This resume replaces a previous article on the subject of link shorteners. Some of the services mentioned therein have been withdrawn while others are no longer considered suitable for independent authors or personal individual use. To avoid readers having to switch back and forth, the information regarding those that remain active and are thought suitable is reiterated below. However, a primary difference between the two articles is, in this one only free options will be looked at.
URL link shorteners are tools that provide a short form, clickable, code for lengthy, ungainly, and unsightly links.
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 e.g. Twitter.)
- More aesthetically pleasing. (Shorter and less ungainly.)
- Easier to remember. (Especially if user is going to add it into another system without using copy/paste.)
- Diminishes fear of long urls which some view as suspicious or spammy.
- Most shortening sites offer some degree of tracking metrics.
- 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
To create a short link all the user has to do is copy and paste the full URL into the panel each system displays. A short link is then automatically created. Users may create short links 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 will recognise the shortened link and utilise it by redirecting to the originating source. Short links are simple, clean, efficient and aesthetically pleasing.
An internet search for ‘link shortener’ will return multiple results which readers are free to peruse at their pleasure. However, in this article just a few of those that offer a free service or free alternative are mentioned.
Note: The list is in no particular order nor is one service is being recommended above another. Nor has every site been tested by the writer.
bitly.com – Probably the most well known shortening service. Users have to set up an account but it is easy to do and requires minimal information. The site has both free and paid plans. The free option also contains some basic statistics that help the user track short-term activity. Naturally, paid accounts provide more in-depth insights but for the average user the free option is more than adequate. A useful asset, in all plans, is the ability to personalise the latter part of the short link.
ow.ly – This free service is provided by Hootsuite, the post scheduling service. Hootsuite is an excellent system within which multiple posts and tweets may be drafted and scheduled. However, this is not the place to discuss those merits. An account is required but it is a straightforward process. There are free and paid options with varying functionality. The free plan is suitable for most individuals. Users should note the shortening facility may only be utilised within the posting system where the post is usually schedule for publication at a later time. Nevertheless, the short code may still be utilised with this workaround: draft a post, just a few words will do, enter the full url and select the option to have ow.ly shorten the link. The shortened version may then be copied and pasted where desired. The draft post may then be deleted.
tinyurl.com – A simplistic, free, easy to use, quick, service. The front page is not of a particularly neat design nevertheless, many find the service useful. It also has the advantage of enabling the user to customise the shortened link. There is also an option for adding it to a browser’s toolbar so all the user has to do is click it to create an automatic short link for the page they happen to be on. As said, this is a simplistic service and therefore there are no analytics but in the general scheme of things that should not prove too much of a deterrent.
rebrandly.com – This appears to be a very versatile service for all plans, including the free one. Short links may be branded (maximum of 500 links in free plan) and created for a user’s own domain (maximum of 5 with free plan). History, analytics, and GDPR compliance are all included. An account is required but only minimal details having to be provided. The system also enables a QR Code to be created from the shortened link. A knowledge base and video tutorials are also available.
hyperlink.com – The free option is limited to 100 links and therefore may not be suitable for busy authors or individuals. Nevertheless, it has some good features which may encourage users to upgrade to a paid plan however, these commence at $39 per month which is probably beyond the reach of most independents. The system provides apps, in all plans, for mobile (Android and IOS) as well as the functionality to create QR Codes. In addition there is a live dashboard and option for real-time notifications at hourly, daily, or weekly intervals: the choice is the users.
tiny.cc – Note: This is a different service to the tinyurl.com one referred to above. The free account permits the creation of up to 500 links. These may be created on-the-go, without the need for an account. However, the link will not be stored. If a user wishes to retain a link and have recall to it at a later date they should set up an account. The normal information of username, email address, and password are required. The system also enables the creation of a QR Code and provides some statistics. For those who wish for more, the paid plans commence at a reasonable $5 per month (reduced to $55 per year if annual payment selected).
cutt.ly – A completely free service that allows for branding, the creation of QR Codes, and realtime analytics. The function may also be added to browser toolbars enabling the speedy creation of shortened links for any page the user is on. Users also have the option to signup for an account.
buffy.ly – This is part of the Buffer post scheduling service (similar to the Hootsuite one referred to above). Users have to signup for a free account with the usual details of email address and password. In the past it was possible to create shortened links without the need to enter the post creation function however, due to abuse, the shortening facility is now only accessible from within the user’s Buffer account. Naturally, there are paid options for those who want more but the free plan is suitable for the majority of authors and individuals. To overcome the issue of creating a short link without the need to post, a similar workaround as used in the Hootsuite system may be utilised: draft a post, just a few words will do, and enter the full url. The system will then automatically convert the url to a buffy.ly short link. The shortened version may then be copied and pasted where desired. The draft post may then be deleted.
Note: In all cases the user needs to ensure the complete originating url is entered for shortening. If not the shortened link is unlikely to reach the intended destination.
Terms and Conditions
Important: Anyone who plans on using any link shortening service is recommended to carefully read the terms and conditions and requirements of each provider. They are not all equal and may have conditions that will not fit with the user’s purposes or intentions.
Readers may be interested to know some sites, social media and website, also comprise automatic link shortening software. For example:
twitter.com – In an effort to protect users from malicious sites and malware, and to maintain the maximum possible number of characters for a tweet, Twitter has developed its own, automatic, link shortening service (t.co). Whatever the length of any link entered in a tweet, it will be converted to a 23 character url, even if the original has less than twenty-three characters. Consequently, when using Twitter there is no point in obtaining a shortened url from another service. Note: This is not a shortening service per se: it cannot be utilised independently. Nevertheless, it is a useful commodity for users that Twitter had the forethought to provide.
wordpress.com – WordPress automatically provides shortened urls for posts and pages. Under the recently revised system the website or blog owner may, either when drafting a post or subsequently by entering the edit option, obtain the shortened url by clicking the green Jetpack icon (top right of screen). The ‘Shortlink’ will be displayed with the option to copy it. From outside the WordPress system the shortened url may be reached by clicking the three dot ellipses displayed next to the Follow option toward the bottom right of screen. These may be used in the same manner as any other shortened url wherever obtained. Though WordPress has been specifically highlighted it is presumed other website hosts also provide a similar facility.
Without question shortened urls are useful. They are clean, concise, aesthetically preferable, and benefit the user by taking up less space than conventional urls.
As outlined above, there are multiple providers and services for obtaining shortened links but they are not all the same. Each has its own terms and conditions, which users are strongly advised to consult prior to using or signing up for any service.
As with any digital online commodity in the modern world, there are dangers. Hacking and cyber crime are in constant development becoming increasing sophisticated with each passing year. Users are therefore advised to exercise caution and seek to confirm the source of any shortened link they receive from an unknown location or person. Those sending them should also be aware of perceived dangers and accept people may not click on their link if they do not know them.
Though this article replaces the previous one, anyone interested may still access the old one here.
Disclaimer: Other than having utilised some of the services, neither T. R. Robinson nor T. R. Robinson Publications has any affiliation to any of the companies or organisations referred to above. Nor do either receive any remuneration for mentioning them.
This article is longer than is usual but it did not really lend itself to being split. Apologies to any who have found it unwieldy. Nevertheless, it is hoped readers have found the information provided helpful.