Day after day, there are likely a number of different tools you rely on to get your work done—from email to instant messaging to your team’s project management platform. Well, there’s another tool you should add to your list: a URL shortener. It takes your messy and unwieldy links and turns them into something that’s way easier to remember and access. But, how do url shorteners work?
And what else do you need to know to best use this type of solution?
We have answers—from a detailed explanation to different use cases—right here. In this article, we break down how URL shorteners work, considerations before using, what they are effective for, and 5 tools on the market, a mix of both internal URL shortening tools like GoLinks vs external URL shortening tools like Bitly.
What is a URL shortener?
The answer is right there in the name: a URL shortener is an online tool that reduces the number of URL characters. Basically, it decreases the length of a web address. It transforms a long and complicated link into something that’s shorter, more memorable, and easier to use.
Let’s add even more clarity with an example. Maybe you have a company-wide Wiki where your entire team can access your product roadmap. In its original form, that link might look like someone sat on the computer keyboard:
Using a URL shortener (which you might also hear referred to as a link shortener, link compressor, or even a link shrinker), you could transform that complicated link into something grabby like this:
See? That’s way easier for you and your team to look at, remember, and ultimately, use.
What to consider before using a URL shortener
Link shorteners are easy to use and offer a number of perks. But, much like any other tool or solution, there are a few considerations to be aware of before deciding whether or not it’s the right move for you.
1. What is your goal of using a URL shortening tool?
Are you looking to use it for external sharing, or for internal use only? Some companies use link shortening tools like Bitly for improving marketing ROI when it comes to sharing content across a variety of social media platforms. Others look for URL shortening tools like GoLinks to help companies manage their knowledge.
2. Be mindful of suspicious links
Some people argue that short URLs make it easier for hackers and other cybercriminals to disguise malicious links—a strategy known as “link masking.”
It’s certainly not a reason to stay away from URL shorteners entirely, especially if you’re primarily using them for knowledge sharing with your internal team. However, it’s smart to be aware of this so that everybody can keep an eye out for anything sharing a URL that’s not from a trusted source/3rd party.
3. Link shortening requires an extra step
Finally, be aware that using a URL shortener adds an extra step to your workflow. You won’t just grab a URL out of your address bar and paste to send it to whoever needs it. You’ll need to take the extra step of pasting it into the link shortener, customizing any relevant information, and then grabbing the new URL.
While it’s an extra box to check, the process itself should be fast (we’re talkin’ a couple of extra seconds) and painless. Plus, it’s well worth it for the more streamlined experience that a shorter link provides.
To make this step even easier, look for a link shortener that has a browser extension (GoLinks® does!) so that you can create custom links without any other interruptions to your rhythm.
What link shorteners do and don’t do
Call us biased, but we’re pretty firm believers that a link shortener is a great option for creating memorable, easy-to-use links—whether you’re sharing them with your internal team or publicly promoting them on social media.
But, that doesn’t mean that this tool is the answer to all of your problems. There are certain things that a URL shortener can do, as well as some things that it can’t. Here’s a quick look at what falls in each of those categories.
Link shorteners will…
- Reduce the character count of a web address. After all, the entire point of a URL shortener is to take a long link and turn it into something that’s far easier to look at and remember.
- Allow you to customize the link. Some (although, not all) URL shorteners will give you the option to customize your shortened link. That means instead of ending up with a jumbled mess of characters, you could customize your link to something branded or intuitive (for example, go/onboarding).
- Track your link’s engagement. Most link shorteners will show you all of your shortened links on a single dashboard. Whether you’re using an internal or external URL shortener may impact the types of metrics you’re seeing, but for an internal shortening tool like GoLinks, a dashboard will allow you to see which top links are being accessed company-wide.
Link shorteners will not…
- Allow for duplicate links. If you have the option to customize your shortened link, you want it to be something obvious and memorable. However, it also needs to be unique enough that you won’t duplicate it later on, as you can’t have two of the same links lead to two different pages.
- Hurt your search engine optimization (SEO). When it comes to using link shorteners for marketing and not just internal use, there’s a common misconception that search engines don’t like shortened links. That’s not true, as these tools simply create a redirect. Using a URL shortener won’t hurt your SEO efforts.
How do URL shorteners work? A no-nonsense explanation
The gist of a URL shortener is pretty straightforward: You paste in your lengthy link and the tool creates a much shorter link for you to use and share.
To state it simply, the “magic” of a URL shortener all comes down to something called a redirect—which means a user might use one link, but then is essentially rerouted to a different spot.
That’s exactly what’s happening with a link shortening tool. Users type in or click the shortened link, and that redirects them to the original longer URL. That longer URL still exists and the destination is the same, it just isn’t the address a user types in.
