Shortened URLs: Yes or No?

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Shortened links are a contentious subject. And with the advent of social media – especially Twitter and its length-restricted posts – the debate on URL length intensified. In this post, we’ll discuss why you should or shouldn’t use them. So what are some of the options are out there?

  1. Bitly
  2. TinyURL
  3. Ow.ly via Hootsuite
  4. Buff.ly via Buffer
  5. Goo.gl
  6. YouTu.be (video sharing)

I used to be a die-hard TinyURL fan; it’s so simple and straightforward. However, what I like about Bitly is that there’s some basic analytics included with your shortened URL, such as the number of clicks and geographic profile of click sources.

But if you want to reinforce your branding, you can always customize your own short URL. Now let’s look at the pros & cons of using these condensed links.

For: 

Often, URLs can be ridiculously long and complex (hundreds of characters!). This makes them hard to remember, time-consuming to type out, and difficult to share because of character limits (for Tweeting), and because links can break if they are distributed over multiple lines. This is why shortened links can be terrific.

One test found that Twitter followers preferred Bitly links to the full ones. This could be because a short link is less complicated and easier to distribute, and because Bitly has become a trusted URL shortener service.

URL shortening sites, like Bitly, provide useful analytics for your link clicks. This enables you to see if your posts are effective (traffic), the demographic profiles of people who click on it, and the times & dates of clicks.

A truncated link can also be valuable for your SEO, if you are able to edit/insert relevant keywords in the URL. So to summarize, shortened URLs are popular because they’re short, easy to post, and allow for minimal errors.

Against:

As one computer engineer points out, link shorteners harm the user experience and break the Web. Why? Because of the multiple redirects that a shortened URL forces a clicker to experience, which makes it longer to get to the final page destination (this delay causes even big corporations to lose sales, and deters potential readers from ever consuming your content).

Furthermore, the URL shortener service can close down:

“Every time this happens, you lose a part of the return path to your link. It means your content becomes inaccessible. In fact, when you’re using a URL shortener, you give away part of your content to that company. They can decide to build a paywall to your links, put your content into a frame so they can add advertisement to them, censor them if they don’t like what you publish…”

One of the biggest problems with shortened links is that they usually tell you nothing about where they lead to (the characters are meaningless). This is an issue because countless spammers use these types of URLs to mislead people.

The links can direct to porn sites, malicious spyware and downloads, and hacking systems. This is why many online registries remove URL shortening services, and some ISPs and websites block/ban truncated links.

A study by BuddyMedia found that Facebook engagements rates are 3 times higher for posts that used a full-length URLs. Although this somewhat contradicts the test mentioned above, perhaps it’s safe to say that for social media sites (apart from Twitter), it’s better to use original links.

The Verdict? 

I usually don’t click on shortened links (especially Bitly ones on Twitter – despite advocating them). That’s because I’m simply not in the mood for a computer virus or some harmful site.

However, as a social media manager, I use (customized) shortened links in marketing posts. This is also because the brand in question is trusted by its followers.

I recommend using shorteners for horrible unwieldy links – especially for Twitter. But if you notice your engagement dropping or staying low in general, try using the full URL instead.

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