Tuesday, August 11, 2009

URL Shortener: What and Why

About two months ago I got involved in developing a URL shortener called Clop.in. This service was inspired by the Twitter Google Analytics URL Builder that I had on my site.

Since then few people have asked me about the URL Shortner and the benefit of using them. This blog post is to answer those two questions.

What is a URL Shortener

URL shortener is a service/tool that takes any URL (long version) and converts into a short version with fewer characters compared to the original version. When someone clicks on the short version they are redirected to the actual URL (long version).

Long Version of URL:
Short URL:

Anyone clicking on http://clop.in/JHErZM will be redirected to http://sfindian.com/bay-area?utm_source=anilblogpostt&utm_campaign=urlshortener&utm_medium=blog

Why do you need a URL Shortener

There are several reasons why you might want to use a URL shortener, some of which are:
  1. Twitter – On Twitter you get only 40 characters to write your message. If you have to post a link in your message then you might need a short URL to maximize the use of those140 characters. Either you shorten it up with your choice of URL shortener or Twitter will do it for you with it’s choice of URL shortener.

  2. Emails – When you paste a very long URLs in the email, they are likely to be wrapped within email body leading them to break. Anyone clicking on those broken links will likely get an error. In order to avoid such mishap you might want to shorten the URL so that it does not break in the emails.

  3. Phone Call – Every now and then customer service reps need to give out URLs to customer, prospects etc. on the other end of the line. It is not an easy task to spell out a very long URLs. This is where a short urls might come in very handy. It is much easier to give the short version shown above over the phone than the long version.

  4. Adding Campaign Tracking Variables – If you want to append few query strings to the URLs so that you can track them as campaigns then it is much easier to hide them in a short url. For example, you might want to track the user who called the call center and got a link from customer support. In this case append the campaign variables to the URL, shorten them and then provide it to the customer support for their use. When the user views the url , you will be able to track the onsite behavior of people who called the call center.

Challenges with URL Shorteners

  1. Service - URL Shortener services are generally free and do not have any SLA (service level agreement) with the end users. If the service goes down then anybody clicking on the short URLs created by that URL shortening service will get an error message. Your only option at that point might be to just wait and hope that the service comes back up soon.

  2. Branding – Since the URL Shorteners have their domain name in the URL you loose any branding impact of posting the URLs. The user will not see your domain until they have clicked on the short url. e.g in the example above user will see clop.in instead of SFIndian.com as the URL domain, they won’t know that the URL belongs to SFIndian.com unless they click on it. (Note http://clop.in does allow you to have your own domain in the shortened urls, contact support@clop.in if you need more information or need to get it setup for your domain).

  3. SEO – Depending on how the URL shortening service redirects to your site, you might loose the Search Engine Optimization benefits when someone links to your site but uses a short URL instead of the full URL. In the example above someone might link to http://clop.in/JHErZM instead of http://sfindian.com/bay-area?utm_source=anilblogpostt&utm_campaign=urlshortener&utm_medium=blog.

  4. SPAM – As spammers start using the short URLs to hide the actual URLs the user and applications will start distrusting the short URLs (a lot of them already are very wary of short URLs, some sites have even banned the posting of Short URLs). To combat such issues many URL shorteners such as http://clop.in let user preview a link before redirecting them to the actual URL.

There are over 100 URL shorteners today. Mashable has a list of several of the URL shorteners (Note: This list is old and does not list several newcomers such as http://clop.in)

The two most common URL shorteners are http://bit.ly/ and http://tinyurl.com/. My personal favorite is http://ukliq.me/.

More on Clop.in

clop.in make it easy for you to append campaign tracking variables within the shortened urls. It also provides a dashboard which shows the total clicks by date, referrers, twitter mentions (delayed by 30 mins) and geo locations of the clicks. Now clop.in also allows you to have your own domain for the short URLs.


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