URL shorteners – which one to choose, pros and cons of cons of using them, in general, some real-life examples and some conclusions

URL shortening is the process in which you take a long URL, such as this:
http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2013/10/07/the-pursuit-of-happiness-makes-life-shallow/ and you make it into something simpler, such as this:
http://goo.gl/rHwPN0 (this is the same link as the above link, when you click it and you will be redirected to the long URL).

URL shortening started (I think) in the first years of 2000, and the most notable example of the first years was tinyurl.com. The web site still has a similar interface of what it used to have back then. Time passed, and more services appeared, such as bit.ly or goo.gl (and many many others, of course).

The current blog post is about URL shorteners – which one to choose, why should you use them, why avoid using them, some real life examples and some conclusions.

Pawel Loj - tiny foot, https://flic.kr/p/edDaA
Pawel Loj – tiny foot, https://flic.kr/p/edDaA (yes, this is a tiny URL)

Three URL shorteners, compared

First of all, I think it would be best to have an idea of what you can do with various URL shorteners.

TinyURL.com

  • The oldest on the market (I used to use it 10 years ago).
  • Currently, you can get no statistics of the traffic on your link (you don’t know the audience of your visitors). To me, this is a deal-breaker. I wouldn’t use TinyURL.com, mostly due to this fact.
  • You can create a custom URL, for example if you don’t like this URL: http://tinyurl.com/o6rsv6g, you can use a custom-made URL, for example: http://tinyurl.com/keywordtool-io (the part at the end was written by me).
  • You can put “preview.” in front of the URL, to preview the link. For the above examples: http://preview.tinyurl.com/o6rsv6g and http://preview.tinyurl.com/keywordtool-io.
  • By using this tool: http://web-sniffer.net/ and entering there a shortened URL, like this one: http://tinyurl.com/o6rsv6g, you can see the following information: “Status: HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently Location: http://keywordtool.io/” This texts says that the URL has a 301 redirection, so you are fine with using the URL, nothing bad will happen to you from a SEO perspective. You can read more about this here: URL Shorteners: Which Shortening Service Should You Use?
  • The length of the final, short URL, due to the fact that “TinyURL.com” has 11 characters, is larger than most of its competitors.
  • The web site interface is very outdated. The brand of the web site is more into “we’re a old web site, with little updates”. This is how the web site looked 11 years ago. Now you can have custom URLs, there is a preview feature, and you can copy & paste URLs easily, but the interface hasn’t changed much in 11 years.
  • When you give someone a link starting with “TinyURL.com”, that person will probably understand, just by looking at the link, even if it has little experience with such practices, that the URL is a tiny one.
  • My personal feed-back: it’s a reliable service, it doesn’t matter, to me that the URL is larger. But I do have a problem with the fact that there are no statistics for the links. But, most of all, I have a problem in using a service which doesn’t put much emphasis in making things better, improving, growing.

