Guide to Short Code Texting: Setup, Compliance, and Best Practices

If you’re writing your business and marketing plans for the coming year, there’s one key element you can’t afford to leave out: SMS marketing.

The key to successful marketing is reaching your audience effectively and communicating in a way that converts them into customers. Marketing modernization is required to follow the times – going door-to-door no longer sells encyclopedias in the Google and YouTube era.

The same goes for full-page ads in the newspaper, flyers under windshield wipers and even, dare we say it, email marketing. Before you protest, let us explain: email marketing does have its place and we don’t suggest ditching it altogether. The reality is that communication in the modern era relies on a mobile strategy.

SMS for the Entire Sales Cycle

According to Pew Research, 97% of Americans own a mobile phone, and 85% own a smartphone. Another study reports that 65.5% of Americans check their phones a staggering 160 times per day. With stats like that, it’s clear that leveraging SMS in your strategy can help you reach a broad audience.

What is SMS marketing? Essentially it’s your way to send concise and attractive messages to your subscribers. Similar to email marketing, it’s imperative to gain customer consent before you send messages to them. Once you do, you can stay front of mind by sending short texts, MMS, and even links to further information to engage your prospective and current clients.

Companies can use SMS marketing for a variety of purposes.

  • Promotions and discounts – share discount codes, exclusive offers, or in-store/online purchase promotions available for a limited time

  • Product launches and events – announce a new product or invite your subscribers to events they may like to attend

  • Contests – send information on contests and competitions, enticing your audience to participate

  • Transactional messages – confirm received orders, share shipping and delivery updates, or suggest additional items based on past purchases

SMS is not limited to marketing outreach, of course. You can also use SMS to communicate with customers to add value to their experience of working with you. Relationships are everything in a highly-competitive business world, so the better you connect with and support your customers, the higher your retention.

  • Reminders – send reminders when a product is due for service or to confirm upcoming appointments to reduce no-shows

  • Follow-ups – follow up purchases or appointments to thank customers for their business

  • Solicit feedback – send a text to request feedback, testimonials, or provide a survey to understand your customers’ experience better

  • Security – send security codes or unique links to validate login credentials

  • Customer service – automated text replies to respond to customer service issues, creation of customer service cases, and direct communication from relevant departments for customer support

Sending SMS to your customers can be done en masse to all subscribers, relevant segments of your audience, and even one-to-one texting. An SMS platform will help you craft and distribute messages with ease. CRM integration ensures you deliver your texts to the right group and are transparent to any relevant departments within your organization.

What Is Short Code Texting?

If you imagine the cramps in your thumbs that you’ll get from sending business texts, don’t worry. The process isn’t the same as sending texts to your friend from your sofa. Professional SMS platforms enable you to create and send messages to your subscribers at scale in a few short steps.

To get started, though, you’ll need a short code. Short codes are five- to six-digit numbers that display as the message’s sender on your recipient’s device, much like a traditional phone number. These numbers are for business use only and are easily identifiable in SMS inboxes.

Short code texting enables businesses to send actionable messages that align with marketing strategies easily. It is mainly designed for high-volume texting and suits both one- or two-way communication.

How Do I Set Up a Short Code?

When you’re ready to start with business SMS, you’ll need to get your short code. This dedicated number is assigned to your business as your unique identifier and function as your text-only phone number.

Choose Your Approach

Start by deciding if you want to have a number selected at random or if you’d like to have a vanity short code. Randomly selected short codes are assigned to you by the provider without any influence on your part. Since short codes are only five- to six digits, you don’t have to consider area codes when requesting and receiving a number.

The benefit to a randomly selected code is primarily cost. These numbers cost about $500 per month, making them more affordable than their vanity alternatives.

Your other option is a vanity short code. Like a vanity license plate on your car, vanity short codes allow businesses to select their number based on their personal choice (if available). For instance, if you’re a luxury boat tour company, you may encourage subscribers to sign up for events and promotions by texting YACHT (92248).

Vanity short codes benefit from appearing nicely – and memorably – in print advertising and verbal communications. However, this convenience comes at a cost, and vanity codes are more expensive than those randomly selected. Vanity short codes cost about $1,000 per month, depending on your provider.

Choose a Platform Provider

An SMS platform is your best ally for business text messaging, and the benefits come before you even have your short code. Choose your platform provider early, and they’ll be able to offer support and expertise to get you set up quickly.

Choose a provider with comprehensive tracking and analytics. To ensure your ROI, it’s essential to see your efforts’ direct impact and fine-tune based on ongoing learnings.

It’s also essential to choose a provider with seamless integration opportunities. The last thing you need is to implement a new system or approach that stands independent of your existing workflows. Your platform should connect with existing systems such as your CRM and make it easy to integrate future solutions.

Ensure your platform is scalable and able to support you as your needs evolve. You may start with a small subscriber list or limited ideas for SMS, but you don’t want the limitations of your platform to dictate your options.

Lease a Short Code

We could detail the steps here to take you through getting your short code set up, but the reality is, there’s no reason you should have to do it yourself. More than that, it isn’t recommended.

Applying for and registering a short code is a lengthy and cumbersome process with many steps and many pages of “legalese” that you can easily get lost in. Each step depends on the other, and there is no room for error without significantly delaying an already lengthy process.

