There are three types of application-to-person (A2P) text messaging options available today:
- Short code
- Long code (10 DLC)
They have their own advantages and disadvantages, as well as different approaches to compliance. Unlike voice, where the rules are made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which carriers, providers, and businesses must comply, the carriers themselves are in charge of most aspects of messaging compliance.
As such, each carrier might have somewhat different rules and pricing, and they continue to evolve—particularly for long code.
One might be tempted to choose a messaging type based on the complexities of compliance, the initial timeline (the speed with which you can get your first message out), and/or the cost. But ultimately, it is ideal (as with all marketing or communications) to choose the format that is most likely to reach your target audience, get them to open it, and elicit the desired response.
Regardless of how compliance is handled, the goal of each approach is the same: to ensure that people receive only the texts they’ve opted into (i.e., the ones they want), and don’t report any messages to their carrier or label them as spam. As such, a lot of the basic messaging rules are the same, as mandated by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) , the CTIA, carriers, and providers (read more in Getting Started). But let’s look a little more closely at the types of messaging.
Short Code for the “Quick” Send!
Unlike other types of messaging that are tied to a standard telephone number, short code is, as the name suggests, a little shorter—typically five or six numbers in the U.S. You can try for a vanity code, but that might add time and it’s harder to spell something with so few numbers. These numbers are rented for a certain period of time.
The upsides to short code:
- High throughput—get your message out quickly!
- No capacity limits. Have a big audience? Short code is ideal.
- Minimal spam filtering by the carriers; once your message is reviewed up front by the carriers, you’re generally good to go (just don’t go making big changes).
And, the downsides:
- It’s mostly a one-way street: replies are typically limited to specific, preprogrammed interactions (such as “type C to Confirm”) and recipients can’t call the number back.
- Higher upfront costs, for the number rental.
- Extra long approval times, as each carrier must review & approve it.
Obviously if you’re selling artwork, you’ll want to use MMS (which is slower to send) and urgency isn’t important anyway, so short code might not be for you. If you need to provide two-factor authentication or share a one-day promotion, it’s perfect. But what are the other considerations?
The short code approval process starts with an application form (the longest of the three types), where you’ll need to provide detailed information about who you are, the basic message you wish to convey, the URL you’ll use, how you’ll get opt-ins, etc. Then you’ll turn it in to your messaging provider to share with carriers for review—which often takes as long as three months as each carrier (ATT, MO, VZN, etc.) all have to review and approve the short code for their network. If a carrier rejects it, the process starts over.
A good provider should review the SC application, identify any red flags on your form, and work through them with you before sending it on. They may even be able to get it approved a little more quickly, but for planning purposes you shouldn’t count on anything less than three months. And once you receive your approval, all of the messages you send via that number will need to be very similar, or you’ll need to get a new approval. When your messaging aligns with the original use case, however, you’re free to send your messages instantly.
Long Code, Longer Process?
Long code messaging uses a local ten-digit phone number (also known as a Direct Inward Dial, or “DID”) that is SMS/MMS enabled. Note that a number isn’t necessarily SMS enabled, but even if you’re not planning to send messaging campaigns you’re encouraged to enable your number(s) because customers will assume they can text them (who knows how many messages you’re currently missing!).
The biggest advantages of long code:
- You can send messages to the same area code so they appear to be “local,” which improves the customer experience by making them feel more personal and improves the open rate.
- Recipients can both text and call in response, allowing for conversations.
- Better for audiovisual (MMS) messages.
- Unlike short code, where a number is rented, you typically purchase numerous phone numbers based on area code and can take them with you if you switch carriers.
- Long code has the lowest throughput (that is, it’s slowest to send).
- Campaign size is limited by the carriers, depending on your brand and message types.
- Compliance, compliance, compliance! Companies must register their brand(s) and then each and every messaging campaign. Make sure you get your brand right, because the vetting score you receive will determine the throughput you’re allowed for all your campaigns (you can contest it, but that adds time).
Now that carriers have clamped down on sending unregistered campaigns, the registration required. Every request is handled by The Campaign Registry (TCR), a single shared gateway created by the carriers, and the bigger messaging providers such as Commio offer TCR access directly in their portals. While long code rules and use cases are pretty similar to short code, campaigns are scrutinized closely and are somewhat more likely to be rejected. There are also numerous fees that vary from one carrier to the next. (For full details, visit Syniverse.)
If you’re fairly new to registering campaigns, it’s advisable to have an experienced provider who will take the time to review your applications and help you polish them.
All told, long code is the most complex and frustrating—and the carriers aren’t done yet!—but it also has the most upside. Depending on what you need to convey or where your audience is, it can’t be beat.
Toll-free for the Brand!
Almost everyone knows what toll-free numbers are: mostly used by businesses, they have the same ten-digit format as long code messaging, they start with an 800 number (i.e., 877, 866, 855, etc.), and a customer can call free of charge or text them (price varies with mobile plan). Unlike 10DLC long code, most businesses only have one or perhaps a couple 800 numbers that represent their brand(s) and may even be a vanity number for ease of memorization (e.g., 1-800-GoFedEx). For this reason, it’s especially important to text-enable your toll-free number—because people are texting them!
Also like long code, toll-free numbers are fast and easy to obtain if you don’t have one already, messaging is slightly faster, and you can send both SMS and MMS campaigns. The main advantage, though, is its ability to spread your brand. However, it lacks the “local” factor. As for speed, it sits somewhere between short and long code messaging.
Although one might think that toll-free messaging campaign requirements would also be similar to long code, they’re actually not. They simply require toll-free number verification–known as whitelisting–through the carriers, including details about your messaging plans). It is free of charge to apply for whitelisting/verification and takes up to a couple of weeks. This limits the number of false-positive blocks, increases deliverability, and makes it easier to investigate any issues.
The Costs are Worth It
There used to be a significant difference in pricing between the types of messaging, but it’s a lot less than it used to be with the changes in long code. Short code is still the most expensive, due to its high throughput, but it’s also the easiest to set a budget around.
Toll-free messaging might be the cheapest option when you start adding up all the registration fees for long code. If you follow the rules, however, long code (10 DLC) costs are manageable and in the same price range as the others.
What sometimes gets lost in the scramble for compliance these days, is the great value messaging provides. While we’re typically thrilled if 10% of recipients open our emails, we know we can count on virtually everyone to open our texts—and even read them! Given that no other form of communication can compare, it’s in everyone’s best interest to follow the rules and ensure compliance.
For more information and examples of each text messaging type get a copy of our SMS eBook.