A URL Shortener: Why Do I Need One?

Over the coming weeks I will be writing a number of articles on URL Shorteners. I have been using Shortened URL’s for some time and it wasn’t until people started asking me about that I realised that they are only really understood by people engaged in On-line Business. So this series of articles aims to provde something for the beginner and, hopefully, something for the more seasoned Online Professional.

In this first article I will cover What is a URL Shortener and what are the advantages and disadvantages of using one. I will also provide an ‘Initial’ list of URL Shortening Providers (there are over 200 in existence today!) which, over time, I will provide further information on… so check back if you want more details… or let me know if you want a particular provider reviewed a bit quicker.

In future articles I will cover, in addition to the provider reviews, a look at Free vs Paid for services; how to check and validate a shortened link and then on to some tracking information.

What is a URL Shortener?

A URL Shortener is simply a technique on the Internet for taking a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and making it substantially shorter in length whilst still directing to the required Internet page.

This is achieved by using an HTTP Redirect on a domain name that is short, which links to the Internet page that has a long URL.

What are the Advantages of Using a URL Shortener?

Social Media
With the advent of Social Media sites like Twitter and Identi.ca that only allow a relatively small number of characters in a message, using long URL’s meant that there was little or no space for the actual message. Shortening the URL allows longer messages to be included alongside the URL.

Disguise
Shortening the URL allows the originating web address to be disguised. This has some disadvantages which I will cover later but, from a positive perspective, it does allow an address to be made ‘more presentable’ i.e. by removing all those seemingly random characters and also to hide the originating domain name that, for whatever reason, people may not choose to click on.

Readability
Long URL’s are sometime difficult to read and if you need to write one down then the chances or recording the URL incorrectly are high.

Memorable
In the same vein as readability the shortened URL is far more memorable. In many cases it is possible to format the URL with a description of your own choosing. Making URL’s memorable has obvious advantages from a marketing perspective. It is much easier to remember bbc.co.uk/ rather than brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_motivational5.html?vm=l

Accumulate Statistics
For Internet or Affiliate Marketers URL Shorteners provide a mechanism to track when, where and how many times a URL is clicked upon. Knowing these statistics is essential to the success of anyone working on-line as you have to know your target market and when they are likely to be online and what types of product they are likely to purchase. I will come back to tracking and statistics in a future post.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
A good URL shortening service will pass along information to the target page by using something called a 301 redirect. I won’t go into the technical details in this post but this will help your page to rank with sites such as Google.

Free Service
Many of the URL services are free of charge. For most uses e.g. Social Media, a free service is absolutely fine. I will discuss in a future post the advantages and disadvantages of free vs paid for URL Shorteners.

What are the Disadvantages of Using a URL Shortener?

Like most things in life there is normally a balance between advantages and disadvantages. The same is true of URL Shorteners.

Spamming
The fact that you cannot see the details of the link is used by spammers as a way of getting people to open links that they might otherwise ignore.

URL Shorteners Get Closed
Some URL Shorteners get closed down precisely because they don’t control the level of spam that emanates from their service. If this happens and you have been using the service then all of your links become useless.

Using a Third Party Provider
The URL Shortener is effectively another third party in the process between you creating a URL and sending it to your audience. You should therefore choose your provider carefully.

Some Sites Do not allow Shortened URL’s
Due to the level of spam associated with some URL Shorteners, some sites will not accept shortened URL’s. This is important for Affiliate Marketers as some providers will not allow shortended links that refer to affiliate products, as they class this as spam!

Redirection Could Result in Performance Issues
To resolve a shortened URL requires an extra translation between the shortened URL and the target URL. Whilst this should be negligible it will also depend on the provider you use to shorten your URL’s.

Are URL Shorteners Good or Bad?
In my opinion URL Shorteners have a valid role to play, particularly where the life expectancy or a URL is not long… which is particularly true of Social Media.

Some of the disadvantages around spam and phishing can be true of any URL, not just shortened ones… the same is true with all links, be careful what you click on!

My rule of thumb is that I use a URL Shortener for Social Media and for short term affiliate campaigns. If I write articles or e-books that I expect to live for a longer period of time then I will use the domain name… and mask this if it is too long.

Top URL Shorteners
The following is a list of the most popular URL Shortening Providers. In subsequent articles I will add specific reviews for these services and also add more providers… my aim with this article is to bring the available information together in one place and make it as comprehensive as possible.

· Google

· Stumble Upon

· Bitly

· TinyURL

· BudURL

· Is.Gd

· Tiny

· Cligs

· SnipURL

· Owly

I hope you have found this information useful. If you want to follow the subject then head over to my blog where I will be posting more details.