Practical Ecommerce

URL Shorteners: Saving Space and Tracking Clicks

For today’s ecommerce merchant who wants to convey an important point via instant messaging or mobile texting, brevity is helpful. But when the merchant is using Twitter, brevity is a must since a Twitter post is limited to 140 characters. It’s easy to run out of space to enter the most important information, which is a link back to his or her site.

URL shortening services can help.

If a merchant wishes to share a link (perhaps to a product page), the merchant can simply enter his or her URL in the toolbar of a shortening service, click “enter,” and have a much shorter URL that can be disseminated to potential customers.

URL Shortening Sites

One of the most-used URL shortening services is TinyURL. TinyURL was created before Twitter existed, with the goal of creating shorter URLs that wouldn’t break in email postings.

The screenshot below from TinyURL’s front page shows an example of a lengthy eBay product URL before and after being entered into TinyURL’s toolbar.

Screenshot of TinyURL home page.

Screenshot of TinyURL home page.

As mentioned, however, TinyURL was created before Twitter, and much has changed since then. Namely, space is at an even higher premium.

Sites such as Ow.ly and Bit.ly tend to create shorter URLs and also offer useful tracking services.

Take, for example, Bit.ly’s “Sidebar” bookmarklet. A merchant can simply drag the tool into his or her toolbar for use at any time. Not only does it allow the user to create shortened links but to immediately post them to Twitter and get real-time statistics on how often the shared-link has been clicked. For ecommerce merchants who want to know if their social media efforts are paying off, this can be a valuable tool.

Screenshot of Bit.ly bookmarklet.

Screenshot of Bit.ly bookmarklet.

Additionally, Ow.ly, when integrated with the free HootSuite social networking application, allows users to upload photos and text-based documents which can then be identified by a short URL in Tweets.

New Shortening Sites

As has been recently reported, Google and Facebook have also recognized the importance of URL shortening and have introduced their own services.

The “Official Google Blog” quotes Google software engineers, Muthu Muthusrinivasan, Ben D’Angelo, and Devin Mullins, as saying, “People share a lot of links online. This is particularly true, as micro logging services such as Twitter have grown in popularity. First, we think people who use the Google Toolbar and FeedBurner will benefit from a shortener that is easily accessible—making it faster and easier to share, post and email links. Second, we’ve built this on Google’s global infrastructure to offer several benefits . . .” including stability, security, and speed.

Google’s and Facebook’s shortening services, however, are currently only aimed at their own products.

A Downside to Shortened URLs?

A common question regarding shortened URLs is, “Does it hurt my search engine optimization efforts? After all, the shortened URL is nothing but a string of characters.” But keep in mind, the shortened URL is a re-direct. As a result, the original title of your URL is not lost because search engine crawlers are brought back to it, albeit in an indirect way.

Summing Up

Ecommerce merchants who want to shorten URLs can easily utilize several available services. Keep in mind, however, that merchants wanting to track click-throughs on those links will need to use newer services like Bit.ly and Ow.ly. Keep an eye on Google and Facebook as they, too, appear to be eyeing the URL shortening market.

Popular URL Shorteners

TinyURL is a free service that pre-dates Twitter. It does not provide tracking.

Bit.ly is a shortening service that provides tracking free of charge.

Tr.im is another shortening service. It too provides free tracking.

Ow.ly is a free shortening service that is also integrated with the HootSuite social networking application. With HootSuite’s free services you can not only shorten URLs but upload images and text-based documents which can be posted via a short URL. HootSuite offers tracking services and Tweet scheduling so your company can automate its Tweets.

Cli.igs is a free shortening service which offers tracking and a unique feature: Geotargeting. Cligs claims to be the only URL shortener which can provide alternative destinations URLs that different visitors from different countries are forwarded to. This service is targeted at merchants offering localized promotions or affiliate marketers that want to get the full value from each click. For example, a U.S. company promoting a product via Amazon would be able to ensure that a United Kingdom consumer would be forwarded to Amazon.co.uk. Without the geotargeting feature, the consumer would simply be taken to the U.S. Amazon link. The consumer would likely edit the URL manually, ensuring that the marketer would get no credit for the potential sale.

Kevin Patrick Allen

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  1. John Bottomley December 23, 2009 Reply

    What about having your own short url and using that to forward your links?

    That would give another good use for the .US extension, which is shorter than any of the top TLDs.

    Three letter/number dot US domains are readily available to hand register.

    However, I am wondering what kind of redirect should be used at my hosting company (godaddy) to make it more search engine friendly?

    Thoughts?

  2. Stephan Spencer December 27, 2009 Reply

    Here’s something really handy… you can add a + to the end of any bit.ly URL and see its clickthrough stats.
    e.g. http://bit.ly/4B1Pmc+ for stats on http://bit.ly/4B1Pmc

  3. StrikeHawk eCommerce, Inc. December 29, 2009 Reply

    If you so happen to be hosted on a cPanel(tm) control panel, we have produced a video that will demonstrate to you how to create a sub-domain 301 permanent redirect using cpanel’s own tools. This keeps your domain within the social network post. In our example, we used tip-100.strikehawk.com The video post can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/webhosting4ecommerce#p/c/0DD6B28E02365797/13/NrXjFZcKL_E