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Best URL Shorteners and how to choose the right one

The 10 best URL Shorteners and How to Choose the Right One For You

The features and pricing of some of the best URL shorteners

The best URL shorteners out there have a range of different features – the question is, which one is right for you? What features do you need and which really don’t matter?

There is no shortage of companies offering URL shorteners these days, but they all have a slightly different angle, plan, or feature set.

If you’re looking for some shortcuts, jump straight to:

1. Rebrandly

2. ClickMeter

3. Branch.io

4. Snip.ly

5. Yourls

6. TinyURL

 

Your business’ needs are undoubtedly unique, so you need to understand the features and figure out a way to pick the best fit from the best link shorteners out there.

As a custom URL shortener ourselves, specializing in link branding and link tracking, we’ve studied this industry in quite a lot of detail, and there are a lot of truly respectable companies doing great work out there.

But first…

How URL Shorteners Work

URL Shortening is simultaneously very simple and very complex.

There are dozens of plugins, websites, and open-source code bases that allow you to shorten a link or use a 301 redirect to move users and traffic from one web address to another. This is a frequently solved problem.

But that is not what URL shorteners are about…

Also, despite the word “shortener” being in the name, URL shorteners are no longer necessarily about keeping links extremely short on character length.

The most famous reason for shrinking links was, of course, Twitter, who now treats all links as 23 characters regardless of actual length, and who even more recently upped the characters of each tweet to 280 characters.

So what then is a URL shortener all about?

Modern URL shorteners are focused on a few things:

And other factors that are still very important for all URL shorteners include reliability, speed, and uptime.

This is one of the main reasons I recommend not using your own domain and hosting for your URL shortener. You need your links to be up 100% of the time and redirected as fast as possible.

Use the technology that companies like Rebrandly are offering you for free, rather than relying on your own.

Side note: Most people don’t know this, but most URL shorteners are actually focused on serving heavy traffic sites, and not everyday internet users.

How we rated the best URL shorteners

We rated each URL shortener based on what we thought would be the most important consideration factors for users:

Features – understanding what they offer you, especially what they offer for free.

Price – what you might have to pay, what paid offerings do they have, and how do they compare with other URL shorteners.

User base – How many customers do they have and how stable are they as a company.

Ease of use – UI, flow and good design.

Quality of education – How are they doing when it comes to teaching their audience about their tools?

Link branding – How easy do they make it customize to your domain and make branded short links? And are they “drinking their own Kool-aid” when it comes to sharing on social media?

How to choose the right URL shortener for you

For you personally, you need to make a decision based on how many links and how much traffic you plan to generate using the URL shortener, the size of your budget, the size of your team, and the purpose you are using the URL shortener for. Is it for social media? Or online advertising? Affiliate marketing? Personal branding? The list goes on…

For most people, a free URL shortener is all they need.

If you are only using it to share a handful of links on your personal social channels, or are running a small local business, then you will never really need a paid version.

But if you’re a medium to large business, or your entire company revolves around digital marketing and inbound traffic generation, then you will probably be looking for some sort of paid solution at some point.

How many links and clicks are you generating?

If you are under 2,500 link clicks, and only need 500 or fewer links created a month, you can rest assured that you should not be paying for your URL shortening services.

What’s the size of your budget?

Are you ready for massive traffic and willing to pay to track it? Then you can afford some of the higher tiered offerings from Rebrandly, ClickMeter, and others.

Are you still in the early stages of your startup and only have one member on your marketing team? Then you probably should be using a fairly cheap, or free, solution until you make it big.

What’s the size of your team?

Some URL shorteners make team management a piece of cake, while others force you to share an account.

If you’re going to be using this tool across a team of 10 digital marketers, advertisers, content managers, and social media managers, you are only going to find a handful of suitable solutions.

But if it’s mostly just you, then you don’t need the fancier products.

Why are you using the URL shortener?

Some of these URL shorteners are structured simply to help embed UTM parameters and allow you to better track links in Google Analytics (we do this also, by the way), while others are focused on helping you monetize your links by inserting interstitial ads.

And if you’re using your URL shortener for social media management, you will definitely want to use one that has a web extension, the ability to easily brand and adjust your links, and a lot of integrations with marketing tools.

URL shorteners or branded links?

We’ve been talking a lot about URL shorteners, but what if on top of just shortening your link, you could also feature your brand’s name on it? A branded link, also known as a vanity URL or a custom short link, is simply the short version of the URL you’re sharing online that’s built around your own brand rather than the brand of the shortening tool you’re using. For example, ‘shor.tly/dq2st ‘ becomes ‘Brandname.link/keyword.

