I sometimes feel like URL shorteners are some of the most understated tools in internet marketing, and there have been more than a few times that I wished I’d had someone share some advice on URL shorteners earlier in my marketing career.
What do you do with really long links?
What if you want to track the results?
What if the link—long and unwieldy—upstages the content?
So, if you’re new to the world of URL shorteners—much like I’ve been—here’s a list of things you may find helpful to know!
If you’re new to the social media marketing space, you’ve probably caught on to one of our dirty little secrets.
Links can be a little unwieldy sometimes.
They can get long.
They can get a little complex (especially when you’re tracking them).
Sometimes they can be a bit distracting.
And if you’re trying to share helpful information with a growing audience, then you don’t want the links to all that golden content to upstage your efforts!
Thank goodness for URL shorteners.
(Here’s an example, with pomeranians, of a long link that’s been shortened to buff.ly/1irhfHu.)
These super-simple tools can save you a good deal of headache when it comes to keeping track of your links. Plus, they make our tweets, statuses, and other updates look super clean.
Fortunately, we have tons of great tools at our disposal for shortening URLs, including the native networks and dashboards we use every day.
In terms of tools, there are some neat sites that handle URL shortening, including full analytics and archives of everything you shorten. For these services (and for URL shortening in general), your URL is replaced by a new domain (e.g., kevanlee.com changes to bit.ly) and the permalink is replaced by a string of numbers and/or letters (e.g., kevanlee.com/best-writing-articles changes to bit.ly/df8jpI1).
Here are handful of the more popular link shortening services:
Here’s what it looks like when you use goo.gl, Google’s URL shortener:
At goo.gl, bit.ly, and others, not only do you get a nice, clean, shortened URL, you also get stats on clicks for all the URLs you shorten.
In addition to these shortening tools, many social networks and social media management dashboards also provide a way to shorten long URLs automatically.
For instance, any link shared to Buffer will be shortened automatically once it’s added into your update.
You can choose to use Buffer’s own “buff.ly” shortener, or the shorteners at bit.ly, j.mp, or custom solutions.
Twitter automatically shortens links as well. There are a few different ways this might happen: Twitter uses it’s own t.co shortening service often on link shared on mobile devices, Twitter will sometimes include the full URL (minus the http:// part) or will truncate the link after showing the domain and part of the permalink.
In every case, any link you post to Twitter will only ever take up 22 characters.
(Update: Thanks so much to those in the comments who got us on the right track here!)
If you ever happen to visit the Twitter feed for Moz, you might notice something unique about their links.
They’re using a custom short URL: mz.cm.
So links like this:
Become links like this:
This can be a really great opportunity to extend some branding into the shortened links you share on social media. And at the very least, it could make for a fun experiment to see if it helps up the engagement on your updates (I’ve heard some folks fare better with custom short URLs, some do better with full URLs, and some do better with buff.ly or bit.ly URLs.)
And the result:
Whoa, check out this URL! It worked! :) http://kev.uno/1TFYigj
Shortening links is valuable in and of itself—but how do you know people are clicking them?
Good news! Some URL shorteners let you track those links, too. =) There are a few ways these links tend to be tracked:
Some URL shorteners track the links themselves.
Bitly is a fantastic example of this. Bitly shows you how many times one of your links has been clicked, where the link has been shared, and how other Bitly-shortened links (Bitlinks) are driving traffic to the same content.
Some URL shorteners automatically attach Google Analytics tracking data.
Granted, you can manually add UTM tracking codes to any link, and then shorten them down with a basic link shortener. But some tools will let you preset those tracking codes and then automatically append them to whatever links you shorten.
This is where the Buffer link shortener really shines, in my opinion. If you’re using the Buffer for Business plan, then you can easily (and automatically) add UTM tracking codes to any link you share with Buffer. I’ll show you exactly how to do this later on in this post! =)
One thing I love about Bit.ly’s link shortening service is the ability to name short URLs. This means we can turn a link like this:
Into something that reflects the content of the link itself:
bit.ly/tips-4-tw (a link to an article on twitter tips)
Customizing a shortened link can be a fantastic way to give people a little bit of context for where they’ll go when they click that tiny link.
If you’re running an ad campaign that directs people to a certain website, you’ll want people to remember where they’re supposed to go.
That can be tricky when you’re dealing with a long, long URL. But a link shortener can make online destinations a great deal easier to remember.
For example, I’m writing this article as Facebook launches its killer new Lead Ads feature. It’s a sweet new way to do targeted advertising.
But all the sweet info about it is on a page with a pretty long URL:
A long URL like that might not be a problem—except that Facebook is educating people about this new feature through a video. And I don’t know about you, but I’d have a rough time remembering this URL after watching a video.
Fortunately for us, Facebook shortened that link to a much more memory-friendly URL:
That’s much easier to remember, and it looks super clean at the end of this video!
Most of the links people interact involve more than just a string of URL characters. We’re all probably used to clicking buttons and text links, and we don’t often find ourselves facing a long URL head-on.
This can make encountering long, “ugly” URLs (especially ones all decked out with UTM codes) even more jarring for your audience, especially in plain-text emails. Fortunately, a short URL can turn a plain-text email with long, stringy URLs into a much more readable message.
Suppose you wanted to run a print ad in a magazine for one of your products. You hope the ad will drive traffic to your site, but there’s a problem: the ideal page you want to send people to is a loooong one.
But if you shorten that URL down, you might have something not only more memorable, but more printable, too. You’ll save more of that valuable real estate for the actual ad content, and devote less of it to trying to make a long string of URL characters look pretty.
But it doesn’t have to stop at print ads: a shorter URL can work for all kinds of print situations:
We’ve explored some of the basics of URL shorteners and how they work, but there’s a lot more to these tools that we haven’t covered here. I’m curious: what advice would you share with someone new to shortening URLs for their social media marketing?