Twitter only allows 140 characters, and you have to make your characters count. Or maybe you’re using UTM tracking tags that make your link look ugly. Maybe you want a simple URL to be kind to mobile readers of your content, or tracking your outbound links. Whatever the case, the solution is a link shortener.
What Link Shorteners Do
Link shorteners were originally created to address email systems that wrapped an email after 80 characters and broke any long URLs that might have been in the message. Once Twitter took off and introduced the 140-character limit, that shortened link became even more important.
It wasn’t long before link shorteners began to allow publishers to track the links they posted with analytics.
Moln.co provides live click data, geographic location, the webpage the link where the link was clicked, and more. This type of information is invaluable to webmasters and companies – it shows where customers are coming from, when they are coming, and what interests them.
This type of information helps companies develop better products and webmasters produce more targeted content.
Spammers love link shorteners.
Spammers can hide their links in a shortened URL meaning people either clicked on the links and quickly learned to either never trust a shortened link, or to always use a link extraction site (e.g. WhereDoesThisLinkGo) to see where the shortened link actually went before they clicked.
Link shortening hides the final destination, so of course spammers have latched onto link shortening like a leech. People have learned that shortened links can lead to any random spam page on the we.
Shortened links hurt your SEO.
This is something you’ll often hear from link shortener detractors. The page rank and anchor text will flow through the shortened link and that there shouldn’t be any harm in using them…as long as the URL shortener is using a 301 redirect.
The key to protecting your SEO, then, is to choose a link shortening service that uses a 301 redirect. There are other methods of redirecting, but a 301 is the best choice if you are concerned about SEO.
Moln.co, which is used by my site, uses a 301 redirect.
The spam issue first.
Use A Custom Domain With Link Shorteners
Using a custom domain with your link shortening service is a way to confront the spam and distrust issue.
Your links become branded as yours. Your brand, your name–it’s carried across into the very links that you are sharing. This helps let people know they aren’t spam. As long as your custom domain relates to your brand and you use it consistently, people will know that the links you are sharing have been vetted by you.
With a custom domain for your link shortener, people will see that you are not spamming and they will be more likely to click on your custom domain shortened link than a generic shortened link.
Choosing A Link Shortener
There are no shortage of link shorteners out there. You’ll want to choose one that uses a 301 redirect for certain. After that, it’s up to you to decide what you need. Some link shorteners allow custom domains, and some don’t. Some offer features that go beyond a basic link shortener.
Here are handful of the more popular link shortening services:
At Moln.co. goo.gl, bit.ly, and others, not only do you get a nice, clean, shortened URL, you also get stats on clicks for all the URLs you shorten.
An Alternative To Link Shorteners
Twitter automatically shortens links as well. There are a few different ways this might happen: Twitter uses it’s own t.co shortening service often on link shared on mobile devices, Twitter will sometimes include the full URL (minus the http:// part) or will truncate the link after showing the domain and part of the permalink.
The permalinks you use in WordPress can be ideally created to be as short as possible. WordPress provides several permalink structure options. It is simple to change your permalink structure, though if you have been blogging for a while you will need to redirect your old URLs to the new permalinks.
In your WordPress dashboard in Settings > Permalinks you can choose which format you’d like your permalinks to be. Choose the “Post name” option. This means your URLs for blog posts will be http://yoursite.com/shortenurl instead of http://yoursite.com/2014/06/25/shortenurl or something along those lines.
Creating a shortened page slug is simple in WordPress. At the top of the post creation area where you are working on your draft, you can change the slug.
After you click on “Edit” you can change your slug to match whatever keywords (2-5 words are best) you are focusing on in the post.
How to use URL shorteners in your marketing
Make links more memorable with a custom, short domain
This can be a really great opportunity to extend some branding into the shortened links you share on social media. And at the very least, it could make for a fun experiment to see if it helps up the engagement on your updates (I’ve heard some folks fare better with custom short URLs, some do better with full URLs, and some do better with buff.ly or bit.ly URLs.)
Track all the clicks, see how things change over time
Shortening links is valuable in and of itself—but how do you know people are clicking them?
Good news! Some URL shorteners let you track those links, too. =) There are a few ways these links tend to be tracked:
Some URL shorteners track the links themselves.
Some URL shorteners automatically attach Google Analytics tracking data.
Customize a shortened moln.co link
One thing I love about moln.co’s link shortening service is the ability to name short URLs. Customizing a shortened link can be a fantastic way to give people a little bit of context for where they’ll go when they click that tiny link.
Add a shortened URL to a plain-text email
This can make encountering long, “ugly” URLs (especially ones all decked out with UTM codes) even more jarring for your audience, especially in plain-text emails. Fortunately, a short URL can turn a plain-text email with long, stringy URLs into a much more readable message.
But it doesn’t have to stop at print ads: a shorter URL can work for all kinds of print situations:
- Thank-you cards
- Coupon inserts
- Even letters to donors