Branded Links

Branded links have reinvented the way we create and share links both on and offline, turning every link into a promotion for your brand. When you share links with your brand name, you’re associating your company with content it shares, building brand awareness, increasing brand recognition, and increasing trust amongst your audience.

The 6 best URL shorteners

1. Rebrandly

Total Score: 50/60

URL shortener, Link shortener, Branded link, Link management, Shortener, Custom short URL

With Rebrandly custom URL shortener, you can enhance brand visibility and trust by putting your brand name on every link you share.

The advantages of using a custom short URL over a generic one (like butt…ly/iy282uh) include helping you to increase your click-through-rate by up to 30%, as well as quickly build out your retargeting audiences thanks to an in-built technology called link retargeting.

You can use Rebrandly’s analytics to understand social media, email marketing, ads, and SEO through detailed click stats. It’s also a highly scalable tool, meaning that it can grow alongside your business.

Features – 10/10

  • Connect Custom Domain – Yes
  • Purchase Custom Domain – Yes
  • Custom URL Slug – Yes
  • Change Destination URL Yes
  • UTM Builder – Yes
  • Retargeting – Yes
  • Tags – Yes
  • Integrations – Yes
  • Link Analytics Dashboard – Yes
  • Link Privacy – Yes

Price – 9/10

Rebrandly offers a free plan, paid plans and custom plans for enterprise businesses.

It’s also worth nothing that if you want to cancel your subscription within the first 30 days, they’ll provide a full refund of your payment – no questions asked.

User Base – 7/10

The product is really only for heavy usage marketers and their main features are centered around link branding, social sharing, and link management.

Ease of Use – 8/10

The analytics view is great and you can definitely move around the platform with ease.

Quality of Education – 7/10

The blog and the knowledge base are useful and updated often.

Link Branding – 9/10

You can easily purchase and connect a branded domain, which is great.

Rebrandly best url shortener

2. ClickMeter

Total Score: 46/60

ClickMeter Homepage

ClickMeter, which is a sister company to Rebrandly, so take this with a grain of salt, is a great solution for affiliate marketers, advertisers, and enterprise level companies that are looking for something a little bit more technical and just a little different to Bitly.

They also offer conversion tracking, which not a lot of other URL shorteners are doing.

Features – 10/10

  • Connect Custom Domain – Yes
  • Purchase Custom Domain – Yes
  • Custom URL Slug – Yes
  • Change Destination URL – Yes
  • UTM Builder – Yes
  • Retargeting Yes – Only on Paid Plan – Medium $29/month
  • Tags – Yes
  • Integrations – Yes
  • Link analytics dashboard – Yes – advanced compared to the rest
  • Link Privacy – Yes

Price – 8/10

ClickMeter Pricing Page

 

User Base – 7/10

This product is absolutely for the technical marketer, advertiser, or affiliate marketer. They have a user base of over 100,000 users and work with many of the world’s largest brands. And they do over 1 billion link clicks a month in traffic, so their technology is proven and solid.

Ease of Use – 6/10

The interface is solid, but a little clunky. If you aren’t tech savvy, don’t even think about it. But for the hardcore digital marketer, you just might geek out over the flexibility.

Quality of Education – 7/10

Their blog is OK. There is a lot of old content on there that is helpful and relevant to their users, but they haven’t been pushing it very hard as of late. Maybe that will change in the near future though.

Link Branding – 8/10

You can connect a branded domain to your URL shortener, or you can integrate with Rebrandly to connect your branded URL shortener, making the process very easy.

Yes, they are absolutely sharing links under custom domains,

ClickMeter Using Branded URL Slug

 

3. Branch.io

Total Score: 35/60

Branch Metrics Deep Linking Homepage

Branch is an analytics company specializing in deep links and improved attribution for mobile apps. If you are creating, or have, a mobile app and have a very slim website, this one is probably for you. Their core deep linking features and analytics are free, while the more advanced premium solutions are charged.

