An often overlooked and many times taken for granted technology innovation in social media is the “un-sexy” URL Shortener.
The URL Shortener is part of the social media fabric. Short links are a necessary element to the space constrained social media feed, and when used at full capacity, they are capable of affecting change in how we communicate with customers.
However, when was the last time you gave any thought to these little workhorses?
If you are like most, the last time you paid any attention to your URL shortener was when it didn’t work.
Like any given technology, the only thing constant is change. If you are still using an original flip style phone, maybe you don’t care about innovation. However, if you updated your mobile phone within the last 5-years, you might be interested in learning how the URL shortener market has evolved.
URL Shortener History
A URL shortener service is a tool that generates a short URL that directs to the original web page.
Next to the content you put in a social media update, the short URL is the second most important element in the update but yet how much attention do we give it?
URL shorteners have been around for some years. Their original purpose was to prevent cumbersome URLs from getting fragmented because email clients (i.e., Constant Contact) felt the need to wrap everything to an 80 column screen. As a result, the URL would break and email performance suffered.
Tiny URL was one of the first URL shortener services on the market. Start-ups soon came to realize the wealth of data they could extract from a simple short URL. Not surprising, the number of URL shorteners ballooned and to compete; they put their own unique twist on shortening links.
Today, Bit.ly, Goo.gl, and TinyURL are the most popular services.
Furthermore, once social networks (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) saw that 3rd party link shorteners were collecting and analyzing data inside their platform, the social networks started shortening links with their own branded URL and consequently reaping the rewards of the insight gained from each click.
Examples of short URLs from social networks:
|t.co||Twitter URL Shortener (can not be used outside Twitter)|
|lnkd.in||the URL Shortener used by LinkedIn|
|Fb.me||the URL Shortener used by Facebook|
|db.tt||db.tt is the URL Shortener used by Dropbox|
|qr.ae||Quora uses the short domain “qr.ae” when generating external links back to content on Quora|
Here are a few of the more popular link shortening services:
Turn your social data into customers.
|goo.gl||Google URL Shortener. Learn how to automatically add the Google URL Shortener to your updates.|
|tinyurl.com||TinyURL.com – shorten that long URL into a tiny URL|
|ow.ly||Ow.ly and ht.ly – Shorten URLs, share files and track visits – Owly|
|bit.ly||bitly | shorten, share and track your links|
|is.gd||an ethical URL shortener supported by MEMSET®|
|x.co||URL Shortener | X.co URL Redirection Service by Go Daddy|
|tr.im||Tr.im your URL down to a short link|
Link Shortener’s Effect on SEO
One of the most common questions asked about short URLs is their effect on SEO.
Does using a URL shortener hurt my SEO in any way?
This issue is something you’ll often hear from link shortener haters. But, as Matt Cutts says in this video, the PageRank, 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.
Short URL Best Practices
Particularly relevant to boost engagement on social media is the:
- placement and
- the mere presence of links
Consequently, the often taken for granted link does have a significant effect on performance.
1.) Put Links 25% of the Way Through Tweets
Links placed just before the halfway point (in characters) of tweets tend to have higher clickthrough rates than links placed elsewhere.
2.) Use Links to Get Retweets
While fewer than 25% of all tweets contain a link, more than half of retweets contain a URL.
3.) Share Links to Interesting Content
Accounts in which between 60% – 80% of tweets contain links tend to get more retweets than accounts that tweet fewer links. Source: Hubspot
4.) The more readable by human beings, the better
The easier a URL is to read for people, the better it’s for search engines. Accessibility has always been a part of SEO, but never more so than today, when engines can leverage advanced user and usage data signals to determine what people are engaging with vs. not.
5.) Limit redirection hops to two or fewer
Generally speaking, search engines will follow these longer redirect jumps, but they’ve recommended against the practice in the past, and for less “important” URLs (in their eyes), they may not follow or count the ranking signals of the redirecting URLs as completely. Source: Moz
Did You Know Your URL Shortener Can…
1.) Boost Branding
A custom short URL adds a powerful brand element to your distributed content which, as a result, lends added professionalism and personality to your social media efforts.
Furthermore, having your own custom URL shortener leads to an increase in link trust. No one likes clicking on random links, so knowing it comes from a reliable source goes a long way towards increasing the likelihood that users might engage with it.
bit.ly, a popular URL shortener, found branded short URLs increase CTR on links by 34%.
A custom URL shortener is the domain that replaces the default “dlvr.it” short URL in a shortened link. For instance, “http://dlvr.it/123bcd” becomes “http://your-custom-domain.com/123bcd”.