Bit.ly

  • It has some of the most advanced features on the market. Lots of things you can do with it. For example – 7 Things You Didn’t Know Bitly Could Do.
  • It’s easy to integrate Bit.ly with other services. It’s very popular with Twitter clients, for example. Thus, you can easily use it on multiple devices, systems, browsers, applications.
  • Some stats: “6 billion clicks a month. 600 million shortens a month. 50 people in the company and approximately 20 engineers. 400 servers.” (more – Bitly: Lessons Learned Building a Distributed System that Handles 6 Billion Clicks a Month – High Scalability –).
  • You can create custom URLs.
  • A nice feature is that if you provide Bit.ly with a URL of a web site which already has a URL shortener in place, it will use that specific short URL. So, if you go to Bit.ly and insert this URL: http://searchengineland.com/analysis-which-url-shortening-service-should-you-use-17204, you will get this suggestion as an URL: http://selnd.com/1pQICYf. But this hasn’t worked when tested on other web sites – Flickr, YouTube, Google Maps, so it’s not a general feature. I think there might be some apps out there who do this for you – so, they either shorten to YouTu.be or to Bit.ly, whatever works, I don’t know them by heart, though, and this feature is not so important to be a deal-breaker, for me.
  • You can, theoretically, use it as a bookmark manager. You can organize your links, make lists public, or share it only with some friends, or keep them private. To me, this sounds like something rather unuseful, and unrelated to most reasons I use a URL shortening service, but to some it may prove worthwhile to check it out. bitly blog — Use bundles to share links around a theme and How to Get the Most Out of the New Bitly.
  • You can use Bit.ly to create your very own short links generator, on your own domain. To me, this looks like just adding a new layer of possibilities for errors, but, then again, why not? How do I set up a Branded Short Domain? – Customer Feedback for bitly.
  • The most important to use Bit.ly are its statistics. You can see various data about your traffic – number of clicks (with graphs on time of clicking), country of the visitor IP address, various places where the link was shared, some data about users who shared that link.
  • You can get some statistics about a link by adding a “+” at the end of the URL: referral system. Get this URL: http://bit.ly/1p1uBL6, add a “+” at the end of it: http://bit.ly/1p1uBL6+ and see more about the link, prior to clicking on it (an alternative web site and solution is to visit and use: http://longurl.org/). But this need happens very rarely for regular users, most people just click on the link.
  • If you need more power than the free version, there’s a PRO version: Bitly – Brand Tools Features.
  • According to a test on http://web-sniffer.net/ on this URL: http://bit.ly/1p1uBL6, bit.ly is SEO-friendly: “Status: HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently […] Location: http://themeforest.net/?ref=O_Breda” (there is a 301 redirect to the desired page).
  • The biggest drawback, compared to other URL shorteners, is the abuse by spammers. I think Bit.ly stats are better than the ones offered by Goo.gl, yet a link starting with “Goo.gl” looks more trustworthy than a link staring with “Bit.ly”. It’s my personal feed-back, you may agree to disagree (Bit.ly is a complex service, see – Bitly help with all the services -, so there are lots of other reasons to use Bit.ly than the ones I mentioned)

Goo.gl

  • Despite being from the same company who gave the world Google Analytics, Google’s URL shortening service has fewer features than Bit.ly. Their Analytics, although they give data about browsers (Chrome, Firefox etc.) and platforms (Windows, Mac OS, Linux etc.), isn’t as good at giving you the exact information you need.
  • You don’t have custom URLs with Goo.gl.
  • If you aren’t logged in, you must fill in a captcha to have a shortened URL.
  • You can get some data about the shortened URL if add a “+” at the end of a URL, but you must be logged in into your Google account: http://goo.gl/rHwPN0 becomes http://goo.gl/rHwPN0+ and you get more data. An alternative web site and solution is to visit and use: http://longurl.org/.
  • The fact that the interface of Goo.gl looks a bit spartan indicates to me that Google doesn’t put huge emphasis nor does it allocate a lot of resources in improving this service. I think it will never be discontinued, but I also think it will not grow to be as good as Bit.ly in the very near future. Of course, my prediction can be very wrong.
  • The test with http://web-sniffer.net/ on http://goo.gl/rHwPN0 says: “Status: HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently […] Location: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2013/10/07/the-pursuit-of-happiness-makes-life-shallow/”. So, again, SEO-friendly.
  • They automatically generate QR codes for you.
  • Why do I use Goo.gl, more than anything else? Because if I give someone a link with Goo.gl, that person will probably trust the link more. This might even happen with Internet marketers. “Bit.ly” has a different brand than “Goo.gl”. It’s not the best option for statistics, but it’s fine to me, nevertheless. Also, if I think of a web site which will never disappear, Google is on top of my mind. I transfer some of this brand to Goo.gl, also.

Some reasons for using other URL shorteners?

  • YouTube uses YouTu.be for URL shorteners when sharing a video. Google Maps uses goo.gl as an alternative to a long URL for a given location. Twitter uses T.co for all its links. Linkedin has Lnkd.in for every link you post on your wall. Flickr uses Flic.kr for sharing images. These services are so connected one to another, that it’s hard for me to even imagine how would YouTube work if its URL shortener would stop working. So, yes, use YouTu.be, T.co, Goo.gl (for Google Maps), Lnkd.in, Flic.kr and so on.
  • If you have a web site, you might want to create your own URL shortening service. I’m not such a big fan of this decision, but it might prove worthwhile. See the below example (notice the custom short URL – ver.tf/1ngmDfn)

Some reasons to avoid using other URL shorteners?

