What Is a URL Shortener and the Benefits of Using One?

What is a URL shortener? Click here to learn the answer to that questions and the many benefits of using link shortening tools.

Keyword(s): What is a URL shortener

The internet is a vast frontier, where every creator is fighting to hold their viewer’s attention for as long as possible. The way you present your brand matters, and there are certain elements that can distract from your message.

Long, winding links are one of them.

If you’ve ever seen or shared a mile-long URL, then you know they’re not only unattractive, but they can also look exceedingly suspicious. Plus, there are many platforms (like Twitter) that limit the number of characters you can use, rendering such links unusable despite their importance.

What is a URL shortener? It’s a simple online tool that can abbreviate your link, making it more compelling and clickable. Today, we’re diving into how it works, and why it’s smart to use one.

What Are Link Shortening Tools?

Link shortening tools go by many different names. In addition to URL shortener, you may have also heard these functions called:

  • Link shorteners
  • Link shrinkers
  • Link compressors
  • URL condensors
  • Vanity URL creators

No matter what jargon you use, the basic premise is the same. You’ll copy and paste your too-long URL into the portal, click a button, and receive a shorter, snappier URL in its place. The new link takes users to the same website, and functions in exactly the same way as the original one.

The only difference? It’s now infinitely easier to share with others, especially on sites that limit your space. Not only are long URLs unmanageable on most social media sites, but they’re also unwelcome in a slew of other applications, including emails and text messages.

A Brief History of Link Shorteners

Even as digital tools continue to become smarter and more sophisticated, we’re all still traveling around the web via links. We use them to go from one site to the next, and share web resources with others.

There are a few different ways you display data as links. These include:

  • Sharing naked links (full URLs that link back to a website)
  • Embedding links in anchor text (such as: “check out our recent blog post on tech trends”)
  • Branding links with a custom link shortener

For years, lengthy URLs weren’t too much of an issue, simply because we didn’t know any other way. Then came the dawn of social media, and ensuing character limits.

Though Twitter doubled the amount in 2017, it only allowed 140 characters per tweet when it launched in 2006. Suddenly, URLs that looked like alphabet soup started looking like more of a nuisance. Once you pasted that link into your text box, you had very little (if any) room left to say anything about it.

Thus, people started looking for workarounds.

By 2006, early URL shorteners were already in existence. The first, TinyURL, debuted in 2002 and as it grew in popularity, hundreds of competitors copied its premise. Though Twitter initially used TinyURL to shorten tweets on the platform, it eventually came out with its own link shortening service, called t.co.

Now, any links shared on Twitter are automatically shortened, and all count as 23 characters, even if they use up less than that limit. In addition to Twitter, other sites also have their own URL shorteners, including Google (goo.gl), LinkedIn (lnkd.in), and Dropbox (db.tt), among others.

What Is a Branded Short Link?

When you use an online link shortening tool, the resulting URL will begin with the name of that tool. For instance, any link shortened via TinyURL will begin with “https://tinyurl.com/…”

With a branded short link, you can create your own shareable domains instead. This way, every part of your new link can showcase your brand, without the mention of any other type of third party. This allows you to turn every share into a marketing opportunity.

How does it work? You can either grab a domain that represents your company or create your own from scratch. Then, you’ll use the a custom link generator to condense it. This can improve brand visibility and helps you stand out in your space.

Whether you’re sharing your custom link on social media, text, advertising, or email, it will represent the name of your company, as well as any keywords you select. Big names like Pepsi are already doing it (Pep.si), so why not follow suit?

You can find both paid and free platforms online that allow you to create your own branded short links in a matter of seconds. The first step is to choose a short domain name, and then use one of those tools to shorten it even more!

What Is a URL Shortener Good For?

There are many benefits to using link shortening tools. Let’s take a look at a few of the top reasons why it’s a good idea to leverage one.

Keeping Your Message Concise

When you share something online, you want to grab your reader’s attention. The URL you display should be short, simple, and to the point. Otherwise, they’re going to skip over it, especially if it contains a long string of eyebrow-raising numbers.

With a link shortening tool, you can consolidate the URL into a single line that’s not only easier to share, but easier to remember. Think about how you’d speak to an audience if you wanted to really drive a point home.

Would you ramble and extrapolate, or would you cut straight to the chase? A short URL is the online equivalent of eliminating the fluff, and getting right to the heart of the matter.