 

Features – 6/10

  • Connect Custom Domain – Yes
  • Purchase Custom Domain – No
  • Custom URL Slug – Yes
  • Change Destination URL – Yes
  • UTM Builder – No
  • Retargeting – No
  • Tags – Kinda
  • Integrations – Data focused
  • Link analytics dashboard YES
  • Link Privacy – Yes

Price – 8/10

You can start using their core product and SDK integration for free today. If you want to go premium, they offer a 2-week free trial, and afterwards they charge based on the number of events, clicks, or monthly visitors you have.Branchio Data Integrations PricingBranchio Journeys Web to App Tool PricingBranchio Depep Linked Email Pricing

User Base – 5/10

Branch is absolutely for app developers, and data analysts and data-driven marketers that work on large user base apps.

Ease of Use – 3/10

Unfortunately, they are a data analytics company first and a URL shortener second, meaning there is no clear way to shorten a URL for the sake of shortening a URL. The tool clearly requires a bit of learning. But all those features are learnable, cool, and handy. This is not a plug and play URL shortener but a super powerful analytics platform that shortens URLs.

Quality of Education – 7/10

Branch is a great analytics company that is clearly dedicated to their niche and educating their users. They are fairly active on their blog and twitter (7.5K followers). Their content is educational and useful.

Link Branding – 6/10

They allow you to connect your own branded domain, but don’t necessarily make it easy to purchase and connect instantly. They also allow sub-domain branding under their URL shortener domain “app.link.”

They are using their own URL shortener in their links, but it needs to be tidied up as they are using a random URL slug:

Branch Metrics Branded Link in Tweet

4. Snip.ly

Total score: 29/60

Sniply Homepage

Sniply is a great URL shortener for content creators who are hustling to build an email list or drive additional traffic.

You’ve probably come across a Sniply link before. When you click on it, it looks like you’ve been taken to a website, but what really happens is you’re being shown the website in an iFrame and Sniply is overlaying a form on the bottom that says something like “Join my list” or “Check out this related post.”

This is great for content curators, because when you send people to someone else’s site, you tend to lose them forever. Now you can convert some of those users…

But…

I personally really dislike this strategy and think that overlay tools like this, which are becoming more popular, will die out in the next few years. My warning to you and Sniply is quite simple:

If it’s bad for the user experience it won’t last.

And quite frankly this is bad for the user experience.

Between that and the fact that Dustin Stout already created a tool called Framebuster to block this from working on your website, it’s only a matter of time before all websites block this type of activity, which will lead to sending traffic to error pages and ultimately losing trust with your audience.

My advice is to not use tools like this, but hey, if it is working for you, use it while you can.

Features – 5/10

  • Connect Custom Domain – Paid – $79/month
  • Purchase Custom Domain – Paid – $79/month
  • Custom URL Slug – Paid – $149/month
  • Change Destination URL – No
  • UTM Builder – No
  • Retargeting – Paid – $79/month
  • Tags – No
  • Integrations – Yes
  • Link analytics dashboard – Yes, but more for converting users than tracking
  • Link Privacy – Yes

Price – 6/10

Sniply pricing page

Personally, I’m against forcing your own branding on a paying customer’s tool.

Overall their prices are fair, but based completely on the value proposition of generating more leads, not tracking, branding, or retargeting links.

User Base – 6/10

Sniply is for online marketers who are looking to increase conversions or drive additional traffic and have a strong content curation strategy on their social media. They have thousands of users and great feedback by some of the world’s best marketers.

Ease of Use – 6/10

This tool requires a bit of learning but should be simple for any online marketer to create their first campaign. But the URL shortener aspect is again, secondary, to the other features.

Quality of Education – 2/10

They haven’t blogged since January 2017, and the post before that was published in February 2016. And generally, what they do post is mediocre at best. Plus their blog is on WordPress.com and not even their own site. Weird!

They have given up, I’d say.

Link Branding – 4/10

You can connect a custom domain, but not purchase one. And it’s going to cost you money to share links under that custom domain. They are drinking their own Kool-Aid in terms of sharing branded short links on their social channels.

Sniply Social Media Post

 

5. YOURLS

Total score: 21/60

YOURLS Link AnalyticsYOURLS is an open-source DIY solution that is absolutely worth mentioning on our top 10 list, but it is also not going to be the right solution for 99% of people.

While I’ve already recommended not doing it yourself, you may need to for one reason or another. Maybe you want to make sure no one else, anywhere, ever, can see or own your data, or perhaps you’re working on becoming a better programmer and want to do this for school.

If you’ve got some experience coding and your own web server, this one could be for you.

