Link shorteners such as Bitly or TinyURL are used to shorten lengthy website links. For example, a URL such as http://www.example.com/this-is-an-example-of-a-long-url can be shortened to http://bit.ly/1fFB4b6 using Bitly’s free link-shortening service. Link shortening can make a long link short, but why would you want to do that? After all, what difference does it make if the link appears on a website where it can be clicked one way or the other?
Link shorteners are used for several reasons. Below are a few reasons to use a link shortener on social media sites:
- Character preservation – On a site like Twitter where you have just 140 characters, link shortening is a must. Our example.com URL took up 55 characters. By shortening it, we shrunk it down to just 21. We now have 34 extra characters to play with!
- Usage tracking – Many link shorteners include analytics and statistics. If you want to see which links are getting the most action, a link shortener can provide you with meaningful statistics.
- Simplicity – Many bloggers like to use link shorteners to create prettier or more meaningful URLs. For example, our Bitly example is short, but who can possibly remember or make sense of 1fFB4b6? By using a link shortener that allows you to customize your own URLs, you could create a more meaningful short URL such as example.com/example.
That said, link shorteners have their downsides. For example, users unfamiliar with a given link shortener may be reluctant to click the link because they don’t recognize it. Imagine shortening an instantly recognizable and credible news site such as CNN or ABCNews to something unfamiliar such as xlqrb.ly/gVl6r3. Which would you feel more comfortable clicking?
Another potential problem involves relying on a third party service provider. What happens if the provider gets hacked, goes offline for an extended period, or goes out of business? What about speed? When the user clicks a shortened link, it goes through a redirect process. How long does it take for your intended site to load? If the delay is too long, users will abort the process.
Finally, depending on the social media sites you will be using, link shortening may or may not be necessary. As mentioned earlier, Twitter users have a built-in reason to use a link shortener. On the other hand, when a Facebook user copies and pastes a link into a status update, Facebook retrieves the content and displays it within the message. Once this happens, the user can delete the original URL regardless of its length.
Using a link shortener on social media can make sense, especially if you are using a micro-blogging service where every character counts or want to view detailed statistics. If you’re not concerned with space concerns or analytics, you may prefer to use the long URL so that you are not at the mercy of a third party provider.