Short Code vs. Normal Numbers for Texting

how to fix your funnel

Short Code vs. Normal Numbers for Texting

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Transcription of Episode

Occasionally this question comes up of, should I use a short code or should I use a normal phone number? And the truth is, this discussion is a little involved, but it's very important because it gives you the opportunity to know what tool is right for your situation.

I'm not in general one of those people that sees everything as a nail just because I have a hammer. Granted, my hammer is really cool, but it doesn't always need to be used.

There are times when a short code, which is not something that FixYourFunnel does, is appropriate and probably the best answer for a company situation. But more commonly, especially for small businesses that are using marketing automation software, the local phone number is going to be the more powerful tool for you to use.

Let's go through and talk about some of the differences in today's episode because I think it'll be really helpful for you to know why and when you might want to use a short code versus a normal phone number, or why you might want [00:01:00] to use a normal phone number.

A lot of the things that you might assume right off the bat actually aren't what they seem like.

When I first got involved with text messaging and, by the way, I want to just, as a quick aside, you can find my little topic about this in my book, The Messaging Connection, on page 41. I go into what I call "old skool texting", and that is the short code.

But when I first got involved the text messaging, I started working with a company that provided short code text messages. That's where I actually got my start in texting, was using the short code.

In fact, they came to us and asked if we would create an integration for Infusionsoft for their short code. This was to replace one that a guy named Tyler Garns, who you should probably know, he runs Box Out Marketing, had written while he was working at Infusionsoft. This was the next generation of their platform and they needed someone to write it, so I wrote it.

We started working with the short codes for lead capturing events or sending out messages and stuff like that. Immediately I ran into [00:02:00] some pretty serious barriers that bothered me.

And, interestingly enough, the guy that turned me on to local phone numbers was Craig Jacobson of San Diego Fame who I had mentioned a little bit earlier in one of my other episodes, and Craig's like, "Hey, you should probably check out local phone numbers. There's ways for you to use them for texting because I know you're doing the short code thing, but I think you could do some cool stuff with local numbers."

I said, "Okay cool. I'll check into that."

But when I first started using short codes, what I quickly discovered is that people are not used to 5 and 6 digit numbers. If you think about your own experience with phone numbers, it started probably with dialing a phone number from your home phone.

If you're young enough, you may not remember the home phone, but for the older folks out there, we had a phone on the wall, or maybe a cordless if you were more advanced.

You had the phone number, and if you lived in most areas like where I was, [00:03:00] we actually memorized the 7 digits of our phone number. In fact, my phone number going up was 744-7607. You never did long distance because it was too expensive, but if you did need to do a long distance call, maybe to your grammar or something like that, then you'd have to dial in the other digits.

As technology and time went along and long-distance kind of disappeared because of the way that technology shifted, then you got used to dialing ten-digit numbers. When you have to put in somebody's number into your phone, you expect it's going to be 10 digits. Where I live right now, because we have one area code for the whole area, it's common for people to even assume those first 3 digits and just ask for the last 7.

That's what we're used to when it comes to dealing with phone numbers, so when you give people 5 or 6 digits, it kind of throws them off a little bit because that's not how their mind works.

What I found was when I would present a keyword, which wasn't the best keyword because I had to compete with other people on the short code for keywords, but when I presented that keyword and that short [00:04:00] code, what would end up happening is after I got off the stage I'd have people that wanted what I was offering come up to me and say, "Hey you didn't put all the numbers on there, how do I get the rest of the numbers?" And I was like, oh shoot.

This was because people are not totally accustomed to 5 or 6 digit numbers in their daily interaction with text messaging or the phone. That was kind of the first thing I realized that got me looking at normal phone numbers as an alternative to short codes.

Short codes that weren't created short because they wanted them to look weird to people.

It was actually because businesses were coming to telecoms and saying, "Hey, we want to send high volumes of text messages that are promotional text messages. What do we got to do to be able to get these messages going over your networks?"

So the carriers identified a separate track that would be appropriate for large businesses wanting to do massive marketing. They instituted cost and rules and regulations all around that [00:05:00] to be able to make sure that if they were going to get this preferential treatment of being able to send massive numbers of text messages with promotional material to subscribers on their networks, that they would follow certain guidelines. Those guidelines were set out and those guidelines then kind of dictate the rules of how a short code could work.

In order for you to interact with the short code, one of the things you may notice, if you've ever had the displeasure of doing it, is that there's this awkward legal wording that comes at you right off the bat. You have to reply yes and do all this funky stuff.

The reason for that is because they have to follow very strict guidelines in order for them to be able to send text messages through the carrier. That's why it was developed that way, so one of its really great strengths and the place where I'd say, if you've got to do this then you've got to use the short code, is if you're sending out high volumes of text messages.

In that case, you really want to be looking at short code because a short code can set about 10,000 text messages per second or something ridiculous like that. Maybe it's per minute, but it's a lot of text messages all at [00:06:00] once.

It kind of depends on the short code provider and what that volume would be, but the carriers have allowed them to send a lot of messages very quickly because they have to pay extra to actually run through that tract of messaging and get it delivered to your phone. As a result, they get this benefit of being able in massive amounts very quickly.

