Size Matters: Un-Grow your URL

Review of the most popular tools and how you can benefit from them

For sure you know what URL shortening is – especially if you use Twitter. And as you know, URLs may be shortened and yet still link directly to the required page. For example, the URL  http://www.monitis.com/blog/2012/09/size-matters-un-grow-your-url can be shortened to http://bit.ly/url, http://tinyurl.com/url or http://goo.gl/url. Looks in some way better, right?

There are several reasons for using URL shortening:

  • Sometimes the links that free hosting spaces generate are not very good looking – they may be too long, have too many attributes, be difficult to understand, etc. Such URLs are hard to remember and hard to manually reproduce (for reliability you should always copy-paste them). URL shortening services are there to help you in these situations.
  • In hard copy publications (and sometimes even on the Internet when you’re dealing with URLs like those mentioned above) short URLs are more convenient. When you read a magazine or a book you can remember www.bit.ly/book more easily than www.remember.me/example-read-about-it-in-a-book.
  • Sometimes your link can be so long that it breaks into multiple lines in e-mails, for example. Shorten it!
  • Twitter (and not only) has a limited number of characters in every message. Using a URL shortener allows you to link to web pages and add longer comments in your tweets. Otherwise 160 characters sometimes wouldn’t be enough for the link alone.
  • URL shortening services provide statistical information about the clicks which the link receives – sometimes this is simpler than using a full-function analytics service.

The list can be longer – but the point is clear: everyone at some point needs to use a URL shortener. But which one? There are a couple of things you should keep in mind when choosing – as well as the negative side of using those kinds of services.

Let’s start with the negative part. If the service that you choose dies, your short links die with it. Sound too risky? Some users are scared of shortened links – they think malicious links could be hidden in them. Other users don’t like the fact that they must click on the short link to see the domain name, because they don’t know where the link is going to. And last, but not least, seeing the full link serves memory reinforcement purposes so you can build brand awareness of your brand, blog, company, etc. That’s why shortened links are not recommended whenever space is not an issue. When you post links in comments and general articles, use the full URL. With all these cons, why would we even use shortened links? Go back and read the reasons for using them again.

So it seems that URL shortening services are a necessary evil – we need them, but we have to be aware of their “dark sides”. Let me show you some tricks to avoid the negative consequences of their use and to learn to benefit from them.

1st trick: Use only wide popular services

There are many URL shorteners out there and they’re not really that different from one another. But because we want to avoid the death of the service and your links, and because we want a stable tool, I recommend that you choose one of the most popular URL shorteners. If the tool is commonly used and was built in to some clients, this means it’s stable. But which are the most used tools?

If you don’t care about tracking the clicks on your link (you should, but maybe for some reason you don’t need statistics), choose between is.dg and TinyURLIs.dg has one of the shortest URLs that you can find and the redirects always seem to work. It’s built in to Tweetdeck, which is one of the most popular Twitter clients, and is included in Android shortening apps, Mac tools, Firefox and Chrome extensions, etc. In other words, it’s used widely enough to be trustworthy. TinyURL is also really popular and easy to use. It was the default Twitter shortener a while ago, until Twitter introduced its own service – t.co.

If you want to see what happens with your links from the minute that you’ve posted them (and you don’t want to use Google URL builder to do that), use ow.lygoo.gl or bit.ly. Ow.ly is used in the Hootsuite tool for social media management. Give it a try – you can manage your social network profiles from one place, and if you publish your links shortened with ow.ly, you’ll receive statistics about clicks, shares, etc. If you don’t want to use Hootsuite, there’s no reason to use ow.ly either, as it doesn’t give you anything more than the more popular is.dg and TinyURL. Goo.gl is the URL shortening service of Google. This automatically means that it’s stable and secure. You can manage your shortened links directly with your Google account and you can receive real time analytics for each link. Goo.gl automatically creates a QR code with your link. Bit.ly offers all the functionality you could want from a URL shortener. It has real time analytics and combines a shortening service with social bookmarking – you can group your favourite links and share them with your friends. Bit.ly has extensions for Chrome and iPhone app, and it can be used with any other browser or smart phone or tablet. In fact, this is the best service at the moment (in my opinion).

Keep in mind that you can create custom aliases for your shortened links in is.dg, tinyURL, bit.ly – but not in ow.ly and goo.gl.

2nd trick: Watch the redirects

One of the most important things to remember when you’re choosing a URL shortening service is the “301 redirect” – the short URL redirects 301 to the full URL. This number of the redirect shows that the short URL was permanently moved to the long address. Because of this permanent redirect, search engines credit links with the short URL to the long URL – this helps your SEO optimization. If the redirection is 302, this means it’s a temporary one. The search engines assume the short URL is the real one, just being pointed elsewhere – so they don’t credit the long URL. In other words, if you want to improve your website search engine rankings with your Twitter activity, use a URL shortener which issues 301 redirect. And check from time to time that this is actually still the case, because service providers can change it at any time.

All of the above mentioned URL shortening services use 301 redirect.

3rd trick: Use stats

Statistics about what happened with your shortened URLs can give you a lot of information about the viral effect of your video, the interest in your new blog post or even the number of your Twitter followers that really read what you tweet. The two most popular URL shortening services that provide statistical data are bit.ly and goo.gl.

  • On bit.ly you can see the clicks on your short link, total clicks on the link and total saves of this link (in social bookmarking services). You can see a graph showing total clicks on your links; referrers and countries that the clicks come from.
  • On goo.gl you have stats about the clicks; referrers; countries, browsers and platforms that they come from.

With these stats you can see which links are the most popular on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You can get more information about the users that read your articles or the news that you share.

4th trick: Vote for real time analysis

Do you want to know what’s “hot news” right now? To find out, you can use real time analysis that some URL shorteners offer. From our list, bit.ly has offered it for two months and it’s still in its experimental phase, but it looks really promising – so don’t miss the chance to have a look on rt.ly. This tool allows you to look through the most popular links on social sites. You can filter the results by keywords, topic, location, language, query and social network. Using this service, you can see what is going on with different social networks, separately from each other. You can see what users are currently clicking – of course, the information is about links that are shortened with bit.ly, not about every link on the World Wide Web.

Do you have you any experience with other real time analysis? Do you prefer any other tool for URL shortening? Share your opinion and help us extend the tricks list by providing additional relevant information.

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