Should You Purchase a Shortcode or Toll-Free Number for SMS Marketing?

01/28/2021 2 min read Written by Corie Stark

Research shows that SMS marketing is one of the most efficient ways to connect with leads and customers. It’s also one of the fastest-growing marketing channels out there. In 2016, 37.2 million users opted in to receive text messages from businesses. By the end of 2020, that number soared to 48.7 million.

So, if your marketing team has decided to add SMS to your inbound toolbox, we can’t blame you! However, there’s a lot to know before you begin sending off your first texts. What do we think is one of the most important things to consider?

What number you’ll be using to send your text marketing campaigns.

In SMS, shortcodes and toll-free codes are useful and popular options, but which one you use may depend on a few factors. Keep reading for an overview of both and what you should consider purchasing.

First Off, What is A Short Code?

Look at your phone right now. Do you have any texts from your favorite restaurant, store, or service provider? Are they something along the lines of 44872 or 677-94?

That’s a shortcode, or a five or six-digit number used to send SMS and MMS (multimedia) messages to and from mobile phones. A vanity short code is a shortcode whose numbers spell out a word on a dial pad. For example, 827438 would spell out Target.

Now, What’s a Toll-Free Code?

Toll-free codes, or toll-free SMS, are used to send texts from toll-free numbers to mobile phones. A toll-free number is any long-code telephone number that starts with 800 such as, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, 833, and so on.

If you look in your messages on your phone, you probably have one of these, too. In fact, HubSpot uses 844 for its toll-free SMS communication.

Using Shortcodes vs. Toll-Free Codes

You may be scratching your head at this point. Shortcodes and toll-free codes both send and receive messages, so why would it matter which one you use?

Here’s why. Shortcodes and toll-free SMS are routed in different infrastructures, affecting deliverability. If you plan on sending high-volume messages, like appointment reminders or verifications, shortcode may be a better option. A toll-free code would work but it could be filtered by a service provider.

Here are some additional reasons why you’d choose one over the other: 

  • Shortcodes can help with brand recognition, especially if you use a vanity code
  • Toll-free codes or SMS lets you transfer customer interactions seamlessly from text to an actual phone conversation
  • Toll-free codes typically match your business’s regular phone number, making it easy to remember
  • Shortcodes are great if your business wants to start small with messaging, then scale up
  • Shortcodes are typically more cost-effective
  • Toll-free codes or SMS set up is instant, while a shortcode needs to be approved by a carrier

Can You Use Both?

Some SMS marketing platforms support both toll-free SMS and shortcodes numbers, so you can create and send your SMS marketing campaigns effortlessly. Look for one that integrates with your CRM for the best experience.

By: Corie Stark

After spending many years as a sports journalist, Corie switched to marketing in 2013. Her love of writing, talking to people, and keeping up with the industry enables her to use her skills for anything from social media to long-form blogging. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking with her dogs and making her cats chase the ever elusive red dot.

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