Masking Unattractive Links

Link masking can go two ways.

First, malicious spammers can use link shortening tools to make their buggy links seem benign, which is obviously a deceitful practice. Thankfully, browsers like Chrome have built-in phishing and malware detection features that can give you an advanced warning if the link will take you somewhere harmful, no matter how harmless it might look.

Then, there’s legitimate link masking.

This is simply the practice of turning an ugly, too-long link into a better-looking one. This comes in especially handy on social media, when you need to get a key point across and keep eyes on your content.

Link Masking vs. Link Cloaking

It’s important to note that while link masking is appropriate in many cases, link cloaking never is. While the two terms might sound similar, they are not the same.

Link cloaking is the practice of showing one piece of content to viewers, and another piece of content to a search engine. Websites that employ black hat SEO practices will use this approach to make it appear as though their content ranks for a variety of keywords and phrases when it actually doesn’t.

Not only can this cause your followers to distrust you, but it can actually get you banned from Google search results. If you’re masking your link to make it more attractive or accessible, that’s one thing. Concealing it completely and redirecting it maliciously is another.

Tracking Link Traffic

Have you ever wondered how many people land on your website after clicking on a link you’ve shared? Clicks can equal conversions, but you need to know how and where they originate.

When you use a link shortener, most tools will provide you with access this type of analytical data.

This way, you can track the success of a specific link to understand how people are finding, viewing, and engaging with your content. Which links do they tend to click on the most? Which ones do they pass by without a second thought?

You can even filter the results to see how many of those clicks came from actual users, and which ones were spiders or bots. Most tools will allow you to search by the time of day or even the geographical region, for an even more granular view of your online audience.

You can use these insights to tweak your sharing and outreach strategy, and optimize your greater digital marketing campaign. Whether you’re reporting on the numbers in front of a monthly board meeting or simply using them to monitor the performance of your personal brand, they matter.

Retargeting Link Traffic

Website views are great. Website views that lead to more website views are even better.

One of the most effective ways to lure your online visitors back for more is to create compelling, customized ads that speak to their interests and preferences. This is where retargeting comes in.

Have you ever noticed that your Facebook feed suddenly seems to be filled with ads for products you were just researching online? For instance, you were Googling the best barbecue grills for this summer, and now you can’t scroll your News Feed without seeing content from Weber, Traeger, and Coleman.

This is retargeting in a nutshell.

Brands are able to do it by adding a piece of code, called a retargeting pixel, to their website. When someone clicks on their site for the first time, they’re given the tracker. It follows them even after they click away, and other publishers recognize them and serve ads accordingly.

Site owners used to only be able to retarget people who had already visited their site once. Now, you can add that same retargeting pixel inside of a short link, instead. As soon as someone clicks on the link, they’re added to the pixel and you can reach them with ads.

This works even if the link you’re sharing doesn’t go back to your own website. For instance, you can add a pixel to a link that you’re sharing on social media, which may take the user to a different site altogether. As long as the shared content aligns with your brand, this can greatly expand your marketing reach and help you connect with people who are genuinely curious about your message.

Changing Links as Required

Think about the number of times you’ve shared your blog URL across the web. Or, how often you’ve linked to a white paper or case study.

What would happen if, one day down the road, you took that particular page down? All of a sudden, there are dozens if not hundreds of links that are now broken.

When you shorten your URL, most of those online tools allow you to maintain control over those links, as well as the destination URL. If you ever need to change it, you’ll do so on the platform, and all of those shortened links will automatically update.

This saves you from having to track down every instance and make the edit manually.

For a real-world example, consider the “link in bio” feature found on certain social media sites like Instagram and TikTok. As a content creator, you can use this URL section to share the link to your latest product feature, or your most recent blog post.

In time, you may want to redirect that link to a different blog post, or an even newer product. When you use a link-shortening tool, you can make the link swap once and it will automatically update everywhere you’ve shared it.

Leverage the Power of Link Shortening Tools

What is a URL shortener? It’s a tool that converts a long link into a short one.

Not only can this increase conversions, but it also saves you a ton of back-end work if you ever need to change those links. Plus, it gives you access to advanced analytics that can help you track the progress of your social posts or campaigns.

Before you can use these tools, you’ll need your own space on the web. With Namecheap, you can choose a domain name that fits your brand and helps you grow. Create an account today to get started.