Major publishers and brands who use their own custom short domains:*
- The New York Times: ‘nyti.ms’
- Amazon.com: ‘amzn.com’
- Tech Crunch: “’tcrn.ch’
2.) Uncover Sources of Hidden Traffic
According to website analytics provider Chartbeat, nearly 70% of ‘social’ sharing goes untracked while only 25% of sharing “actually” occurs on Facebook and Twitter – combined. The term to describe this is Dark Social.
Dark Social is the blind spot in website analytics. In many cases, you can tell which sites people were on before coming to your site consequently this is helpful in determining where to spend your time and marketing money.
According to RadiumOne, 93% of consumers share content via Dark Social.
Dark Social refers to traffic not attributed to a source.
It’s hard to measure because it happens when users copy, paste, and then share a link through email, apps, bookmarks or on chat.
This type of sharing is outside the basic core of the social media ecosystem. As a result, a huge goldmine of valuable traffic and customer data remains untapped and bypasses traditional analytics system.
When sharing content outside your site, mask the link with a link shortener.
The short URL is short enough to paste into an email, chat, and text. When clicked, you will know where the link originated from because your link shortener will capture the data.
3.) Generate Revenue
There are some specialty URL shorteners that do more than shorten links. The first one we’ll discuss helps you generate revenue with every link you share. These types of link shorteners add a layer between a short URL and the destination page.
For example, when readers click the short URL, they are brought to an intermediate page before moving onto the final destination. This intermediate page contains an ad and as a result, you get paid on this brief visit.
How paid URL shorteners work:
- Visitor clicks a shortened link
- An ad shows on an intermediate page – you earn money.
- The visitor is redirected from the intermediate page to the destination page (long URL)
|Ouo.io||Get paid for every person who visits your URLs|
|adf.ly||Earn money for every visitor to your links.|
|shorte.st||Monetize your website and links you share.|
|linkshrink||Earn money the smart way by getting paid for every person that views your links.|
4.) Generate Leads
Another type of specialty URL shortener focuses on conversion. One such service is Snip.ly. Sniply is a link shortener that drives conversions by embedding a call-to-action into every page you share. This allows you to engage your followers at a deeper level than any other link shortener.
Sniply generates unique short links that you can then share. However, what makes Sniply different, then other shorteners is the ability to include custom content on the page you just shared. As a result, anyone clicking on your links will see the content along with your call-to-action (i.e., email sign-up, visit site, buy).
For example, if you click on snip.ly/demo1, you’ll see a blue box and yellow button in the bottom left corner of the article.
If you curate content, Snip.ly is a must have because it reminds your followers who sent them to a 3rd party article.
Watch the video overview for more details on how Sniply works.
5.) Track Social Media Performance, of course, but…
Are you adding additional tracking parameters, for example, Google UTM codes?
The best part of many URL shortening services is the statistics that they can show however when combining UTM tracking parameters and a short URL, what you get is a more clear picture of the performance of a particular media item.
UTM tracking parameters are tags (additional text) you can append to the links you share which then help you better measure the performance of your social media campaigns. Google Analytics supports five main campaign variables.
- Campaign name: Defines the name of the campaign
- Campaign source: Origin of the campaign, like a website or a company
- Campaign medium: Campaign type, like a banner ad, email campaign or click ad
- Campaign term: Keyword terms describing the campaign
- Campaign content: Describes the content (link destination) being shared
Best of all, when you use dlvr.it, you can automatically add this additional layer of insight into every link you share!
6.) Track Offline Marketing Performance
If you place ads in print magazines or newspapers, have a commercial on TV, pass out brochures or pamphlets, exhibit at conferences, have a billboard on the side of the road, or utilize vehicle wraps, include a unique short URL. You can then measure the source of offline traffic that shows up on your website.
The URL should be short unique and memorable.
Dairy Queen took this to an extreme in a postcard campaign. They created a unique domain for each person who received a postcard. The card directed the person to receive information specifically personalized for them. In the example below, Dairy Queen used ‘Jodi’s’ contact information to send her a postcard greeting wishing her a happy birthday.
Using bitly, a popular URL shortener, as an example, a typical auto-generated bitly short URL looks like this:
However, another option is to create a custom bitly link where you append the URL with a unique name that is memorable and/or matches the medium in which it will live. In this example – postcard.
Now for the same campaign, you could create a unique and memorable URL for each print medium your ads run.
Finally, a few fun things to leave you with…
1 – If you’re curious where a short URL takes you, use this service to expand the URL and know where you’re going