URL shorteners- what are they and why NOT to use them

What are URL shorteners?

URL shorteners are something that folks may use to make the web address to a page shorter. The address http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Dwayne%20Haskell will take you to the page on Amazon where all my books are listed. However, if I want to go straight to that page I would have to type all that mess into my address bar. Of course, I could simply bookmark the page but I don’t for two reasons;

1. My bookmarks toolbar is jam packed already.
2. Bookmarks only work on a specific computer, if I am on a public or friends computer, the bookmark doesn’t do me any good.

You could go to an URL shortener website and shorten a long URL to something that would look like this one I created using bit.ly – http://amzn.to/1m1aRnw. But you want to think about why you am using the shortener to begin with. Is it to save space, hide the destination URL or some other reason?

Why you should not use them

I do use a URL shortener for personal use but not when I promote my websites or articles I have written. Why? Because what happens when the third party has issues, goes out of business, etc? Any links made using them no longer work! This means that all your hard work is lost, unless you made backups of the links in a spreadsheet so you can go and edit them all, but that is a ton of work and I am guessing you are thinking about shortening the URLs to save time. But think about it, if you have shortened links all over the internet and it took years to get them all, how can you possibly go and fix them all? You can’t! If your shortened links are affiliate links, think of the revenue that you will lost! How much time will have to be invested to try to fix all your bad links?

I have looked into using the third party URL shorteners in the past like bit.ly, goo.gl and ow.ly but decided against them for a few reasons.

1. The before mentioned reliance on the service to be in existence forever so your links continue to work
2. The confusion as to where the link actually will take someone
3. SEO (although not proven, do shortened URLs work against your SEO efforts?)
4. Are the links being cloaked (hidden) to hide where they actually go and if they are affiliate links (links where the creator gets paid if someone uses them)?

Think about your own surfing habits; when you see a link you want to follow, you probably look at the destination used to describe it beforehand. So an address such as http://dwaynehaskell.com/optimize-your-website-for-better-search-results/ is pretty easy to decipher – it will take you to dwaynehaskell.com and to a page about optimizing a website. However, a link such as http://wp.me/P44pbv-6N (created using WordPress’s built in URL shortener) doesn’t tell you really anything at all. It will take you to the exact same page but are you sure? Are you likely to follow that link? Probably not, and neither will others. Why use that shortened link then?

I have a friend who has a successful business and when he creates new content on his business website it is automatically posted on Facebook and Twitter – a great idea in fact. But here is the problem – the links to his website that are posted are all shortened thru bit.ly. I know the guy personally so I trust the link goes to his website (the one I built for him in fact, but I didn’t set up the shortening service part), but if he is looking for new clients and wants them to click those links, he has a problem. Someone who does not know him or his company may not follow the link because they do not know where it will truly take them. This is a horrible way to conduct business, to say nothing about your SEO efforts to get traffic and ultimately more business.


Why I do use them

I mentioned earlier that I do in fact use a URL shortener for personal use because I often visit the same websites to do research or gather other information. It is a simple script installed on a domain I own. I go to the admin area and enter the long url and the desired shortened one. Now I  only have to remember the shortened url to take me to a particular website. For instance, http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Dwayne%20Haskell has been shortened to http://misturl.com/mybooks. All I really need to remember are the words mybooks. It makes thing very simple for me personally.

I only use the shortened URLs for my own use and I use them because I can use them anywhere, on any computer. I don’t give them out to the public because of the reasons mentioned above:

  • If the script stop working, the links stop working.
  • The links look confusing and may not explain where it truly goes

Also, none of the links I have created with my personal URL shortener will be a catastrophic loss if the script stops working, I will just have to revert to bookmarks or something else to get to the pages.

Final thoughts

Using an URL shortener for your website or business is a bad choice in my opinion and can be very harmful to your business and efforts to get traffic to your website. Carefully consider the impacts before committing to using a shortener for your URLs. They may save space and be easier to write out, but at what cost?