I sometimes feel like URL shorteners are some of the most understated tools in internet marketing, and there have been more than a few times that I wished I’d had someone share some advice on URL shorteners earlier in my marketing career.

For instance:

What do you do with really long links?

What if you want to track the results?

What if the link—long and unwieldy—upstages the content?

So, if you’re new to the world of URL shorteners—much like I’ve been—here’s a list of things you may find helpful to know!

About URL shortening …

If you’re new to the social media marketing space, you’ve probably caught on to one of our dirty little secrets.

Links can be a little unwieldy sometimes.

They can get long.

long url string

They can get a little complex (especially when you’re tracking them).

long url

Sometimes they can be a bit distracting.

tracking url

And if you’re trying to share helpful information with a growing audience, then you don’t want the links to all that golden content to upstage your efforts!

Thank goodness for URL shorteners.

(Here’s an example, with pomeranians, of a long link that’s been shortened to buff.ly/1irhfHu.)

These super-simple tools can save you a good deal of headache when it comes to keeping track of your links. Plus, they make our tweets, statuses, and other updates look super clean.

Where & how can you shorten URLs?

Fortunately, we have tons of great tools at our disposal for shortening URLs, including the native networks and dashboards we use every day.

In terms of tools, there are some neat sites that handle URL shortening, including full analytics and archives of everything you shorten. For these services (and for URL shortening in general), your URL is replaced by a new domain (e.g., kevanlee.com changes to bit.ly) and the permalink is replaced by a string of numbers and/or letters (e.g., kevanlee.com/best-writing-articles changes to bit.ly/df8jpI1).

Here are handful of the more popular link shortening services:

Here’s what it looks like when you use goo.gl, Google’s URL shortener:

google shortener

At goo.gl, bit.ly, and others, not only do you get a nice, clean, shortened URL, you also get stats on clicks for all the URLs you shorten.

In addition to these shortening tools, many social networks and social media management dashboards also provide a way to shorten long URLs automatically.

For instance, any link shared to Buffer will be shortened automatically once it’s added into your update.

buffer shortened url

You can choose to use Buffer’s own “buff.ly” shortener, or the shorteners at bit.ly, j.mp, or custom solutions.

Twitter automatically shortens links as well. There are a few different ways this might happen: Twitter uses it’s own t.co shortening service often on link shared on mobile devices, Twitter will sometimes include the full URL (minus the http:// part) or will truncate the link after showing the domain and part of the permalink.

In every case, any link you post to Twitter will only ever take up 22 characters. 

(Update: Thanks so much to those in the comments who got us on the right track here!)

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 6.58.40 AM

6 ideas for how to use URL shorteners in your marketing

1. Make links more memorable with a custom, short domain

If you ever happen to visit the Twitter feed for Moz, you might notice something unique about their links.

They’re using a custom short URL: mz.cm.

Cool!

So links like this:

https://moz.com/blog/announcing-mozcon-local-2016

Become links like this:

http://mz.cm/1gpgLAJ

This can be a really great opportunity to extend some branding into the shortened links you share on social media. And at the very least, it could make for a fun experiment to see if it helps up the engagement on your updates (I’ve heard some folks fare better with custom short URLs, some do better with full URLs, and some do better with buff.ly or bit.ly URLs.)

Kevan put together this quick video on how to set up a custom short domain. You can buy custom short domains from sites like Name.com and set them up to automatically shorten your links with bit.ly and Buffer.

And the result:

2. Track all the clicks, see how things change over time

Shortening links is valuable in and of itself—but how do you know people are clicking them?

Good news! Some URL shorteners let you track those links, too. =) There are a few ways these links tend to be tracked:

Some URL shorteners track the links themselves.

Bitly is a fantastic example of this. Bitly shows you how many times one of your links has been clicked, where the link has been shared, and how other Bitly-shortened links (Bitlinks) are driving traffic to the same content.

Here’s an example of what that looks like: bitly stats

bitly stats chart

Some URL shorteners automatically attach Google Analytics tracking data.

Granted, you can manually add UTM tracking codes to any link, and then shorten them down with a basic link shortener. But some tools will let you preset those tracking codes and then automatically append them to whatever links you shorten.

