You put so much effort into creating great content that when something you share on social media doesn’t get a lot of clickthroughs, it can be confusing and even disheartening. When it comes to gaining traction on social media, creating high quality content is only half the battle. Everything from your headline and keywords to featured image and URL should be optimized.
Before you can start counting views and shares, you need to ensure people click your link. An easy way to spruce up your links and get the most out of your status updates is by using a URL shortener. With the right strategy, you can give your content a much needed boost while making it even easier on yourself to track and measure engagement.
What Are URL Shorteners?
URL shorteners convert regular URLs into more condensed formats. Most commonly they’re used to turn a long URL into a shorter one. They’re especially handy when you’re working with complex URLs that have parameters and campaign drivers, like this one:
Could you imagine pasting that link into a Tweet? Not only would it be aesthetically unpleasing, but it’d eat up a major portion of your available characters. With a URL shortener, you can turn that distracting mess into something more concise and pleasant:
— Sprout Social (@SproutSocial) May 10, 2016
URL shorteners not only help clean up your social media posts, but they can also help you track leads from gated content, offer insight on the best time to Tweet or even determine which channels are best for promotions. We’ll cover these benefits more in depth with each tool.
Fortunately shortening a URL is a very easy process thanks to some helpful tools. Here are six of our favorite URL shorteners:
One of the most popular link shorteners is Bitly. Millions of people use Bitly every day to shorten links and keep track of how they’re shared. If you’re a Sprout Social user, then you’re already familiar with Bitly since its the default shortener used in our app.
What’s great about this tool is that you don’t need an account for basic link shortening—just copy and paste your link on Bitly’s website and you’re ready to roll.
If you’re interested in more advanced features, you’ll need to create an account. Doing so will grant you access to tools like link customization and archival as well as real-time stats.
Branded Short Domains, one of Bitly’s premium customization features, can even increase clickthrough rates up to 34%. These domains—like the one pictured in the Tweet from Beats By Dre—replace the “bit.ly” portion of your link with your brand name. This gives you complete control of your content.
— Beats By Dre (@beatsbydre) April 4, 2015
Although free accounts can’t change the domain, you’re still able to customize the string of letters and numbers and the end of your Bitly link (or Bitlink). This is great if the link you’re shortening is part of a campaign or you just want to make it easy for you to find again later.
Tracking Your Bitly Links
Bitty offers users basic link analytics, enabling you to measure and track the performance of your links. You can use these insights to enhance your marketing strategy. For example, you’ll be able to learn what type of content is popular, where it’s popular and who it’s popular with.
With the Audience Intel feature, available to enterprise users, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the most active time of day, including what day of the week and time of day people are clicking your links. You’ll also be able to see which social media channels, devices and operating systems your most engaged viewers are using.
You can also shorten URLs using the Google URL shortener.
Creating a shortened URL using Google is very simple.
- Access the shortener at goo.gl.
- If you’re not already, click Sign in in the top right corner.
- Paste your URL in the Paste your long URL here box.
- Click Shorten URL.
You might be wondering why you should sign in to shorten your URL. There are a couple advantages of doing so. First, your links will automatically be added to goo.gl so you can track their use. If you’re signed out, your links won’t show up on your goo.gl page. Lastly, by signing in, you’re ensuring that a unique short URL is created each time your link is shortened. If you’re signed out, the same short URL is reused each time a link is shortened by you or someone else.
Tracking Your Goo.gl Links
After you’ve created your shortened URL, you can return to goo.gl any time to see how many people have clicked on your link. You can get detailed tracking information about your URL’s usage, including the countries, browsers and platforms of people who have accessed it, by adding .info to the end of your short URL.
Something you’ll want to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to use Goo.gl to shorten your links is that tracking for all URLs is publicly visible to all users. So if you’re shortening a campaign related URL and don’t want customers or competitors to have access to link data, consider using another option.
If you’re not using a URL shortener, some platforms will automatically shorten your links for you. On Twitter, all links posted in Tweets or Direct Messages are shortened using the platform’s http://t.co service.
All you have to do is enter a long URL into Twitter’s compose box and it’ll automatically be shortened. Keep in mind that a URL of any length will be condensed to 23 characters, even if the original link is less than that. This will be reflected in your remaining character count, so craft your context carefully.
