Affiliate marketers and ezine publishers have been using URL shortening tools for more than a decade. They can cloak affiliate links to prevent commission hijacking or affiliate bypassing. Shortened URL’s also prevent broken links in e-mail from line character limits. With the advent of character-limited social media, they’ve taken on a new role of lowering the character count.
What to Look For
Tools – URL shorteners sometimes come with invaluable tracking, and social media management tools. These tools allow you to measure the effectiveness of your outbound messages based on analytics, to optimize your reach and measure the success of your marketing. Social media tools will save time when distributing links to your content or other links across several networks.
Compatibility – If you’re using a tracking client like TweetDeck, you’ll probably want to use a URL shortener that is supported.
Customization – Some services offer customization of your shortened URL, allowing you to incorporate your business name or whatever you like into your link. It may take some time to find one that isn’t taken, however, especially with the more popular services. If you’re able to add your brand in there somewhere, it will offer some reassurance for those who don’t like to click blind. If you have a WordPress blog, you can automatically create shortened links using your own domain name with a 301 redirect using the Affilinker plugin.
URL Length – They’re all quite short, but some shorten links more than others. Ow.ly may be preferred over TinyURL.com if every character counts, for example.
Reliability – One of the most important qualities you should look for in a URL shortener is reliability. You don’t want to use a service that isn’t well established or your links may break in the future if the service disappears. For the same reason, be wary of blog plugins that may be discontinued or fail to update to the latest versions of your website management software. It’s important that the service experience minimal downtime as well.
Redirect – Permanent redirect (301) will tell the search engines the URL has permanently moved to the full length URL you’ve shortened from. This is important when using a URL shortener for links on your website so you are credited for the traffic.
Limitations – You’ll find the occasional glitch with some URL shorteners if you’re using them for affiliate links or links containing non-alpha/numeric characters. The links may be sent to the site homepage, be broken or outright blocked. Bit.ly, Ow.ly (HootSuite) and Goo.gl may break affiliate links, for example, especially through Clickbank. Some services may also be flagged by anti-spam software. It’s always a good idea to click on your links to test them. If affiliate links are your primary reason for using a URL shortener, many blog gurus recommend Affilinker, which uses your own domain name.
Random bloopers – I once saw a shortened URL on Facebook in which the random characters spelled a word that may be considered offensive. The comments made it clear that I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Take a good look before posting your new link.
Some Popular (Free) URL Shortening Tools
HootSuite Ow.ly – Successful Canadian (international) company offering free tracking & a suite of popular social media tools if you sign up for a free account. It’s the most complete free package I’ve ever used and you have the option of upgrading to a full suite of awesome tools. They are constantly updating their functionality, most recently including an Instagram app. URL shortening alone can be had without signing up for an account, but they do break some affiliate links.
Clicky.me – Offers a free URL shortening service with its free Clicky Web Analytics services, which requires that you sign up for an account. It will also provide website analytics with installation.
Su.pr – Available through StumbleUpon with your free account. It offers a basic social media distribution tool and analytics as well as a URL shortener. The link from the shortened URL opens in StumbleUpon’s bar frame.
Bit.ly – Includes tracking tools such as clicks, referrals and location. You can save, search, and organize all your links, making them public or private. Not recommended for affiliate links.
Goo.gl – Google’s URL shortener offers some tracking and all analytics are public. Not recommended for affiliate links.
TinyURL – If you just want to quickly shorten a URL without tracking or social media distribution, TinyURL has been a reliable tool for many years.
Is.gd – Another quicky shortener.
Polite Canadian Note: Some companies offer these services as part of a bigger revenue stream. Others rely on advertising and donations so if you use their services, please remember to support them when you can.
What is your favorite URL shortener? Please tell us why you prefer it.
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