This is where the Buffer link shortener really shines, in my opinion. If you’re using the Buffer for Business plan, then you can easily (and automatically) add UTM tracking codes to any link you share with Buffer. I’ll show you exactly how to do this later on in this post! =)

3. Customize a shortened bit.ly link

One thing I love about Bit.ly’s link shortening service is the ability to name short URLs. This means we can turn a link like this:

http://bit.ly/1LYGfyq

Into something that reflects the content of the link itself:

bit.ly/tips-4-tw (a link to an article on twitter tips)

Customizing a shortened link can be a fantastic way to give people a little bit of context for where they’ll go when they click that tiny link.

4. Add a shortened URL to your video

If you’re running an ad campaign that directs people to a certain website, you’ll want people to remember where they’re supposed to go.

That can be tricky when you’re dealing with a long, long URL. But a link shortener can make online destinations a great deal easier to remember.

For example, I’m writing this article as Facebook launches its killer new Lead Ads feature. It’s a sweet new way to do targeted advertising.

But all the sweet info about it is on a page with a pretty long URL:

https://www.facebook.com/business/a/lead-ads

A long URL like that might not be a problem—except that Facebook is educating people about this new feature through a video. And I don’t know about you, but I’d have a rough time remembering this URL after watching a video. 😉

Fortunately for us, Facebook shortened that link to a much more memory-friendly URL:

fb.me/leadads

That’s much easier to remember, and it looks super clean at the end of this video!

5. Add a shortened URL to a plain-text email

Most of the links people interact involve more than just a string of URL characters. We’re all probably used to clicking buttons and text links, and we don’t often find ourselves facing a long URL head-on.

This can make encountering long, “ugly” URLs (especially ones all decked out with UTM codes) even more jarring for your audience, especially in plain-text emails. Fortunately, a short URL can turn a plain-text email with long, stringy URLs into a much more readable message.

6. Add a shortened URL to a print piece

Suppose you wanted to run a print ad in a magazine for one of your products. You hope the ad will drive traffic to your site, but there’s a problem: the ideal page you want to send people to is a loooong one.

But if you shorten that URL down, you might have something not only more memorable, but more printable, too. You’ll save more of that valuable real estate for the actual ad content, and devote less of it to trying to make a long string of URL characters look pretty. 😉

But it doesn’t have to stop at print ads: a shorter URL can work for all kinds of print situations:

  • Thank-you cards
  • Coupon inserts
  • Even letters to donors

How to shorten links in Buffer for Business

You know what link shorteners can do for you and your business. Let’s go for a spin through how you can shorten your own links (and track them) in Buffer and Google Analytics. (Heads up: this is using the Buffer for Business features.)

First log into Buffer and click “Settings.” Then choose “Link Shortening” in the drop-down menu.

That will take you to the place where you’ll manage your link shortening services (including our buff.ly link shortener) and link tracking.

Next, you can select the link shortening service you want to use. You don’t need any extra link shortening services to shorten links: we can automatically clip them down to a short buff.ly URL.

buffer link shorteners

Already have a bit.ly account? No problem: you can hook your account right up to your Buffer profiles. This means Buffer will send all that tracking information right back to your bit.ly dashboard. =)

Whether you choose buff.ly or bit.ly, you can still track your clicks in Buffer! Just hop over to the “Analytics” tab.

So, what about tracking codes? If you’re using Google Analytics, you’re in for a treat: Buffer for Business can automatically add UTM tracking codes to every single link you share! All you need to do is choose the UTM codes that you want to use for your Buffer profiles, and then Buffer handles the rest. =)

Here’s how custom UTM codes work in Buffer:

To add tracking codes to your shortened links, you can scroll down to the bottom “Google Analytics Campaign Tracking” section, turn on “Enable Campaign Tracking,” and then hit that “Customize Campaign Tracking” button.

Once you hit that button, you’ll see a few fields where you can add source, medium, and campaign names to your links.

buffer utm codes custom campaign tracking

If you’d like an in-depth look at how to use UTM codes, you might enjoy this article, but in the meantime, here’s a high-level approach you might like to take for now:

  • Think of your campaign name as a reason that traffic is being driven to your site. Since Buffer applies this to every link you share, it might help to simply use “Buffer” or your profile name for this piece.
  • Your campaign source describes the place where traffic is coming from. One option that might be helpful is putting in the name of the social network your profile is on. (For example, if you’re sharing from your LinkedIn profile, you might want to put “linkedin” as your source.)
  • Your campaign medium describes how people are getting to your site. For social media links, I normally like to set the medium to “social.”