Think of it as the difference between saying “meet me at 1269 Main Street in Chicago, IL in the United States on planet Earth” and saying “meet me at Sal’s Pizza.” Both will ultimately get you to the exact same spot—but one is far more usable for common situations.
How to create a shortened URL with GoLinks
You won’t use our platform to create shorthand links to post on social media or share with your customers. GoLinks is all about short, memorable links for you and your team to access and share knowledge with each other. GoLinks can be shared visually, verbally, or via forwarding.
Wondering how to use our URL shortening service?
You can watch the video or take at a quick walkthrough below:
- Copy the URL that you want to shorten from your address bar.
- Sign up for GoLinks, if you haven’t already.
- Log into your GoLinks dashboard.
- Click the “Create Go Link” button in the upper right corner.
- Paste your destination URL (this is the long link that you don’t want to use) into the appropriate field.
- Name your go link (keep it short and simple, but also tailored to that page’s purpose!).
- Add tags and a description to make it easier to search and manage within your link dashboard.
- Click “Create Go Link” and you’ll have a short and easy link to share with the rest of your team.
Every shortened URL you create with GoLinks will be accessible from your dashboard, or as mentioned earlier in this article, with the GoLinks’ browser extension feature. Once installed a user can easily navigate their bar, press the GoLinks icon and create a go link for any resource on the fly. There, you can not only create new links and edit existing links when you need to but also check the analytics to see the usage and engagement of your URLs.
Are link shorteners a bad idea?
We’ve covered a lot about URL shorteners, and all of that information hopefully helps you separate fact from fiction. But, in case you’re still scratching your head and wondering if a link shortener means bad news, here’s the simple answer: nope.
Much like anything else, they have their use cases. You probably don’t want to shorten the URL for your company’s homepage, as you want that heavily-branded link to be recognizable and immediately associated with your company.
But for other links that become never-ending strings of random characters? Link shorteners like GoLinks offer a number of benefits like:
- Saving time. Because go links are intuitive and memorable, people don’t need to dig to find the link and information they need. They can verbally share a golink like ‘go/kpi’ over a call, eliminating the need for forwarding it to team members.
- Simplifying the experience. Not only do shortened links save characters when posting on social media, they also mean you don’t need to paste a lengthy, messy link into an email, chat, marketing item, or other type of message.
- Accessing analytics. URL shorteners like GoLinks will pull all of your shortened links into a simple dashboard so you can easily find the information you need in one, centralized spot.
In order to reap all of the potential benefits of a link shortener, you need to make sure that you find the right one for you. Look for one that offers solid security, an intuitive interface, and even a browser extension to save you time and effort.
5 best URL shorteners (and how to choose the right one)
Because link shortening is easy to do and offers plenty of advantages, it’s little surprise that there are a number of popular URL shorteners available to you.
Wondering which ones are at the top of the list and how you can find the right one for you? We’ve rounded up some of the best options here for you, along with the specific use cases they’re the best fit for.
Best fit for: Internal knowledge sharing
GoLinks is different from other shorteners in that we’re focused specifically on shortening links that are shared by teams so they can quickly and easily find the information they need to do their jobs well.
Best fit for: External marketing efforts
Rebrandly shortens URLs, but with an emphasis on including a company’s name directly within the link to create fully-branded links. That makes it a great fit for people who are looking for a URL shortener to support their marketing campaigns and promotions.
Best fit for: Links to share on social media
Buff.ly is a link shortener that works directly within the social media scheduling tool, Buffer. When you paste in a link to be scheduled and shared via a social media post, Buff.ly will automatically shorten the link. It’s helpful, as long, unwieldy links can eat up a lot of characters—which are often limited on social media.
Best fit for: Links to share on social media
Ow.ly is most comparable to Buff.ly, as it’s yet another URL shortener that lives directly within a social media scheduling tool. Ow.ly is inside the Hootsuite dashboard, making it another great option for people and brands who want to share shortened links to social media and don’t want to use a tool that’s separate from their existing scheduler.
Best fit for: People who don’t want to depend on a third-party service.
YOURLS (which stands for “Your Own URL Shortener”) is a little more complex and techy than the other options, because of its open-source nature. It gives people the option to use PHP scripts to run their own URL shortening service. That means that they own their data and don’t need to rely on a third-party provider to shorten and use their links, but it also means it’s not super straightforward. Some tech and development knowledge is helpful for installing, configuring, and using this open-source software.
From messy and meaningless to short and simple
How do URL shorteners work? They take an existing long URL and set up a redirect so that you can use and share a link that’s far more memorable and streamlined.
That makes a link shortener a great option for a variety of use cases—from posting links on social media to sharing knowledge with your internal team.