URL Shortners: Should You Use Them?

Sites like Twitter (and its 140 character limit) have helped fuel an explosion in the use of URL shorteners to generate short URLs.

If you are not familiar with what a URL shortener is it basically lets you take an extremely long and difficult to remember URL and simply shorten it.

For example:

http://www.mywebsite.com/products/widgets/my-awesome-weight-loss-product

Could become

http://short.url/xd5td7

When a user hits the shortened URL the service matches it against the relevant long URL in its database and then forwards the user on to the original link.

Pretty straight forward.

There are TONS of shortening services out there (such as bit.ly or goo.gl) and some applications (like Tweetdeck) even have them built in.

Sweet!

But it could be even sweeter!

Lately a new trend has emerged. Custom short URLs.

Sites like Mashable and Techcrunch have implemented their own URL shorteners; and it’s not solely driven by vanity.

There is a very real reason why website owners (and affiliates especially) should consider implementing and managing their own short URLs.

BETTER LINK MANAGEMENT

Firstly. There is the link itself. Lets say you have a fantastic link to a product or service you would like to promote. You tweet and it is retweeted. You share it on Google+ and Facebook. You publish it in an eBook. You even send it out to your mail list. You are getting some decent traction and everything is going great.

Then for some reason you discover the original link needs to be changed.

Crap.

Some services (such as tiny.cc) will allow you to edit the original link but others will not due to concerns of spamming or misleading users (i.e. getting a link shared before adding an affiliate id at a later date)

By managing your own URL shortener you don’t have to worry about whether the service allows you to manage or edit your links (or whether they change their T&Cs or even go out of existence) . You have complete control and are not reliant on a 3rd party service.

YOUR BRAND

Secondly (and maybe more importantly) there is your brand. Every time you use a bit.ly link (or any 3rd party shortener) you are actively promoting their brand.

People see that link and become familiar with it. But what about your own brand? Would it not make more sense to have every short link enforcing your own online identity?

Having your own short URLs is a great opportunity for you to do just this. It helps you to build trust and gain credibility and it inspires confidence within your users.

When a link is shared and retweeted by others your brand will be shared also.

People will learn to identify your site from the short URL alone and know that you are actively endorsing whatever is at the end of it. A 3rd party short URL can seem detached in comparison.

We all know how important it is to have a consistent identity across multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest). Having your own URL shortener simply enforces this and can help your brand gain wider exposure.

CUSTOM SHORT URLS JUST LOOK BETTER

Ok, call it vanity if you like but custom short URLs just look better (in my opinion).

Take your websites email address for example. I imagine most of you have something like admin@website.com

So why not just website@yahoo.com or website@gmail.com?

Because it looks rubbish and amateurish that’s why!

A branded email reassures your users and a custom short URL can do exactly the same.

SO WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES?

There are down sides to implementing your own shortener. Firstly there is the technical overhead. Without the use of a plugin you are going to need some development. And this can be timely and costly.

Third party services also offer analytics with regards to click throughs etc (but then some free shortening scripts also offer this functionality – or you could even use Google analytics to track clicks)

There is also the cost of a short domain on which to host your shortener. Often these are country specific TLDs (for example Googles own short url service goo.gl uses Greenlands TLD – .gl) which can be far more expensive to register than bog standard .com or .co.uk

It really is a case of weighing up the pros and cons and deciding if a custom shortener can enhance your online offering.

For some people it’s not a good fit. For others it is.

OK I’M SOLD. SO HOW DO I IMPLEMENT MY OWN?

Firstly (as mentioned above) you need a nice snappy short domain for your short URLs. Again as mentioned above these tend to be country specific TLDs that kind of match the original site.

For example:

  • goo.gl (Greenland)
  • bit.ly (Libya)
  • tcrn.ch (Switzerland)
  • instagr.am (Armenia)

You can off course just use a .com (like foursquare do with 4sq.com) but finding a short .com that fits with your brand can be difficult (and costly).

Once you have your domain you simply need to set up your shortener.

There are loads of free open source scripts out there to give you your own custom short URLs. One of the most popular is Yourls.

Or, if you are technical, you could even develop one yourself from scratch. It really isn’t that difficult.

So there you have it. Some of the pros and cons of implementing your own short URLs.

I would love to hear some opinions on this. Have you implemented your own short URLs?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.