It’s worth noting that t.co can’t be used as a general shortener on other apps or platforms. Unlike Bitly, which can be used on any social network, t.co is limited to only links posted on Twitter.
The main benefit of using t.co is that it’s easy. You don’t have to use a third-party URL shortener. Just paste your long link and Twitter will take care of the rest. What’s confusing about this is that the visible link on Twitter.com still appears as the destination rather than a random string of letters and numbers.
— Twitter Sports (@TwitterSports) April 5, 2016
For example, this Tweet from Twitter Sports still shows the NFL Communications URL. But if you hover over the Tweeted link with your mouse, you see that the URL has actually been changed to a t.co link.
No matter the case, any link you post to Twitter will only take up 23 characters, whether it’s truncated or replaced with a t.co URL.
Tracking Your t.co Links
Twitter’s link service measures basic information like how many times a link has been clicked. You can access this data by clicking on the little graph icon just below your Tweet.
This will open up your Tweet’s activity so you can see some data around its performance, including how many times your link has been clicked.
TinyURL is a free service and one of the first link shorteners to be used widely on Twitter. Although the website is fairly simple when compared to that of Bitly, it’s still a very useful application.
For starters, you don’t need an account to use TinyURL. Just go to tinyurl.com and paste your long link in the appropriate box to create your shortened link. You can also customize your URL by adding any word or characters associated with your campaign in the “custom alias” field.
Be careful when customizing your URL. In testing, we found that not every option we wanted was permitted. It will create a random one for you. If you’re not paying attention, you could end up with something you don’t want. TinyURL recommends using six characters or more for the best chance of getting a unique alias.
If you’re an affiliate marketer, you can hide your affiliate links so they’ll be hidden from viewers and visible only to you. And if you’re pressed for time, you can add TinyURL to your bookmarks bar within your browser so you can shorten URLs at the click of a button.
One disadvantage of using TinyURL is that there isn’t an easy way to track your links or their performance. If you’re looking for a quick way to shorten a long URL, TinyURL is a great choice. But if you want a more robust service, revisit one of the options listed above.
Is.gd might not be as familiar as the others, but it has a few unique features worth exploring. This free URL shortener doesn’t require an account to use it; just paste your long link in the text entry field and away you go.
You can create customized links by clicking the “Further options/custom URL” drop-down menu just below the text entry field. Most shortened URLs are made up of random upper and lower case letters and numbers. Here you can decide if you want your link to be all lowercase letters or pronounceable, meaning more reader-friendly.
You’re also able to turn on tracking for individual links. If this option is enabled, you can view stats for your URL via its preview page—which is created for you at the same time your link is shortened. Just ensure that the checkbox next to “Log statistics for this link” is selected prior to shortening.
While the tools listed above are great for shortening URLs and tracking some information, Sprout Social provides even easier features to its platform. Through Sprout, you have the ability to shorten links within your compose box with a simple single click.
Additionally, if you’re looking to track a campaign for all of your social channels around a specific site like www.mustbepresent.com, you can send this information to Google Analytics and automatically generate relevant URL parameters. With Sprout, you don’t need your Google Analytics account to be connected, but simply have an account to begin with.
With four different variables, Sprout auto-generates:
- utm_campaign: This value is generated from the actual campaign name.
- utm_medium: This value is the source you’re using like ‘social.’
- utm_source: This value is the network source like ‘twitter’ or ‘facebook.’
- utm_content: This value is the unique identifier that is appended to the URL.
Once you have the link in your campaign, you have the ability to track clicks, responses and reach of each shortened URL. If you want to capture and analyze your URL shortening data, try Sprout Social for free for a 30-day trial!
Go Forth & Practice Brevity
Whether you want to make links more memorable or just easier to track, URL shorteners are going to get you there. When every character counts and successful campaigns hinge on views, you want to be sure that every part of your status update, Tweet or post is optimized for clickthroughs.
Jennifer Beese: Jennifer Beese has worked as a community manager and social media strategist. When she’s not writing, you can find her studying anatomy and physiology—she literally has a skeleton in her closet—or under the stars with her telescope.