If you’re not already using a URL shortener, you really should be.
Long, ugly links with tons of characters and visible tracking parameters are things of the past. Let’s face it, nobody likes looking at them, so why would they want to click on them?
Brands do everything in their power to attract and please customers. They put a lot of time into creating a brand identity and tone of voice so that their messaging and creative accurately reflect their brand values and mission. But none of that counts for much if there’s one rogue element in everything they’re sharing with their audience.
And what is that rogue element? You guessed it- a long, ugly link.
With thousands of free URL shorteners on the market, it can be tough to know which one you should use. I’m here to tell you that while most of them are carbon copies of one another, there are a select few that deserve a special mention.
Ready to jump straight in? We’ve included some shortcuts here so you can easily find what you’re looking for:
Otherwise, let’s get started by taking a look at the benefits of using a free URL shortener in the first place.
The benefits of using short URLs
1. They save space
A short URL serves a particular purpose: it’s, well, short.
This became particularly important when the now famous social media site, Twitter imposed a character limit, leaving people no other option but to condense their messaging. This subsequently created an immediate demand for anything that could save people valuable space. And so, the URL shortener was born.
Another reason we’ve veered towards quality over quantity in our marketing messages is that the average attention span is decreasing by the minute (so if you’re still here, I’ve clearly done something right).
Knowing that we only have a couple of seconds to capture someone’s attention means we need to keep messages short, snappy and effective. But doing this is somewhat redundant if we decide to throw links that look like this on the end of our punchy messaging:
Would you scroll past that? I know I would.
Those few vital seconds when someone is skimming over your post are make or break, so don’t give them a reason to scroll past it by using a long, ugly link.
2. They’re more manageable
Now that we’ve covered how horrible long links are to look at (just a final stab at driving the point home), let’s look at this from a practical perspective. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve tried to read out or remember a 35-character long link?
I have. And needless to say, it did not go well.
One of the many benefits of using a URL shortener is that you can make your links more manageable to read out, remember, and even add to offline marketing materials.
Generic URL shorteners do this to a certain extent in that they make them shorter in size. But custom short URLs, or branded links, take this one step further by letting you customize the domain and URL slug to form a sentence- or even a call-to-action!
3. They provide analytics
We’re living in a data-driven age. We want to be able to trace every site visit back to its original source and see which of our campaigns are performing (and which ones we need to hit pause on immediately). But until now, the only tracking we’ve been able to do with our links involved manually adding UTM parameters and extracting the data from Google Analytics.
Most free URL shorteners will provide you with click data. At the most basic level, this can mean the number of clicks your link has received. Some of the more advanced URL shorteners will offer more detailed analytics- like the source of the clicks, times and dates the link was clicked, countries of origin and much more.
Bear in mind, a lot of the free URL shorteners on the market provide what are known as public stats- which means that you won’t be the only person who can access them. To try this out, you can take any generic short URL (like a butt.ly/fuhu2 link) and add a plus symbol (+) at the end. If it opens a public stats page, it means your competitors can see exactly how your links are performing- yikes!
4. They’re trustworthy
Would you click a link that you suspect could be spam? I didn’t think so.
Seeing long, intimidating links on social media can be very off-putting for your potential customers. This could be down to the length of the link itself, or all the added tracking parameters they’re not used to seeing. A URL shortener helps you avoid this problem by masking the long link with a shorter one that’s less likely to cause confusion.
But, a standard free URL shortener can only do so much here. Because a lot of the popular generic shortening services have become associated with spam, a lot of people are hesitant to click on any link generated using that domain- even if the link is genuine. This can result in a pretty hefty drop-off rate in potential customers, which will make your sales team sad.
A branded URL shortener sidesteps this problem by putting the control of your links back into your hands. By using a custom domain that you own to create your links, you’re the only person responsible for the trustworthiness of that domain.
