What is a URL shortener? Should I use an URL shortener?

Vision III: Scissors.URL shorteners aren’t new, but not everyone knows what they are or understands how useful they can be. I want to introduce you to a few URL shortening tools and explain how they can make a real difference in the way you track what your audience is doing with your information.

Why Should I Shorten My URLs?

URL shorteners have been around for years and most do the same thing: they take a long URL (https://www.bloggingbasics101.com/2010/04/helpful-blogging-links-get-shared-on-facebook/) and making it into a short URL (http://bit.ly/ckNJhr). There are several advantages to shortening your URL:

  • If you’re sharing a link on Twitter, you’re limited to 140 characters. Any URL you share can quickly eat up those characters and limit your actual message. (Tip: You don’t want to just post a link; you wan to tell people what they can expect when they click over.)
  • Any time your link is visible, the longer it is, the harder it is to remember (and it’s not very pretty, either). Shortening it (especially if you use a service that allows you choose a keyword for the link; see below for some options) can solve this problem in some cases.
  • Some URL shortening tools allow you to track how your audience uses and shares your URL.

URL Shorteners with Keywords

These services not only allow you to shorten your URL:

Not only do they shorten your URL, they give you the option of choosing a specific keyword to include in the URL. The result is something like http://doiop.com/blogging. These services don’t allow you to track your stats, but you can use Google Analytics to track specific user behavior or referral information for the page you’re linking to. For basic shortening with no bells and whistles, you can use one of these services:

    URL Shorteners with Analytics

    For those of you who want to know who’s clicking on or sharing your links, you’ll want to consider using a more powerful tool like the ones listed below.

    Bit.ly allows you track the short URLs you create with an analytics page for each URL. You can determine your top referrers, reader location, actual clicks. Bit.ly is free. Some people have been confused when their Bit.ly statistics and their Google Analytics statistics don’t match up. It appears that there a few reasons for this.

    1. No two analytics programs are going to ever show the same data; they all have different interpretations of data.
    2. When you use Bit.ly (and possibly any URL shortening tool) to shorten a URL on, say, Twitter, Twitter will then look up the link via bots/spiders. Your Bit.ly stats include those false hits in their stats. I say “false hits” because those aren’t really pairs of eyes seeing your content, it’s just Twitter’s bots finding the link. Google Analytics won’t count those bots in its statistics.

    Clicky.me requires you to run their analytics program on your web site (similar to Google Analytics) and will then track many of the same metrics Google Analytics tracks: “top referring domains, top countries, average time on site, bounce rate, etc)” as well as individual visitors. Because the clicky.me shortened URLs are linked to the clicky.me analytics you run on your site, the stats they provide are specifically for your web site; if you choose to share a link to another site that’s not running the clicky.me analytics (for instance, if you’re part of a campaign that’s tweeting links for a client), you’ll only be able to track how many times the link is clicked, not what people do once they arrive at your site. Clicky.me offers both a free and premium accounts, but the free account only allows you to shorten five URLs each day.

    HootSuite.com is a very popular tool because, in addition to shortening URLs, it provides a suite of tools to help you manage your social media presence. You can

    • track stats (including the most influential re-tweeters of your link)
    • set up a Twitter dashboard similar to what you may be used to with Tweetdeck (you can have columns dedicated to specific keywords, hashtags, or users)
    • schedule tweets
    • manage multiple Twitter accounts
    • collaborate with your team

    There are actually many more features offered by HootSuite, but I suggest you check out the HootSuite blog for more info. HootSuite is free.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: LunaDiRimmel