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shortcodes

The “Ultimate” Texting in Church Guide to long and short codes

Just in case you are new to all this…

The phrase “text marketing” (or as we called it “text ministry”) is a way you can communicate via text in mass using a cloud-based system or can capture data from your members and visitors via their cell phones. After rolling out a text digital strategy for your ministry, the number your members and visitors use to receive your text messages (sent by service providers) can either be “shortcodes” (usually 5-6 digit numbers) or “long codes” (10-digit, local numbers, i.e., a “regular” telephone number).

Why use one or the other?

Advantages of using shortcodes

1. Easier to remember

Shortcodes (being shorter) seem easier to say, remember, and may encourage your members or visitors to take action to a greater extent. This is more important when engaging with visitors or people who haven’t yet seen or will repeatedly see your campaign. So, telling someone to text WELCOME to 77411 may be more effective than telling someone to text WELCOME to (844) 285-1815.

2. Ideal for mass messaging or opt-in campaigns

Another reason a shortcode is ideal for mass messaging is that you send the messages faster. With PastorsLine, you can process up to 100 SMS/second with a shortcode in theory as opposed to 1 SMS/sec with local numbers. This is the same idea for opt-in campaigns as well. In an opt-in campaign, the person texts a special trigger word (called a “keyword”) in order to be added to your list. If this is being done in front of a live audience, a short code may be the better option for a speedy delivery.

3. Avoid carrier filtering

This is likely the biggest advantage of using a short code with larger campaigns. The first two points have workarounds when using local numbers for your campaigns instead of short codes. However, though there are some ways to avoid carrier filtering, they are not as effective as using a shortcode. Briefly, the major and minor US carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint) have aggressively increased their message filtering towards group messages/blasts containing URLs or pictures or unknown "trigger words" sent using local numbers. As a result, your members or visitors do not get the intended message from your campaign because the carrier blocks it from being delivered. Learn more

Drawbacks in using shortcodes

1. Costs

Buying a shortcode is likely not economical for most churches. A shortcode usually leases at $12-$20,000/year and requires a 2-3 month approval process. Also, you would need to ensure your campaigns are compliant to avoid being fined thousands of dollars and likely need to spend additional costs to have a developer make the shortcode work for your specific campaign. That’s why companies like PastorsLine lease a short code and share the costs by having clients “sublease” the trigger words (keywords) for their use. (More about keywords below.)

2. Keyword challenge

A “keyword” is a special word you set up in an app (like PastorsLine) to trigger different actions. You ask people to text that keyword to a number (shortcode or long code) to opt in to a campaign or data capture.

Here is an example:

Church One tells its first-time guests to text “WELCOME” to the PastorsLine shortcode [77411] to get more information about the church.

In the example above, “WELCOME” is a keyword. In this case, texting “WELCOME” could trigger our system to send an autoreply with more information. Another case is that our system would ask the subscriber (texter) for more details like their name.

The drawback with shortcodes is if one church uses or reserves the keyword WELCOME for that specific short code, in this case, 77411, then no other church can use that same keyword with that same shortcode as the shortcode would not be unique. To mitigate this issue, PastorsLine has organized a system of free and premium keywords for use with our shortcode. Find out more here.

3. Spammy, non-person feel

When most people see these “weird” and “spammy-looking” 4-6 digit numbers, they immediately either think that it’s an alert from their bank or some spam marketing campaign. Maybe they are thinking about a text verification process to log into an account. It doesn’t always inspire trust in the person with whom you want to engage. As technology ages, this becomes less of a problem over time, but it might still cause hesitation from some of your people.

If you want to engage with guests on a more personal level, a shortcode alone may not do it. They could think it’s coming from a system and not a person. Something to think about. In PastorsLine, we don’t recommend using the shortcode for regular, 1 on 1 communication, but we have some logic to handle this use case should it be necessary.

4. Turned off by some phones

Some mobile phone accounts have the shortcode messaging ability turned off. This means they will most likely have problems receiving and responding to short code messages. The user would need to be in touch with their service provider to enable shortcode messaging on their device.
In addition, some wireless carriers (service providers) do not support short code messaging. So even if the device is shortcode enabled and the shortcode is correct, messages will not get through.

Advantages of using local 10-digit numbers (long codes)

1. Cost

$12 - $120/number per year. Available usually immediately. Can add multiple numbers for different users without breaking the back of the church finances. Can pick from various numbers. Can even use toll-free numbers or vanity numbers.

