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The Secret of URL Shorteners

Someone sends you a link in an email and it looks something like this:

https://www.reallylonglink.com/extrabit1/anotherbit2/anotherbitsbrother/anotherbitssister/anotherbitsmother/anotherbitsfather/anotherbitsaunt/anotherbitsuncle%/

Someone else sends you this link: bit.ly/AB4i7j

Which one would you click on?

Both of these links lead to the same website and the same page, in fact they are exactly the same link. So what gives? Well the first link is what you will see in the address bar when you visit the website, the second link is an abbreviated version of that address.

Why would you need to shorten links?

Most link shortening tools came into existence when Twitter came along with their 140-character limit. Without these tools it would be impossible for most of us to share our daily news, tips and tricks. However there are those who have been in operation for a lot longer than that.

Whilst Twitter was probably the catalyst for many URL shortening tools, shortened URLs can now be found on almost every Social Media site and are regularly used within emails and mobile devices. Lets face it, a short link looks and hell of a lot tidier, and the propensity to click on said link would be a lot higher. Maybe its just me, but I get that spammy feeling when I see a very long link in an email or on a networking site, something about it just screams 'JUNK' at me!

If you do a lot of marketing and interact frequently online, then I would definitely recommend using a shortening tool before you go posting extra long links across the Internet and beyond. A lot of these sites also offer analytics, which is the most valuable feature you can have. Once you have shortened and posted the link, some sites will allow you to track clicks and see how far your link has reached.

Here are my top five sites for URL shortening and tracking:

  1. Bit.ly This is my go-to site if I am shortening a link for use on Twitter or if I need to send a link to a mobile device. Bit.ly was founded in 2008 and was one of the first to take the market seriously. They introduced, tracking and analytics along with other features, which were then new to the market. Bit.ly blew the competition out of the water when they sold us these features.
  • Cached copy of all links you have ever shortened
  • Thumbnails are created for each page you save a link to
  • Tracks clicks and shows where they were generated
  • Uses cookies to display a list of the links you have shortened

Since the launch and the ingenuity of bit.ly there has been an onslaught of link shortening sites across the Internet, now in 2012 it’s the survival of the fittest. The features mentioned are now something that all of these sites strive for, can they do what the professionals do best?

  1. tinyurl.com – The original, and still going strong. Tiny was launched in 2002, so is an impressive 10 years old this year! Offering some new features such as the 'preview' function, which allows you to see what a link is before you click on it. Something tells me, these guys are going nowhere in the next 10 years.

In my humble opinion, every other URL shortening site, comes in after these two guys, however there are a few that deserve some favourable mentions:

  1. owl.ly
  2. is.gd
  3. cli.gs

No doubt there are going to be more additions to this list over the next decade, whether they will live up to expectation is another story. One thing is for sure and that's the fact that the strong starters are still in the race. For an area that has such a fickle market, it’s good to see the top two still leading the way!

About Author

Matt Beswick runs an SEO agency in London, amongst his clients he lists the travel company that operates airport lounges in Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick.

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