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The SMF Guide To URL Shorteners

Shorten Your Links, Grow Your Audience

In the fast-paced world of social media, time is money – and characters even more so. It’s no good having something great to say, or an idea to share; if you can’t get it across quickly enough then it will be missed by the truncated attention span of the digital generation.

Enter the URL shortener. Particularly useful for services like Twitter where space is at a premium, URL shorteners take lengthy website addresses and condense them down to just a few characters to allow more room for your own astute commentary. There are plenty of different places which offer the service, with many being barely distinguishable from one another. Here we break down the pros and cons of some of the bigger players, the best ways to get rid of characters short of putting them in a George R. R. Martin novel.


One of the biggest of the URL shortening services, bit.ly shortens more than one billion links per month across social networks, email, and SMS messaging. The company was founded in 2008, and got its big break when it became Twitter’s default URL shortening service before the website developed its own native tool. It’s simple and convenient to use, allowing users to store bookmarks across multiple devices as well as providing a tracking system to let you see how many times your link has been clicked. Although it requires an account (you can sign in via Facebook) it is free to use, with premium paid versions also available.


Google does everything, so of course it does URL shortening. The main advantage here is that the service can be linked with your Google account, so you can manage it from your toolbar and use it across the various other Google platforms with ease. It also uses the search engine’s own Google Analytics software, allowing you to easily track the exposure which your little links are getting. The quality of Google’s spam detection also means that goo.gl suffers less from the abuse by bots and scammers which frequently plague other such services.


One of the oldest URL shortening services, TinyURL has been around since way back in 2002. It doesn’t require any payment or even an account to use; just paste your link into the tool on their website and away you go. It's simplicity also works to its detriment, however: it doesn't offer a click-tracking service, and the old-fashioned website can be off-putting to those used more modern UIs.


Developed as an extension of HootSuite’s social media management system, ow.ly is designed for the business end of the URL shortening market. Explicitly constructed with social media in mind, users can log in through their Twitter account as well as registering on the website itself. Perhaps ow.ly’s greatest strength is that it offers a file-sharing service alongside URL shortening; users can use the same interface to share files, photos, and documents as to shorten URLs.


Worth mentioning if only because you’re going to run up against it at some point, whether you like it or not. t.co is Twitter’s own link shortening service, automatically applied to all links posted by users of the site and not available for use off Twitter. While you can, with a little fiddling, use a custom URL shortener on Twiiter, any standard hyperlinks you post will be automatically converted to t.co. It’s really only useful for casual users, and if you want a cleaner and more attractive presentation in your tweets you’re better off using one of the services above.

Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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The SMF Guide To URL Shorteners Reviewed by Anonymous on Wednesday, September 03, 2014 Rating: 5
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