What SMS Number is Right for You? Local vs. Toll-Free vs. Short Codes

Every SMS campaign needs a phone number. Pick one that suits your business with this guide from Sakari.

Lady flicking text message icons out of her phone.

SMS is the best way to reach customers. With a high open and read rate plus their ubiquity, the stats show that almost everyone is texting. Companies in North America seeking to take advantage of this universal conversation medium must first select a phone number.

In the US and Canada, three types of phone numbers are used for bulk texting: Local, toll-free, and short codes. Each comes with strengths and weaknesses, making each well-suited for particular industries. They are regulated differently, subject to different (albeit similar) rules, and have varying capabilities. Selecting the right one is essential in determining the success of any SMS campaign.

Why Do Phone Types Matter?

When starting any SMS campaign, you’ll choose between one of three phone number categories. They vary greatly in cost, features, and efficiency. What’s best for one company may not suit the needs of another, so it’s vital to use one that can handle your company’s. Moreover, they each take varying timespans to get verified. While you can start texting within a few days with some numbers, others will take weeks to months. 

Fancily dressed gentleman texting with an company leveraging a local phone number.


Local numbers are the most popular option. They have a three-digit area code, a three-digit prefix, and a four-digit root. Almost everyone has a local number for personal use.

For SMS marketing, local numbers have many qualities that make them more popular than their counterparts. 

  • Cost-effective: Local numbers are substantially more affordable than other numbers. 
  • Relatable: A local area code can convey a neighborly presence for small businesses that rely on community involvement. 
  • Verified Fast: Local numbers are verified in 3-5 days. This is much faster than its counterparts. For companies who want to start texting right away, they are the best option.

However, local numbers have a few negatives as well.

  • Slow: Local numbers can’t text as fast as other numbers. It can only send one text message per second. This is acceptable for small businesses but not so much for enterprises.
  • Customer Costs: Unlike toll-free, callers may have associated costs with calling in.
  • Long: These numbers are longer and more random than their counterparts, so customers may need help remembering them. 

In general, local numbers are well-suited for small businesses that use texting to complement communication, such as those in the healthcare, real estate, and service industries. 

Business-looking people checking the stats from their successful SMS campaign.


Toll-free numbers are ten digits long but always start with 855, 888, 877, 866, 844, or 833. They were initially designed to incentivize prospective callers with cost-free dialing. People don’t care much about who pays for calls today, as tolls are (for the most part) a thing of the past, yet toll-free numbers are still common. This is because they still offer many pros, even if their initial 

  • Faster: These numbers can send about 25 texts per second. This can be a suitable option for companies simultaneously communicating with hundreds of customers.
  • Reputation: Exclusively used by companies, toll-free numbers have a professional reputation.
  • Texting and Calling: Unlike short codes, toll-free numbers are calling-capable.

Despite these excellent benefits, toll-free numbers come with several downfalls.

  • Slow to verify: Toll-free numbers can take weeks to be verified by Zipwhip.
  • Pricey: While they cost less than short codes, they are less efficient overall. Toll-free numbers may not be well-suited for small businesses, especially those less reliant on SMS.

Toll-free numbers are excellent for companies wishing to bridge the gap between short codes and local phone numbers.

An office full of people thrilled about their successful short code SMS results.

Short Code

Short codes are 5 or 6 digits long and emphasize texting speed. They are lightning-fast, making them suitable for enterprises and high-volume businesses. Some short codes are customizable to display industry-specific words like “latte” or “chair.” Unlike local and toll-free numbers, short codes can’t be used for phone calls. They make up for it with the following features.

  • Fastest: Short codes can send hundreds of texts per second, making them the quickest option for texting.
  • Memorable: It’s a lot easier to remember five numbers than ten. Their short size ensures subscribers have a better chance of memorization than toll-free and local.

Of course, there are a few disadvantages.

  • Expensive: Short codes cost substantially more than other numbers. While companies could share short codes in the past to save, that’s no longer the case.
  • No Calling: For companies wanting to call and text with the same number, it’s just not possible with short codes.
  • Long Wait: Short codes take around 4-6 weeks to pass the verification process. Carriers verify directly to ensure that only the most trustworthy companies use this high-volume texting tool.

A short code for large companies and enterprises that send thousands of text messages is the most effective. It’s snappy, fast, and is among the most potent SMS assets.

Infographic displaying the differences between local, toll-free, and short code phone numbers.

What Phone Number Type is Right for You?

Ultimately, the correct number depends on your organization’s priorities, resources, and scale. This extensive list of pros and cons shows that every number has advantages and disadvantages. We can still make some recommendations.

Small businesses and startup-sized companies benefit from local numbers as long as they don’t require sending many texts simultaneously. Local is cost-effective, reliable, and easy to use. It’s also a good choice for beginners to SMS; their low cost makes them well-suited for the role.

Meanwhile, toll-free numbers are great for almost any company due to their versatility. They cost a little more than local numbers, but they provide various benefits. However, their unpredictably long verification process may make them frustrating for eager newcomers. 

Short codes are the best option for SMS-reliant companies who need to take advantage of everything texting offers. With its peerlessly fast speed, it’s a welcome addition to any large organization conversing with an equally large audience. Unfortunately, their high-cost and slow-verification speed makes them inaccessible to some organizations.

Graphic of checkmarks, contracts, and graphs illustrating the beauty of communication.

Leverage SMS with Any Phone Number Using Sakari

With Sakari, any organization can harness the power of SMS. Our extensive A2P texting platform allows two-way texting, MMS, autoresponders, and more. Each is easy to use and implement into a broader marketing or communication strategy. Sakari has many integrations with HubSpot, Pipedrive, and other platforms to ensure seamless SMS tools into a pre-existing workflow.

Want to learn more about Sakari? Reserve a demonstration today for a hands-on showing.

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