Comparing the advantages of long code vs. short code messages? We’ve got you covered with this explainer, which breaks down the pros and cons of each SMS medium. 

What are short and long codes for texting?

Shortcodes, long codes, and toll-free numbers (TFN) are delivery vehicles for text messages. 

A shortcode is a five-digit number assigned by carriers that allow for high SMS throughput. Shortcodes can be customized, are a little pricey, and can take some time to set up. They’re really great for customer service, non-collection account information, or reminders. Shortcodes can be great conduits for mass notifications. They do also support two-way messaging. 

But there are some use-case-specific caveats to consider with shortcodes. For example, for collections or account recovery, shortcodes may not be the ideal delivery method depending on whether you’re a first or third-party entity. This is because carriers, who distribute shortcodes, very closely monitor the types of communications occurring over their networks and reserve the right to intercept at their discretion. To ensure your messages are landing you might want to consider a different vehicle if accounts recovery is your intended SMS application.

TFN texting is good for both one-way or two-way messaging. The throughput isn’t as high as a shortcode or a toll-free number, however. Essentially, a TFN is a 1-800 number that allows the text message to ride the same network as a phone call would. 

Right now shortcode regulations don’t apply to TFNs, making them an excellent choice for a third-party collections use case. 

Turning to long codes, these numbers are typically local numbers and are not super leveraged for business texting. They’re designed for person-to-person messaging and are the mobile numbers that you text your friends and family from. Their throughput is minimal at around one message per second.

Providing customer service

Because of their two-way capabilities, long code texts work well for situations that necessitate multiple messages between parties, like product support and troubleshooting. The continuous thread is just like a regular person-to-person text message, which is helpful if customers need to refer back to it later on. 

Adding a human touch

Because a long code message is formatted like the familiar 10-digit phone number of a friend or family member, it can feel more human than a shortcode message, which is only sent by brands. 

Controlling costs

Long code numbers are less expensive than dedicated short codes, making them a cost-effective option for smaller companies or those that only wish to send a limited number of texts. 

Maintaining consistency between channels

Long codes have the advantage of being able to be used for multiple purposes. They can send both SMS and MMS messages as well as make and receive voice calls and even send faxes. This helps you maintain consistency across all channels of communication. 

Is one better than the others?

To make a long story short, it all depends on what your use case is—meaning what kinds of messages are you going to be sending? 

Shortcodes and TFNs enable you to send rapid-fire SMS at tens of messages per second because their throughput, or the measure of data transfer per second, is high; while a long code can send around 1 message per second. So, shortcodes are great for sending SMS messages to lots of people at once in a time-sensitive manner but they’re highly monitored and subject to carrier interference. Examples of use cases that are best suited to a shortcode are:

  • Marketing communications
  • Broadcast messaging (large- volume texts)
  • One-way notifications like updates to company policies

Another benefit of using a shortcode is that since they’re distributed and vetted by carriers themselves, they are not subject to carrier filtering or suspension for heavy traffic because they’ve been reviewed and issued by the carrier already.

Long codes are meant for person-to-person communications and fire at a far slower rate. 

TFNs, or toll-free numbers, are the newest texting option for businesses. They’re 10-digit numbers and are approved by carriers for commercial use but aren’t yet as stringently controlled. Like shortcodes, they’re compatible with keyword configuration and automation. However, they afford the added bonus of blended communication. That is, you can take calls on your TFN and enjoy the legitimacy that comes from having your text code resemble an actual number.

Why Text in the first place? 

Asynchronous channels like SMS and webchat have dramatically grown in popularity for business communications. This year alone, the number of people texting globally will rise to 3.5 billion. By 2025 the number of texters will double to 6 billion.

SMS messaging is a great way to get instant visibility with your customers. What’s more, going beyond one-way mass texting campaigns presents an even greater opportunity to grow your business and delight customers. Bidirectional or two-way SMS interactions provide more opportunities to get to know customer preferences, build loyalty, and even attract new business.

With the potential to 5X your reach, adding SMS to your communications stack should be an easy decision. 

Deciding exactly what kind of texting you’d like to deploy requires a bit more thought. Hopefully, this outline of the basic vehicles for SMS has helped inform your options.