Like many of you, I’ve used automated short URLs for years. URL shortening services such as ow.ly, bit.ly, t.co and goo.gl have long been a part of my social toolbox. -And now that there’s such a push for having shorter URLs anyway, it seems kind of… anti-marketing… to stop in my tracks now and say, “Waaaait a minute,” but I’m doing it anyway.
Yes, I’m reconsidering the use of URL shorteners.
This isn’t an off-the-wall idea; it’s not a spur-of-the-moment thought process. There are very legitimate reasons to shut off the URL shorteners.
A Brief History of URL Shortening Services
When they first came around, it was for the very specific purpose of taking URLs and smashing them down to fit in small spaces, such as the 142 characters or less that Twitter allows. It was even better that Matt Cutts of Google fame went public with Google’s promise that everything was going to be okay. The search engine knows how to handle URL shorteners, he said, so everything’s gravy. Shorten away.
So, we did. We gratefully snagged up the bit.ly’s of the information world and plugged them into every Tweet. And Facebook posts. And emails. And sometimes, I kid you not, even links within blog posts, websites, eBooks and whitepapers. If there’s digital collateral that can hold a short link, you can bet there’s a short link in at least a few.
But did you know that bit.ly was once blacklisted by Google? On top of that, it’s the #1 most abused redirector, according to SURBL’s URI reputation data. Which brings me, of course, to a few of the reasons why I’m reconsidering using these services.
4 Negative Affects of Short URLs
Shorten URLs have their benefits, particularly in social media. However, there are a few drawbacks as well:
1. Reduced click-through in email campaigns
How many times have you received an email with a short link in it? Now, consider how many times you’ve actually clicked that link without the slightest amount of hesitation? On my part, at least, I very seldom click the link, much less click it without a bit of trepidation.
Where is it going to take me? Is it going where it promises to go? Is it really from the people that the email says it’s from? In other words, can I trust this link?
I know I’m not the only one. Email phishing scams could give rabbits breeding lessons.
To me, this points to less-effective email campaigns when automated short URLs are used. People see the shortened link that gives no hint as to where it leads and choose not to click. Email campaign aborted.
2. Automatic trust issues
If bit.ly is the top most abused URL shortening service, it means there is a high amount of people, businesses, conmen, scammers, spammers and so on using these shortened URLs. It also means that an increasingly aware populace is increasingly wary of those links. Add these two together, and it means that, by using that short URL, you’re adding unnecessary trust issues into the mix for your company.
Listen. It’s already hard enough to get people to click through to your content. It’s already hard to get people to trust your company and your brand. Why would you purposely give yourself a handicap by given them a URL that hides your true intent?
3. Lack of transparency.
I can’t see the domain in that link, so I don’t even know what website I’m going to. I can’t see the page, either. All I know is where you tell me that link is going to, and I don’t know you from Jack. If you send me a shortened link, I’d better know you personally, or you had better have developed a darn good business relationship with me if you expect me to click. Again, I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.
4. Services die. And links die with them.
Okay, so bit.ly’s been around for years. T.co has as well, and Goo.gl – well, Google products never die. Oh wait. Except for maybe Google Notebook. And Google Reader. And Google Wave. And Google Voice…
My point is, what if your shortener of choice dies for some reason? What happens then? It’s called link rot, and it means all your shortened links no longer work. As you can imagine, for those who overuse them, this could be a Very Bad Thing.
When Regular URLs Aren’t Possible
If you say to me, “Gabriella, I have long URLs. They aren’t pretty. I add in tracking codes that make them even longer. I can’t go without my short URLs,” I understand. I get it. Sometimes it’s just not possible to leave that URL naked for all the world to see.
However, the issues of trust and transparency are lessened by using a custom domain. And cost… well, maybe it’s time we all started looking at what our links look like again. I think we’ve forgotten that people actually look at them.
I’m not saying don’t use URL shortening services at all. A short URL really isn’t such a bad thing. However, I am saying that maybe we should reconsider how often and where we use them.
Short URLs in emails may not be the best choice, for example. Maybe you don’t want to shorten your links within blog posts. And really, if you’re keeping your original URLs short like you should be, maybe you need to rethink whether you need the services at all.
I think URL shortening services, like many things we do for marketing, have become a knee-jerk reaction. Don’t worry about what your links look like, because you’ll change them when you shorten them anyway. Maybe we need to start taking the time from the onset, when the content is first published, to make that link look as pretty as possible. BEFORE we smush it into something smaller.