the other hand, operators of long codes can continuing operating as usual unless they manage to attract the attention of a government regulatory agency – which may or may or may not happen, depending how swamped and understaffed that agency is, or how egregious the operator’s offences are.
Of course, I’m biased… because we use carrier-registered short codes and have built a system that is virtually spam proof.
Of course, we can accommodate business owners who want to use our service to send messages over a long code (I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this), but they will be bound by the “best practice”, spam-preventative tools that are built into our system.
If you want to appear serious, credible, and sleep comfortably knowing you’re not breaking any consumer protection laws, your SMS / text message marketing program should be done over a short code.