(And of course, you can be as creative as you like with your links—these are just suggestions!)

Once you’ve added link tracking to your URL shortener in Buffer, all you need to do is start sharing links! Here’s how that plays out:

  1. You add a link to your Buffer queue (just like normal).
  2. Buffer automatically shortens it. You’ll see this happen as you’re setting up your post!
  3. When Buffer shortens it, the tool adds those Google Analytics tracking codes to the link as well.
  4. When your post goes live, your audience will only see the short link, but when they click it, they will be taken to a tagged URL!

Over to you

We’ve explored some of the basics of URL shorteners and how they work, but there’s a lot more to these tools that we haven’t covered here. I’m curious: what advice would you share with someone new to shortening URLs for their social media marketing?

I’d love to chat about it with you in the comments or on Twitter!

 

Image sources: Pexels, Pablo

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Written by Jeffrey Kranz

Jeffrey Kranz is CEO and co-founder of Overthink Group, a content marketing and strategy agency. He gets a kick out of making things “learnable.”

  • Great article. It’s important to know how often your links get clicked in order to know what content your audience wants.

    This could be a treat for some more advanced users: http://yourls.org/

  • Such a bad idea, using link shorteners.

    What if that points me to the NY Times or some other subscription service? Now I’ve lost one of my 10 free articles this month. Thanks!

    Tell people where they’re going. Shortened links don’t do that.

    More, however, it points to the messenger’s own inadequacies. After all, they don’t have enough wit to get their message out there in the reduced space that a longer link entails.

    Others can do that, you cannot. So it’s a weakness, and every time I see a shortened link I realize there’s another social media user that’s weak, not as good as I, and likely to disappear soon.

    • Hi there Greg! Ah, great point! I see exactly what you mean. Reminds me of some neat tools that lengthen short URLs, like this Chrome extension for instance: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/link-revealer/nphhadgebjlmcfleikmiedhohdfbfoin?hl=en

    • Debbie Discovers

      I understand this and initially had this fear too, but I get over it by adding via @buffer or via @hubspot and it tells the readers where they’re going. Hope this helps!

    • Vincent Magaline

      Or you can just brand your link so instead of “bit.ly/N9r1F” you have something like greg.link/BioPage. I for instance have vince415.link as my personal branded link. Increases trust and therefore CTR. You can try this out with a tool like Rebrandly: https://www.rebrandly.com

      • I could, but after 8 months I’m not really interested anymore.

        • Vincent Magaline

          Haha, fair enough. My sincerest apologies for not trying to help sooner 😉

  • Anirvan Chatterjee

    I suggest you either pull or substantially rewrite this blog post, because it’s 4 years outdated, and spreading misinformation.

    The #1 reason you give to shorten links is “URL shorteners save character count…you get 140 characters per tweet…An everyday URL can take up half of that length. (Or more!)”

    But since at least October 2011, Twitter has been shortening links so they never take more than 22 characters. So you can post a URL that’s a thousand characters long. Twitter will shorten it to 22 characters.

    https://support.twitter.com/articles/78124
    https://twittercommunity.com/t/all-urls-regardless-of-their-length-are-now-automatically-wrapped-with-t-co/7508
    http://oleb.net/blog/2012/08/please-dont-use-url-shorteners-on-twitter/

    • Hi there Anirvan! Thanks so much for the comment and for pointing us in the right direction here! Really sorry for the wrong info we had, I feel terrible about that. I’ve rewritten and removed parts of the post and have linked to some of the great resources you’ve shared. Thank you so much for helping us to get this right!

  • AB

    Hey Jeffrey, that’s not correct. Twitter makes links such that they only consume 23 characters now, irrespective of how long the link is in reality.

    • Hi there AB! Yikes, that’s all our fault! You’re exactly right. Thank you so much for pointing this out. I’ve just gone in and edited the article to reflect this. Really appreciate your help!

