As we know that URL shortener is mostly used in twitter, where every character counts. In twitter, you are allowed to put only 140 characters in its status box. A URL shortener shrinks longer links to accommodate more characters in the box. But there are more uses of this tool. In this article, I am going to shed light on everything of URL shortener for online marketers.
What is URL shortener?
It is an online application that transforms regular or long URLs into condensed link. For example, if a regular URL is 100 characters long, it will shrink the link up to 20 characters. You just need to paste a website link into the tool box and hit enter. The tool will generate a condensed URL against the link.
How URL shortener works
Don’t worry; I am not going to take you deeper in mathematician or programmer’s language. But I will give you a basic idea. The idea will help you do the job in the right way and to select a right shortening platform.
On a shortening service website, when a user enters a link, it is stored in a database as unique ID or a date and time stamp. Then the program converts the ID into a base code, which could be either 36 (case insensitive) or 62 (case sensitive), and the user gets the code to share.
URL shortening services offer shortened URLs in different redirect options like 301 or 302. A 301 redirect is known as a permanent redirect. It means that the page has moved to the long address permanently and all the credit goes to the long URL. A 302 redirect means temporary redirect. It tells search engines to keep the old domain or page indexed. Then the search engine assumes short URL as the real one. It means link credit do not go to the long URL.
Pros and cons of URL shortener
The URL shortening service is used in digital marketing for many years. Twitter is the most common reason for its extensive use. Beside shortened link facility, the tool offers more benefits to digital marketers.
- Reduce characters of a URL
- Makes a link easy to memorable, manageable and shareable
- Makes a link visually appealing
- Tracks traffic with Geographical location
- Some shortening tools track click Through Rates (CTR)
There are some drawbacks of this service. Here some of them have listed –
- Because of the redirection, loading of the original URL takes time and slows down browsing.
- You do not have control over web security, especially with free services
- Usually, there is a time limit for the validity of shortened URLs, especially with free services. It could be 5 minutes to 24 hours.
- Many people cringe to click short URLs thinking it as hidden link, especially Facebook users.
URL shorteners and SEO
Some internet marketers are skeptical about the use of URL shortener thinking its negative impact on SEO. But matt Cutt, Google’s SEO voice, clarified the matter in a video. He said that there is no negative impact of this tool in SEO, provided that you use the 301 redirect option.
Free Vs. xustom shortener
Usually, a URL shortening service providers offer service in free of cost. But you need to pay for custom shortening service. Why you need a custom link? Some brands want a custom link for branding. It is also known as vanity URL.
A vanity URL replaces generally used links (like bit.ly or ow.ly) with a custom link. For example, Time Inc.’s vanity URL is ti.me.
Here is the video of HootSuite that says about what vanity URL do.
7 Best URL shortening websites
If you are thinking of trying a URL shrinking tool, you will get a number of service providers online. It is confusing to select from a huge list of services. Here is a list of the websites offering shrink service. Though their main service is to condense a link, their features are not same.
A simple but efficient URL shortening tool from the biggest search engine Google. It tracks clicks and visitors profile in terms of country, browser and operating system. It also gives information about referrer of the clicks in real-time.
You can access the tool from your regular Google accounts’ login information. It builds up a history of your shortened URLs. So you can analyze your audience from the history. Make sure you are signed in when using Goo.gl. Otherwise, you won’t be able to track the visitors and you will get the same URL for a link if someone else shortened the link before.
Bit.ly is the most popular shortening service. Like Goo.gl, you can review traffic statistics. Besides tracking links, it offers a grouping feature. You can group your links into ‘bundle’ which made URL management easy. The grouping feature is helpful for the marketers who run multiple projects and different social media accounts.
It has its own plugin in WordPress, Bitmarklet option for quick shrink and API for developers.
If you want the alternative of bit.ly you can try tr.im. It includes all the features of bit.ly. Its ‘Tracking and Analytics’ dashboard give more details on links performance. The data is helpful to get an insight of digital marketing performance, discover audience, and understand social engagement.
Like bit.ly, it does not have WordPress plug and Bitmarklet, but its API could be integrated into third party application.
This shortener is easy to remember as you can say it just ‘post’ and this is the best point of this platform. In po.st, you will get deep insights of the audience and other features are like bit.ly or tr.im. API could be integrated into third party application, but it haven’t WordPress plugin and Bitmarklet.
ilnk.us is more than shortening and tracking URLs. It shows several options before shrinking a link and it is good for URL redirection. With ilnk.us you can delay redirection, set a custom redirect message and redirect your visitors on specialized pages according to their country. It gives you some other controls along with password protected link options.
It is pretty exceptional in the market, as it shrinks a group of links. With this tool, you can convert multiple links into a single link. When the single link is clicked fur.ly will load all the links in sequence. It is useful if you want to share multiple URLs in a single tweet.
If you do not need to track visitors, you can use TinyURL. This is one the oldest service providers in the market. When you visit the website you will find a dialog before its tool box. It says two things about shortened URLs – ‘it will not break’ and ‘never expires’. To shorten a URL, you do not need to sign up or log in, as you can use the tool straight. The tool is great for an instant shrinking of links.
All of these shrinkers offer 301 redirect service. So the shrunken links of these websites are SEO-friendly. There are more link shrinkers in the market.
Popular websites and social media networks have their own shrinking tools, like ow.ly from HootSuite. t.co is twitters’ shortener and it shrinks link automatically to adjust character count in the message box. Similarly, the buffer has its own shortener. Su.pr is StumbleUpon’s official URL shortener.
URL shortening plugins in wordPress
In WordPress, some plugins shrink link automatically as a new page and post publish. They are useful as you do not need to log on shrinking website additionally to handle link related matters.
In WordPress.org Plugin Directory, hundreds of shrinking plugins are available. Two most popular Plugins are “URL Shortener” and “WP URL shortener”.
“URL Shortener” plugin supports goo.gl, bit.ly, YOURls, Su.pr, and other popular link shrinkers. “WP URL Shorten plugin” uses ref.li to shrink links. Bit.ly has its own plugin, which could be found both in the WP plugin directory and Bitly Tools page.
However, if you have a coding idea, you can develop a plugin for your site. To develop a URL shortener plugin for WordPress, you will be needed an API code of your selected shortening service provider. Following two articles will walk you through the procedure.
YOURLS (Your Own URL Shortener) is a PHP-based open source URL shortening software. It has a decent statistical tracking feature along with a number of plugins.
You have three ways to shorten up links – website dashboard, plugin, and bitmarklet. If you haven’t tried any shortener up to now, you can pick any one way to know how it works. Finally, you can go with the option that fits your need best.[Tweet “The Complete URL Shortener Guide for Smart Marketers http://bit.ly/urlstr #Marketing #Guide”]