2. No keyword issue

The huge advantage when using a 10-digit number for an opt-in is that you would have virtually unlimited keywords per number. Since your number is unique (i.e., set per account), multiple churches can use the same keyword (such as WELCOME) without any issue.

3. Personal and non-spammy

Long codes are regular phone numbers with local area codes—hence, more familiar and more human. Since the long codes look more familiar, people are less hesitant about using them, in general. It feels like one on one engagement; basically, your cell phone in the cloud. This is huge. They likely will engage.
As it’s a phone number, people feel that there is a “human at the other end” and are encouraged to communicate. Also, people feel that long codes rarely send spam.
Though we understand why the instruction: “Text WELCOME to 77411” seems more likely to motivate the subscriber to take action, you should not underestimate the familiarity of local, 10-digit numbers, and the length of the number isn’t a huge barrier in most cases.

4. Not blocked for 1 on 1

Shortcodes can be turned off by some phone accounts by default. Local numbers are not.

5. Voice

Can do robocalls or 1 on 1 call. So you can use the same number for text and calling.

Drawbacks in using local, 10-digit numbers (long codes)

1. Opt-in for large campaigns

May not be ideal for data capture by large organizations due to carrier filtering when used for large campaigns.
Quite a few of the mobile carries have started aggressively filtering text messages, but they are not letting us know that the message was filtered. In other words, they are not sending a “blocked for carrier violation” error response to our servers.

Your message shows as delivered, but you or your subscribers didn’t actually receive it. This false reporting is a crude way to trick spammers into thinking they are being successful and to limit their ability to game the system. However, this is bad as we can’t accurately report the message status. You may think someone received a message as it shows as ‘delivered’ when, in fact, it wasn’t.
Learn more.

2. Sending speed is much slower vs shortcodes

For large organizations and/or large campaigns, it will take a long time for everyone to get your message.
Our vendor would only process 1 text per second by default. So at most, you can send 60 texts per minute. However, to manage carrier filtering in our application, we have throttled this even more. When you send a message to a group of 500 people (or less), our current settings will send one message, per person, per second. If you are sending a message to 501-1,500 people, we will send one message, per person, every 2 seconds. For a message sent to 1,501-5,000 people, we will send 1 message, per person, every 3 seconds and for a message sent to 5,001-15,000 people, we will send 1 message, per person every 5 seconds.

As you can see, sending a message to a group of 15,000 people from one number will take a VERY long time - it will take almost 21 hours to send to your entire list. This could cause some problems if people are receiving your message all through the night.

So which do you choose?

Short answer is both. Pick a company that offers both options as each option works better in specific situations your church would run into. A company like PastorsLine has leased the shortcode 77411 and offers local numbers as well.

Recap Table

Long codes (10-digit numbers) Short codes

Costs

Cheaper

$12-$120/number/yr

$12k - $20k per short code per year

Our workaround: We lease it for you, so you can use what you need at a fraction of the cost.

Personal Engagement / Appeal / Responsiveness

Feels very personal (your cellphone in the cloud) and non-spammy.

Encourages high engagement.

While more digits to remember, device memory makes that less of an issue.

The short code reputation gives a “spammy”, non-person feel. Could cause engagement hesitation.

Only a few digits make it easier to remember and type in.

Keyword Challenge

Unique numbers allow virtually unlimited long code keywords, i.e., more than one church can use the same long code keyword.

A shared number requires unique short code keywords, i.e., only one church can use the same short code keyword.

Opt-in (incoming)

Can work for ongoing campaigns, e.g. on a poster or flyer; or used with a very small group.

Ideal for mass data capture at the same time such as a captive audience at a stadium or church or during live streaming.

Deliverability, filtering (outgoing)

Better for 1 on 1 communication since less likely to be blocked by carriers or the mobile subscribers themselves.

Usually subject to intense carrier filtering.

So, this option is good for small-medium organizations/campaigns.

Ideal for mass data capture at the same time such as a captive audience at a stadium or church or during live streaming.

Speed

Up to 60 texts per second. So, problematic when sending messages to over 500 people.

Up to 100 texts per second. So, able to send larger quantities of texts more quickly.

Voice

One number can do both text and calling.

Will need the short code for texting AND a long code for voice.

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