A normal phone number has some severe limitations in that department, as you're only allowed to send out one text message per second per phone number. If I have one phone number that I'm using for my business and I want to send out 600 messages, that's going to take 600 seconds or, in other words, 10 minutes.

If you understand that, then you can see why it may be very advantageous to use a short code if you're trying to blast out at people.

Philosophically, and you'll get this if you've read my book, The Messaging Connection, I look at messaging very differently than those big corporations who by the fact that their size and sheer magnitude [00:07:00] needed a high-volume solution. We actually look at messaging as being much more valuable when it's dealing with conversation one-to-one communication.

FixYourFunnel, while it does offer some automated messaging capabilities, those are intended from our perspective to facilitate live conversations beginning.

That's kind of a big distinction between the local phone number and the short code. If you're looking to talk at people instead of with people that are short code may actually be the better choice for you because that's what it's actually built for. It's built to promote, it's built to push at people, to tell people to go do stuff.

That has its place, I suppose, but in a small business environment, it really doesn't. The interesting part about short codes versus normal phone numbers is they weren't really ever intended for small businesses.

In fact, in order for a small business to start using a short code, they started forming co-ops of sorts, and then eventually there would be actual [00:08:00] short code providers that would take that co-op responsibility and then divvy out because they saw an opportunity to make a profit off of putting themselves in that position.

You can think of a short code kind of in the way that you might think of if several homes were sharing one mobile phone. Not just several people in a home, but several homes.

Take your neighborhood, and let's assume that mobile phones were so expensive that the whole neighborhood decided to pitch in and buy one phone for the whole neighborhood. Well, this could create some interesting situations that you'd have to deal with.

The first one would be when it comes to texting, which let's say this phone only does text, which is what shortcuts do, they only do texting. How do we know who is texting who? We've got 300 people in our neighborhood between men, women, and children, and now we've got to figure out if someone's texting that mobile phone, who does that message go to?

This is the real situation that a short code deals with. There's [00:09:00] one phone number, but it is frequently shared between hundreds or even thousands of businesses. So it creates this dilemma of, how do we know who's texting who?

In order to accommodate that, they created this concept of keywords. You would text a keyword to the short code and then that keyword would be mapped to a particular business.

That was a pretty clever solution for it, but the problem is, while there are like 700,000 words in the English language, there's only a few that are actually pretty useful in your business. Chances are, those have already been claimed by some other business, either maybe a competitor or a business in the same kind of field or just another business in general.

So you end up with these keywords that are not ideal. Weird combinations of letters and numbers, frequently. That end result is it gets kind of awkward to be texting the number in the first place, but then it gets awkward to type in that keyword and not have autocorrect fix it for them, [00:10:00] which would add another chink in the armor, so to speak.

This kind of issue became a major issue to me. As I was trying to get people set up using the short code, I realized all the keywords they wanted to use were already taken. They had to kind of do this mental gymnastics to figure out a key word that would make sense and not be super funky to type in. That wasn't really a great situation.

The other situation is a short code doesn't really lend itself to one-on-one communication. Because it was intended as a mass broadcast communication tool, and maybe a lead capture communication tool for large businesses, the dynamic for one-on-one conversation, which is where all the money is in business, by the way, is not good.

Look at any business.

I don't care if it's a huge corporation or a small business, ultimately conversations are what create sales. This is true if [00:11:00] you go to the local burrito joint and you're ordering a burrito. You have to a conversation with somebody to order the burrito.

If you're a major corporation and you're trying to get this big contract with the federal government, let's say, you've got to talk to people. There's a conversation going on.

It's true for every business in between.

The only exception might be online, but in that case your conversation is your copy.

Either way, conversation has to occur in order for a sale to occur. This lack of the ability to have a dynamic one-on-one conversation with somebody via text message on the short code is a major downside to it. That's really where the local number shines.

Now all of that is tough enough for the short code, but it gets worse.

I know you're thinking, "How can it get worse?"

But there is this concept of shared reputation. I think it's become so obvious most people don't even consider the short code, but because they do I wanted to record this podcast so you know when it's appropriate.

If you look at the election cycle [00:12:00] that we go through every few years, what you'll see is that some politicians will actually use short codes and keywords. But, if you look up who owns the short code, you typically find it's the campaign. Campaigns will actually rent or lease a short code so that they don't have to share keywords, but that's not the big part that they're worried about.

The big part they're worried about is actually shared reputation.

There was this insurance company, and they were doing a major campaign. It actually cost them about a million dollars in all of their marketing assets. The main call to action of this campaign, as it should have been, was a text message called action. They were having people text a keyword, probably "insurance" because they were such a big and they're spending so much money they probably made sure they got one with a provider that had that number or that keyword available on the short code.

They had the word out there, maybe it was "quote", and then they had the phone number. They had Billboards and bus wraps and everything, and the short code [00:13:00] provider then signed up an adult entertainment company.

That adult entertainment company started sending out some pretty raunchy messages, which drew complaints from some of the subscribers to their carriers and those carriers then just decided, boom. We're not going to deliver for that phone number anymore because you violated our rules.

