While planning a text or SMS marketing campaign, one of the first decisions an organization needs to make revolves around the selection of an inbound number. Inbound numbers, either in the form of long or short codes, are used to receive SMS messages from leads and customers into an SMS application. This makes it easy for them to share feedback, ask questions and have conversations.

 These virtual inbound numbers- long codes and short codes, act as the organization’s Sender ID (the from address in a text) and form the foundation of any texting or SMS marketing strategy.

Difference in features

Difference 1: Changes in anatomy

As their names suggest, long codes form a longer set of digits, as compared to short codes, and can be used to send and receive texts, faxes and make calls. SMS long codes are 10 digit numbers and are tied to an area code, for e.g. (212) 221- 2929. These are typically used to send individual customers texts, and offer a more personal feel for interactive messaging conversations.

SMS short codes, on the other hand, are 5-6 digits (they typically look like ‘69488’ which Pizza Hut uses) and can only be used to send and receive SMS messages, not faxes or calls.

Difference 2: Speed of sending/receiving SMSs

A major limitation with SMS long codes is related to the number of messages which can be sent overall and on a per second basis. Long codes are used primarily for person-to-person communication or for small outbound campaigns. Carriers monitor traffic and often block long code text messaging for larger outbound campaigns, making delivery questionable. 

In contrast, SMS short codes can be used to send 40 messages per second  and are typically used for high volume messaging, like nurture campaigns, customer or candidate updates or student announcements. 

Difference 3: Inbound to Outbound text ratio

 According to carrier regulations, the ratio of inbound to outbound text traffic should be better than 1:3 for SMS long codes. There is no such restriction in place for short codes.

If the same text content (like a marketing message) is going to multiple receivers from a long code, there is a high probability that the long code will be blocked by the carrier.

Since short codes are registered and  approved by all the major carriers, content can be sent to multiple people, regardless of the quantity or sending frequency.

Difference in use cases

Typically, a long code is used for conversations between a business and an individual or small number of recipients. Here are a few use cases:

  • A higher education organization  can use a long code to have a conversation with a student, or students. regarding success coaching.
  • A mortgage company can update a client on the status of their loan application and approval.
  • A sales or service agent can converse with a lead or customer about specific information they need. 

SMS short codes are recommended for marketing or for urgent information dissemination. Short codes are used for: 

  • Marketing.  Use short codes to send a nurture campaign, new job alerts,  discount coupons, product offers or other promotional information. 
  • Compliance and Consent.  Many businesses use short codes for ease of opt-in. Aside from the short number, short code delivery is more reliable and faster, improving compliance management.  
  • Alert notifications. Again, thanks to reliable delivery, short codes are recommended for any emergency notifications.  For example, Higher Education often uses short codes for emergency campus announcements. 

Comparing their acquisition process

Acquiring a long code for your business is easy.  Simply request the number from your carrier, usually via an online form, and you can start texting within a day.

Getting a short code may take 6-8 weeks because it needs to be registered and the application approved by your carrier.


Long codes can be used globally, but don’t support delivery receipts, so a business won’t know for sure if the message has been received by the intended recipients unless they respond. Thanks to the power of the SMS-Magic global messaging platform,, delivery status can be tracked for long code as well. 

 On the other hand, short codes are country-specific and provide delivery receipts, which are useful in cases like compliance or when SMS delivery is critical. 

Which code should you use?

If your business is looking for a cheap, easy way to send and receive messages, mainly for conversational use and not for campaigns or  bulk messaging, then you can choose long codes.

However, if you are looking to send SMSs mainly for marketing campaigns or other higher volume bulk messaging,  then short codes are for you.

SMS-Magic can help you get  started with your inbound numbers.  Simply click here for more details.


Categories: Texting Best Practices

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