EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 310 - May 06, 2012 - ISSN 1528-6703     5 of 7

An Introduction To Link Shortening Services

By Mark O'Neill

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As we all know by now (being seasoned online professionals and all), online promotion and marketing is the key to riches and glory. Those who get out there and make themselves a household name do well while those who toil in the shadows struggle to break even. It's been like that since the beginning of time, with radio, television, and now the Internet.

The Internet has made it even more imperative that anyone with a product to sell HAS to get out there and push their brand and their name onto a buying public. You are competing with millions, perhaps tens of millions of other people all over the world, so you have to do whatever it takes to elbow your way to the front of the line. One option is to use a link shortening service, routed through your own domain name.

Before you think to yourself "that sounds too technical" and prepare to close this page, just stop for a moment and hear me out. Building a link shortening service is actually not too difficult. All you need is a small initial investment to buy your own domain and an hour or so to set things up. Oh and a lot of patience as things may not go right the first time around. But stick with it because it's worth it, and the kick you get at seeing it finally work makes everything worthwhile.

What's a Link Shortening Service?
In case you don't already know, let's briefly look at what a link shortening service is and the benefits it provides. The whole premise of the Internet is that everyone links to everyone else and those links get passed around from person to person. If you take a look at Twitter at any time, you'll see that most of the tweets have a link in them. Same goes for Facebook. Everyone likes to share what they have found to their friends and family. That's how pages go "viral" and how people turn into millionaires.

The problem though is that links can be long and ugly looking, and if you have a space restriction (like you do on Twitter) then anything you can do to shorten that link becomes a valuable tool. So you go to a website such as bit.ly or tinyURL and enter the long link, and out the other end comes a MUCH shorter one. You then hand the shorter link out to people. Then, whenever the person clicks on the much shorter link, they are automatically redirected to the longer one.

This makes it easier for you to direct potential customers to your product pages when promoting yourself on social networks for example, or in emails. Short URL's look very tidy and smart, and, as we will see, you can track how many people are visiting your webpages, so you can plan your online promotions accordingly.

Apart from the benefit of having a shorter, easily digestible link, another benefit is that if you use affiliate links on your site, you can "mask" them using a short URL. If someone mouses over your affiliate link, all they are going to see is the short URL, and when they click on it, they will see the destination page. No affiliate links anywhere!

Top Four Link Shortening Services
Link shortening services are ten a penny, but the four best ones are as follows:

1) bit.ly - the one you are most likely to see on Twitter. Based out of Libya, it was thought during the rebel uprising that bit.ly would go down and take half of Twitter down with it. Thankfully that never happened and it remains one of the most popular - if not THE most popular - link shortening service out there. It has all the usual tools - stats, social media sharing, link tracking on your mobile phone, link customization, and the most important of all, using your own domain as a link shortener, powered by bit.ly.

2) TinyURL - the granddaddy of link shortening services (they claim to handle "billions" of links every month) and probably the one with the highest name recognition. However, I think it's become a bit stale over the years as competitors have introduced features that people now expect and which TinyURL has not bothered to introduce such as link tracking and stats. You can, however, customize links.

3) Goo.gl - run by Google, it has a fairly simple setup. After creating your short URL, it is then tracked and you are provided with stats on how many people clicked each link. Google warns that all stats are publicly accessible, so you should consider that if you think a rival might try to spy on you and view your most popular links. You need a free Google account to use Goo.gl.

4) Su.pr - run by Stumbleupon, and I think of the best ones out there. You can have your shortened links sent to Twitter and Facebook, and you can also schedule shortened links to go out at a later time. You also get stats on how many clicks each link got. Again, you need to be a registered user of Stumbleupon to use this. It's not like TinyURL where you can use it anonymously then leave again.

Benefits of Using Your Own Link Shortening Services
These services are all well and good, but although they have enormous advantages, as we have already discussed, you are still sending traffic in their direction. When people see your short link, they are going to see TinyURL, or bit.ly, or whatever. What they SHOULD be seeing is YOU. You should be branding those links with YOUR own name, company name, product line, whatever. And I am going to show you how to do it - in the next issue of EcommerceBytes Update!


About the author:

Mark O'Neill is Managing Editor of the popular tech blog, MakeUseOf.com. He is a Scotsman, now living the ex-pat life in Wurzburg, Germany. You can also find him on MarkO'Neill.org.


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