Link Shortening – Pros and Cons
Link shortening tools in the past provided a great way to condense long URLs into a shorter number of characters. On platforms like Twitter, where you’ve only got 140 characters to play with, every one counts. Or at least it did…
Recently I’ve fallen out of love slightly with link shortening tools. They served a very useful function, and still do, but not, I fear, for what they are often currently used for. With the frequent updates to social media platforms, some of the issues that link shortening provided a cure for have resolved themselves.
Below I weigh up the pros and cons of link shortening tools and highlight some of the ways in which you should still be using them, but also some of the ways in which you shouldn’t.
OK. Let’s start with the positive
- Link shortening is great on platforms where you have a limited number of characters, like Twitter
- Many link shortening services have inbuilt analytic tools which mean you can track usage
- They are great for creating simple, more scaleable QR codes, and using the analytics you can track specific QR usage this way too
- You can add a custom domain to create great vanity URLs, so I might have the domain alec.de that I use to create vanity links, much like Google and YouTube already do when you share their content
And now for the counter arguments
Link shortening on Twitter doesn’t have an effect any more
Did you know that Twitter automatically uses its own inbuilt link shortening service? Any URL entered into Twitter will automatically be resized to 22 characters regardless of its original length. So even if you shorten a link down to 10 characters, it’s still going to use up 22. Given that this is the case, it’s a bit pointless to create a short URL just to have Twitter create one for you. Find out more here »
Although I mentioned above that there are inbuilt analytics on link shorteners, you can probably get as much information from existing tools you probably already. In fact, you can get more information if you use campaign tagging to help you track link sources and report on these in more detail
Users can’t see where they’re going
Here’s a bit.ly link I created. http://bit.ly/1dNVPAW
Why don’t you click it? Go on. WAIT! Before you do… you’re not at work are you? You are… oh… well… nah, it’ll probably be fine. Go for it!
Did you click it? Well if you did you’ll have seen it just went to Google, but the important thing is you didn’t know that! Email spammers latched onto this a while back when they realised including links to URLs that contained spammy words (such as a certain male performance enhancing drug for example) got flagged, so they used shortened links instead. As a result, spam filters automatically treat shortened links as suspect, which is why you should never use them in an email campaign.
But the point applies more generally to. Even on a Facebook post the user can’t see where a shortened link goes until they follow it. And lets face it, there’s so much guff out there you want to know that you’re going to a source you trust. So help your users, be upfront about where they’re going. If they trust you and they trust your content, they’ll follow your link.
The bottom line
The bottom line is not to stop using link shortening services; as I point out in the pros they provide a great way for creating your own vanity URLs that look good and are nice and concise.
What I would say is adapt the way you use them. Don’t use them in Twitter. Why? There’s not point. Don’t use them in Facebook. Why? Facebook link pane is a great way to display links and customise the content, with the option to customise the image, headline and description if you choose. Don’t confuse the viewers with two links; you’re diluting your call to action and, even if they two links go to the same place, they won’t know this unless they follow them both.