  • To me, it’s mostly the trust that they’ll be in service on the long term.
    • If you only need the link to be valid for a small time, use any URL shortening service, it generally doesn’t matter.
    • If you use URL shortening services for links which would be nice to be around for years to come, do some research first. Goo.gl and Bit.ly already offer a lot of the possible arguments you might have in using other services (they already give you, for free, analytics, 301 redirects). Surely, you might have some reasons for other services, just do your research well prior to picking something which is not very well known.

Why use URL shorteners?

  • If you send a URL via instant messaging, or email, or SMS, and the person knows you and trusts you, and you’re in a hurry, and all you want are two things – the person to surely see the long URL and to quickly click on it, then use a URL shortener. There are a few “IF”s in here, I’ll detail them below:
    • The source medium must be something in which a long URL will be displayed poorly. If I send you a long URL on Twitter, it will be displayed as a short one. If I post a long URL on your Facebook wall, it will display in such a way that it doesn’t matter whether it’s long or short. On the other hand, a huge URL on instant messaging, email or SMS doesn’t look good (thus, the source medium is not fine for such long URLs).
    • The person must trust you. If I send you a link which starts with goo.gl / bit.ly / tinyurl.com, you may remember having seen them in affiliate marketing sales. You will wonder whether to click on the link or not. But, if the person trusts you enough, you should be able to communicate via small URLs and be fine with it.
    • You’re in a hurry, and so is the recipient. If you send out a link to a Google Map, that URL might be long. There might be some problems. To avoid all possible problems, just send the short URL, no problem, quick & easy.
    • A SMS is a perfect example for the usage of a tiny URL.
  • If you want to know some basic statistics of the persons who click on your links.
    • Case one – same URL, more than one person using the link (you don’t control the source of the links). Let’s say you work in real estate. You live in Australia and own the web site realestate.com.au. You have, for start, a team of ten people. You want to know how well do your agents promote your company. One option is to give them, each, a personalized URL, such as: http://www.realestate.com.au/agent1, http://www.realestate.com.au/agent2 … and so on. You could also use Google Analytics parameters, and with the help of an online tool, you could have URL such as: http://www.realestate.com.au/?utm_source=agent1&utm_medium=internet&utm_campaign=referral, http://www.realestate.com.au/?utm_source=agent2&utm_medium=internet&utm_campaign=referral … and so on. The problem with these URLs is that they can easily be edited. Just by looking at them, you may understand that you can just keep this: http://www.realestate.com.au/ as an URL, no extra things in there. Also, some of the URLs are quite long. The solution? Use personalized, small URLs, such as: http://bit.ly/agent_1 … and so on, for each agent. Then, you can have statistics for each agent, and the URLs can’t be edited.
    • Case two – you control neither the page referring the link, nor the landing page. Let’s say you want to share a link to a news article on an email public list. As you can expect, you generally don’t control either the mailing list (referring page), nor the landing page (the news outlet). Thus, once you send out the email, you have no option to know if your campaign was worthwhile. The solution? Use a URL shortener which gives you basic Analytics (clicks and basic demographics of the persons who clicked your link). You will find, at the end of this article, links to choosing the right URL shortener. If you’re interested in Analytics, focus on finding this type of URL shortener.
    • If you control the source of the links (your web site) or there is only one source of the link (you only place the link in one place) and you also control the destination, Google Analytics should be just fine.
  • If you do affiliate marketing, you might find it useful to hide the fact that you earn a commission with a link you just gave. There are three types of affiliate links
  • Some notes for affiliate marketing and URL shortening:
    • Google always knows what the final destination URL is. If you think that you can hide the fact that you are doing affiliate marketing, by using a URL shortener, you are wrong. Google will crawl the URL and see the final URL.
    • What is the influence for SEO, when shortening links? “A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page. 301 refers to the HTTP status code for this type of redirect. In most instances, the 301 redirect is the best method for implementing redirects on a website.” (source – Redirection – SEO Best Practices – Moz) Of course, this implies that you are using a service which does 301 redirects.
    • In my opinion, if you do affiliate marketing, your focus should not be on “how to hide from Google that I am doing affiliate marketing”. Instead, you should focus on making each page with affiliate links relevant, and with added value. So, if you have a page in which you compare TV sets, you should probably look to have more than a list of TVs in that page. Have a description, make a review, add some comments, make your page, in itself, relevant to viewer. I think in this case having affiliate network links is appropriate. More on the subject: Fat Pandas and Thin Content – Moz
  • If you want to write something on paper – a book, an article, a dissertation paper, you might want to use short URLs. The small caveat here is that if you put only the short URL, the person will not know what the destination of the URL will be, so, in this situation, I would put on paper both the short and the long URL (short URL for easy typing, long URL for understanding of what’s behind the link). For this purpose, also see: QR code.
  • If you want to track status of expired URLs. Let’s say you own 10 blogs and you write 10 articles daily. Each article has an average of one link in it. An year passes and you have no less than 3,500 links on your web site. As you might imagine, some of these links expire, and you want to quickly find out which of the 35,000 links are expired. A solution for this is to have all the links as short URLs. Then you can monitor all those 3,500 links easier – which is valid, which is not. The great part about this? You might even not use a URL shortener on your blog! You could simply shorten all the referred links on all your blogs, but don’t use any bit.ly links on your web site. Just shorten them, and then go to bit.ly and check out all your links in one place. Yes, there are various tools which do this for you, but a URL shortener is also an option.
  • For customized URLs:

Why should you refrain using URL shorteners?

  • If you need a URL shortener for the long term – the service might stop working sometime. If I give you an email on your Yahoo! Mail address, and the link is on New York Times, there might be two problems for not being able to see the link: Y!M web site might not work, or NYT web site might not function. But if I shorten the URL with a URL shortener, I just add another layer of problems which might appear. Three situations (note, also read this: Fear, uncertainty and doubt – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia):
    • One thing to think about in here is the “too big to fail” situation. goo.gl is owned by Google. TinyURL has a huge history behind it. Bit.ly is used by a lot of marketers. You’re generally safe. “Despite having a Libyan top-level domain name and two so-called “root servers” located in the African nation, bit.ly and other link shortening sites were unaffected by the outage. […] The root servers connect a user to the server that the website is hosted on. But those servers don’t always physically exist in the countries their TLDs are assigned to. Sites with the .ly TLD have five root servers, but only two are based in Libya: The other two are located in Oregon, and one is in the Netherlands.” (source – What happens to bit.ly if Libya shuts off the Internet – Feb. 21, 2011)
    • Other services are inherently connected to the services they appear on. YouTube uses YouTu.be for URL shorteners when sharing a video. Google Maps uses goo.gl as an alternative to a long URL for a given location. Twitter uses T.co for all its links. LinkedIn has Lnkd.in for every link you post on your wall. Flickr uses Flic.kr for sharing images. These services are so connected one to another, that it’s hard for me to even imagine how would YouTube work if its URL shortener would stop working.
    • On the other hand, my personal preference is to generally avoid a URL shortener which would not be missed too much if it would just disappear from the market. For a short, quick, one-time link, yes, you can probably use any URL shortener out there. If the link will be used only in the next 10 days, you can use any URL shortener. On the other hand, if all of your messages on your blog use a single URL shortener, do some readings first on what is a good option to use on the long term.
  • URL shorteners are persistently abused by spammers. This has the following consequences:
    • Bit.ly has some databases of web sites who do spam. If you happen to be on that list, and you shorten a URL with their services, the visitor of the link will get a big warning that something might be wrong with the link they are about to visit. Thus, you might lose some visitors. “We have a huge stream of people and companies that report offending sites or sites that appear as spam. We respond aggressively to these reports, to avoid the spread of viruses and spam – but we are rarely the ones to flag your content as questionable. Bitly strictly shortens URLs and points to sites in a 301 redirect – we host no actual content. If you end up on the bad side of company that funnels data to us (reporting your site as spam/rogue content), you may consistently get flagged. Please investigate who objects to your content, so you can request that they stop flagging you.” (source). Other URL shortening services may have similar practices.
    • If you send an email, and in the email you use a shortened link by a popular provider, and that provider has previously allowed spam links into their system, your email might not reach the inbox of the desired recipient (it might land into the Spam folder, or it might not be delivered at all). I’m not saying all emails using shortened links land in Spam folders, I’m saying that this happens sometimes.
    • The above point happens with other services, too:
      • “In 2009, the Twitter network replaced TinyURL with Bit.ly as its default shortener of links longer than twenty-six characters. In April 2009, TinyURL was reported to be blocked in Saudi Arabia. Yahoo! Answers blocks postings that contain TinyURLs and Wikipedia does not accept links by any URL shortening services in its articles.” (source – URL shortening – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
      • “URL shortening services are notorious for being used by spammers in an attempt to avoid having their mail blocked by pointing at their own domains. They hope that by using a well-known, widely used, and free service that they will be able to avoid having their content filtered. Twitter’s URL shortener is very popular in this regard because Twitter changes all links that show up in a Twitter feed so that they will use t.co instead of the domain that was originally posted. Because of this, t.co (and other similar services) are often listed by the DBL (or by the also popular URIBL block list).” (The ExactTarget Blog Why You Shouldn’t Use URL Shorteners » The ExactTarget Blog)
