URL Shorteners: Going Beyond the Shortlink

I originally wrote this article†with the intent to discuss†the advantages of using the URL shortener goo.gl, and while this service is still relevant, over the years new competitors†have popped up within the market.†In many cases, they†provide similar and arguably better functionality. For people using Hootsuite†thereís owl.ly, for LinkedIn users†thereís lnked.in, and of course, there are the†big players like Bitly.

Like many things in life finding the “best” is relative.†As every user†wants or†needs different features, there is no black and white. Of course, itíll depend on whether youíre looking for a service†that works for free or if youíd rather go upstream for a†paid option. So, the question has become, which link shortener is right for you?

Do Link Shorteners†Negatively Impact†PageRank?

The short answer is most likely they will help your SEO, however, it depends on the features of the tools you choose to use. Services like Bitly and goo.gl use permanent redirects. This means that once a†URL is created, it cannot be modified. A permanent redirect is†called a 301 redirect, and in this scenario, web crawlers identify the link and treat it as a follow-link back to your website. Donít stress about this too much as trying to find a URL shortener without a 301 redirect is mostly a thing of the past. Almost all of the services on the market†have this feature.

Normally, when selecting marketing tools, you should consider longevity and company stability. And this statement is no different when using URL shorteners. In terms of stability, you’d probably think†goo.gl†is the best because it’s powered by one of the largest†companies in the world, Google. While this is true, goo.gl has not seen any significant changes, and there are rumors that it could be unsupported within a few years. Google is well known for getting rid of offerings that aren’t showing benefits.

UTM Code Parameters

What does UTM†mean? UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. These parameters exist to help you understand where users are coming from. Itís one thing to know how many people visited a landing page, but knowing†where they came from in regards to your social networks and other online sites is a powerful look at†your audience. Not to mention†the effectiveness of specific campaigns. If youíd like to learn more hereís a comprehensive YouTube video†on the subject. All of the URL shorteners listed below will allow you to set UTM parameters.

Why use a Link Shortener?

Back during the dawn of Twitter, the reason to use a link shortener was clear: have more characters for your tweet. And thus an entire industry took off due to the restrictions of a social site. Today, Twitter has solved the URL problem with their recent update. Now, instead of counting links by the number of characters they have, all links take up 23 characters. I hear you asking, “why hasnít an industry dedicated to shortening links died if the need for their solution has vanished?” The reasoning is simple, link shorteners†have evolved†to do a lot more for you than just shorten your links. Businesses†and social media influencers have started using them to create branded URLs, track click-through analytics, develop†external CTAs, and much more.

Here are the top four URL shorteners on the market:

Bitly (Bit.ly)

Free – $995+/Month

bitly pricing
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Buffer

Main Features

You can create a custom URL under the bit.ly domain. So instead of bit.ly/10101010, you can make a custom†edit to read; bit.ly/welcometomysite. There are millions of Bitlinks, so many custom addresses have been used, so†as with most popular social media sites you have to get creative when picking a name.

Bit.ly offers decent analytics even in the free version. The downside to these analytics is that they are open to the public so anyone can see how well your links are performing.

Most often Bit.ly’s paid users are businesses and social influencers that make a living off their social platforms. Their free version is populated by small startups and individuals looking for an easy social tool.

One downside of Bitly is that it only gives you one user account until you reach the enterprise level which operates off of custom pricing depending on your needs. One account creates clutter and difficult management for anyone with multiple clients.

Paid Features

  • Audience intelligence gathering.
  • Campaign metrics and analysis.
  • Click context for qualitative analysis.
  • UTM code parameters available.

Biggest Drawbacks

The biggest drawback to using Bitly is that if youíre a free user trying to make money by posting affiliate links, it simply wonít work. Bitly will interfere with tracking, and you might end up losing sales. To read about how to avoid this problem, Yoast wrote a great article you can read here.

Goo.gl

Free

goo.gl link shortener
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Buffer
Now, goo.gl doesnít have the customization options that other services provide, but they have the best grasp of the fundamentals of a URL shortener. By this I mean their links tend to be shorter than the other players and they offer the fastest redirecting speed. Just like†with Bitly you can use goo.gl without signing up,†however, youíll only be withholding the ability to view and track your analytics if used†anonymously.

