What is a shortcode?

A short code is a 5 or 6 digit number that is used for text message marketing. When you see a call to action that says “Text VOTE to 12345,” VOTE is the keyword and 12345 is the shortcode. For most organizations, they will use one short code, but may use many keywords on that short code in order to designate different campaigns.

Why do we use short codes?

The carriers want organizations, both non profit and commercial, to use short codes for SMS marketing and communications. There is a layer of businesses called aggregators that connect directly with the carriers and are able to deliver text messages over short codes at higher rates and they’re able to verify delivery. Aggregators only send messages over short codes. In almost all cases, if you send messages over a regular 10 digit number, delivery verification cannot be confirmed, and throughput is very slow.

How much do short codes cost?

In the United States there is only one place to obtain a short code and it’s rather straightforward to lease a short code. If you want to choose the short code number, the cost is $1,000 per month. If the number is not important, you can lease a random short code for $500 per month. Similar to a website, you’ll need to host the short code (with an aggregator). Generally, the hosting price is $500+ per month. Hosting and delivery is important so you don’t necessarily want to go with the cheapest option.

Many vendors (including my employer) offer the use of a shared short. A shared short code is owned by the vendor and multiple clients can use the short code – hence the word shared. The setup is comparable to using gmail or yahoo for email, you are sharing a domain. All of the basic rules apply to shared short codes, except the cost structure will be different. If you are looking to get started with mobile communications starting with a shared short code is cheaper, faster and easier to get up and running.

How long does it take to get a shared short code?

This is definitely the most complicated question to answer. A good estimate is that it will take 6-8 weeks to be up and running with a new short code. Leasing the actual short code is easy, just go to http://usshortcodes.com choose your short code and pay.* The next step is to aggregate the short code with the carriers. This means that the aggregator hooks up the short code with each respective carrier. Each phone carrier has their own schedule and process so this process can be a little confusing and it’s hard to forecast exactly when the short code will be live. Just hang in there and stay in contact with the aggregator.

*You can reserve a short code for up to 60 days without paying.

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