Using a URL Shortener? 8 Reasons To STOP!

Why Use a URL Shortener?I've never understood why anyone would use a URL Shortener, but A LOT of people do, so it's time for a discussion and some eye-opening facts on this bad practice.

I'm curious why people even use these third party services to shorten URL's?? So curious in fact, that I recently asked - and got some really interesting answers.

It seems pretty common to just blindly take advice without considering the consequences, or doing your own research. And of course most people simply aren't aware of the consequences OR the alternate (better) options...


 

Let's look at one example: The Bitly URL Shortener

If you've been using Bitly to shorten URL's or cloak links, you should go back and double check all of your links. I've been getting this warning message all over the web when I click on Bitly links (which is rare!):

bitly warning

In most cases, this would stop someone in their tracks. Would YOU continue if you saw this warning on your screen after clicking a link? Maybe YOU would, but you might be more educated than most surfers - or than your market. Even with 17 years experience online and as a web savvy person, I'd be likely to back out of that one.

And by the way, two of the more recent Bitly links that gave me this error were pointing to MY site - so I know there was nothing questionable about the link. :-|

This is happening on A LOT of affiliate links shortened with Bitly (and other URL Shortener / link cloaking services too, I've discovered). Which means tons of people have dead "money links" all over the web now. Nice, hey? :shock:

As many bloggers have reported, similar warnings are being shown for the Google URL Shortner and Hootsuite's shortened Ow.ly links - particularly for shortened ClickBank affiliate links, but not exclusively.

The point is, it doesn't matter which cloaking/shortener service you use, you may ultimately run into this issue depending on what policies they choose to put into place or what actions they choose to take - which you have zero control over.

URL Shorteners Affect Your CTR (Click Through Rate)

I mentioned that I rarely click on Bitly links, or any shortened link for that matter - such as TinyURL. Why? Because I don't know what's behind those links. It could lead to malware, spam, adult content, who knows! I can't tell by looking at the link itself, so I'm hesitant to click on it at all. And I'm not the only one.

Who wants to click on a questionable link?! I don't. :P

Even without a big glaring warning screen, a shortened URL causes people to think twice before clicking on your links. Which is NOT the response you want...

Shortening a URL is NOT Necessary. And Could Hurt Your Business!

I can't think of a single good reason to shorten a URL. Can you? Especially considering all the potential consequences we've already discussed.

The only "argument" I've even heard over this is to shorten a link so it fits into a Tweet on Twitter. But the fact is, Twitter automatically shortens your full URL to a t.co link anyway.

And when it comes to Social Media, you want to be cautious about using automated software or programs that shorten your URL's for you, as these are often filtered out from the content stream - or are subject to future content filters on certain social networks. It's best to post manually to each network anyway so you can use the appropriate formatting, tags and hashtags.

Assuming you actually want to get traffic and engagement via Social Media. ;-)

Issues with Plugins, Email Marketing & Amazon

I've heard two instances recently where users got banned from Amazon's affiliate program for using a certain plugin to cloak their affiliate links. I believe one of those plugins was Ninja Affiliate if I remember correctly - but any cloaking/shortener that "frames" links will get you banned from Amazon's program instantly.

You've been warned.

Speaking of WordPress Plugins for cloaking links... What if that plugin stops working? What if the developer stops updating/supporting it and it "breaks" on a future WordPress udpate? That's something to consider.

At the very least, make sure you have ALL of your links saved somewhere (such as a spreadsheet, or Evernote) in case you do need to go back and restructure or recreate every single one of those links sometime in the future. Ack!

There's nothing like a slew of "money links" going totally dead all over the web on you!

What seems like a time saver now could be a royal nightmare at some point. ;-)

Some shortened URL's will get your emails flagged as well, causing deliverability and filtering issues. Given the importance of email marketing, it's simply not worth it to use a URL Shortener when communicating with your subscribers. Ever.

What About Your Branding??

When it comes to your email marketing and social marketing, why would you use ANYthing but your own domain? Forget the fact that your content may get filtered out, and people may be wary about clicking on your links - what about branding? Do you want people to remember YOU or do you want to promote Bitly or Owly or TinyURL's brand all over the web? Right.

Market your business, market your brand, and maintain full control over how your links look and how your links work.

