Shared vs. Dedicated Short Codes


What Is a Short Code?

If you’ve seen American Idol, then you’ve seen short codes—the program uses them for audience voting.  A short code is a short name for a “Common Short Code” (CSC), a 5- or 6-digit code that is used as a mobile marketing address either specifically by one mobile carrier or in common with all of the major mobile carriers. It is a quick easy way for a customer to respond to an advertiser.  The ranges that are available are 20000 to 99999 and 222222 to 899999, but this does not mean that all numbers are available within these ranges (see below).

Short codes can be distributed through direct mail, newspaper ads, posters, subway and bus placards, on websites, and in television and radio advertising. In any of these cases, the short code is included and to respond, the customer or potential customer is asked to send an SMS text message to the identified number.

The purpose of sending the number can be many things.  Replying to the short code could:

  • trigger a donation to a charity
  • enter the sender into a context
  • represent the sender’s vote in a competition
  • be a response to a poll
  • be part of a game
  • make a mobile payment.

The person who wishes to respond enters the short code as the address, and then composes the text message, often a keyword that communicates to the advertiser what the person’s interest or desire is. There may be a programmed automatic response, follow-up, or confirmation sent in reply.

When a customer responds to a short code, the advertiser has a golden opportunity to invite the customer to opt-in for other communications: emails, SMS alerts of sales, ecoupons, newsletters, or loyalty programs.

Short codes can be randomly generated or selected by the owner to create some connection to his or her brand.  The second type is also referred to as a “vanity short code.” They are provided on a first-come, first-served basis, like domain names, but also like domain names, the use of them may be terminated or the contract may expire without renewal, and they may return to availability. If you want to see how vanity short codes work, go to this website, which keeps a list and see how various companies have made creative use of the digits:

What Is a Shared Short Code?

A shared short code is one that belongs to the mobile marketing company that multiple subscribers use.  Because there are multiple subscribers, responses must include a keyword prior to the action word—the keyword is what directs the response to you rather than another sharer of the code. Shared short codes are cheaper and quicker to set up, but the requirement for users to add a keyword to the action word makes them clunkier to use than dedicated short codes.  The shared nature of the shared short code makes it less brandable.  You may have to lease your keywords, and if a customer also has connections with another merchant using the same shared short code, wires can get crossed. And if you switch service providers, you have to start over.  The limitations and low cost make shared short code best for small businesses .

What Is a Dedicated Short Code?

A dedicated short code is one of which you are the sole user, making it more brandable.  You are also the sole payer, which makes it expensive, ranging from $500 per month to $1000 per month in many cases, with the low end being for random and the high end being for select/vanity short codes. There may also be a monthly hosting fee, and on top of that there’s the fee for the short code, and the fact that it can take up to 10 weeks to set up.

However, if you have a dedicated short code, the likelihood of people responding to someone else in error is diminished. In addition, your choice of keywords is not limited by what others have chosen, and you don’t need to have a keyword prior to the action word.