Short URLs have many benefits, but there are some things you should consider first.
When using social media to share links to web pages or blogs, many people prefer to use URL shorteners. Not only do they make long, ugly, obtrusive links more tidy and clean-looking, but there are also a number of other benefits.
There’s also a more professional approach that can be taken that is easier to set up than you might think.
In this post I’m going to give you all the angles to using short URLs in your social media posts. Let’s dig in!
Why Use a Short URL?
There are a handful of reasons you’d want to use a URL (or link) shortener instead of just pasting the long link into your social messages.
1. Less Cluttered Reading Experience
Website URLs can be long, sometimes obscure looking, and take up a lot of space. Depending on the link it could completely ruin a smooth reading experience.
Shorter links take up less space and are easier to add in-line while not obscuring the reading.
2. Tracking and Analytics
In addition to the aesthetic though, most URL shortening services add analytics tracking into the links so you can monitor a number of statistics or metrics. Some of these metrics include:
- Number of clicks on the link
- Timeline of clicks
- Where the link was shared/clicked most
- Who shared the link
By tracking these metrics you can gain valuable insight as to what your audience is responding to, where they’re responding to it and who it is that is responding.
If you’re not measuring how well your content is performing, you can’t effectively improve it.
3. Easy Specialized Tracking with UTM Codes
Okay, so this is mostly for more advanced use cases and those who want to track specific campaigns in their website analytics program (such as Google Analytics).
Sometimes you might want to track specific campaigns separately on different platforms to see how each platform is performing for you. In this case you’d want to add a what’s known as UTM tracking codes at the ends of your links. This allows you to use your Google Analytics (or other analytics software) to measure the results of each specific medium that the link was shared on.
Some services (such as Buffer and Bitly) will automatically add these UTM tracking codes to shortened links making the process extremely efficient. You don’t need to go through any extra trouble to create the UTM codes, they’re just automagically added.
Where Can I Shorten My Links?
Some of the most popular are bit.ly, j.mp (owned by bit.ly), is.gd or Google’s own goo.gl. There are tons of them popping up now.
Personally I recommend bit.ly. They were the first to really put short URLs on the map and they have the largest variety of free features that I’ve found. They also have one specific feature which I will get to later in this article.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.
Then you have services like Buffer or Hootsuite which will incorporate their own custom branded short URLs if you decide to use the URL shortening through their app. Buffer will shorten links with buff.ly by default and Hootsuite will either use ht.ly or ow.ly.
Even Twitter now automatically shortens any pasted long URL with it’s own short version (t.co).
Take it to the Next Level with Branded (or Vanity) Short URLs
An even more interesting approach is when someone uses their own custom branded (or vanity) short URL. This is when a shortened URL has some form of the brand name related to the person sharing it. For example:
- Mashable uses on.mash.to
- New York Times uses nyti.ms
- Huffington Post uses huff.to
- Google uses its own goo.gl
- Weal Media uses weal.media
- Warfare Plugins uses wfa.re
Having your own custom short URL has a more professional appeal to it. It takes a slightly higher technical know-how and a small financial investment since you have to buy the domain name yourself.
A study by the Bitly team also found that “branded short domains drive up to a 34% increase in CTR when compared to unbranded links.”
Did you know that using a custom branded short URL can increase click-throughs by 34%?Click To Tweet
But there’s one last benefit to having your own branded short URL that I think is not to be overlooked— it shows that you have personally shortened it. The shortened link was not just shortened anywhere by anyone because nobody holds the keys to your custom short URL but you.
One of the biggest problem with public URL shorteners is that they’ve been so widely abused. Since anyone can shorten a link through Bitly or goo.gl (just as examples) that means that they can easily disguise malicious links within those shortened states and people will unknowingly click-through to something they aren’t expecting.
With a custom branded short URL you’re lending your name (or brand name) and your seal of approval to whatever that link forwards to. It’s an added layer of trust that cannot be overlooked.
How to Set Up a Branded Short URL
My link shortening service of choice is Bitly. Not only because the have the most comprehensive, easy to use set of tools but it’s very easy to set up a branded/vanity URL through them.
On top of that, there are a lot of services that integrate seamlessly into Bitly such as Buffer and Coschedule, essential if you’re maintaining an Editorial Calendar Strategy like mine.
So what it does is allows for your domain of choice to replace the bit.ly in shortened Bitly links. For example, every time I shorten a link through Bitly the link will start with dustn.ws.
What Are Social Signals And Why Do They Matter? http://t.co/BS8QrWReST
— Dustin W. Stout (@DustinWStout) March 5, 2015
Step 1: Go buy a short domain.
Figure out what you want your branded short URL to be and purchase it using your domain registrar of choice.
I usually start by searching on domai.nr and see just how short I can make it. Find the one you want, and buy it.
Step 2: Go to Bitly and Set it Up
If you already have a Bitly account all you need to do is click on your account menu and go to the Settings page.
From there click on the Advanced tab and scroll down to the Short Domain section. You will then see the instructions of how to set it up.
Hold On Sparky, There’s a Downside
There are also some cons to using a custom branded short URL that I was recently made aware of.
The argument is that when you use a custom branded short URL you are somehow taking something away from the person/brand being linked to by placing your name/brand over their domain. You are effectively “hiding from sight their own brand/ownership”. And by doing so, you can cause brand confusion and unintentionally get perceived credit for someone else’s work.
I’ve long been an advocate for honoring creatives, photographers, and designers of all sorts who create things that are easily taken. I’ve even written and advocated excessively (made quite a few people angry) for the proper attribution and responsible sharing of images in particular.
But to some, the act of using a branded shortener is not ethical unless you are a big company like Google, Bitly or another “neutral” shortener.
After much consideration, I do not agree with any of the arguments brought up in this regard. I do believe the ideas and concerns are worth noting though.
Lastly, there are also some trust issues that people have with any shortened link. As I stated above, because the primary link is hidden it’s very easy for spammers and scammers to get people to click on potentially shady links.
This means there are some people who just wont click on a shortened link. But if you’re a trustworthy person and people know that, then this shouldn’t be an issue.
If you’d like to dig deep into the negative views on the subject, take a look at the post on Google+ where the discussion took place.
Best Practices with Short URLs
Short URLs, whether branded or unbranded, are great for specific contexts. There are, however, certain instances where you do not want to use them. So here’s a short list of short URL best practices:
- Only on social media. Never in anchor text or hyperlinks. There is speculation that placing short URLs in html links can result in an SEO penalty.
- Never use them on Pinterest for pins. Last month Pinterest began removing pins with affiliate links and short URLs. Best to just avoid using short URLs entirely on Pinterest.
- Never shorten an already shortened link. Not only is it redundant, but it can also get flagged by web browsers for having too many redirects. If this happens, the link will essentially be useless.
Most of these are just good sense. Short URLs primary purpose is to improve user experience. If you’re looking at using a shortened link for an instance where that purpose doesn’t apply, you probably don’t need to shorten it.
Using short URLs on social media can help your messages have more visual appeal, higher click-throughs and give you extra insight about the effectiveness of the content you’re sharing.
To me, the positives far outweigh the potential negatives. As a professional in the world of content marketing and social media, I need to know what’s working and what’s not working so I can teach and apply that insight to my clients and customers.
So are you using short URLs in your social posts? What URL shortener are you using? You can leave a comment by clicking here.