What is a URL Shortener?
A ULR shortener is a service that converts long URLs into short, typically alpha-numeric URLs. When a shortened URL is entered into the address bar of a browser, the user is initially taken to the URL shortener website and then immediately and automatically gets diverted to the long URL. So in practice shortened URLs are like a shorthand version of a web page address.
Why use shortened URLs?
There are several reasons.
- They are easier to type because they are short
- They cloak or mask the underlying web address which may be useful, particularly if the full URL would disclose an obvious affiliate link
- The services that provide URL shortening often providing elementary tracking services too and so let users see how often their links have been clicked.
Drawbacks of using shortened URLs
They do not look particularly professional and if you want to promote your online brand image, it is better to use your own domain name. In fact some internet marketers use their own URL shorteners or incorporate a URL shortening capability on their site. To see an example of this try pasting this link into your browser
Risky long term strategy
Another risk you face with shortened URLs is that the service provider may cease to function at some time in the future, or it may start to charge for its services at a time when you have a huge legacy of existing shortened URLs already in use that would be hard, if not impossible to edit. In such a case you would be faced with the hard decision of whether to pay up or to invest resources in tracking down and updating all existing shortened URLs. This process is not too hard online – just use a search engine to find instances of the shortened URL, but if you have at any point used a shortened URL in print, not only will it be hard to find, it will be impossible to update.
Use of URL shorteners in Twitter and other short messaging services
Tweets, the postings people make via Twitter, as well as SMS text messages are restricted to a fairly small number of characters. For example, at the moment tweets are limited to 140 characters. What this means is that if you were to write a tweet that included a typical web page URL, you might have to use 30 or more characters simply to include the address. It is much more convenient to use a URL snipper or shortener such as bit.ly, snipurl.com or tinyurl.com so that you lose less character space to the address and have more space to convey your message instead.
Some offline publications also use shortened URLs to save space, and ironically to maintain their own brand image better by not displaying the domain names of sites other than the URL shortening service they use.