If you need to shorten links from your own domain, there are two options. First, you can use the Post ID in your permalink structure. When you do that, you can remove everything but the domain and Post ID to create a shorter version of your post link.

For example, this link:

http://www.clicknewz.com/8799/learn-copywriting-techniques/

... works the same shortened to:

http://www.clicknewz.com/8799/

(Try it!)

You can also edit your permalink when composing a blog post so that the link is shorter than the title - which is ideal anyway. In the example link I showed you above, the actual Post Title is: "Learn Copywriting Techniques, Plus Awesome Sales Letter Example (Must See)". But I shortened the permalink to "learn-copywriting-techniques", which is a cleaner and shorter URL. It's not necessary to stuff the whole title into the permalink or file name.

Simple and Effective! :D

So now you know all the reasons NOT to use a URL Shortener. But what if you simply want to cloak long, ugly affiliate links? There's a simple solution for that...

Cloaking Links Is Easy. No URL Shortener Required.

For both branding purposes AND to retain full control over your links, you should cloak links yourself. I do not recommend using a plugin or script or any sort of third party service (for all the reasons already explained).

You have two options:

- Domain Redirects
- HTML Redirects

If you have an affiliate program you promote a lot, it makes sense to register a domain name and redirect that domain to your affiliate link. It's an inexpensive solution, and you can set it up in seconds right inside your GoDaddy domain manager.

To give you a live example, I registered http://www.probloggerworkbook.com which redrects to the Problogger Workbook via my affiliate link. This is nice and clean in text - but it's also easier to say on webinars, podcasts, audio interviews, in person, on the phone, or when I'm speaking from the stage. MUCH easier than sharing the actual affiliate URL or any shortened URL for that matter!

For other things, I create an HTML redirect. Either because it's a short term promotion (I don't necessarily need a domain name long-term for it) or just because it's quick and easy. The HTML redirects are just an html file I upload to my host.

Example:

http://www.clicknewz.com/hostgator.htm redirects to HostGator with my affiliate link. "Hostgator.htm" is just a file I created and uploaded that tells the link to redirect.

To set up an HTML Redirect, create a text file (in a text editor) with this code:

[html]
[head]
[title>Sales Letter Formula[/title]
[META HTTP-EQUIV="refresh" content="0;URL=http://jvz5.com/c/31526/56664"]
[/head]
[body]
[/body]
[/html]

* Note: Change the [ and ] to < and >

Edit the Title and the URL, save it as filename.html and then upload it to your server. You can then use that link instead of your affiliate link. I did that with this link: http://www.clicknewz.com/datafeedr.htm which is just a text file that redirects the click to my DataFeedr referral link. You could create a folder or directory called "datafeedr" and then name your file index.html so that your redirect looks like this instead: http://www.clicknewz.com/datafeedr/ - that's totally up to you.

Again - super easy, and you retain full control over all of your links. :D

I've been creating my own redirects (through domain names or HTML redirects) since way before all these services and options hit the scene. And I've continued doing it my way, fortunately, because I've seen one issue after the other with many of those services/scripts. I recommend you give this some serious though if you are currently using a URL Shortener or a link cloaking program of any kind.

There are just too many risks, and you're setting yourself up to potentially lose traffic and sales - which is a real shame.

Find this helpful? Subscribe below to get more tips & tutorials!

Best,

p.s. Share this post with everyone you know. Let's stop this bad practice! ;-)

About Lynn Terry

Lynn Terry is a full-time Internet Marketer with over 15 years experience in online business. Subscribe to ClickNewz for the latest Internet Marketing trends & strategies, Lynn's unique case studies, creative marketing ideas, and candid reviews...more»

Discussion

  1. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for this! I have rarely used url shorteners but they seem to have been all the rage or some time.

    I preferred doing a redirect with html mainly for the branding and also if I decide to change where that particular redirect goes i can do it at any time.

    I love the idea of linking to the Post ID for wordpress. Did not think of that one!

    Peter

  2. Thank you Lynn! I just started using bitly for some podcast replays. Now that I know bitly can return those errors I will stop. The reason I used bitly was to keep track of replay click thrus. I guess I will have to find another way to track the stats.