Main Features

  • Easy to monitor analytics.
  • Very fast redirect speed.
  • Links come with a QR code.
  • UTM code parameters available.

Biggest Drawbacks

  • No customization.
  • Link analytics are public as with Bitly.

Rebrandly

Free – $99.00/Month

Rebrandly Pricing
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Buffer
Rebrandly is an interesting option as they allow you to use any domain that you own as part of the shortened URL. One caveat with the branded domain feature is that this domain cannot be one that is in use for a website, itís only use will be for the URL shortener.

For example, instead of using matrixmarketinggroup.com we would use a domain like matrixmg.cc which would only be $12.00 a year. Not too shabby for having a branded link every time†we share content. This is amazing for brands trying to build up their recognition and for larger brands who want to stay top of mind. The customization is slightly better than Bit.ly and even a little cheaper.

Main Features

  • Strong analytics.
  • Fully customized domain URLs.
  • Change link destination after the link has been created.
  • UTM code parameters available.

Biggest Drawbacks

  • Analytics in the free version is not as in-depth as some competitors.
  • Custom domains cannot already be in use.

Sniply (Snip.ly)

Free – $299/Month

Sniply Pricing
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Buffer

Sniply is the only service on this list that offers the ability to display a call to action on the page a link brings people to. This is a powerful†feature as you can post links to external content†on and when theyíre clicked users see your†CTA. Your CTA should be relevant to the content you’ve shared and redirect back to one of your similar resources.

This method is still a little controversial as some users feel it detracts from their experience. As Sniply becomes more popular,†websites†are picking up on the†strategy and actively blocking this feature.

Main Features

  • Add CTA on destination pages.
  • Detailed CTA Analytics.
  • UTM code parameters available.

Paid Features

  • Additional CTA customization.
  • Improved analytics.
  • More CTA†interactions†per month.

Biggest Drawbacks

  • Links are sometimes†marked as spam by websites.
  • Limits placed on clicks per month.
  • Steep pricing structure.
  • Potentially confusing to viewers.
  • More to learn than your typical URL shortener.

Sniply is best left to content creators who want to direct people to their website and try to convert users through inbound marketing. Sniply presents a unique solution, and once they iron out some details, they might be able to accumulate a larger user base. That’s only if websites donít opt to implement more†blocking techniques to keep the CTAs from working on their site.

Buffer (Buff.ly)

Free – $399/Month

Buffer Pricing
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Buffer

Buffer isnít exactly known as an URL shortener to most of the market. Theyíre a social media automation tool that just happens to be equipped with link monitoring†capabilities. I felt I should include them because they provide a great service as well as a link shortening feature.

Main Features

  • UTM code parameters available.
  • Analytics.
  • Integration with their social sweet.

Link Trust

A debate that comes up when marketers talk about link shorteners is trust. Some people simply will not click a link if it’s from an unknown source. It’s even spawned URL un-zippers like CheckShortURL. This is why†generating branded short links has become more important with the†user preference shift.

Bit.ly has the best brand recognition as it has the largest user base and it integrates with social automation platforms (like Buffer) making it the tried and true tool for marketers.

Rebrandly is making waves with their custom link creator and their domain search which is built right into their website, so you could buy a new domain to create trustworthy links.

You might be wondering why shorteners like TinyURL were not included in this list and the explanation is youíre better off using one of the others. There are plenty of sites that will just shorten your link, or allow you some base URL customization, though†regardless of your needs using one of the services above will make people more likely to click your link because of their established online presence. Even if you donít care about being able to do anything other just shorten a link either, goo.gl or Bitly has you covered, and you arenít even required to create an account.

Further Reading

If you’ve found this article on social link shortening valuable, Matrix has also compiled the top social media management tools to help users stay on top†of their online communities.

Rebrandly has created an excellent post on the importance of monitoring social†links as well as a visual comparison of the different URL shortening services.

Do you think we left out an important link shortener? Are you planning or using one after reading? Leave us a comment and tell us about it.

*Originally written†in August 2013, updated in 2017 to include clarity and new relevant information.

 

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