What is inbound SMS, and why would you need it?

When people think business SMS, they tend to think outbound – sending your customers marketing messages, appointment reminders and alerts. But that’s only one side of the coin.

The ability to receive SMS online opens up a whole new way for your customers, patients, staff and prospects to get in touch with you. You could, of course, use your own mobile, but that means giving your number out, having only one point of contact, potentially dealing with large volumes of messages on your own… and a host of other issues.

How is it used?

Inbound SMS is used by more businesses than you might realise. There are the obvious, best publicised uses, such as text-in competitions on TV or song requests on the radio. There are short codes on adverts, where you text in to receive more information or a call back. There are customer services uses, where customers can request their account balance or change their passwords. There are opt-ins, where people ask to receive your offers. In short, there are countless ways to use inbound messaging.

Why is it used?

If you’re new to business mobile messaging, you might not see immediately see the benefits of receiving SMS online, so we’ve pulled a few examples together for you.

  1. Provide a direct response mechanism in your adverts
    It’s hard to judge how effective your advertising is, especially when you can’t trace every call or lead back to a specific leaflet or poster. It’s also easy for your potential new customer to forget they saw your advert if they can’t act on in straight away. That’s where inbound text messaging comes in – just include the number in your call to action and anyone who’s interested can text in straight away.
    They’ve already got their phone in their pocket, it’s not going to cost them anything, and you’ve got their phone number right there in your system ready to follow up their enquiry.

  2. Share the enquiries among a team
    If people are getting in touch often, it can be hard for one person to deal with everything. Setting up your SMS online means that any inbound messages can be forwarded to your team, wherever they are. Forward the messages to another phone, to your email address, to twenty email addresses, or trigger an action in your website with our API. Automatic SMS forwarding helps you ensure you can provide a fast response.

  3. Track advertising effectiveness
    It’s a lot easier to track which of your adverts is performing best when all of the enquiries can be easily categorised. Use a different keyword for each advert, so the inbound messages all get sent to a different inbox. The one with the most responses, is likely your most successful advert. Easy.

  4. Send automatic replies
    You can set up automatic responses to any incoming text messages directly within your Messenger account. Whether you want it to go straight away, or in 3 month’s time, you can plan ahead and ensure everyone receives a response from you.

How to Receive Text Messages Online

Short codes

A short code is a 5 digit number that can be used to receive SMS or MMS. There are a variety of different short codes available, with different naming conventions. In the UK, codes will start with 6, 7, or 8 (e.g. 60777), and there are rules about who can use what short code. For example, charity short codes will always start 70. Short codes will typically only work in the country of origin due to network restrictions, so you’ll need to have different short codes to receive text messages from different countries.

One of the benefits of using a short code, as opposed to a long number (see below), is that it’s short and easy to remember. Costs to text a short code can vary, from freetext codes (which will cost the sender money), to standard-network-rate codes (like 60777), to premium rate numbers, which we don’t offer.

Long numbers

Long numbers are traditional eleven digit mobile numbers. Rather than using your own mobile phone to receive inbound messages, you can use a ‘virtual’ mobile number or Dedicated Inbound Number (DIN), a long number that exists entirely online. These messages can only be used for messaging – they can’t receive calls, because they’re not attached to a handset.

Long numbers are a cheaper option than short codes, and with the right dialling code can work internationally. They are also much harder to memorise or copy down quickly, which is one of the key benefits of a short code.


If you don’t want (or need) to pay for a dedicated short code or long number, but you still want to receive messages, you could rent a keyword on one of our numbers. Any messages that come into the number that starts with your keyword will be automatically forwarded to your inbox – e.g. “HELLO to 60777″.

You can set these up on any numbers you own as well, which is great if you need to receive messages for multiple campaigns. You can even set up sub keywords, e.g. “HELLO BRIAN” or “HELLO BETH”, to create further inboxes – and these are totally free!

It’s important that you choose a keyword that works for you and your business, so read our article on choosing the right keyword for a helping hand.

Getting started

If you want to learn more about using inbound SMS for your business, take a look at our Receive SMS page, or call the team on 01244 752299.