Know how to tweet your URLs?
When space is limited, learning how to keep things brief is a must. We do it every time we post an Opinion piece. It can take a long time to make something short. So when you can shorten a URL using a tool it sounds like a good idea. But is it? And if so, then how?
There are many services out there to shorten a URL. They all basically take a URL and create a URL on their site which then redirects to the destination (your) URL. So http://www.ozeworks.com/2009/05/know-how-to-tweet-your-urls/ can turn into http://tinyurl.com/ovnypo. Obviously from that, example, the leader of the pack is TinyURL.com.
However HitWise recently report growing use of ow.ly and bit.ly amongst others. So should we follow the trend and use them? How do you pick a service like this? Given they are all free, there is really only one criteria to consider – their functionality:
- Ease of Use
These sites have simple user interfaces. After all there is very little to say or do on them. They take a URL as input and create a new one copying the result to your clipboard or some other “share” method. Some are prettier than others. Some have Ads, and some don’t (yet). Some have donation buttons and some don’t (yet). All easy to use.
The outcome you want for the URL is that it is short (they are all short) and that they encourage people to click on the link. It is the latter that is the crux of the matter.
First off, the domain name plays an important role here. It has to be trustworthy. People need to immediately understand they are clicking on “alias” – that the displayed URL is not the destination URL but simply an intermediary for the obvious purposes of shortening the URL. They need feel like this alias comes from a good neighborhood and here the domain TLD ( last part of the domain name) is important. We all know .com but what is .ly? Well it’s Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya aka Libya.
So who owns these .ly domains? According to its whois ow.ly is registered to a Ryan Holmes from InvokeMedia in Canada but its administrator is Libyan Spider Netwrok (sic) in Libya. And bit.ly? Registered to John Borthwick of New York but administered by the same people as ow.ly. They appear to be a domain registry who tout use of the .ly domain as being cute use of “ly” as in it is love”ly”. So the owners of these newer services are following a trend is to use domain TLDs that add “”value” to the overall domain name without there being any association with the country in question. Except of course there is. These people are doing business with Libya. And so are you and your customers every time you click.
Second comes the domain path – the bit of the URL that comes after the domain name -the short bit. All services generate a random character set of around 5+ alphabetic characters (which will grow as usage grows of course). Of the three mentioned only TinyURL.com and bit.ly allow you to choose what it is in order to give some meaning to the link.
First, will the link work? Standards ones seem to. But check the custom ones. For example, the above link could be http://bit.ly/twitter-urls instead. However if you click on it it won’t work. Seems like bit.ly has some problems in this area. Try http://tinyurl.com/tweet-urls It works!
Second, will the link always be there? None make any service guarantees. Hosting plays a strong role here. TinyURL.com has its own dedicated server. ow.ly and bit.ly run on shared commercial hosting. TinyURL.com has been around for many years now with no known issues. Ow.ly and Bit.ly are newcomers.
Third, how do you know if your links are clicked? Only bit.ly appears to be offering any tools in this area to (mainly) cater to the twitter crowd.
Bottom line, it’s up to you who you do business with but the idea is to get your link clicked. So a simple, reassuring, easy to interpret URL is the way to go. Why? Because if it does not have those qualities, then it will impact its click thru rate and so all the tracking in the world won’t fix that.