What’s A URL Shortener? I’m Glad You Asked!

As part of the workflow changes I wrote about yesterday, one thing I was really excited about was my new URL shorteners. In this post I’ll describe how I set this up.

According to Wikipedia, a URL shortener is

… a technique on the World Wide Web in which a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) may be made substantially shorter in length and still direct to the required page. This is achieved by using an HTTP Redirect on a domain name that is short, which links to the web page that has a long URL. For example, the URL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URL_shortening can be shortened to http://bit.ly/urlwiki or http://tinyurl.com/urlwiki. This is especially convenient for messaging technologies such as Twitter and Identi.ca, which severely limit the number of characters that may be used in a message. Short URLs allow otherwise long web addresses to be referred to in a tweet.

I used bitly to handle the actual URL shortening when I post messages to Twitter. The bitly service used to charge a premium for using custom domain names for shortening links, but now includes such functionality at no additional cost. For my personal Twitter account (@BLHill), I registered a new domain name, blhill.in. The “.in” is the top level domain for the country of India, but is not restricted. Following bitly’s instructions for configuring custom domains, I was able to add blhill.in to my bitly account. I set up a second bitly account for my @AEC4N6 Twitter account. I already owned aec4n6.com and configured it as a custom domain under that bitly account.

How does it work?

I use dlvr.it to send links from articles that I publish to my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. (By the way, dlvr.it has a lot of amazing features and I will try to write more about the service in the future.) Once properly configured to use my appropriate bitly accounts, dlvr.it is able to use bitly’s service to shorten links. So for example, when this article is published, dlvr.it will take the link to this article, http://blhill.net/whats-a-url-shortener-im-glad-you-asked and shorten it to something like http://blhill.in/xxxxx. That means that the link that gets posted to Twitter and LinkedIn will be about 35 characters shorter than the original link. Since Twitter limits posts to 140 characters, every character counts.

Beyond freeing up space on Twitter and LinkedIn, bitly also provides extensive analytics to help me see which links gained the most response. For marketers, this information is very important. If you are spending time sharing content with others, it helps to know what content elicits the greatest response.

What’s the point?

Using a custom short domain in conjunction with your social media accounts, is a great way to emphasize and enhance your branding. When I publish content, the short link that I send out, still retains my branding (BLHill or AEC4N6). Because bitly can be used to manually generate links, I can also use the service to shorten links that I send to people by email, or through text messages. This keeps things more consistent.

Implementing a tool such as bitly with a custom domain for your brand is an easy way to add a bit more class to your social media campaigns. If you have any questions, or would like some help setting something like this up, contact me.