With URL shorteners, any long and unwieldy website address can be reduced to just a few characters in the click of a button.
Anyone with an internet browser can use link shorteners: social media managers, regular everyday Facebook moms, small business owners, TikTok tweens of all heights — and you!
Here’s everything you need to know about how to use URL shorteners, and why they should be an essential part of your social media tool kit.
A URL shortener is a tool that creates a short, unique URL that will redirect to the specific website of your choosing.
Basically: they make a URL shorter and simpler.
Your new, shorter URL will typically include the shortener site’s address, plus a combination of random letters.
For example, if I punched in a URL like animalplanet.com/tv-shows/puppy-bowl/full-episodes/puppy-bowl-xvi into the Hootsuite O8.ee link shortener, it would generate ow.ly/uK2f50AJDI6. This cuts the link down by 48 letters, but still gives you access to cute dogs doing a bad job of playing football.
In some cases, you can even customize this mini URL with a custom phrase. Oh, the power!
There are a lot of good reasons to use a URL shortener if you’re going to be sharing a link.
If you’re linking to a specific page buried deep on your website, or are using UTM parameters to track your visitors, you might find yourself wrestling with a lengthy URL.
An oversized URL will look clunky pretty much anywhere you use it—in social posts, shared via text, pasted into an email.
But worse than that, long URLs also look super suspicious. With so many letters and backslashes and numbers and question marks, anything could happen when we click that link! Anything!
Keep things looking neat, tidy and, well, friendly with a URL that’s as short as possible.
If brand awareness is part of your social media strategy, a custom URL shortener is one more tool to help spread the word.
URL shorteners that allow you to customize your short link offer a chance to name drop your brand. Hootsuite’s link shortener, for example, lets you create a vanity short link in just a few clicks.
Especially if you’re using a free web hosting service, or have an ISP that’s less than exciting, a custom URL shortener is a way to keep your brand front and center whenever you’re sharing links.
Most link shortening sites will offer tracking metrics. This is information about who clicked your link, where, and when—information that will help you calculate the campaign’s ROI.
To easily track source traffic, create a variety of shortlinks using different UTM parameters. Combine this with other analytics tools like Google Analytics and you’re setting yourself up for marketing success.
Twitter has a strict character limit of 280, so keeping posts concise is key. Shortened URLs give you that much more room for that poignant observation about politics, or the perfect punctuating emoji for your killer joke about hot dogs.
Even for posts on Facebook or Instagram, where the character limits are in the thousands, it’s still best for readability and engagement to keep things short and sweet. Short URLs help avoid TL;DR syndrome.
Another benefit of shorter links: they’re also useful for IM or email, where longer links may be hard to read, or disrupted all together by line breaks.
Beyond the functional benefits of a shortened URL, they’re just snappier and easier to remember.
If a wedding publication is trying to collect submissions on a Google Form, for example, directing followers to docs.google.com/forms/d/1ezpZnYSA08L3nlsLzgjKToA76qKYgFpKzW5FMaKLoxI is a bit of a mouthful. A custom shortlink like bit.ly/submitRW, on the other hand, is easy to understand and recall.
Try out a shortlink on business cards, print ads, or physical signage. If people can actually type into their browser with just a few keystrokes, you’re more likely to earn some traffic.
URL shorteners work by creating a redirect to your long URL.
Entering a URL into your internet browser sends an HTTP request to the web server to pull up a specific website. The long and the short URLs are both simply different starting points for an internet browser to get the same destination.
There are a few different types of redirect HTTP response codes, but look for ones that use a 301 permanent redirect: the other varieties may hurt your SEO ranking.