  • One good reason to use link shortening services is to direct the user to the appropriate website for their country. As an author I use smarturl.it for links to books at Amazon and iTunes. The user finds themselves at their country’s Amazon site. I can also include keywords, affiliate tags and even add my own tracking tag. If the user is using an iWhatever I can direct them to the appropriate iTunes site. Like bit.ly I can also customise the link.
    As others have said, Twitter now treats any link as a fixed number of characters so the length of a link is no longer important. However if someone does need to type in a link smarturl.it/avi is a lot more friendly than http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0047O2CQA?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1444134784&sr=1-1&keywords=Immortality+Gene+romance+suspense+technothriller+genes&tag=smarturl-gb-21

    • Great idea, John! That makes a ton of sense. I hadn’t thought of the country-specific angle before!

  • This is nice. I think to use URL shorteners is a good idea. We can track clicks and we can get detail stats how many people clicked the URL. Also, if you want people to know what the link is about, you can custom the shorten URL if you are using bit.ly. Thanks.

  • mimranyameen

    I used google, bitly, trim, and many url shorteners and only bitly gave accurate results for me.

  • Hey guys.
    We love buffer and have used bit.ly for our custom URL for years but buffer’s using up all our free monthly links 🙁 Generating two links per item fed, one in the preview and then another when the feed is sent out. Your lovely support team tell me it’s on your known bugs and will be fixed one day – any idea when that day might be??

    • Debbie Discovers

      I have this problem too – so now I create 2 bitly accounts. One that just uses bit.ly that I can use on Buffer, Twitter, the mass generators, and one that I save for my own special links. 🙂

    • Debbie Discovers

      Oh guess what I discovered: even when you run out of branded bit.lys, use the non branded ones! They still work because it’s a redirect – so even if it says bit.ly/WantstoBuildMoreSchools, if you key in deb.bi/WantstoBuildMoreSchools it still redirects.. heh heh..

  • Elizabeth

    They do exist! While some online job prospects are scams, there are legitimate, well-paid opportunities available.The payoff is a flexible workday that fits your schedule—and a job that might just afford you a better lifestyle and sign up there for more details Click here to sign up </

  • Alex

    I guess miniurl.online would be a better option to hide url instead of just shortening url… What do you think guys?

  • Jeffrey Oropeza

    Great article! An AWESOME shortener that just came out is Capsulink http://www.capsulink.com/ , which offers lots of useful features for free or for a few bucks. Most users choose to set up a custom domain (less than $10) or use the free account link shortening that’s available to anyone. Very useful tool for anyone looking to promote their content.

  • Adlinkas.com

    Hello everybody! we have a new and easy website which can bring money for you. Now you can sigh up and join in http://adlinkas.com/register

    if you need to contact with us, sent support@adlinkas.com. Thanks for your attention

  • Try this – https://href.pro/

  • Maik M

    very usefull post, i use kom.xyz , they have very interesting domains to attract more visitors, like 4you, 4fun, ..

  • Иван Иванов

    http://bre.am best url shortener

  • Иван Иванов

    http://bre.am Best url shortener

  • Vincent Magaline

    Great article! Please take note that you could do ALL of that with one tool, Rebrandly, for free, with less than half of the steps involved – http://www.rebrandly.com check it out! http://www.vincemagaline.link/BrandedLinks (full disclosure – I’m working with Rebrandly…but I endorse this message 😉

  • Maya

    I use http://psu.me – URL Shortener‎ and QR Code.

  • keith

    What do you mean by “Fortunately for us, Facebook shortened that link”? How did Facebook shorten it? I’ve read that when pasting a Facebook link into bit.ly a fb.me link is returned, but that doesn’t happen for me. When I post a Facebook link into bit.ly it returns a bitly link.

    • WakeUp38

      It used to be the case that bit.ly created fb.me links, but nowadays Facebook is running fb.me in-house. I’ve been looking everywhere but there doesn’t seem to be a tool to put a facebook.com link in and have a working fb.me link come out 🙁

  • When we create a post for one social media account and then copy this to another one (let’s say from Facebook to Twitter) within Buffer, two separate short links are created instead of reusing the same one, though the underlying link hasn’t changed. (we’re using a branded short link with bit.ly)
    Is this a mistake, planned behaviour? It certainly makes analytics more difficult to read.
    Any workarounds?

