Sharing long, complex URLs online is not ideal – hence the need for link shorteners. However, while they have many benefits, they’re not a totally perfect solution. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to ascertain when and where it’s best to use a URL shortener, and when it’s smarter to reconsider your strategy.
The crux of it all is this: The simplest and most effective way to avoid the pitfalls is to understand how link shorteners operate. Through this knowledge, you can seek to understand how shortened URLs behave in different situations, enabling you to harness the benefits for your own gain.
In this piece, we’re going to provide a rundown of both the pros and cons of link shortening, and what they mean for you. To start, let’s briefly discuss the background behind link shorteners, then jump right in!
An Introduction to Link Shortening
The TinyURL welcome screen
Link shorteners have been around for longer than most people realize. A popular example is Tiny URL, which was launched by web developer Kevin Gilbertson in January 2002, and still remains popular.
Originally, link shorteners were primarily used to keep long URLs from becoming fragmented within email clients. This was due to text wrapping concerns with displays used at the time. However, today URL shorteners are particularly popular for social media applications. Short URLs are both aesthetically and functionally more beneficial for platforms such as Twitter, where long URLs hamper ease of reading.
There are quite a number of popular URL shorteners today such as Bitly, Tr.im, is.gd, and Google's goo.gl. While these services offer plenty to today’s marketers, a tool such as Pretty Links can offer much more power and flexibility – as we’ll see later.
The Pros and Cons of Link Shortening
Now we’ve established the background behind link shorteners, let’s look at both the pros and cons of using them. We’ll start with the positives!
Let’s begin with the most obvious: URL shortening services simply make hyperlink text look more attractive. Normally, website URLs take up a bunch of space. They’re often unattractive strings of random letters and numbers, and can be distracting and aesthetically unpleasing.
However, it’s more than just aesthetics. Shortened links make the reading experience smoother, particularly on social media platforms. In addition, they make it easier for your viewers to share content, as it’s less likely they’ll make an error when copying over links (although this is less of a concern when using modern smartphones). Not only that, but there’s no danger of losing any hard-won SEO benefits – Google are smart enough to pass on link juice for any 301 or permanent redirects implemented.
There’s also click tracking to consider, and measuring the success of your marketing efforts is always imperative. In a nutshell, you can’t improve on targeting your audience if you don’t know how they respond to your content. Link shorteners provide analytics to show you who has clicked your links, and they’re often available through a centralized dashboard view:
Shortened links also play nicely with UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) codes, which enables you to track clicks across specific campaigns, keeping analytics from one platform (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.) separate from the others.
Finally, some URL shortening services even provide custom editing of links – more on which later.
While there are a bevy of benefits to using link shorteners, nothing’s perfect.
For starters, the increasing proliferation of so-called ‘fake news’ means online viewers are potentially more likely to be wary of shortened links. That can lead to distrust, resulting in fewer clicks. This isn’t an inherent problem with link shortening per se, but can still be harmful nonetheless.
Also, the nature of redirections introduces many potential points of failure between a user clicking the link, and visiting the desired website. Sometimes, a shortened URL may send the user through two, three, or more redirects, and if one fails, it means a user who could potentially head to a competitor – a serious problem.
Additionally, if you’re using a link shortening service rather than a dedicated tool such as Pretty Links, your shortened URL may go down. Services aren’t guaranteed to last forever, and once a service goes down, so do any links tied to it. What’s more, ISPs occasionally blacklist URL shorteners in an effort to impede the efforts of spammers who use link shortening for malicious purposes. If this occurs, again, expect a frustrated reader who will likely head to your competition.
Finally, many URL shorteners use their own branding, which dilutes the mention of your own domain, and arguably causes your own brand to suffer.
How Pretty Links Can Help You Implement Link Shortening
Unlike other link shortening services, Pretty Links leaves your branding intact. This is a premium plugin that can offer the functionality of a link shortening service, with more flexibility to boot.
A look at Pretty Links within the WordPress dashboard
Just some of the features included are:
- The ability to group and track clicks across all your shortened links.
- Powerful social sharing options, including automatic aggregation of any tweets made about your posts, enabling visitors to easily make retweets.
- Automated page and post short link creation.
- Automated link replacement for site-wide keywords.
- SEO-friendly, server-side 301 permanent redirects, as well as temporary 302 and 307 redirects.
- Almost complete control over how your links appear, and how you redirect users.
What’s more, getting started with Pretty Links is exactly the same as any other WordPress plugin: purchase the right license for you, upload the plugin’s ZIP file to your site, then install and activate it. Simple!
Link shorteners offer a range of pros and cons, and it can be difficult to know when it’s best to make use of them. However, knowledge is power, and studying the positives and the negatives will offer some insight into whether they’re right for you.
Pretty Links specifically helps to mitigate the negatives of link shortening by combining good aesthetics with powerful social sharing, 301 permanent redirects, and robust analytics. Also, unlike so many URL shortening services, Pretty Links enables you to bolster your branding efforts through the retention of your custom domain.
What benefits of link shortening mean the most to you? Let us know in the comments section below!