So, unless you’re actually a spammer, potential customers will happily click on your links and your sales team will look more like this:
Choosing the right URL shortener for your business
Your links are a valuable asset to your company, which means you need to treat them with care. Not only do they serve as one of the main touchpoints between you and your customers, they’re also (often missed) branding opportunities.
The tool you choose to help you manage your links will largely depend on what it is you need to use it for. For example, most free URL shorteners offer basic levels of security and analytics- so depending on your expectations here, you may need to pick a tool that’s more established and able to facilitate your needs.
On the flipside of that, you might just need a tool that lets you shorten a link in a split second, with no need to manage or track it. Or, you might be so intrigued by all of this that you want to build your own!
Whatever the case, there’s a tool to help you do it.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular free URL shorteners on the market and what use-cases they’re best for.
The best custom URL shortener and all-in-one link management solution
Rebrandly is the industry-leading URL shortening and link management tool. Instead of just shortening your links, they give you the power to brand every link that you share using a custom domain of your choice.
On top of this, with their platform you can:
- Edit the destination URL of your links at any time.
- Use their built-in UTM builder to add tracking parameters to your links.
- Customize the URL slug to read as a statement, or even a CTA (like YourBrand.is/Better or YourBrand.rocks/SignUpNow).
- Manage all your links from a single dashboard. You can also add tags and notes to your links to make sure they’re properly organized and cataloged.
None (and I’m not just saying that because I work there 😉).
Seriously, though. Unlike other URL shorteners, with Rebrandly you have full control over the domain you’re using to create your links. Meaning, you’re not at risk of them being blocked by filters or marked as spam. It’s a no-brainer!
The best self-hosted URL shortening service
Yourls (which stands for “Your Own URL Shortener”) is slightly different from the rest of the tools on this list. Basically, with Yourls you can install PHP scripts on your own server and use them to power your own URL shortener (as the name implies).
The downside to doing this is that it’s not scalable, and chances are you’ll need an entire team of engineers to be able to maintain it. But if you’re looking to set up your own shortening service, Yourls is a good place to start.
We all know that development resources are very valuable- I mean, that roadmap isn’t going to work on itself. Hosting and managing your own URL shortener is a big job, so I’d only recommend considering this if you’re sure you have the time and resources available to dedicate to it.
Otherwise, why not pick a tool that fits your needs and let them do the heavy lifting?
The quick solution for link shortening
TinyURL does exactly what it says on the tin- makes your links tiny. If you’re looking for a quick link shortening solution, this is the one for you. You won’t be able to organize or track the performance of your links, but it gets the job done.
As with any generic URL shortener, you’re always at risk of losing your links if their domain gets blocked or blacklisted. Unfortunately, this can mean having hundreds of legacy links on social media, in emails or even live campaigns that lead to error 404 pages. Nightmare!
Long, ugly links are like dial-up internet. They get you from point A to point B, but we have better ways of doing things now.
It’s important to weigh up the benefits and risks of anything before you decide it’s right for your business, and there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a free URL shortener.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to what you need it for.
Trust and security are huge priorities for most companies- they want their customers to trust the links they’re sharing, and they also want to know that their company’s assets are in good hands. Generic URL shorteners serve a functional purpose, but they can’t offer them that.
On the other hand- for anyone just looking to shorten a link for a one-off occasion, a generic, free URL shortener might be the perfect solution.
The most important thing to remember is that your links are a reflection on your business- just as much as your logo and your website are. If your links look spammy, people will think you’re a spammer. If they lead them to an error 404 page, they probably won’t come back.
Using a URL shortener that you trust can make all the difference between a great and woeful customer experience. So choose wisely.
How have your experiences with free URL shorteners been? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
- 8 Best Free URL Shortener APIs for Creating Your Short Links
- Google URL Shortener – Find the Best Free Alternative
This article is about:
- Free URL shorteners
- Custom short URLs
- Generic short URLs
- Benefits of using a free URL shortener
- How to choose the right free URL shortener
Originally Posted: 27th of June 2019
Last Updated: 10th of December 2020