By Mark Swartz
The address (URL) of a website tends to be lengthy and unwieldly. It can end up being many characters long. That limits its usefulness in social media that have space restrictions.
Another drawback of full URL’s is they don’t track well in marketing campaigns. For detailed analytics a more precise mechanism is needed.
Link shorteners work really well for audience monitoring. They can show who clicks, from where, regardless of the media they’re accessed from. Are you taking advantage of their often overlooked benefits?
About Link Shorteners
URL shortening is a web technique in which a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is made substantially shorter – yet still directs to the required page. This is achieved via hidden redirect which links to the actual web page (the one with the longer address).
They come in two main varieties. There are standalone services, which are not combined with a social media content management system. Bit.ly, Awe.sm and Goo.gl are examples. The other type is hooked directly into such a system, though the shortened links can be used on other platforms too. Ow.ly as part of Hootsuite is one instance of this.
Shortened URLs can be used on any social network and even in emails and SMS or on the company website. They work across all platforms, though not all services monitor their online activity beyond initial clicks. For small business the free offerings out there may satisfy most needs.
Where They Come In Handy
Two benefits in particular justify using link shorteners as part of an online marketing strategy.
First they save precious space where social media posts count the URL as characters.
Also most shortening services come with tracking analytics and other features needed in marketing campaigns. Unlike long URL’s, the shortened versions can be tracked in real-time. Information on click-through rates and basic audience demographics are available instantly.
With this data it’s simple to gauge the popularity of a given post or entire campaign. Does the shortened link get more response on mobile phones than desktop PCs? Is it receiving more clicks from Canada than from other countries?
Other free metrics may include day of the week a link was clicked, at what time, which social channel it was viewed from, device type used and its operating system. More is available in paid subscriptions.
Branding The Shortened Links
Several of the shortening services offer customized branding of domains. Instead of showing up as ow.ly or bit.ly, links could look like Time Inc.’s vanity URL “ti.me”. They provide the same information as a URL shortened the standard way.
Using customized domains can create a higher level of trusted interactions. Seeing the company’s name as part of the URL helps viewers be confident their click will lead them to the intended site.
Which Features To Look For
Each shortening service has a mix of tools. It shouldn’t be hard to find one that gives the required functionality. Among features to consider are the following:
- One view of all your links across every channel. This provides a centralized dashboard where entire campaigns can be watched.
- Excludes clicks from bots so that only real user interactions are recorded.
- Has mobile deep links. These recognize the customer’s device and directs them to the right content in a brand’s app or the mobile web.
- Integrates into existing workflows with leading publishing platforms.
- Uses HTTP 301 redirects for its links, so they don’t interfere with SEO boosting efforts.
Most web users are familiar by now with shortened links. That’s good for legitimate marketers and helpful content pushers. Then again, many people have been tricked into clicking on disguised links that lead to unsavory (or even harmful) sites. Some users may therefore be wary of engaging with minified URL’s.
Then there’s the inconvenience that shortened links aren’t invulnerable to hackers. As a result some leading brands (Microsoft included) have reverted to long addresses.
Despite these potential downsides, social media campaigns are well advised to incorporate shortened links. Choose a reliable service that gives the most useful and relevant features. After that, tracking your results will become a breeze.