For years, the usage of Short URLs was very important for Social Media and in order to get the most out of them it was important to handle them properly for SEO. Is that still true today in 2016? Short Answer = No, their significance has dropped considerably.
What is a URL Shortener?
URL Shorteners are tools that allow you to create a condensed URL (Uniform Resource Locator aka link) from a very long URL for sharing on character restricted networks like Twitter. URL Shorteners also typically provide some tracking functionality to see how many times a shorturl is used and how often. For example, if we were to process the url for this blog post the result would be something similar to the following:
Why Were They Important and Why Aren't Short URLs Important Now?
Short URLs were very important because Twitter, and similar social networks, restricts the size of tweets to 140 Characters which resulted in wasted characters when using long URLs. The URL for this blog post is 72 characters long which previously would have used over 50% of the character allotment. URL Shorteners provided a way to leave the original link unmodified while keeping the character usage on Twitter as low as possible.
Today these URL Shorteners are no longer as important as they used to be because Twitter changed their character counting algorithm to treat all URLs the same regardless of their length. Twitter did this by automatically processing every URL used through their own URL Shortener called "t.co". Now if you include a URL in your tweet they will be converted to something similar to the following:
Thanks to this automatic shortening by Twitter, users and companies no longer need to pre-process URLs themselves. Whether you have a URL that is 25 characters, 72 characters, or even 158 characters, Twitter treats all URLs the same resulting in a usage of 23 characters.
Are There Any Reasons to Use URL Shorteners Now?
Yes, URL Shorteners still provide some benefits especially in situations where you're linking to a website where you can't view the analytics. Most URL Shortener services provide usage tracking to view analytical data regarding when and how often a short url is used. This data could include, but not limited to, how many times the URL is visited, the date and time of each visit, referer source of each visit and rough geographical data for each visit.
With that said, there is no need to shorten URLs of your own website because all of the information provided by these services will already be collected by your website's analytics tracking. If you are't currently tracking your website's usage via analytics then that needs to be corrected immediately!
If I Want a Shortener, Setup My Own or use a 3rd Party Service?
There are pros and cons to both options so let's address them separately. The easiest and fastest solution is using a third-party service that allows you to simply create the URL and share it. Bit.ly is one of the most popular URL Shortening services and even offers Branded URLs. The Branded URLs is a very important feature because the standard domains are often used by spammers and scammers resulting in many websites blocking the usage of those domains. Spammers and scammers use these redirectors in an attempt to hide the real URLs of scam websites. Branded URLs allow you to setup your own custom domain for the shortening avoiding the domain blocking issues. Bit.ly offers Free Branded URLs up to 500 URLs per 24 days, if you use this amount or fewer than this could be a great option.
Alternatively, you could host a system on your own website server. Hosting it yourself eliminates all restrictions like the 500 URLs limit and guarantees that the domain blocking issue wont be an issue. The drawback to setting up your own system is that it takes some technical knowledge to do it and you'll need to keep it up to date with any fixes provided by your chosen system. If you do go this route to setup your own shortening service then I'd suggest looking into the following options: Polr, YOURLS, or Wurlie.
Whether you choose to host it yourself or use a third-party service, I'd suggest using Branded URLs. Next, should you use a custom domain or a subdomain to accomplish this? I'd suggest using a subdomain because it won't have any additional costs like purchasing a new domain would. It may seem counter productive to use a subdomain because that will effectively make a URL Shortener service create slightly longer URLs. This is fine because we're not worried about the length of the URLs anymore, we only care about collecting the traffic data.
Mama's Little Baby Loves Shortnin' URLs
Short URLs are not nearly as important as they used to be but they still have a lot of potential to provide very useful analytical data. If you're interested in using short URLs then I encourage you to do so as they can certainly still be beneficial.
So what do you think about this article? Are you going to be using Short URLs or are you just going to use the automated features of social networks instead? Please, let me know in the comments section below.