  3. I never use link shorteners. I don't trust my links going through a third party and many people's browsers, especially if they are work on a company computer, block these links from opening.

    I'm not really sure why people started using them back years ago or why it became the "thing to do", but what I hear from people most today is that they need shorter links to use on Twitter and other social media.

    I still think it is a bad idea.

  4. FYI - I do something similar in CPanel in Hostgator by setting up a subdomain and then redirecting it. I'm only talking about for affiliate links.

  5. I was using url shorteners until you advised me not to do so. I was very thankful and appreciative that you had advised me not to use them. The main reasons for my use of them was to cloak ugly affiliate links and to shorten the url. I, myself have clicked on fellow marketer's links only to find them not working and like you said you will miss out on people visiting your links and making money. I don't use them anymore. I only use my original url.

  6. Yikes, I'm so glad to know this, Lynn!

    What's your opinion of the PrettyLink plugin for redirecting links?

    Thanks so much!
    Elizabeth Cottrell recently posted..Should Christians Forgive AND Forget?My Profile

    • I'm not the Lynn you are asking, but Pretty Link is also a third party link shortener and can have all the same problems as any other link shortening service.

      Also, Pretty Link, being a plug-in, has it's own hazards in that if the plug-in malfunctions or breaks, your links are useless.

      • Actually, Pretty Link is not a third party service. Unless they started recently that I'm not aware of.

        True a plugin can break, but if your website goes down it really doesn't matter if the plugin works or not because they are both not going to work.

        I've been using Pretty Links for years with little issues. Any issues were operator problem - caused by ME. Bottom line, I still retain 100% control over those links.
        Lynette recently posted..5 Powerful Ways To Use Images In Your MarketingMy Profile

        • Also to add, the exception to when the site goes down is if the site is only down partially e.g. WP is offline or the database goes down but database down time is not as common and it depending on your host, it'll come back up automatically. My host reboots stuff for me when they find it down without my intervention.

  7. maybe I'm missing something really obvious, but what if you need a short link to put in Twitter?

  8. Lynn,

    Please remove all of my comments from this post. Thanks.

  9. That is an excellent point about the affiliate links and if a plugin stops working or is no longer updated as WP is updated so frequently. I now will be learning to do my own re-directs and making that happen on all of my affiliate links.

    Thanks for the great article, once again!

    Rae

  10. Hi Lynn,

    I used to use shortened links because affiliate links are so long and ugly but have since stopped doing that; 1. Your advice. 2. I think I also read bitly links expire. 3. I would back out of a screen like that too.

    I will have to check more into the redirects you mentioned.

    Have a great evening. Monna
    Monna Ellithorpe recently posted..Creative Writing and Confidence Equals a Published BookMy Profile

  11. I've never liked link shorteners either, for the reasons you've stated. If I think an affiliate link is ugly, I usually make a redirect through my own sites. It's too easy for shortened links to disappear. It's also much easier to reuse a link when I know exactly what I named it, rather than having to look up the affiliate code over and over again. And of course if the link needs to be changed later due to the program going away or a change in the product, it's much easier to change a little bit of code than it is to search all over for links I've posted.
    Stephanie recently posted..7 Signs You’re Ready For a Productive Work at Home DayMy Profile

  12. Wow what a great post! I'm so glad you posted about this it's so important for people to know. I used to use shorteners, but thanks to you I no longer do that. Thanks for sharing this information.

  13. Lynn, thank you for following us on Google +. Stopped by to follow you and ran across your article which is really informative. I don't use the URL shortners not because I thought out the consequences but it is just another step I didn't want to take. However, I notice more and more bloggers using the shortened URL when they link up to our blog hop and I agree 100% that it diminishes branding. If you get a chance, I would love for you to share this on Four Seasons Blog Hop (live until Sunday AM).
    Easy Life recently posted..24 Hour Flash GiveawayMy Profile

  14. Well explained, i think the only reason i use it is mainly for Twitter to reduce the number of characters i use, but apart from that i don't really have much needs for it. In fact you have given me even more reasons not to use it.

    The branding is the most important reason why i will stop using URL shorteners because when people see your natural link they can easily identify the brand behind it. Thanks for sharing such a resourceful article.