    • Finally, if you have a friend who constantly sees bad kind of links associated to a URL shortening service, and you send that person a link which is shortened by the same provider, the person might wonder if the link you are sending is legitimate or not. So, if my Facebook wall is flooded with Bit.ly links leading to pages which sell me things, whenever I see a Bit.ly link my first reaction would be to wonder if this is not, also, a spammy link.
  • Because people fear the unknown. There is a web site called StumbledUpon.com. It is quite popular. You click a button, and it gives you something from the Internet to see. You then click “Like” or “Dislike”, and the tool shows you something else. The thing is, the suggestion the web site gives you are not random. Based on your patterns of liking / disliking other web sites, StumbleUpon tries to give you something which you will enjoy. By having a large enough pool of users, and by using some (advanced, I might think) algorithms, the web site gives you what you might like. TinyURL.com users did the following in the past: “The TinyURL method of allocating shorter web addresses has inspired an action known as TinyURL-whacking. Random letters and numbers can be placed after the first forward slash in an attempt to hit interesting sites without knowing what they will be.” (TinyURL – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). You might wonder why StumbleUpon was a great success, yet TinyURL-whacking didn’t catch on. I think that people are afraid of the unknown. They might want to try something new, but are, generally, afraid of totally new. Have a look at this URL: http://googlesystem.blogspot.ro/. You can tell the following, just by looking at the link: it’s a blog (almost all the web sites on blogspot.com are blogs, although you can make a presentation web site on Blogger platform), it’s got something to do with Google. “.ro” is misleading, the web site is not from Romania, but the TLD changes to .ro if I visit the website from Romania (which I do). Take the same URL: http://goo.gl/NxZuQk. You know nothing of the destination link. Take this one: http://bit.ly/googleoperatingsystem. Now, you have to trust me of actually naming the web site correctly, with my “googleoperatingsystem” definition. I might be honest, I might not be. You need to trust me. There is a lot of meta-information you can derive by just looking at a URL. Put this into a short URL, and that data is gone. Of course, fear of unknown is not the only emotion associated with a short URL. For some, the convenience of the short URL brings more pleasure. If the recipient of the message trusts you, there should be no problem with a short URL. But, generally, at least some fear is there. Other emotions might prevail, but fear is definitely there.
  • Because it takes time and effort to create one. Even with extensions that integrate into browser, it generally still takes more time than just copying the current URL of the page you’re on. If you don’t have a browser extension, the process is the following: visit a page, copy the URL, open your favorite URL shortening service, paste the URL, copy the shortened URL, use it as needed. Lots of steps for a simple task.
  • There are ways to avoid having long URLs in the first place. Most YouTube videos have URLs which have the following length: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaAVByGaON0 (40-45 characters, something like that). Sure, you can shorten the URL to: http://goo.gl/OHpFyS (20 characters, +/- 5 characters), but, generally, a YouTube video already has a length which allows easy sharing. Most of the articles on Derek Sivers’ blog have URLs which look like this: http://sivers.org/horses or http://sivers.org/ml and so on. In WordPress you can edit the URL of the article (it’s called “slug”).
  • It takes longer to open a page when you use a URL shortening service. Instead of going to site A (destination URL), you first go to the URL shortener (site B), and only then to site A. It adds up. Why link shorteners hurt the user experience and destroy the Web:
    shorter
  • It’s generally not a problem, from a SEO perspective, to use URL shorteners (Do URL shorteners pass anchor text? – YouTube), but I think that there is a tiny, small, little SEO problem of 301 redirecting a link. You can ignore this issue, the factor is minimal but it’s still there. See this: “A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page. 301 refers to the HTTP status code for this type of redirect. In most instances, the 301 redirect is the best method for implementing redirects on a website.” (source – Redirection – SEO Best Practices – Moz)
  • Because, according to a study (Buddymedia: Strategies for effective facebook wall posts), they tend to decrease engagement rates:
Chris Rawlinson: Buddymedia: Strategies for effective facebook wall posts
Chris Rawlinson: Buddymedia: Strategies for effective facebook wall posts

