Text messages have an open rate of 98% and a response rate of 45%. For email, those same stats are 20% and 6%, respectively. It’s clear that texting is the future of business-to-consumer communications.
But choosing between SMS and email isn’t the only choice you have to make. Once you opt for a text marketing campaign, you still have two options for sending and receiving texts: long code and short-code.
Wondering which to choose? In this short guide, we’ll be comparing short-code vs long code to help you decide.
Long Codes vs. Short-Codes
Long codes and short-codes fulfill the same purpose—they act as a sender ID for texting with customers. In other words, they’re a customer-facing contact number. However, while they both allow for two-way sending of SMS and MMS, they’re far from identical.
Of course, the most obvious difference between the two is their length. Short-codes have five or six digits, while long codes have ten digits.
But aside from the number of digits, there are several other ways that short-codes and long codes differ. As a business looking to harness the power of SMS marketing and communication, it’s worth digging deeper into what each option can offer.
To that end, we’ve highlighted some important differentiators below.
Speed of Sending and Receiving SMS
The number of texts you can handle in a given period is called your throughput. There are regulations that dictate the maximum throughput of long and short-codes.
Long codes come with a default capacity of one message per second. Depending on your carrier, your trust score and the regulations in the country you’re sending to, you may be able to increase this number.
By contrast, short-codes have a much higher capacity of 30–100 text messages per second.
Inbound to Outbound Text Ratio
Another industry regulation involves the inbound to outbound message ratio. To protect consumers from spam, mobile carriers limit you from sending excessive bulk messages. If your ratio exceeds the acceptable threshold, the carrier can block your number.
Long code numbers have an inbound to outbound limit of 1:3. In other words, for every inbound text message, you should send no more than three outbound messages. If you use your number responsibly, you won’t have to worry about being blocked.
Short-code numbers currently have no limitations.
Proof of Delivery (Read Receipts)
In some cases, you may want to confirm that your message went through. For example, if you’re sending out an emergency text, you’ll want to know it reached the right people. Or, if you use mass texting for employee communications, read receipts can tell you who has opened the text—and who hasn’t.
Long codes don’t support delivery receipts, but short-codes do.
Leasing an SMS long code number is relatively easy. When you sign up for a text messaging service like Texting Base, you can start texting the same day. However, securing a specific, dedicated long code number may take a few weeks. Long codes usually cost a few dollars per month (plus messaging fees).
On the other hand, acquiring a short-code is more complicated. It can take you anywhere from 6–12 weeks to register a short-code number. Once you have your short-code, expect to pay $500–1000/month to keep it in addition to messaging costs.
Although there is some overlap between the possible uses for short and long codes, they each work best in different scenarios.
When to Use Long Codes
Because long code numbers can send and accept texts and phone calls, they’re the best option for two-way communication. Long codes also allow you to use the same phone number across all channels, removing any confusion for customers.
You’ll often see long codes in customer service-oriented industries, such as retail, banking and transportation. Use cases for long codes include:
- Shipping and delivery notifications – Update your customers on their order status. If they need to change their address or schedule a delivery time, they can easily reach out.
- Scheduling changes – Plane and train companies routinely message customers about delays, seat changes and policy reminders. Once again, because messages like these often involve a situation that needs to be rectified, using a long code works well.
- Notifications and reminders – Doctor’s offices, hair salons and other appointment-based businesses can use long codes to remind customers and change appointment times.
Finally, long codes feel more personal. When a new friend gives you their phone number, they give you a ten-digit number. Given that we’re used to this length, a long code will immediately feel more “human” when it arrives in an inbox.
When to Use Short-Codes
Since short-codes are a form of application-to-person messaging (A2P), they’re ideal for sending a mass text, especially when your communications are mostly one-sided. While recipients can still respond to your texts, they can’t tap the number and give you a call.
With that in mind, short-codes are best for:
- An SMS marketing campaign – Send out flash sale announcements, ads and coupon codes to thousands of subscribers at once.
- Sweepstakes – Many businesses use short-codes for contests with a “text to win” approach (“Text COMPETE to 123456 to enter”).
- Two-factor authentication (2FA) – If you have a login portal or app that requires 2FA, you can use short-code automation to send confirmation codes out as soon as possible.
- Emergency messages – When there’s an urgent weather warning or emergency alert, a short-code makes sense—you can send at least a hundred messages per second.
Short-codes can also be a memorable marketing tool, especially when you can spell out your business name or acronym with five or six digits. For example, if you run a chain of restaurants called Mack’s Burgers, you might try to secure the short-code MACKS (62257).
Explore Your Options With Texting Base
Ultimately, whether you need a short-code or long code depends on your needs and budget. If you’re looking to have one-to-one conversations, a long code may be most suitable. If your goal is to focus on SMS marketing, you may opt for a short-code number.
Once you’ve settled on using a short-code or a long code (or both), it’s time to master the SMS medium. Whether you’re wondering about the difference between promotional and transactional messages or how to harness text messaging analytics, you’ll find all sorts of texting tips and tricks on our blog.
And if you’re looking for an SMS service partner, you’re in the right place. Try our platform for free (14 days) to see how we can complement and optimize your marketing efforts.
Gartner. The Future of Sales Follow-Ups: Text Messages. https://www.gartner.com/en/digital-markets/insights/the-future-of-sales-follow-ups-text-messages