Which is the best URL shortener?

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Jay Dillon

Director of Strategy and Creative at Inbound Experts
Jay is a digital marketer and producer whose creative and technical skills have developed digital brand strategies and sales campaigns using a range of complex internet applications from stand-alone websites through to Facebook API integrations.
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We often overlook the unsung hero of our social media posts: the URL. So much effort is put into creating great content that this little string of characters gets knocked to the bottom of the list even though it can be crucial to our social media marketing and SEO. This post will cover what URL shorteners are, which ones are used the most today, and why they should be used in the first place. As you may know, a URL shortener converts a regular URL into a more condensed format. Some URL shorteners also provide tracking abilities so you can track how many clicks you receive on the shortened link.

3 Top URL Shorteners

1. Bit.ly

Bit.ly is a free service that allows you to share links directly from their site to your Twitter profile, or copy/paste the link for use anywhere. bit.ly is one of the first and most popular URL shortening services. It also offers tracking metrics so you know exactly how many people are clicking on your link. Remember though: bit.ly tracks all clicks, even non-human ones. Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 12.00.20 PM

2. Ow.ly

ow.ly is Hootsuite’s built-in URL shortener. It can be accessed via your Hootsuite dashboard, or if you don’t use Hootsuite then you can access the ow.ly site directly. This link shortener allows the user to upload images and track real-time clicks (that don’t include robot clicks), plus you have the ability to post it to various social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. Hootsuite’s shortened URL can also be used in emails or on your site and the stats can be used to track how many clicks those links receive.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 12.05.22 PM

3. Goo.gl

As the name suggests, goo.gl is Google’s official URL shortener. This is also a free service and, unlike many of Google’s products, you don’t need a Google account to use it. Like the other link shorterning services discussed here, goo.gl offers you data on how many times your link has been clicked. You can go back to the goo.gl dashboard to review the stats on your links. Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 12.09.24 PM

Why even use a URL shortener?

Using these shorteners provides you with valuable data on how people behave when faced with your shortened URL. If you post a long URL, you won’t be able to track clicks or real-time engagement with it. When you shorten a URL you’ll be able to track click-through rates and even track where the clicks are occurring geographically. The Ow.ly URL shortener is a standout because it tracks how many “human clicks” your links receive. With the Ow.ly tool you can see a quick snapshot of the number of clicks on any link you shortened within HootSuite – insight you can use to determine what tweets or posts resonate most with your followers and potential conversions. For example, if 50 people click on a URL about a funny post promoting your new mobile app but only 10 people click on a URL about a more mundane post, this knowledge can be applied for future content creation and sharing. Essentially, URL click data can be used to increase the chances of your followers clicking a link. Here’s sample of an ow.ly summary report generated within Hootsuite: hootsuitereport

Two Frequently Asked Questions about URL Shorteners…

Are shortened URLs only for Twitter?

While the most popular incentive to using URL shorteners has been to avoid exceeding Twitter’s 140 character limit, it’s a good idea to use these shorteners on any social network, in e-mails, and on your site. The important thing is to have the proper social media analytics tools to measure the performance of shortened URLs.

What are Vanity/Branded URLs?

A vanity URL is simply a custom branded URL that replaces one of the above URL shorteners and uses a company’s customised branding. They provide the same information as a shortened URL but instead of showing up as bit.ly or ow.ly it could show up like Time Inc.’s vanity URL which is ti.me. They are one of several organisations using vanity URLs nowadays. Below is a video with more about vanity URLs:

Conclusion

If you haven’t already, test some of these tools out and see which works best for you. Without stats, how are we as digital marketers supposed to know something is really working? When you use URL shorteners you’ll be able to know how many clicks you’re receiving and prove the effectiveness of your social media marketing efforts.

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