Well, that makes sense. But what did it do to the insurance company?

If someone happened to get a short code text from this adult entertainment company and the insurance company, that would be an obvious overlap and would create some confusion and some association which probably wouldn't be desirable for the insurance company.

What happened in this scenario was because of the reputation of one company, the whole campaign, the million dollars they spent on bus wraps and billboards and all the other signage went in the pot instantly because they could no longer send or receive text messages from that short code.

In other words, there was a single point of failure [00:14:00] that was susceptible to any of the hundreds or thousands of businesses using the short code that cost them big league.

The end result is, you have this shared reputation when you use that shared phone number or that shared short code of everybody else on it. It's not too uncommon, especially if you're, let's say, in the Infusionsoft community, that there's a lot of other businesses that may have some overlap with yours and they're using the same short code.

This starts to create confusion in the mind of the prospect.

"Well, which company am I dealing with? Are these the same company? They texted me from the same number."

You have this shared reputation whether you like it or not, and there's a good chance you don't get to vote on which companies the short code allows to join in on that short code. That's a pretty big deal. It can create some real issues if you're not aware of what you're doing.

You have to be aware of that as you go into any relationship with a short code provider. In fact, it would be worth knowing who else is on that short [00:15:00] code and what their guidelines are and how rigid their rules are for who they allow to be using that service so that you can know the potential risk that you're putting your company at when you go with it.

One of the other things about the short code though, is it actually kind of screams promotion. Short codes are intended to send promotional messages. That's their big deal. Because of that, when you are interacting with a short code, you know right off the bat that they're probably going to be texting you more and it's probably going to be promoting something. That may inform your decision to interact with that short code at all.

When you're dealing with a normal phone number, you get a little different feel, especially if you follow the concepts I teach in The Messaging Connection.

You create a totally different interaction when you text with a normal phone number because it feels more like a human to human connection because that's ultimately what we're going for.

That can be a big difference between the short code and the normal phone number.

[00:16:00] Regardless of if you're using a short code or a normal phone number, there are legal guidelines that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The long and short of them is you need to have explicit permission from somebody before you start texting them.

That explicit permission may be gathered in the number of different ways. I'm not gonna pretend to be an attorney and explain all that, but one of the things that I use as a personal guideline to help me to be able to understand how to go about opening up the door to text messaging is I would invite people to text me first.

As people text me first, then they're giving me this permission that we can have an engagement.

The other thing is I don't promote through text message. I don't try and get people to buy a through text message. I don't blast people saying, go get this thing from now.

I do deliver content. I do deliver value, but I don't promote through text message. I try and start conversations as much as I can. I'm either delivering on a promise I've made to them in a way that they have said that they are [00:17:00] agreeable to me delivering it, or I am engaging in a conversation.

I don't continue to engage or try to engage with them if they don't engage back. I don't send 10 text messages. It kind of reminds me of like that person who's a little desperate, and they like you and they're really trying to connect with you, but you're not really interested.

How many messages would you want them to send before they got the hint?

You should use the same kind of rule when you're texting with people in your business. How many times will you text them without them responding, without them interacting, before you'll get the hint?

Hopefully it's fewer than than more because I think that that preserves your reputation in the marketplace as you move on to recognize that that person was not a fit at that time. Maybe you'll utilize email to try and revitalize that relationship, since texting obviously isn't the way that they're responding to you.

That's not the law, those are my personal guidelines I like to use. If I am [00:18:00] collecting a phone number through web form, I always get explicit permission.

I'll say, "Is it okay for me to text you?" And I'll kind of give them some guidelines in normal human terms, not legal terms, of what that's going to be like.

So if I'm asking them for their phone number so I can text them a video, I'll say "Would you like me to text you a video immediately? Yes or no." I'll give them the yes, no binary options so that they can be able to indicate that and I can then use that answer to dictate what I'm going to do in my marketing automation platform.

Those are some of the guidelines I look at when I'm considering short code versus long code.

Again, to sum up, if you're trying to send a lot of messages, it's really critical for you to broadcast or blast out to people rapidly, then I would recommend the short code. If you're more into engaging with people for conversations for the sake of creating sales and opportunities for sales, then I would recommend a normal phone number.

If you're doing lead capture in a smaller environment, meaning less than [00:19:00] 5,000 people, then I would recommend the normal phone number. If you're in an environment where you're lead capturing and then you intend to blast to people where it's more than 5,000, I would actually recommend a short code because I think that's going to be a better match for what you're trying to do.

My personal philosophy is that the money is all in the personal connection with other people, and that personal connection can be leveraged, so to speak, by utilizing technology to help augment your ability to handle those conversations and using a team to do that.

That's our whole approach that FixYourFunnel.

By the way, since we're talking, if you do want some help, if you'd like some help into how you could be using texting more effectively in your business and determining if you really should be using a long code, or normal phone number, or a short code, then I'd encourage you to go to and chat us up.

We have a chat right there on the website and me and my team will be happy to help you figure out if it's right for you and what would be the right approach for your [00:20:00] business depending on what your model is and what you're trying to accomplish.

This is Ryan Chapman from FixYourFunnel, keep moving forward.