Social networking and micro-blogging have become staples not just of personal communications, but also of website promotion and marketing. In these contexts, brevity is important, and long, unwieldy URL links sometimes won’t even fit within the allotted space allowed, such as the 140 characters allowed by Twitter. To avoid having to copy and paste long URLs, many people use URL-shortening services to change those long web addresses into much shorter ones that take up less space.
Consider the advantages of short URLs for other applications too. If, for example, you copy a lengthy web address into an email for someone else’s use, it is entirely possible that they could make mistakes if they, in turn copy it, particularly if it is long enough to span several lines of text. Sometimes inexperienced web users will copy one line of a URL, hit “return,” then copy another line, etc. The URL will not work after having the “returns” inserted. A brief URL, on the other hand, is copied quickly and easily and is less likely to become corrupted.
There are now hundreds of URL shortening sites that will do this task for you very easily. Some of them have extra features. With some, you can specify part of the resulting URL, making it more relevant to the site it is linking to. With others, you get features like virus checkers and access to tracking statistics for the shorter addresses. There are even short URL services that let you earn commissions on clicks to sites that go through the shortened URL to get to the site.
The type of redirect used by URL shorteners may or may not confer link credit onto the long URL with which the short one is associated. A 301 redirect tells a search engine that there is a permanent association between the short and the original URL, and transfers link credit via the short URL. A 302 redirect tells the search engine not to confer link credit to the original URL via the short one.
For links going to your own site, for example, you would want to make sure the URL shortener used 301 redirects, while for links going to a competitor’s site, you would want to use a URL shortener that uses 302 redirects.
If you plan to use URL-shortening services in such a way as to enhance your site’s search engine optimization, be sure to choose a site that offers analytics so that you can evaluate exactly how those short addresses are used in getting traffic to the site.
In summary, the use of short URLs is widespread because it makes excessively long URLs easier to share, copy, and paste, and because they take up far less valuable page real estate on social networking and micro-blogging sites. If you choose carefully, you can also use short URL services to enhance your website’s ranking, and will be able to see for yourself how a particular mini-URL performs in getting traffic to your website.