Shortening URLs with link shortener tools is a common practice, borne originally out of a need to save characters on platforms like Twitter that used to be confined to 140 characters per post. Back in the day, every single character counted, where words were concatenated to cram everything in (fun fact: women are much better at reading concatenated words than men apparently). So, wasting lots of characters on inserting a long web address reduced what you could actually say in your tweet.
Social media platforms have now innovated whereby they allocate the same amount of characters to a web address in a post regardless of the length of the URL. So, for this purpose, shortening of URLs is outmoded.
Platforms like Buffer and Hootsuite etc still default to URL shorteners when you paste in a web address. This functionality is for the purpose of tracking clicks on the links to help with reporting within these tools.
Websites like https://tinyurl.com and https://bitly.com also offer this tracking service so that you can use their shorteners as a way of measuring response to campaigns. Whilst this is useful if you have no other way of tracking link clicks, you do usually have to login to your link shortener account to see the reporting as a separate digital platform, and it relies on you shortening URLs the same way all the time without gaps if you want to use this as a regular reporting mechanism… which is quite clunky. On social media, click tracking is a default part of reporting on almost all platforms, and so there isn’t really a need to do this any more if you are only using link shorteners on social.
We have occasionally found that URL shortening misallocates the destination. Where you have put a shortened URL into your marketing in good faith, a technical glitch means that sometimes you end up actually pointing at somebody else’s content by mistake. This doesn’t happen very often but more than ‘zero times’ is too many times in our opinion!
The general problem with a shortened URL is that you can’t see the destination by just looking at it, and so unless you check it after publish you are non-the wiser as to what you are sending your users off to look at.
The same goes for human error, where you might have sent someone like a reprographics studio a shortened URL with the characters “Bf45ty”, but they mistype it when dropping it into place and actually put in “Bf55ty” instead. This kind of thing is an easily overlooked human error issue, but one that could be costly if you send that print job off and find you suddenly have 5,000 posters with the wrong URL on them. In these scenarios, a QR code would work out better, so look at doing it this way instead.
Anyone who has had an email address for more than 6 months will have received spam, and anyone with an email address older than a couple of years will have received emails from Nigerian princes looking to offload their money onto you, or Viagra ads and ads for ‘sexy ladies in your area’, or the more sophisticated ‘security alert’ emails purporting to be from your bank, your phone or utilities company.
When these kinds of shortened URLs are included in emails, personally we never click them, and we hope that everyone reading this will run a mile too. So this is one of our fundamental problems with shorteners, and it is because you can’t see where you’re going to be sent to. In this day and age, email scammers are everywhere and so IT departments across the land tell people within their networks never to click a link they don’t trust. How can you tell whether you can trust link if you can’t see it?
Hearin lies the rub. For branding purposes, having your own web address in a social post or press release is a good thing for brand recognition and repetition of the base part of your URL to help your audience with recall later down the line.
Sometimes the web address you publish also gives the viewer an indication of what the content is going to be, which helps entice them in a little further. Meanwhile, with a shortened URL from something like https://bit.ly/ you have no indication of what webpage you’re going to go to once you have clicked and its all a bit impersonal.
There is a psychological assurance for the reader in knowing what they clicking on and where they are going to end up. If your reader also knows what they can expect once they’ve clicked through, it can act as a subtle way of pushing somebody over the line to becoming actively interested in your content.
So what do you do if you need a short URL?
Something along the lines of this example is much better:
if you click on the above link, you will be taken here:
This is a short link that is being handled on the web server itself, rather than using generic third parties.
As can be seen above, the short version is much more readily understood by the reader than the longer form, and is a great option to add into print or for specific campaigns. It’s something that is handled by what is known as a ‘redirect’ on the webserver, of which there are three kinds – a 301 redirect, a 302 redirect and a 307 redirect.
Even if that link is mistyped by the end user who sees it on a poster and they enter https://www.artsderbyshire.org.uk/necklaceofstar (without the s on the end) instead, the user will at the very least end up on the website 404 Page Not Found error page. Although the reader didn’t get to where they were wanting to be, the 404 page is replete you’re your website’s navigation and branding and the user can then at least be exposed to your brand to try and find the content again, or they can choose to look at something else on your website instead.
The same priniciple would be true if, for some reason you no longer have that short URL anymore, or for some reason you delete the destination content. Though as a side note, keeping on top of your 301 redirects is best practice for good SEO housekeeping.
The above short link was created in WordPress using a plugin called Pretty Links, and there are other redirection plugins for WordPress such as ‘Redirection’. One advantage this latter plugin has over the former is that it uses 301 redirects, whereas Pretty Links uses 307 redirects. The former is better for SEO than the latter and is a better option for a permanently set up short URL. Other platforms like Shopify, Squarespace and Magento have their own solutions, and so do some research to insert the solution that works best for you.
If your website is bespoke, then you will need to ask your developer to create your short links for you by dropping a reference in what is called the .htaccess file on your web server. This means you need to collaborate with them to make this happen, but it’s a 10-minute job, so not too onerous for them.
If you’d like help with digital marketing, ads management, SEO, copywriting, websites, branding or social media management… or anything else related to the internet and digital, then get in touch with us. We’re a friendly bunch.