Conclusions?

Analytics Should Not Interfere With Usability
Perhaps the biggest motivation for still using URL shorteners is the analytics data many shortening services provide. It can be very addictive to see how many people click the links you post. This is understandable but in my opinion, getting analytics should not interfere with the interests of your readers. My hunch is you’ll be more influential by caring less about analytics and doing what’s right from the reader’s perspective. Moreover, there are other ways to track the success of your tweets: the number of retweets and favorites you receive probably correlates strongly with the number of clicks. If you link to your own site, classic web analytics also help.” (source – Please Don’t Use URL Shorteners on Twitter – Ole Begemann; I made the text in bold, not the author)

If you want to use an URL shortener, which should you use?

Do you really hate seeing short URLs and would much rather have a browser extension to show you only long URLs?

Do you want to quickly make a long URL short in your browser?

See some lists of extensions that integrate into browser.

My personal history of using URL shorteners?

  • Since 2004-2005 (something in that time, I’m not sure), my rule was: always use TinyURL.com (with a bookmarklet).
  • Around 2010-2011, something like that – the rule changed to: always use Bit.ly.
  • In recent years (2012-present day) – changed to – always use Goo.gl (with a browser extension).
  • In very recent years (partially changed to) – Use short URLs in your WordPress blog posts, so you would not need a URL shortening service in the first place. For everything else, use Goo.gl.

Some tips?

  • I would need a very good reason to use something different than goo.gl or bit.ly in day-to-day work.
  • You should shorten URLs on your web site if your CMS allows for it. So, if you publish an article called “UX tip: Old products – show the evolution of price”, your CMS might make your URL something like: https://olivian.ro/ux-tip-old-products-show-the-evolution-of-price. In my opinion, it is best to edit the URL into something more easy to read: https://olivian.ro/show-price-evolution (as you see, you can even change some words, as long as the meaning of the title is pretty much the same. Have a look on Derek Sivers’ blog, and see how he made the URLs on his blog. I don’t go that far to only use a single, short word in my URL. I prefer a 1-4 words (generally 2-3 words) URL, but with more substantial information. Also, I prefer synthesize a full article into a title, and then into a URL. You generally can’t do this with a single, short word.
  • You can put a “+” sign after a URL shortened with bit.ly or goo.gl to get some stats. For example, instead of this URL: http://bit.ly/h6aP4l, you can have this URL: https://bitly.com/h6aP4l+, which gives you some public stats (not all of them, of course) about the people who clicked on the URL.
  • You should generally considering shortening huge URLs, even if the user clicks on a small text, so the room for error is small. So, instead of this link, you should have this link.
  • Personal tip, I might be 100% wrong with this one: you should avoid using special characters in URLs. I marked with yellow, red & bold the special characters in this URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEEOCxkcaU. The trouble is, when you copy this URL to Notepad, and you double click it, the URL doesn’t get fully selected. It is an usability issue with using Notepad, it’s an incredible small thing, but you should, generally, avoid using “+” , “?”, “-” in the URL. Of course, you can technically use it, I’m just saying I’m not a big fan of this procedure.