  • aakash sohani

    ghgbk

  • aakash sohani

    Nice and wonderful article…
    At BETAPAGE, I have read about retargetMore(http://betapage.co/startup/retargetmore ). It is a smart URL shortener for marketing geniuses. Try it once.

  • Roman Karpenko

    I actually use http://bitly.com and http://url-shortener.io for shortening links. Also http://bit.do is quite good.

  • Eudald

    Great post, thanks for all this good information. Another possibility is to buy your own short domain and be the source of the info that you give. 2h.rs (total of just 4 characters) for sale at https://flippa.com/6891430-2h-rs

  • Frank Asbjørn

    You guys should check out Win.gy It’s a Url Shortener that works with Virus Total to keep links safe and provide an optional landing page for users who need their customers/visitors to ascertain safety of the link. They are also providing free unlimited analytics w/ dashboard, no-ads.
    https://win.gy

  • Philipp

    There are a lot of URL shorteners other than those mentioned. For example:
    GetLink http://get.lc
    cCode http://ccode.ml

  • Sian Kate Lloyd

    Really informative article, thank you.
    I couldn’t agree with you more, URL shorteners are definitely one of the most understated tools in internet marketing!
    They are useful for so many reasons – check out some uses in link below.

    Another awesome URL Shortener to add to the list is Rebrandly.
    It’s super easy to use – Allowing you to instantly purchase and connect your branded domain, create fully customized short links, share them online, and track the amount of clicks you’re getting. It’s also quickly adding all sorts of features, like UTM Parameters, Tags, and more. And it’s free.

    Here are ‘Not Quite 101 Ways to Use Your Custom URL Shortener’ from the Rebrandly blog:
    rebrandly.news/101-ShortURL-Uses

  • mawy

    I believe tiks.co does multiple URLs all at once and it varies the source dynamically and report grouped URLs that belong to same campaign

  • There’s a new URL shortner called credhot: https://crd.ht/2Z6NTBW

  • Drake Le

    I like https://oze.io , it very powerfull and i like it’s analytic, simple and easy to see

  • Britnai

    I use http://sli.st to make money with my link hihi

  • finnious

    Thank you Kevin, this article lead me to buy a domain name and set up my first link.
    If you are into coffee my first link might interest you 👉 http://finnio.us/2g3ySzP ☕☕☕

  • Thank you, althought I know this tools but I still want to read this article because I want to learn how to write articles.

  • You had mentioned the awesome post, thanks for sharing with us. But I have collected some important information on the Short URL websites, here are the short list where you can transform your long urls into short ones.

    http://olaurl.com/
    http://urladda.com/
    http://Ouorul.com/
    http://www.gochiurl.com/
    http://www.doshort.com/
    http://www.adultadda.com/

  • urlf.ly | Earn money by sharing short links…

    http://urlf.ly

  • Straight Fax

    Great article!
    Recently i came across another URL Shortener

    Its called Just Small URL Shortener
    http://jsurl.biz/

    This website comes with a few good benefits. You can create an account, monitor amount of clicks for your short url’s.
    You are not limited to the amount you make. You can also create a short url wth 1 link, create custom short url, create a short url for more than just 1 link as well! Not to mention clicks can also be monitored via the users location. (Location analytics)
    I love it! and i recommend to anyone checking it out.

  • Adomenox

    Have you tried sh.st/rYuYw? I prefer to use this one, it is much more flexible and has many advantages over standard URL shorteners.

  • Eli

    can shorten the links without registration but this site has many utilities for whom register in it. I use this site and it is very practical and fantastic. This site has four types of link for their users; tracking link, smart link, advertising link (that user can earn money), and rotator link. I suggest you to use this link shortener Web site.

  • Eli

    Among all Persian URL Shorteners, http://lish.ir/ is the best one. Everybody can shorten the links without registration but this site has many utilities for whom register in it. I use this site and it is very practical and fantastic. This site has four types of link for their users; tracking link, smart link, advertising link (that user can earn money), and rotator link. I suggest you to use this link shortener Web site.