That’s why it’s best to have someone on your side taking care of things on your behalf. Choosing an SMS platform provider at an early stage will alleviate a lot of pressure on your behalf. Your SMS platform provider will ensure all of your application documents are in order and submit them for the requisite stages of approval.

Best Practices

Once you’re ready to get started with short code texting, where do you begin? There are things unique to your business that will become more clear with trial and error, of course. You’ll be able to fine-tune your strategy to what your audience responds to and ensure success.

There are, however, some best practices to keep in mind regardless of objectives and industry.

Be Clever but To-the-Point

When it comes to marketing or outreach, a good piece of advice is always to keep your messaging concise. Long-form articles or whitepapers have their place, but when you want to entice or connect with your audience, you bring the most value to clear and digestible messages.

When it comes to text messages, brevity becomes even more crucial. You’re limited in the amount of space a message can contain, so you need to keep it short while capturing your recipient’s attention. When you send a message, it’s liable to arrive at a device already in the hands of your recipient. Make sure you don’t annoy them when you interrupt.

Mind Your Frequency

No one likes to be bombarded with texts, even if they love your brand. Timing is everything when it comes to text messages, so be mindful of how frequently you’re sending messages to the same audience.

Don’t send messages too often, or you risk becoming a nuisance and losing subscribers. Keep your messages in line with your brand tone while encouraging an action – click a link to sign up, see more, or enter to win, for example.

Leverage Keywords

When it comes to gaining subscribers or encouraging participation via text, keywords are a great and memorable way to facilitate communication from your audience. Choose a word or phrase for things like opt-ins, joining contests, or requesting help from customer service.

For instance, you can choose a keyword like “LET’S SAIL” for your boating raffle. When someone responds to your short code message with that keyword, they can automatically enter the contest.


Automation helps you to connect with your audience without needing to send personalized responses to every inquiry. Automated messages can be responses to requests for information or confirmation of receipt of a text. They can also lead a customer through a customer service journey, responding with further options based on the messages received.

You can use automation by setting event triggers. When an order is received or a package ships, you can send a text automatically. You can also automate thank you messages or send an update at every stage of the shipment process until delivery.

Track Your Efforts

The best way to track the effectiveness of your text strategy is to ensure you’re monitoring and measuring their performance. When it comes to text marketing, the tracking benefits are numerous, as you have a direct and measurable marketing channel at your fingertips.

Ensure your platform not only has intuitive, comprehensive reporting tools but that you’re leveraging them to your benefit.

Start with Permission

We’ve saved the most critical piece for last – consent. Not only is it polite, but it’s a legal requirement to obtain opt-in consent from your audience before texting. We’ll go more into compliance in a moment, but it’s important to point out that before you employ any of the above best practices, your recipient needs to place themselves on your distribution list.

That means your SMS best practices begin before you even have an audience list. All of those recommendations to be concise and enticing? That same school of thought will help you craft enticing marketing campaigns or in-store notices to encourage participation.

Show prospective and current customers how you will add value if you can reach them via text message.


Before you enter the world of business SMS, it’s vital to ensure you’re aware of the legal requirements you have for making contact. We have a few essential tips to keep in mind to ensure you don’t cross any compliance boundaries.


We’ve already covered it, but it can’t be stated enough: you must get permission before sending messages. That means that while you may have a robust CRM database of people who have called you in the past, you cannot simply start sending them text messages now.

Opt-In Methods

Popular methods for gaining express permission to send texts include asking contacts to text your short code with a keyword. Another popular option is adding a tick box in your signup or checkout process online, which clearly states that they are open to receiving texts from you.

In your initial signup outreach, be sure to include relevant information such as message frequency, a description of your service, a link to a privacy statement, and use bold text for help and opt-out commands. It’s also important to let your subscribers know they may be subject to costs for messages and data.

Confirm Enrollment

Send a confirmation message to your subscribers with additional information. Explain that they’ve enrolled in your recurring program and have consented to receive ongoing notifications. Include your company name, opt-out instructions, message/data rates disclosure, and give them an idea of how frequently they can anticipate hearing from you.

Make Opting-Out Easy

Another vital aspect to ensuring your compliance is opt-out instructions. While the goal is to bring so much value to your audience that they don’t want to opt out, you must still make it easy for them if they choose to.

Ensure you include opt-out instructions when you confirm opt-in and regularly throughout your message distribution cycle, at least once per month. You must also have opt-out information in any advertisements for your service and the terms and conditions.

Keep It Relevant

Your content must not only be appropriate but relevant. You must adhere to state and federal laws for content, including respect for age groups if you intend to discuss things like alcohol or tobacco. Many short codes will be unable to support this type of content so discuss it with your provider.

Your customers are putting trust in your hands by allowing you to contact them via text, so ensure you stay relevant and appropriate in your messages.

Short Code Texting for Effective Business Communication

Short code texting is the key to a robust business and marketing plan. Reaching your audience in the modern era relies on modern methods and SMS is the most effective way to reach potential and current customers from outreach to conversion and retention.

TrueDialog has a business-class SMS platform to help you the entire way. We will help you obtain and set up your short code, then provide all of the tools you need to craft and distribute effective messages.