Features – 3/10

  • Connect Custom Domain – Yes
  • Purchase Custom Domain – No
  • Custom URL Slug Yes
  • Change Destination URLYes
  • UTM Builder – No
  • Retargeting – No
  • Tags – No
  • Integrations – One plugin, one website code base
  • Link analytics dashboard – Yes, and it’s decent.
  • Link Privacy – Yes

Price – 10/10

This is an open-source tool that gives you the code, but you have to find the servers and set it up. They have very limited features, but you will never have to pay anyone for shortening links.

User Base – 6/10

YOURLS has been around for a long time, with very little in terms of changes or updates. It is designed for programmers and developers, or advanced marketers, that need a few of the simplest features at scale (like 10,000 links a month or more) and don’t want to pay a third party provider. Their exact number of users is unclear, but it could easily be over 100,000.

Ease of Use – 1/10

The tool requires being a coder, it doesn’t get harder than that!

Quality of Education – 1/10

They have no blog, but do have decent documentation on their plugin and code base. They aren’t active on social media or pursuing growth in any way, it’s just a free tool that someone created and left out there.

Link Branding – 7/10

This solution is designed specifically for you to set up under your own branded domain. But they don’t make it easy to purchase and connect a branded domain.

6. TinyURL

Total score: 29/60

TinyURL website

TinyURL is a URL shortener that suits people who need to shorten links quickly, without the need to track or organize them after they are created.

As with any other URL shortener of this sort, you’ll likely run into difficulty if any of your links need to be updated or are suddenly directing to error 404 pages. Without a link management dashboard, you won’t be able to trace the link back and replace it.

It also allows you to create a custom alias for one link, such as your website or your blog. But, you’ll have to use their domain, which poses risks associated with domain reputation in itself.

Features – 2/10

  • Connect Custom Domain – No
  • Purchase Custom Domain – No
  • Custom URL Slug – Yes
  • Change Destination URL – No
  • UTM Builder – No
  • Retargeting – No
  • Tags – No
  • Integrations – Google Chrome extension
  • Link analytics dashboard – No
  • Link Privacy – No

Price – 10/10

Even though their feature-set is very limited, there’s no charge for link shortening.

User Base – 6/10

TinyURL was an early URL shortener on the market, so their user base is likely large. However, the use cases are likely to be far less specialized, given that it’s not a full-scale link management or branding platform.

Ease of Use – 10/10

There’s not a whole lot to have to learn here, you simply paste the link into the URL field and hit shorten. Pretty simple.

Quality of Education – 1/10

They have a couple of articles on their website, but they’re not overly educational. Similar to YOURLS, it’s just a free tool that someone created and left out there.

Link Branding – 0/10

There’s no option to connect a branded domain.

Notable Mentions

There are some URL shorteners that you may have expected to learn about that didn’t make the list, so we’d like to give you a few noticeable mentions:

Goo.gl – Google… You suck at shortening links. They shorten the link, and have decent analytics on the backend, but offer none of the basic or advanced features of a modern URL shortener. So even though they are one of the world’s most popular URL shorteners, they are not one of the world’s best URL shorteners.

UPDATE – April 24, 2018: Google announced that it is winding down its URL shortening service. Current users can continue to use the service until March 2019 when it will be discontinued.

Ow.ly – Hootsuite’s own URL shortener is really only for people using their tool that need Hootsuite’s built-in analytics. Unfortunately, that comes at the cost of having a branded link. Between that and having no features outside of shortening URLs, they are not on our top 10 list.

Buff.ly – Buffer’s own URL shortener, like Hootsuite, is just made to shorten links from within their platform, and they don’t actually offer the URL shortener as a standalone service like Ow.ly. So while you may see these links around the internet quite a lot, it’s not a great URL shortener.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right marketing tools for your business can be a daunting task. You want products that are affordable now but can scale with your business later, and have low switching costs and an easy to use interface.

So, tell me…

Which URL shortener are you planning on going with? Are there any that aren’t on this list that you think should be? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Still can’t decide?
We’d love to talk to you about using Rebrandly and branded links as your next URL shortener. Contact one of our experts.

 

Further Reading:

This Article is About:

  • The best URL shorteners
  • Top URL shortening tools
  • Best tools for creating short links

Originally Posted: September 2nd, 2016.
Post Updated: January 4th, 2018
Post Updated: October 4th, 2018
Post Updated: November 22nd, 2019

 

 

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Head of Growth at Rebrandly. Derric is a lifelong entrepreneur and passionate about helping startups and marketers not suck. He speaks, practices, and blogs about growth and digital marketing on Rebrandly and across the universe.