Short Code FAQ  > What Is a SMS Short Code?

What Is a Short Code?

A short code is a 4-6 digit SMS number issued by the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA), which is used to send and receive SMS or MMS messages to mobile phones.  

SMS short codes were developed by wireless carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, etc.) as an alternative to regular 10-digit mobile phone numbers used by consumers. These SMS short codes were to be easier for consumers to read and remember, as they were 4-digit SMS numbers, 5-digit SMS numbers, and 6-digit SMS number in length.

In the mobile industry you'll regularly hear the term "Common Short Code", or it's acronym "CSC", which simply means that the short code number works across all wireless carriers. This allows all consumers, no matter what wireless phone provider they're using, to be able to send and receive text messages using these 5-6 digit phone numbers. This is the reason that the organization that is tasked with overseeing the short code ecosystem on behalf of U.S. wireless carriers, including administrative, technical and operational duties, is called The Common Short Code Administration, or "CSCA".

SMS Short Code Example

Dedicated Short Code vs. Shared Short Codes

There are two types of SMS short codes in the United States. The first type of short code is a dedicated short code, which is owned and used by one brand or organization. Because a dedicated short code is owned by a single brand or organization, that brand is responsible to pay the short code lease. A vanity short code lease costs $1,000/month, and a non-vanity short code lease costs $500/month.

The second type of SMS short code in the United States is a shared short code, which is owned by an SMS software provider, and shared between many different brands and organizations. This also means that the short code costs are shared, and with some short codes being shared by thousands of different brands or organizations, the shared cost per user can be extremely low.

To avoid messaging issues between brands and organizations all using the same short code, an SMS software provider will assign a unique SMS keyword to each brand or organization, allowing the software provider to determine which SMS campaign a consumer is trying to interact with.

For example, let's say there's a retail store, and a restaurant both using the shared SMS short code 12345. If consumers wanted to interact with the retail store's SMS campaign, they'd first have to text message the retail store's unique SMS keyword. For consumers that wanted to interact with the restaurant's SMS campaign, they'd have to text message the restaurant's unique SMS keyword.

For more information on the difference between dedicated short codes and shared short codes, click here.

Did You Know That Coca-Cola Has a 4-Digit SMS Number?

It's true, Coca-Cola has a 4-digit short code. Their short code is 2653, which spells "COKE" on a mobile phone's dialpad. For more information on Coca-Cola's SMS short code, click here.

Vanity Short Codes vs. Non-Vanity Short Codes

Not only are there dedicated and shared short codes, there are also vanity short codes, and non-vanity short codes. Vanity short codes are 5-6 digits, and are specifically selected by a brand. Usually vanity short codes are selected over non-vanity short codes, because they’re easier for consumers to remember. For example, vanity short codes would be numbers like 12345, 313131, 711711, etc. A vanity short code lease costs $1,000/month.

Non-vanity short codes are also 5-6 digits, but they're selected at random by the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA), and then given to the brand to use. For example, non-vanity short codes would be numbers like 39732, 958372, 34930, etc. A non-vanity short code lease costs $500/month.

It’s interesting to note that the majority of SMS short codes in the United States are non-vanity short codes.

Need to Lookup a SMS Short Code Number?

The U.S. Short Code Directory was built to allow consumers to lookup any SMS short code number in the United States. To start your SMS short code search, click here.

Short Code Uses

SMS short codes can be used for a variety of different purposes, including the following. For a full list of the different ways that brands are using SMS short codes, click here.

  • SMS Contests/Giveaways
  • Text Message Offers
  • Customer Support Text Messaging
  • SMS Shipping Notifications
  • SMS Appointment Reminders
  • MMS Image Messaging
  • MMS Video Messaging
  • 2 Factor Authentication
  • SMS Mobile Donations
  • Text-to-Screen
  • SMS Voting/Polling
  • Mobile Rewards Program
  • SMS Emergency Alerts
  • Employee Text Messaging Communications
  • SMS App Notifications

Did You Know The Majority of Short Codes are Non-Vanity Short Codes?

That's right... In the United States there are more non-vanity short codes than vanity short codes. The reason is because a lot of short codes are used for computer-to-computer messaging, so there's no real good reason to secure a good looking short code for that type of messaging.

When a consumer text messages a short code, it's routed through that consumer's wireless carrier's SMS messaging server. The consumer's wireless carrier then determines where to route the text message based on the SMS short code that they're text messaging. The text message is sent to one of a number of SMS aggregators, which then routes the text message to one of a number of web-based SMS marketing platforms. Once the message has been received by one of these web-based SMS marketing platforms, the brand can then see the message, and determine what actions, if any, to take because of the message.

The actions could include opting the consumer into a mobile marketing program, responding with a text message confirmation, or even storing the information the consumer text messaged to them. The possibilities when it comes to short code text messaging are limitless.

Did You Know That Not All 5 & 6 Digit Numbers Can Be Short Codes?

5-Digit short codes are limited to numbers between 20000 and 99999. 6-Digit short code are limited to numbers between 200000 and 999999.

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