    I found this article on Kingged.com and also left a comment on it.
    Nwosu Desmond recently posted..How to enable 2-Factor Authentication for your Social Media AccountsMy Profile

  15. Thanks for bringing this issue up, Terry,
    100% I agree with your points and arguments, I just don't understand why I would click on a link that I have no idea where it takes me to.
    I see many of this on Facebook and unless I know the marketer and very confident of his credibility and trustworthiness, I never click on any link that is shortened.
    Like you rightly said, why not promotes your brand and I guess if you can put your name to what your promoting, then why doing it in disguise?
    Many thanks, keep sharing.
    shamsudeen recently posted..WordPress Themes &#8211; Yoast Releases Three ThemesMy Profile

  16. I totally agree Lynn. I only very rarely use them on Twitter, cos sometimes they won't let me send a message with a long URL if it goes way over the word count.

    My worry has always been that the URL may one day expire if the site goes out of business, or wants to save storage and "cull" old shortened domain names. I like matters in my hands, not another company's.

    Also a shortened domain name can look suspicious - you have no idea where it's leading you.
    Jon Rhodes recently posted..Comment on 22 Online Entrepreneurs Reveal How They Stay Motivated by AdrienneMy Profile

  17. Hi Lynn,
    Very informative post!
    I agree with your points. I never used URL shortener. yes, the links definitely looks like spam, and I've seen several times that facebook warning these types of links...
    thanks for sharing!

  18. This is the first post I've seen critical of URL shorteners and with good reason apparently. Thank you for the heads up.
    Clara recently posted..Getting Started With Essential OilsMy Profile

  19. The only time I use an URL shortener is when I'm posting Examiner links to Facebook. For some reason, the two systems do not like each other and since I market on FB, I need some links there. If you use the regular long link, FB puts up the wrong pic and, on occasion, the wrong article. Lately, they've been posting up a pic of a porn button along with an article entitled UH-OH. You click on it and the correct article comes up, but you don't want your audience seeing that. They're not going to click on it anyway. If you use a shortened link, it never happens and FB posts the correct article and photo. BTW, this just started happening a few months ago. Up until then, you could use the regular article link. For all other use, I use the original URL.

  20. You make some convincing points Lynn.

    One of the reasons that people use link shorteners is for tracking the number of impressions and clicks on links - just wondering how you get the same information from your HTML redirect method? How would it end up looking in Google Analytics...perhaps I should test this out for myself...
    Mike recently posted..Getting Your Business Online and SEO Myths RevealedMy Profile

  21. Lynn, this is great information. I've written about why everyone online should use full URLs that have at least one relevant keyword in it. Glad to see this here. And, thanks for the tips about the dangers of using those services.
    Karen Cioffi recently posted..4 Super-Simple Steps to Using Screen Shots in Your Blog PostsMy Profile

  22. I completely agree!

    As a business owner, you need to be in control of what you do. Putting all your "money links" (I love that term! Never heard it before, and now that I have, I will be using it!) in the hands of a third party is Cra-Cra!!! What is to say that they get their wires crossed and start sending your links to someplace else? What a scary thought!

    Personally, I use the Pretty Link plugin (as previous discussed), I have registered domain names for the sole purpose of incorporating my affiliate link, and redirects.

    Thanks for sharing this information!

    You are awesome!

    Be Well.
    Paul.
    Paul Taubman recently posted..Blog ContentMy Profile

  23. Shortening links helped with SEO back in the day as Google doesnt rank sites with tons of pages that have long affiliate links, especially amazon links.

    People that use tracking softwares to track their links, (like cpvlabs etc.) may also want to hide or make their tracking urls cleaner, so they will use something like PrettyLinks plugin.

    Besides these 2 things, you make some good points about 3rd party link shorteners being a bad idea, imo.
    RealEcon recently posted..Trying Out Total Tweet Blueprint-My ReviewMy Profile

  24. In the 90's we all started using URL shorteners for newsletters so the link wouldn't be broken when the email client wrapped the text. AOL was a big problem because they wouldn't allow text to be linked, we had to use a full URL. We all used TinyURL back then and they're still around.

