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!):
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? 😯
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. 😛
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:
... works the same shortened to:
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! 😀
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.
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:
[title>Sales Letter Formula[/title]
[META HTTP-EQUIV="refresh" content="0;URL=http://jvz5.com/c/31526/56664"]
* 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. 😀
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.
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p.s. Share this post with everyone you know. Let's stop this bad practice! 😉