UPDATE – In view of the fact some of the services mentioned below have been withdrawn or are no longer considered viable for author or individual users, an updated article (8 Link Shortening Services) has been published. Nevertheless, some of the information provided here, in respect of services not included in the new article, remains valid and may be perused at the readers discretion. Readers should also note any details considered still viable are reiterated in the new article.
Internet, website, blog and social media users frequently like to share content with their readers; followers; friends; fans; etc. by linking to an article, post, news item; etc. They do this by including the source URL (Uniform Resource Locator) within their own post. URLs are sometimes exceedingly long and consequently, not only look ungainly but also take up an unwarranted amount of space. There is also a possibility some systems will split extra long urls across more than one line resulting in them not working. It therefore follows, a shortened link (url) would be advantageous. Is this possible? Thankfully, it is.
There are numerous companies and organisations which provide facilities for users to obtain shortened links. However, before considering them, the benefits and dangers/drawbacks of using shortened links will be considered.
- Take up less space. (Important in sites that limit character input.)
- More aesthetically pleasing. (Less ungainly.)
- Easier to remember. (Especially if user is going to add it into another system without using copy/paste.)
- Some use them to facilitate spamming. (Bombarding numerous users with unsolicited adverts etc.)
- To hide the true source. (Often for the purposes of phishing (to obtain personal details); spreading viruses; etc. In other words, malicious behaviour.)
- Some websites, due to the possible dangers, will not accept shortened links.
How short links work
Users may create shortened urls for their own content, or for content from other sources, that they wish to share e.g. via blog, website, social media, etc.
Once created within a valid, recognised, environment (registered provider) systems recognise the shortened url and utilise it by redirecting the user to the originating source.
Short links are simple, clean, efficient and aesthetically pleasing.
A search of ‘short links’ will return results that include a list of many ‘shortening’ providers. Just a few are mentioned below, probably the most well known, but the reader should be aware there are many more. Before utilising any provider, users are recommended to carefully read the terms and conditions as well as the requirements of each provider. They are not all equal and may have requirements that will not fit with the user’s purposes or intentions.
Note: No one service is being recommended above another. Some comments regarding the writers experience may be included but, so far, usage has been limited.
bitly.com – Probably one of the most well known services. Need to set up an account but very easy with minimal information required. Simply enter full url and then copy and use the shortened one produced. Has both free and paid services. Free provides basic statistics. Paid version provides more in-depth information. Free is probably adequate for the average user whereas the paid one will be of more use to a company or organisation. A useful asset: the latter part of the short link may be personalised.
tinyurl.com – Apparently the system is easy to use. No need to set up an account.
twitter.com – Of course this is not a url shortening service per se. As anyone who uses Twitter will know there is a 140 character limitation for tweets (equivalent to posts in other social media sites). When a url is entered into a draft tweet, Twitter automatically converts it to a twenty-three (23) character url no matter if the original url contains less or more characters. Consequently, when using Twitter there is no point in obtaining a shortened url from another service.
ow.ly – This is provided by Hootsuite the post scheduling service. This is a free service. Hootsuite is an excellent system within which multiple posts and tweets may be drafted and scheduled. In addition the draft post/tweet may be retained for future use. There are both free and paid options. Most individual (indie) users opt for the free service though, as with other services, companies and organisations may prefer the enhanced analytics offered by the paid option. However, this is not the place to discuss Hootsuite’s merits.
buff.ly – Part of the Buffer service (Buffer is similar to Hootsuite). Users have to signup for a free account. Please note: yet again due to abuse, Buffer have now changed the facility so that it is ONLY usable from within a user’s Buffer account. (A post/tweet etc. will need to be commenced and the long url entered and then shortened. The user may then copy the short link and delete the post/tweet. A bit of a nuisance but understandable in view of existing widespread abuse.)
adf.ly – Have to register for an account. Apparently, users may earn small amounts when utilising these short links (more clicks more earned). This income appears to be related to adverts that will be displayed when the link is used. Detailed statistics are available. Warning: The advert inclusion may be off-putting for end users who, as a consequence, may simply click away and might eventually stop following or block any further connections. Note: the writer has no experience of the system and is only able to surmise.
bit.do – May be used with or without an account. End characters of a shortened url may be customised. Realtime statistics available even showing which country the clicks are originating from. Possible to set up own domain name account for shortened urls however, this is costly ($85 – $250 per month). Does appear to be primarily business orientated.
mcaf.ee – Used to be part of the McAfee antivirus security company: Service has now been withdrawn. (Only mentioned here in case someone thought, because it is a large well known company, it had been missed.) Anyway, it was probably not suitable for the average user.
goo.gl – In the past this, Google’s own url shortener service, would have been one of the most recognised providers. It is easy to use and free. No account set up required though it may help to have one so as to keep track of created short links. May be used without signing in but, to retain a ready list of the short urls created, best if the user signs-in first. The service also contains a tracking system showing how often the shortened link is utilised. Note: Along with some other services Google has decided to no longer provide or support this url shortening facility. Existing users, who have set up an account before 13 April 2018, may continue to use the system until 30 March 2019. The service will then be formally closed. (The shortened urls already created will continue to be usable. The user will have had to make their own copy of them.)
WordPress.com – WordPress automatically provides shortened urls for posts and pages. The website/blog owner may, when creating new content, obtain a shortened url by expanding the sharing section and scrolling to the bottom of the displayed menu. Visitors/readers of a post or page may click on the three dots (…) to the right of the follow button (usually at the bottom right of the screen) where there is an option to copy the shortened url. This may be used in their own posts and elsewhere to direct their followers to the post/page. Presumably other website/blog host services also provide a similar facility.
Note: In all cases the user needs to ensure the full originating url is entered for shortening. If not the shortened link is unlikely to reach the intended destination.
Shortened urls are useful: clean, concise and aesthetically preferable.
It is recommended they be used where possible either for own content or for content from other sources that is to be shared.
The terms and conditions of the provider should be consulted before using or signing up for a service account.
Users should exercise caution and try to affirm the source, prior to clicking on a shortened url from an unknown contact. Those sending them should also be aware some, who do not know them, may likewise not click on a shortened url.