    Using URL shorteners isn't that big of a deal. Most people are used to seeing them now, due to social media, so the trust factor isn't a huge issue anymore. You should always test any link included in your copy, so you'll see the block if there is one. The major players won't be going anywhere anytime soon. If you're stuck on using them there's no need to panic, in my opinion. If they make you nervous, there are functional options as mentioned in this post.
    Melody recently posted..How Social Media Engagement Impacts Search Ranking ©My Profile

  25. Thank you Lynn for the insight on shortner. I have used it many times and now know the side effects of using it.
    Not going use it anymore.

  26. Very helpful to have the issues around affiliate links laid bare. For most of us it is to clean up long affiliate links which can be off putting. Also pretty links for example can be tracked easily. I\'ve generally used my own domain together with pretty links lite always with the worry that one day they might fail either through wordpress updates or the coder walking away.Not a responsible business position to be in so I think I\'ll be using your HTML redirect method from now on.Do you have a nice plugin for it? :-)Just kidding!And thank you - this is another piece of getting real with my business.

  27. Thanks so much for the heads up on this. I seldom use a shortener, but do every once in a while with Bitly for a Twitter post, just for the sake of saving time when in a hurry.

  28. I'm definitely guilty of using link shorteners and cloakers but the main reason was for tracking visitors. Looks like I'm going to have to rethink this and start putting into practice what you suggest Lynn. Thanks for the eye opener. Ever thought of putting in some step-by-step visual instructions for getting some of our links shortened the proper way?
    Maurice Bernier recently posted..Maurice Bernier | Press Release: Happy Valentine Day Gift For All - The Best Top Tips To Increase Your Brand As a Recognized Author!My Profile

  29. You have some great arguments against using URL shorteners. I too fell into the shortener state of mind. I then learned it was not working to my benefit. I still use a shortener but for my own personal use so I don't have to type the address in the address bar. For instance, I have books on Amazon I sell. When I want to mention them in a post, newsletter, or otherplace and need to gather information, the link to the exact book, etc, I just type in my shortener address (http://misturl.com/mybooks)to be taken right to the page with all my books where I can get the info I need. Yes, I could simply bookmark the pages, but have you seen my (cluttered) bookmark toolbar?

    I don't use third party shorteners, I use Yourls. I had to purchase a domain name to use the script. I then created the shortened urls and use those for personal use. I could also install the script on my other domains as well, but like you mentioned, if it stops working one of these days I don't want a ton of my links back to my websites broken and irreperable. If I lose the shortened links I made for my personal use I really lose nothing.

    I have seen posts on social media from large companies that have their URL shortened. It is very detrimental and I would think hardly anyone will actually click the link; like you said, who knows where it will actually take you...

  30. Great article, Lynn, and I appreciate the various comments, yet I can't help feeling like I've completely screwed up using them. I've used them a lot over the past couple years more than ever before and now I'm worried. I'm stumped how I can post something with really long url's and still be able to keep a post to a certain length without using a shortener, especially when I don't have control over a particular website and their way of adding content to their sites that creates these exceedingly long urls. So now what? Help!

  31. All good points. I try not to use shortened links, but I use Buffer app which seems to shorten my links automatically. Do you know if there's any way that I can opt out of that?

    As for the cloaking Amazon affiliate links, I've never done that. I know that their affiliate link is ugly and long but I've found that consumers trust Amazon. So to me, it seems like the smart thing to do is to leave the long link.
    Avery Wilmer recently posted..Membership Review: Is Image Monthly Worth the Cost?My Profile

  32. Hi Lynn:

    Thanks for yet another great article - this exact subject was on my mind and I often wonder what could happen to the links I have shortened over the past few years. The reason I did this was because someone told me it was a good idea and like a sheep I followed along without questioning. Time to make better changes as your article makes better sense. Thanks again

  33. We haven't used link shorteners however I do have a couple of questions:
    1. We have a long link to our Magazine on the Apple Newsstand - it's not an affiliate link - this is what it looks like - itunes.apple.com/us/app/diy-marketing-graphics/id721103635?mt=8 (without the http). How would you suggest we dealt with this on Facebook/G+

    2. I'm afraid that the html redirect isn't something I understand. :(

  34. Dang Lynn, where has this bit of advice been hiding. Which I had known this before now but you can bet I'll use what you have shared.

    Thanks!

Leave a Reply

*

CommentLuv badge