Real life – Where to use URL shorteners?

  • Debatable – When you send a link in an email, and the link is more than one line long.
  • Sure – When you send a link in an email, and the link is more than three lines long.
  • Debatable – If you write a book or printed paper, and you don’t include the long URL along with the short URL. For this purpose, also see: QR code.
  • Sure – If you write a book or printed paper, and you also include the long URL along with the short URL (so the viewer can see what the URL refers to, the title of the article, but he/she can also visit the URL by typing only a few letters). For this purpose, also see: QR code.
  • Debatable – if a specific social network has short links embedded into their system. YouTube automatically gives you the option to share this URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgHyjMgPi2Q as this: http://youtu.be/pgHyjMgPi2Q. There is a small chance that the short URL will disappear faster on the Internet than the long URL, but the probability is very very small. Flickr photos usually have a small URL to be shared, also: https://flic.kr/p/afU8pK When you share a Google Map, the system offers you an option to share a small URL: https://goo.gl/maps/CrFDf. Generally, I prefer to use short URLs, because most of the time I want to quickly send a photo / video / map. I don’t care if the link will be valid 10 years after, I want something quick. If I embed something on my web site, then it’s a different story.
  • Sure – If you want to share an affiliate link, and you don’t want to give the person receiving the link the simple option to avoid giving you referral credit. There are still plenty solutions to avoid any credit to you, but using URL shorteners you generally do a good job with this.
  • Sure – If you publish a great piece of network and you want to share it to some Facebook Groups / Pages / Users’ walls. If you do so with regular URLs, you won’t know which of the links gave you most traffic. So, for example, you might share it on 10 Facebook Groups, and only 3 might give you relevant traffic, and of those, only 1 would have a significant importance to you. You could get this sort of data by using URL shorteners, and posting different URLs to different Facebook Groups – one URL per group. At the end, you can monitor – “Oh, so Group #6 brought me this much traffic, and it all converted well. That’s good!”. The next step is to link the links to your Google Analytics, to have reports on Google Analytics based on the different short URLs you created.
  • Sure – When you send an SMS.

Real life – Where to avoid using them?

  • When you post a link on a social network (Facebook, Google Plus), and you are sure that the social network will display and be able to use the URL even if it’s a long one. For other social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter), where URLs are automatically shortened, you don’t need to use them.
  • When you post some news on Facebook, and you use Bit.ly just because you see everyone else do so. You never check statistics, you never use data, you just use Bit.ly because you see other news media outlets use them. Worse, you don’t even have a Bit.ly account, so you can’t see all your previously shortened URLs in the history of your account.
  • Generally, when you share a link with a large group of persons, and you want that URL to be alive for a long time, and there aren’t a lot of valid reasons for shortening the URL, you should avoid using short URLs. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but the general rule doesn’t favor this practice.

Happy URL shortening!


Note: Also see the Yahoo! Group on which I present similar issues:IMRo. To join, email imro-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmation email.

I am a Freelancer. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading. I live in London, and lots of things live in me.

1 Comment

  • Jim Neister

    4 August 2014 - 03:02

    The problem I have with using Google link shortener is that EVERYONE (even your competitors) can see the analytics by adding a “+” to the end of the link…your link has only been clicked on 12 times.

    I use a paid for one that not only lets me control EVERY aspect, but mask my affiliate links and redirects as well.

    How to Position Yourself as The #1 Authority in Your Market:
    http://JENMarketingGroup.com

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